In Defence Of: SW – The Phantom Menace

By Peter Wilkinson

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The internet is a wonderful and scary place, filled with pundits, critics and commentators who examine the minutiae of everything so we don’t have to. The pop-culture subconscious they generate can form our opinion for us, sometimes with very little input from ourselves. But are all those ‘bad’ films and TV shows really as bad as the internet would have us believe? Are they not at least worth another quick look, before we cast them aside as irredeemable? We decided to bravely step through the office space/time portal for a last quick look at some of the most maligned…

Isn’t it great, whilst watching your favourite film or TV serial, when you reach that point of realisation that all those questions you’ve had for so long are about to be answered? That all of that built up tension will be once and for all satisfied? In some cases those questions might have been hanging around for decades. And so, in the long, hot, almost Tattooine-like summer of 1999, we were filled with hope. Not a new hope, sadly, but hope nonetheless as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace arrived in our cinemas to answer questions we had been pondering for decades. Just what was the old republic like? How did the Jedi order operate? Did Yoda ever have hair? Our wait was finally over.

Jar Jar BinksUnfortunately, as well as answering our questions we were left with just as many new ones unanswered, and an endless supply of internet based memes that still crop up occasionally today. New questions included, but were not limited to – What was George Lucas smoking when he wrote the intro text? What happened during casting that led to Jake Lloyd actually getting the role of Anakin? What are Midichlorians supposed to be? A virgin birth? Really? And my own particular favourite, Jar-Jar Binks? Are we sure George’s medication is balanced correctly? Could someone just check he’s ok?

Darth MaulIn all seriousness though, The Phantom Menace isn’t the worst Star Wars film. It isn’t even the worst of the prequels. It certainly has problems, there is no doubt there, but it doesn’t deserve the ire it receives. Jake Lloyd played Anakin ‘The Mannequin’ Skywalker as a child actor with no less a performance than the three leads in the first Harry Potter film. The film contains actual lightsabre fights, not the confused, epilepsy inducing messes of the other prequels; arguably the best lightsabre fight of all six movies. There’s a Sith villain here with genuine menace in Darth Maul, so cruelly tossed away in his prime. The sound design is flawless, as we expect from a Star Wars film, especially in the pod-race sequence. The overblown, complex political plot enriches the universe to a degree it deserves; We aren’t afraid of other intellectual properties with plots more complex than this, so why is it a problem here? Simply because it’s aimed at kids? Yes, it is, and that’s why Jar-Jar is also right at home here. Because, like the Ewoks from Episode 6, he is not there to appeal to us adult fans. He’s there to appeal to the younger viewers the film is also aimed at. Seriously, my son loved him.

The Phantom Menace has become internet shorthand for bad sci-fi, and for bad Star Wars in particular, but that doesn’t really hold up under close examination. It may be fashionable, and these days even expected to treat it with disregard, but it isn’t really that bad. It’s a family film, trying to reach a target audience that’s several generations wide, and it doesn’t do such a bad job of it. My generation first saw Star Wars when we were around seven years old. We still see those first three films with the rosy view afforded by the lens of our childhood. Seeing a new Star Wars now is much more difficult. We aren’t seven any more. We just aren’t that forgiving, because we aren’t that naïve. So maybe The Phantom Menace isn’t the cause of the problem. Maybe, just maybe, it’s our expectations.

Here’s hoping we all behave better when Episode seven arrives later this year.

Read “In Defence Of: Predator“.


bright red eyesPete Wilkinson is a wanderer in many worlds, one minute holding back the Shadow in Middle-Earth, and Piloting Starships the next. But not in Middle-Earth, of course. That would be silly.