10 Reasons 'The Phantom Menace' Is The Best 'Star Wars' Movie
Do You Agree?
When one speaks of the best Star Wars movie, long-time classic titles such as The Empire Strikes Back or A New Hope frequently come to mind. One could also argue that Revenge of the Sith or Rogue One are worthy contenders as well. What is certain in the eyes of the majority, however, is that Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace would never come close to being one of the top movies of the franchise. In fact, fans are quick to criticize it for lacking momentum or excitement and rank it among the worst Star Wars films.
Despite the prequel hate, I argue that The Phantom Menace is far from terrible. Hear me out. While it is hard to top the original trilogy classics, Episode I brings much delight and meaningful content to the table.
1. A Fresh "Start"
The galaxy as portrayed by the original trilogy is fairly straightforward, essentially being a split between the good ("the people" - headed by the Rebel Alliance) and the evil (the Empire). The Phantom Menace, on the other hand, provided a fresh "start" by introducing the galaxy as "broken" rather than being on high tides. Politics penetrate the movie as a main theme, with Chancellor Valorum's administration portrayed as the epitome of corruption and bureaucracy as seen in its indecisiveness during the Naboo crisis. Senate debates, shady insider dealings and political manipulation are seen through the Trade Federation's nefarious work, while the Jedi are generally portrayed as being somewhat "detached" from reality rather than the benevolent and just warriors the audience expected. All these provided a brand-new perspective of the galaxy to the audience, albeit not being action-packed.
2. Diverse Content
Everyone craves all-out space battles and well-choreographed lightsaber duels in Star Wars movies. Nonetheless, it is imperative to strike a balance between action-packed scenes and in-depth storytelling and other content. Just as the original has done so with its space battles, blaster fights, and progress with the Skywalker storyline, The Phantom Menace also boasts a broad spectrum of meaningful content that makes it a palatable, well-balanced movie. On one hand, we have an intense podracing segment, simultaneous ground and space battles, and an ultimate lightsaber showdown. On the other, we have slower-paced politics and negotiations along with detailed origin stories of main characters of the Skywalker saga. All these culminated into a medley of diverse content that elevated George Lucas' legacy.
3. Introduction of Pivotal and Nostalgic Characters
As chronologically the "first" Star Wars movie to take place in the timeline, The Phantom Menace is necessitated to lay the bedrock for the "future" development of the story and main characters. Having been introduced to named characters such as Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Episode I succeeded in introducing pivotal protagonists and (to-be) antagonists with depth and interesting backstories: Anakin growing up in harsh conditions with close emotional attachment to his mother, and Obi-Wan taking up the great responsibility of training the Chosen One as his master's dying wish. The introduction of Qui-Gon Jinn, Padmé Amidala, and Darth Maul also opened up the possibility of further exploring the characters in greater detail for future productions, notably the fallen Sith apprentice in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. One must not forget, of course, the nostalgic fan favorites R2-D2 and C-3PO.
4. Cinematic Design and Breathtaking Scenery
For a movie released in 1999, the scenery designs and cinematic CGI used in The Phantom Menace is hands down mind-blowing. From Tatooine's rugged, primitive buildings to Coruscant's metropolis infrastructure, the cinematic shots in the movie were certainly ahead of its time. The highlight came with Naboo's gorgeous landscapes, featuring breathtaking waterfalls and cascades, beautiful palace and gardens in Theed, and an Atlantis-like underwater city.
5. Connected With A Younger Audience New To Star Wars
Jar Jar Binks and 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker are frequently criticized, the former being described as "cringeworthy" and the latter being described as "unbearable." The two could also be seen, as I argue, to be crucial elements anchoring Star Wars as a favorite for the younger audience. As a child, I vividly remember watching The Phantom Menace as my first Star Wars movie, and I found Anakin to be a relatable character in age and Jar Jar Binks as a genuinely entertaining character. While the same sentiment would likely not prevail if one were to see the movie at an older age, Episode I was in fact successful in drawing in a new generation of Star Wars fans who could appreciate all Star Wars productions.
6. Characters And Costume Design
Apart from breathtaking scenery, the character and costume designs of The Phantom Menace also stands out as unique. A representative example is Queen Amidala's character design. Her royal outfit, particularly her striking gown and headdress, was culturally inspired by Mongolian royal costumery. Amidala's white and red face painting are also references to Asian cultures - red being a lucky color and the powdered white face paralleled with the esteemed Japanese geisha and is a signal of wealth.
7. Embedded Social Themes and Concepts
While Star Wars is set in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas has never been shy of incorporating historical references or elements of the real world into the movies. As part of Anakin's background, slavery was introduced as a main theme in The Phantom Menace, which underscored a hint for Anakin's dark side that was further elaborated in related arcs in The Clone Wars show. Wealth disparity and injustice were also highlighted, with a stark contrast between Coruscant as a first-world planet and Tatooine as a third-world counterpart. The inclusion of real-world issues makes the movie rather relatable despite its science-fantasy nature.
8. Memorable Soundtrack
One of the most memorable elements of The Phantom Menace is its amazing soundtrack. Having scored the iconic Star Wars themes such as the main theme and "Imperial March," John Williams once again brought life to the movie through music, and Episode I was elevated to new heights. "Duel of the Fates" stood out as the best-known track of the movie, featuring a choir component that brought out the intensity and significance of the lightsaber duel between the two Jedi and the shadow apprentice in the Theed power generator.
9. Providing A "Scientific" Basis for the Force
The audience was introduced to "midi-chlorians" in the movie, which are microscopic, intelligent life forms residing in cells of all living beings. While the Force binds all things, one's sensitivity to and potential in the Force is determined by the number of midi-chlorians in one's body, providing a "scientific" explanation of how the Force works. Some claim that this robs the Force of its mystery in the original trilogy, but I argue that it benefits in providing a "plausible" explanation for it and opens up new potential story developments, such as the Imperial Remnants' study of Grogu for their Force cloning attempts in season 2 of The Mandalorian, not to forget the frequently-memed tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, of course.
Well, this speaks for itself.
Written By Geoff Lo
Syndicated From Culture Slate