The first two prequels were my first introduction to the Star Wars universe. I watched these films on constant repeat upon days end. The visuals, characters, and action sparked a deep love for these worlds within my 8-year-old self. Over the course of time I saw the rest of the saga and began to expand my studies in film. I remember re–watching The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones when I was much older and asking myself – “I don’t remember these films being really disappointing?” Bringing the prequels into conversation can cause great disturbance among some people. I was too young to feel the great first spark of fan outrage when The Phantom Menace was released in 1999. I obviously now see that the film I used to adore as a child is not great at all. Even with me growing to see the film in a new light with more negativity- I can still honestly say that the film is not totally terrible and still not the worst of the Saga. Granted my childhood nostalgia slightly comes into play, but they do not completely make me biased for I have grown to favor the TPM over the bore that is AOTC.
These last few sentences right away are enough to upset some readers. I truly understand the fans that hold these films very close to their hearts because I too am one. However, almost all franchises have their highs and lows. It is important to thoroughly discuss the lows with the least bias so we can reflect and naturally grow from them. The Phantom Menace is not a good film, but it isn’t the complete tragedy that most fans believe it to be. There are plenty of elements that absolutely shine enough for me to be interested throughout the entire 136 minute run time. Think of this film like a pizza with all the right toppings you could want, but with poor tomato sauce as it’s filling.
First, it would be easier for us to start with what we already know- the negatives. What we arguably taste the most when we take a bite out of pizza is the tomato sauce. The pizza’s sauce makes up more of the pie than the toppings do. With a film, our priority should be to digest the narrative and its characters. If a film fails at making you do so, then you will probably think that it is not that good. Even if the toppings on the pizza suck, the amazing sauce may still convince you too keep eating. This is not the case with TPM. The film’s poor narrative and weak characters are what make a majority of people despise it. Almost everything that can be said about this particular weak sauce has already been said. The protagonists and antagonists are very one dimensional. There is a lack of focus as to who the main character is. Some dialogue is very unconvincing. There is an imbalance of comedy and drama. These four problems are absolutely undeniable. You may be now confused as to how anyone (or me) can defend a film with such glaring issues. Make no mistake, this review is only trying to prove that the film isn’t as terrible as the majority of people believe it to be. Now we can start digesting this pizza’s glorious toppings that unfortunately lie on top of weak sauce.
There are many elements that make up a complete film. The narrative and characters are priority, but that doesn’t mean that the other pieces aren’t crucial as well. Production design, costume work, score, and cinematography are all extremely important when crafting a film. This is especially the case when looking at Star Wars. I am willing to bet that if TPM didn’t have such a weak core- fans would praise the costume work, production design, and some visuals more than some already do. I have noticed that John Williams’ music gets the most praise from the film. This is well deserved because the entire score is superb.
Yes, there is more to the arrangement than just “Duel of the Fates”. I would even put this score close to the top when compared to the entire saga. For the next elements- try to block the weak narrative and thin characters from your mind for just this moment. Is Naboo not a beautiful planet (both on land and underwater) with a rich lore to it’s name? Aren’t almost all of Queen Amidala’s costumes instantly recognizable and eye popping? Don’t Darth Maul’s horns and face tattoos push his design to be one of the most iconic in science fiction? Finally, don’t all the various podracers and their unique vehicles make up one of the most colorful groups of aliens in the whole saga? When you pretend like the weak sauce isn’t there, the toppings sure do taste a lot better one their own.