When it comes to the Star Wars prequel films, there are many fans of the original trilogy who, to this day, can't rid themselves of the new films' foul taste. This is not to say that there aren't some who actually enjoy the prequels, and furthermore, it would be wrong not to acknowledge a whole generation of fans who were introduced to the Star Wars galaxy through them.
However, we are a fan community that does not hesitate to compare and rank films. Even the prequel trilogy has a hierarchy all its own, but all lists seem to feature the same film towards the bottom of the proverbial heap: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In truth, however, there is so much to appreciate about the first prequel installment.
Expanding The Mythology
One thing that can't be disputed about The Phantom Menace is that it widened the mythology of the Star Wars galaxy. In this film alone, we were formally introduced to the the Sith and the "rule of two," the prophecy of the chosen one, the organization of the Jedi Order, the political organization of the pre-Imperial Republic and the nature of the force (yes, midi-chlorians). A common complaint of The Phantom Menace is that it focused too heavily on politics and bureaucracy, but those elements are essential for understanding how and why the republic fell in the first place.
All of the details mentioned above led to a massive amount of off-shoot storylines in comics, novels and cartoons now classified as "legends." Even though new Star Wars canon has become the law of the land, storytellers are able to pick from the massive amount legends material, including stockpiles created from the mythology established by The Phantom Menace, to bring them into official canon.
Darth Bane, a character from an Old Republic story-line and responsible for the Sith "rule of two," is one such example of bringing an off-shoot character into official canon by George Lucas. The battle of Malachor, also featured in an Old Republic story, was recently made canon in Star Wars Rebels. To this day, story-lines such as the Old Republic are cherished by fans and would not have been possible were it not for The Phantom Menace expanding the wider mythology.
Fan-Favorite Characters For All Ages
The Phantom Menace introduced a series of new characters that have become fan-favorites for many. Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi wan's former master portrayed by Liam Neeson, has garnered a reputation for being one of the most bad-ass Jedi ever. The character of Mace Windu, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, is also heavily invoked in similar discussions. Padme Amidala, played by Natalie Portman, beautifully carried on the legacy of strong female characters within Star Wars. For those of you with doubts, you need only remember that the character spear-headed the liberation of her home planet at the age of 16. The red-horned Sith villain, Darth Maul, has also gained a huge fan-following and became so popular that he was resurrected in the #CloneWars series and has also been featured recently in #Rebels.
Now on to the elephant in the room.
While The Phantom Menace gave fans some beloved new characters, it is hard to overlook that it also brought with it one of the most hated characters in the entire saga. It is difficult to justify the character of Jar Jar Binks with all of his silliness, camp and nonsense, but in an attempt to do so, we need to recall what George Lucas himself said at Star Wars Celebration Orlando earlier this year. He stated that the Star Wars saga was essentially made for twelve-year-olds or the young in general. In this light, the character of Jar Jar works. Many kids appreciated him in 1999 and young fans continue to do so now. For the hardened adults who still refuse to accept the character, perhaps you can find satisfaction in the fact that Jar Jar literally becomes a sort of homeless clown in Chuck Wendig's canon novel Star Wars Aftermath: Empire's End.
Thrilling Visual Spectacle
Even naysayers of The Phantom Menace tend to agree that the film is visually stunning. We were treated to the absolute pinnacle of special effects during the time of the film's release. This gave us a beautifully executed pod-race, the planet of Coruscant with its bustling cityscapes and behemoth structures and a massive end battle sequence between droids and Gungans. Another common complaint about The Phantom Menace is that it appears too new and shiny, unlike the lived-in look of the original trilogy. However, is it so difficult to think that people had more time to clean and wax their ships when their was no intergalactic struggle occupying their time? Regardless, many would argue that it was The Phantom Menace that paved the way for the current state of Hollywood special effects.
A final visual treat towards the end of the film is the incredible lightsaber duel between Obi Wan, Qui Gon and Darth Maul. Many fans of the prequels consider the final showdown between Obi Wan and Anakin to be the best duel to date, but it could easily be argued that The Phantom Menace features the single greatest duel in the entire saga. It was the first time fans ever saw a duel between three characters at the same time and it also featured a brand new double-bladed lightsaber. All of this culminated in a thrilling duel, without appearing overly choreographed like the duel in Revenge of the Sith.
Ultimately, when it comes to film, subjectivity is one of the greatest parts of fandom. Two people can watch the same film, like The Phantom Menace, and have differing opinions of the material. Still, hopefully some of the points made here can inspire you to see George Lucas' Episode I: The Phantom Menace from a different point of view and give it the chance it deserves.
What is your favorite moment from The Phantom Menace?