The Quick Report

‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ is 25 and Just as Bad as Ever

It was 1999, and I sat at a drive-in theater to catch an early preview of the highly anticipated new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace. Nerds like me had been interested in this story for decades—exactly how did Anakin Skywalker go from Jedi Knight to Sith lord Darth Vader?

When the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm intros appeared on screen, people cheered from their cars. Then the huge STAR WARS logo appeared with John Williams’ unmistakable fanfare and the drive-in crowd truly erupted. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for.

Unfortunately, within five minutes of the movie starting, I had a suspicion: This might not be great. By the time Jar Jar Binks made his first pratfall, my suspicion turned into realization: The Phantom Menace was going to be a letdown. Ultimately, compared to the first three films, it didn’t hold a candle and quickly became considered “the worst” Star Wars film—a dishonor that was unfortunately topped by subsequent films like Attack of the Clones and, ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker.

The Phantom Legacy

As a fan of Star Wars practically from birth, I kept up with the extended universe through novels and comic books. While many of them were fun reads, they never touched on the Skywalker origin story quite like the new trilogy planned to.

I’m admittedly a lot more accepting of The Phantom Menace these days. It’s still near the bottom of my ratings, but we’ve reached an odd time in the franchise where there are more mediocre-to-bad movies than good ones. I’ve come to accept that Star Wars is different now. It’s a standard movie franchise rather than the incredibly influential behemoth that it was in the early to mid-1980s.

The original trilogy balanced out the rough edges around the prequel trilogy films, but now that the sequel trilogy has come and gone, looking at the whole of Star Wars is a sad affair. In my estimation, there are three good movies (the OGs), three subpar movies (Revenge of the Sith, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi), and three terrible movies (Rise of Skywalker, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones).

Maybe that equal spread brings balance to the Force, but it looks dire to me. Especially with the mixed reception of the Disney+ shows like The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and The Book of Boba Fett, or the back-and-forth reception of Solo and Rogue One.

Fan Fiction?

Making matters more complicated, the transfer of Star Wars ownership from George Lucas to Disney brings up another interesting issue. Can the new Star Wars content even be considered official? Disney paid to play in that sandbox, but without George Lucas, is Star Wars still Star Wars or is it just fan fiction written by new writers hired by a giant corporation?


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But even Lucas didn’t have a steady hand on the wheel. He swerved the franchise’s quality way off course with the prequels, only realizing with Episode 3 that he needed some help in the writing department. Actors ran around green rooms pretending to see things and interact with alien species. The technological advancements were working against the filmmaking—something we saw again with the overly heavy use of “The Volume” in the Obi-Wan show.

The Future of Star Wars

We know there is a follow-up film after The Rise of Skywalker, starring Daisy Ridley as Rey “Skywalker.” There already seems to be an effort to redeem the sequel trilogy through the Mandalorian show, where they appear to be building towards explaining the “somehow” in “somehow Palpatine has returned.” This new film could be a part of the post-sequel damage control. Star Wars has certainly lost some legitimacy, and Disney seems desperate to get it back.

But it doesn’t seem to be what current Star Wars fans are looking for. Many of them are clamoring for an Old Republic trilogy. But I’m not impressed when I see dozens of lightsabers waving around on-screen at the same time. I liked it more when Jedi and lightsaber fights were special events in the movies—when elderly Obi-Wan faced Vader, or when Luke faced Vader and their rematch in the throne room. THAT is Star Wars to me. Everything else feels like cosplay.