The Phantom Menace has been universally panned by critics, but is it really that bad when it is watched by an ordinary person for enjoyment?
Film: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode 1 of the Star Wars saga)
Release Year: 1999
I first saw The Phantom Menace (for the sake of convenience, the title shall be shortened to Menace for this review) when I was quite young – about 8 or 9, but I had seen the original trilogy before I saw Menace. And yet, for some reason, Menace appealed to young me more than the originals did. The originals were interesting, sure, and they sparked my imagination, but I always found Menace more relatable and enjoyable. I think it’s partly because one of the main characters of the film, a young Anakin Skywalker, is the same age as I was, but also because kids tend to enjoy the character of Jar Jar Binks far more than adults do.
The film’s plot revolves around a politically instable republic, with a corrupt government, an evil trade federation invading one of the peaceful planets, and their attempt to escape and warn the government so they can intervene. Except, not as exciting as that. Yes, that is the basic premise of the film, but the plot is nothing special. It takes a while to fully set into motion, and the result is a film that doesn’t feel all that special or memorable. However, it does introduce us to just about every important character in the Star Wars universe (except the clones and the cast of the original trilogy, as most of them haven’t been born yet), which is no small feat. We are introduced to a young, innocent Anakin Skywalker who just wants to protect his mum. An Obi-Wan Kenobi who is agile, and so on. Later on, especially in the later movies, these traits become interesting to look back on.
Visually, the film is stunning. The battle droids, while made with CGI, look sleek and appropriately Star Wars-y. The planet of Naboo is beautiful, and Coruscant just looks like an amazing location. Tatooine makes a return, which makes sense, as it will go on to become a major planet in the Star Wars saga. Everything feels real: there really is an underwater gungan city; those really are old Nabooan relics; that really is a chamber in Coruscant. The film really immerses you in its worlds, which is sadly more than you can say for the story.
The special effects are decent, and the action scenes are well thought-out. Particular mention must be given to the pod racing scene, which is both thrilling and engaging.
But the lacklustre plot, occasional poor dialogue, and other such problems make the film a tough one to enjoy. Jar Jar Binks is a prime example, his behaviour and speech is especially cringe-worthy at the start of the film, but his humour improves by the end into becoming stupid, but somewhat funny.
The Phantom Menace is really a Star Wars episode for kids to enjoy. They will find it much more engaging than an adult will, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t enjoyable at all: There are some truly great and epic scenes that deserve to be seen (the last battle is especially awesome), but overall, this film is pretty average.