The year is 1999, the hype and anticipation is at its highest for the Star Wars fandom. The first Star Wars in 16 years and we finally get to see the backstory to cinema’s greatest villain, Darth Vader. Unfortunately, things did not go to plan and The Phantom Menace ended up upsetting a large majority of fans and has been lauded as the worst film in the Star Wars franchise. It upset most fans, except for me, hence the article.
First of all, the main gripe that fans have with the film is the inclusion of the character that is Jar Jar Binks. I can see why this character is seen as annoying or completely migraine inducing. However. Jar Jar Binks was comic relief to a film that has a underlying darkness to it. The film is full of death, war and poverty. This is a film that is aimed at the PG-13 market, Jar Jar Binks was essential to this film to provide the comedy and light-hearted fun. It is a fun character that is always scapegoated of why this film is considered bad. I enjoyed the character, it was funny to me when I was a child and yes I have grown up since but I still imitate the character when I rewatch this film. It’s just a bit of fun! Jar Jar Binks is a joy to watch whereas if you want to look at annoying characters in the franchise, C-3PO, Ewoks and Porgs come to mind.
Phantom Menace has two of the greatest things ever added to the franchise. First, Podracing, the fast paced rally style racing across the galaxy. It did not just create awesome games on multiple consoles but the Podracing scenes were amazing. They were action packed and frenetic. The only negative of this, is that the films have not revisited the sport. Disney, where is the Podracing movie? Phantom Menace also introduced Darth Maul. The spike headed, black and red, demon-like, double lightsaber foe and is the main reason why I enjoy this film. The design of the character is brilliant. the demeanor of Darth Maul is terrifying and he brings a lift of energy to the film. Darth Maul is a brilliant villain that scared me as a kid and as an adult I just find the character awesome to watch.
With the inclusion of Darth Maul, there are no longer the slow and methodical lightsaber battles of the original trilogy, now there is fast, choreographed battles that are exciting to watch. Jedi’s are basically space ninja’s so they should move like them. The lightsaber battles are complemented by the best piece of music in the franchise, Dual of Fates. The thunderous score by John Williams along with the sleek choreography of the lightsaber battle between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn brings together a brilliant and tense last 30 minutes of the film and I feel like people forget this when they say this film is bad. It is such a good sequences of events that is overlooked and people just keep bringing up Jar Jar Binks.
This film was also revolutionary in how it was made, the use of CGI and digital effects within the Phantom Menace was astounding for the time and it has been a major factor in how modern cinema has embraced digital technology. Whether you hate the over reliance of CGI in films, it has led to the increasing potential to create new worlds within the century old medium. The worlds of Tatooine and Naboo are wonderfully styled and the use of digital technology allows these worlds to be opened up. Fully fledged digital characters and settings allow the true vision of what Star Wars was supposed to be.
Now I am not saying the Phantom Menace is without fault, some poor writing, an overuse of political issues and some bad acting does dog the film, however to call this the worst film in the franchise, or even a bad film, in my opinion is unfair. This was the most complete story of the prequel trilogy with the introduction of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker, the death of Qui-Gon Jinn, the Empire rising. The Phantom Menace is a film that is full of exciting moments with good characters. Ewan Mcgregor’s Obi Wan and Darth Maul has since become fan favourites. I always enjoy watching this film, whether it’s the Podracing, Lightsaber battles, the War on Naboo, the amazing score by John Williams or just the visual worlds Phantom Menace creates. I believe that some people hate on this film because it is the said thing to do, however when you step back away from the fandom for a few hours and give this film a watch, you will see there is more to this film then everyone gives it credit for.