‘THE PHANTOM MENACE’ Review

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 rewatching 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.

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How hyped were you when you first saw this image?

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.

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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.

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Do not even try to tell me that this look is not iconic.
There is one more thing left to be discussed- the potential. This is what ultimately makes me able to sit through the entirety of the film. George Lucas had all the right ideas in the right places for TPM, but didn’t know how to tie them in a strong linear thread. Imagine hearing Lucas’ early ideas and pitches for the film when it was still in early development. “Before she gave birth to Princess Leia, Queen Padme Amidala had to unite the water and land societies of her home planet to avoid robot invasion”. “Before he begins the path that leads him to being Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker must free himself of slavery by winning a dangerous desert drag race filled with alien scum”. If Lucas himself told you these ideas, you might tell yourself- “this sounds too good to fail”. Even Jar Jar Binks had great potential being the comedic relief. No, he is not a complete terrible character. He still has an arc even though it is a strange one. Lucas wrote a character that could have been iconic for the right reasons, but didn’t know how to work with his comedy. Fans who have watched the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series know that Jar Jar’s comedy is not that bad when under the right direction.
Almost every single prequel lead shines brighter in this series because they were under better direction. Jar Jar could have been a character as big as Chewbacca. He had the unique look and potential punch lines, but little to no delivery in the film. However, these threads are still somewhat present and show great potential in the final product. The threads are just unfortunately present in messy knots.
We can only thrive on great toppings on a pizza for so long because they are not the ultimate source of taste for the final product. Even with it’s great potential and fantastic toppings- TPM still falls flat and makes for a pretty disappointing pizza. However, it’s handful of silver linings do put it on top of it’s sequel. AOTC also has a weak sauce at it’s core, but it does not shine within the other elements like TPM does. I truly believe that a lot of the hate thrown at TPM just comes from it being a Star Wars film.
There are plenty of other blockbuster films that are worse that don’t get as much hate. This might upset some readers, but I would argue that the Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Fast and Furious, and even Marvel and DC Film franchises feature entries that are way worse than TPM. If you were to show the film to a person who who has zero knowledge of Star Wars they might walk out of the film saying that it was “fine” or “okay”. Star Wars is definitely a franchise with great prestige, but fans should realize that sometimes not everything is perfect. Mistakes get made and instead of taking the short route and pretending like they do not exist, we should accept their faults and grow from them. Look at how far the entire series has come since 1999.
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Just in case you were wondering how I rank the entire franchise from best to last:
1. TESB
2. ANH
3. TFA
4. ROTJ (switches places with TFA a lot)
5. R1
6. ROTS
7. TPM
8. AOTC
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6 thoughts on “‘THE PHANTOM MENACE’ Review

  1. I think a lot of fans, myself included saw the movie as pretty awesome during it’s first showing, because it was Star Wars returning after being away for so long. But…looking back at it now, it is certainly not a great film at all. While there are some very cool things in it: the podrace and of course Darth Maul, it was ultimately the weak narrative and characters that failed to make this a classic.😊

    Liked by 1 person

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