The prequels are often considered the worst part of the Star Wars saga. In fact, many fans would like to pretend they don’t exist. As I said in my review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, fans don’t get to decide what’s canon. The films exist and it’s time someone said something positive about them.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way because they’ve been said to death. Was Jar Jar Binks annoying? Yes. Was Jake Lloyd bad? Yes, but so was everyone who treated him so badly afterward. Hate the film, that’s fine. but don’t tear down a kid like that in the process. Were the midichlorians a bad explanation of The Force? Yes, actually I would’ve preferred no explanation at all. The Force is magic, and magic isn’t cool once you explain how it works. It ceases to be magic at all.
So what do I like about The Phantom Menace? For one, the music is awesome. John Williams’s score is as good as the score for the original trilogy. I especially like “Duel of the Fates”, which plays during the battle between Qui-Conn, Darth Maul, and Obi-Wan.
Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor are great as Qui-Conn Jinn and young Obi-Wan Kenobi. I like the banter they share. It’s late enough in their relationship that they don’t seem like mentor and student, but comrades. Obi-Wan’s sarcasm is done in a friendly way.
Darth Maul is to me, an intimidating presence. I think what makes him work is what isn’t there. He’s like Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back. Boba Fett had very few lines (in fact, Darth Maul has even less), but he didn’t need very much. And it’s the same thing here. Darth Maul just has that presence that makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on screen.
The Pod Race is the best part of the movie for me. Sebulba is a fitting rival for Annakin. He has no honor, and the reason he’s won every race up until this point is that he cheats. I like the way he walks and his cocky personality. (I laugh so hard when his own pod fails after all that time he spent wrecking everyone else’s pods. And how he actually doesn’t even bother to tamper with Annakin’s because he doesn’t see him as a threat. He’s just a kid, and a slave on top of it. Why should he be afraid?
The CG effects do seem crude by today’s standards, but to me they still hold up, even with Jar Jar’s annoying presence. Have you seen Watchmen or Guardians of the Galaxy, both of which also have CG characters? Or the Lord of the Rings movies? Do you think they would’ve taken the risk of having CG characters instead of real people or puppets if George Lucas hadn’t done it first? That not every character looked good is irrelevant. Everyone saw those characters and thought “we should do that too!”
The Phantom Menace’s reputation is overblown. It’s not as bad as you think. It has its flaws, but we spend so much time hating it that we don’t even notice its strengths. That’s why I’m reviewing the prequels as well as the originals. I’m tired of the negativity.