No, I’m not trolling you.
15 years later, I still love Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. I’m going to try and keep this under 1000 words.
I suspect film blogs are going to play their superiority complexes to the fullest today in various jabs, if not full-on articles about the film. I expect very little of them to be positive because going against the discourse is scary. Some need their opinions validated by others, and others probably haven’t seen the film in so long, they believe the discourse. I’m not saying some don’t generally dislike the film, they do and that’s their right. But the problem is that more probably like or love the film than hate it. Most lovers just do not feel like getting into a 30 minute discussion about someone else’s often petty issues on a fifteen year old film. I am able to come to my own opinions outside of the entertainment sphere.
The fact of the matter is Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace is a film I have watched several times a year, for fifteen years today. I can’t really can’t say that about most films. I’m a moviegoer. I love going into the theater and watching films with an audience. There aren’t many mainstream films I haven’t seen. In all of that time, not many films have offered the spectacle, wonderment, exhilaration, and depth of a film like The Phantom Menace.
Episode I is absolutely beautiful. I mean that. You can pause the film on almost any sequence and the shot will just look stunning. So much of the film could be a beautiful pieces of fantasy art if it were presented in a context outside of Star Wars. Otoh Gunga (Naboo), Theed (Naboo) and Coruscant are absolutely astonishing creations unlike anything I’ve seen in one film, all together. I’ve always felt that much of Star Wars is about place; sand planet, snow planet, forrest planet and so on. George Lucas showed us what “place” is like when it is civilized while still taking us to the “frontier” planet of Tatooine.
Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are the epitome of Jedi Knights. Exemplary. When I want to see Jedi doing what Jedi are supposed to do, I put this film on. That opening sequence where Qui-Gon cuts through the blast door is brilliant. I also think Nute Gunray is absolutely hilarious and underrated with some of the best lines in the entire Star Wars saga. The opening hits all the beats for me and then I find myself watching the entire film when it comes on.
How many films give us a great opening like The Phantom Menace? For your ticket price, how many films give you something as thrilling as the Podrace? How many films one up something akin to the Podrace with an epic lightsaber fight that has and probably never will be topped anytime soon? In terms of the blockbuster as a genre film, this movie excels.
I also applaud George Lucas for making the hero a fourteen year old girl. Lucas makes childhood in the Star Wars universe a sci-fi throwback. He transformed Buster Keaton into an orange amphibian outcast. The movie thought outside the box, experimented with storytelling structure (think four battles converging), propelled visual effects, and did not give us the same Star Wars film we already owned. It was completely original and to this day, I can’t think of a blockbuster film as original as The Phantom Menace.
The Phantom Menace didn’t follow the rules. It made up its own rules. You don’t become George Lucas on accident. People have called him lazy. If he was lazy, Anakin would have been fifteen in Episode I. He wouldn’t have been pure of heart, he would have been born a bad seed. He wasn’t. Anakin was good. I deeply respect George Lucas for thinking outside the box and always doing the unexpected and giving his characters a trajectory.
Don’t even get me started on John Williams. This whole piece could be a love letter to the Episode I score. The Trade Federation Theme, Duel of the Fates, Anakin’s theme, just to name a few are just stellar pieces of music that have stood the test of time. Sometimes I watch Episode I just to hear Williams’ music. I haven’t heard a piece of music as impactful as Duel of the Fates since 1999.
I feel the most touching scene in the Star Wars saga is when Anakin goes to leave home and take to the stars with Qui-Gon Jinn in his “starcruiser.” The Skywalker Force leitmotif plays and we see the young boy taking his first step on a journey that is up there with the best epics in the history of planet. I also love that he turns back before he goes on. He can’t leave his mom in slavery, but he has to and I love where those ideas and themes took us in the sequels.
Now that we have all six of George Lucas’ Star Wars films, it is hard to keep this on track and just discuss The Phantom Menace. But I will say, in closing, the film is a visual masterpiece with a masterful score. Writing this film off out of arrogance and snobbery is at the loss of the person who does so. The film is Star Wars to its very core. The Phantom Menace was the last VHS I ever bought, the first DVD, and my most anticipated Blu-ray. I’m happy to have it and I wouldn’t change it for the world.