There’s an awful lot of space out there. Galaxies upon Galaxies in an expanding Universe of twinkling stars. Surely there is enough for everyone to share? Alas, no. Wars will keep breaking out. One in particular has received a lot of press - it happened a long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away. You’ve probably heard about it.
What you may not know is that the whole thing, which costs billions of lives, started because of a simple trade dispute.
The opening title scrawl is generally the point at which many people began to seriously worry about The Phantom Menace. There are, in truth, many other aspects of the film held up as offensive by Star Wars fans (or maybe that should be offensive to Star Wars fans?) Is it fair, though? Here are a few reasons that the film is, in fact, very enjoyable.
One of the most hated Star Wars characters is Jar Jar Binks. He has been unfairly maligned, however, and plays an important role. There are a number of quite dark, and dialogue-heavy scenes in the film, and he simply provides comic relief. For adults this may be unnecessary, but The Phantom Menace isn’t a film for adults. He works as a great counterpoint to the gloom that all the other characters are experiencing. The best example, although a small one, is the point at which they’re heading back to Naboo from Coruscant and he shouts with joy ‘We’sa goin’ home!’. He’s clumsy and silly, and this makes a Galaxy filled with super-powered Jedi and perfectly poised royalty much more accessible. Although both Threepio and Artoo are in the film, it is largely through Jar Jar’s eyes that we are watching these events. While we’re on the subject of Gungans, their City is stunning. The moment when the two Jedi swim to the vast and mysterious underwater habitat is wonderful.
The noble Queen Amidala. Natalie Portman was determined that her character would be a positive role-model for young girls, and surely she is? Amidala is calm and secure in her role. She is both a leader and humble - the scene where she meets Boss Nass for example - and she holds her own when it comes down to hard work or combat. She also has a very shiny spaceship. Theed, the Naboo City is also wonderfully designed.
The pod race? Is it just George Lucas cashing in on video-games? No. It’s him enjoying his passion for racing in a Star Wars setting. It’s exciting as heck. It’s dirty, dangerous and even has its own dastardly villain - Sebulba. Fragments of smashed pods flying everywhere, Tusken Raiders and sabotage. What’s not to love? As a plot point, it also shows just how strong Anakin is with the Force, too. Until this point, there was only Qui-Gon’s word for it.
Rolling droids of death, the Droidekas, are able to hold even two Jedi back. Very, very cool. The Droid Army in general is very cool. Yes, they’re stupid, but then there has to be a reason that the Empire’s stormtroopers aren’t droids, right? Also, and importantly, it allows Jedi to hack them up without any gore. This is a family film, remember, too many flying limbs wouldn’t go down to well.
The greatest part of The Phantom Menace? The action scenes at the end, and the duel with Darth Maul in particular. John Williams’ Duel of the Fates blasting away is, simply, stunning (and probably worth the price of admission alone!). This is the best lightsaber duel from any of the six films, without a doubt, exciting, amazing choreography and finally seeing Jedi in their prime is worth the wait. There is even a double-ended lightsaber! Remember how excited everyone was when that was shown in the trailer?
Of course The Phantom Menace is far from perfect, but then there are bits of the original trilogy that don’t make sense - why must the rebel fighters do the trench run? They’re brother and sister? Just what does the space slug eat when the Millenium Falcon isn’t parked in its mouth? These have all been forgiven and even embraced as part of popular culture. Isn’t it time that we all forgive The Phantom Menace for not being perfect, and just enjoy the things it does well?
The Phantom Menace is released again in 3D from today. Watch it with fresh eyes. You may be surprised by how much fun you have.