In Defense of The Phantom Menace Being The Best

Picture this. You enter the cool darkness of a movie theater. The year is 1999. A decade and a half ago, the Original Trilogy wrapped up, but the filmmaking genius, George Lucas is far from finished. You sit down and enjoy the new generation of Star Wars.

It’s a year later. Everything is chaos. You think about Episode I and that imbecile George Lucas. You think about Jar Jar. You vomit.

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Compared to the Original Trilogy, Episode I may not look like much. In my opinion, the movie has bad child acting and annoying CGI sidekicks. It has too much political drama and not enough action. It’s got a race in the middle of the story for some reason. While all these things are fair criticisms, are they really the source of all the vitriol against Episode I? Have Star Wars fans unfairly judged this film for being too different?

Yes. That’s why I am here to tell you why Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the best (or at least a good) Star Wars movie.

The first thing to notice about Episode I is the tone of the film. The tone of the original trilogy was a pulpy sci-fi hero story. Episode I found itself striving to be more of an action blockbuster meant for families. Another thing to note is the lore. The mythology of the Star Wars universe gets taken to new levels by showing the inner working of how a government in space works and scientific dissection of how the force works. Some say this exploration is pointless and takes away from the film. For me, it only adds to the validity of Star Wars being one of the most important movie franchises. It takes its mythology very seriously and to a whole other level compared to most franchises that people get nerdy about.

The Star Wars universe is expansive, and Episode I continues to make it swell. George Lucas treats each new planet and discovery with the same care and attention to detail that the original trilogy had. Naboo is a perfect example as the story shows every nook and cranny of the fascinating atmosphere through underwater exploration, battles on land, escaping through a palace, and a lightsaber duel to the death. We are introduced to a whole new slew of characters that accompany Anakin on his fall from hero to villain. The people closest to him all play a unique mentorship role that helps with his narrative. We are also introduced to Jar Jar Binks, one of the most hated aspects of Episode I. In the light of this film being viewed as fun and family-friendly, we can excuse the over-the-top slapstick comedy to a certain extent. Although the pod-racing scene overstays its welcome, it still adds a unique spin to the Star Wars story that we haven’t really seen and it makes for great video game material.

The musical score is still on the same caliber as the Original Trilogy. It is dynamic, menacing, and dreamy. Duel of the Fates is still a top-tier Star Wars song and perfect as the soundtrack for the devilish Darth Maul to face off with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The lightsaber duel raises the bar for action sequences in the Star Wars universe as well. The film is met with a triumphant yet tragic ending, something that represents Anakin’s entire character arc in the series.

Photo: Deryk Rumbold

Overall, Episode I definitely shouldn’t be measured with the same ruler people measure the Original Trilogy with. George Lucas set out to make a Star Wars film more geared towards the next generation. To inspire a love for the Star Wars universe as a whole and not just a single movie.  Episode I is best appreciated in the context of all of the prequels together and what they represent. A fascination with more than just some characters, but a fascination with a galaxy far, far away.

Media by Deryk Rumbold.


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