On Defending The Phantom Menace

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.

One thought on “On Defending The Phantom Menace

  1. Here’s the thing. When you put just these three movies next to each other (the prequels) and compare them, I would easily agree that the Phantom Menance is the best of the lot. But you can very easily lump them all together as three crappy movies.

    The Phantom Menance gave us Midiclorians, established that having the “high ground” doesn’t really mean anything (Obi Wan defeating Darth Maul, who has the same advantage over Obi Wan that he claims to have against Anakin in “Sith”), introduced Naboo (which no one cares about), gave us Jar Jar Binks which even Lucas shows you he agrees was a mistake by practically abandoning him (as he does Midiclorians) for “Attack” and “Sith”, and wastes our time with Pod Racing. Now I’ll admit that Pod Racing is entertaining but it is completely unnecessary. Its a “look at what we can do” piece that eats up far too much of film and is practically deviod of storytelling.

    “Attack” and “Sith” cannot help but be crappy when based off of this horrible source material. I’m not trying to be a hater, its just a bad movie. C3PO is now made by Anakin, Obi Wan and Qui Gon Jin demonstrate super speed in the beginning of the movie and then fail to recall the skill in the shield corridor, and Anakin was apparently “Immaculately” conceived. Seriously, what is there to like about this movie?

    The 3D version is just another attempt by George Lucas to cash on a franchise he ran into the ground for the original fans so that he can maximize its profit potential for a new generation. It wasn’t filmed in 3D so its just a 3D enhancement rather then “True” 3D. I mean, why anyone would waste their money on this drivel. I’ve already declared quite loudly that when it comes time to sit down with my daughters to watch Star Wars we will be watching the DVDs I have of the original, unenhanced, un-specialized versions of the original trilogy. Han will definitely be firing first.

    Jack

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