Yesterday, writer Peter David blogged that he took his daughter to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3-D and… she liked it. She really liked it.
His reaction to his daughter’s reaction? “Holy crap. Holy freaking crap.”
I know it’s fashionable for people to pile on The Phantom Menace, but I won’t. I can’t. I’m largely in agreement with his daughter on The Phantom Menace.
I don’t hate the film at all. I think it’s the most enjoyable of the Prequel Trilogy. By comparison, I think Attack of the Clones is appalling, and Revenge of the Sith is an atrocity.
Why do I like Phantom Menace, which fandom hates, and revile Sith, with fandom thinks is the only worthwhile film of the Prequel Trilogy?
It’s a simple thing, really.
The Phantom Menace has the freedom to do something original. We’re some period of time before the Star Wars films we know, and anything can come before it. Lucas has a blank canvas to work with in Phantom Menace and he takes advantage of it. We get Naboo! We get giant land battles! We get monstrous spacecraft! We get undersea cities! We get Coruscant! We get Qui-Gon Jinn!
Unfortunately, once Lucas shows us the canvas of The Phantom Menace, we know that that canvas has to join up with A New Hope and so we can figure out much of what needs to come in between. There needs to be clones, because we know there’s a Clone War to come. There needs to be an Anakin romance, because we know that he fathers twins. There needs to be a falling out between Obi-Wan and Anakin, because we know that Anakin succumbs to the Dark Side of the Force. Attack of the Clones avoids much of the expectations game (and based on the novelization there’s a decent story under there, but Lucas isn’t a decent director to get at it), but Sith cannot avoid it, and thus it’s a movie in which nothing unexpected happens for two and a half hours because Lucas has to make sure that his canvases join together.
I won’t say that The Phantom Menace is good. I have no intention to see it in 3-D. But I don’t think it’s the total disaster as a film that it’s widely considered to be. If on pain of death I had to watch only one of the Prequel films, Phantom Menace is the one I would opt for every time.