Do you remember where you were 20 years ago? I certainly do.
Watertown, New York and in the middle of this upstate roaring metropolis, I stared up at the marquis of the Salmon Run Mall theater and it was only playing one film on all eight screens.
They didn’t have to elaborate. It was Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first of the prequels belonging to a beloved Star Wars saga that hadn’t seen an original story get a first run movie release since 1983.
When the title graphics hit and that John Williams score blared through the speakers, the entire crowd applauded. It was the kickoff of a new Star Wars experience that the entire world would enjoy.
We probably should have called it a night right there and gone home, but we stayed.
And yeah, it was pretty bad.
But nobody wanted to admit it. We forced ourselves to believed we like it, and we told our friends it was good, and they did the same. You didn’t want to be the dude that dumped on Star Wars. “What’s a matter with you anyways?” they would ask.
Here we are at 20 years and it’s still a bad film. But not as bad as you think.
The dialog is still bad. The story still doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s about 20 minutes too long and the pod race is still awful. Then there is Jar Jar Binks, not only the worst character in the mythology but one of the worst sidekicks of all time in any medium. Ever.
I’ve probably watched it at least 20 more times since then. It runs on cable television almost every weekend and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s impossible to miss.
Perhaps it’s nostalgia, possibly because we’ve had some other disappointing Star Wars films since then, but Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is not as bad as I remember it.
We have this cast. Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman and they’ve had award winning careers and countless successful follow-ups. It’s still great to watch these people act.
The Phantom Menace has the best Lightsaber duel in the entire series, set to the “Duel of the fates”, the best secondary score of the series. Darth Maul is a terrifying villain who doesn’t disappoint and had the impossible task of following Darth Vader in front of audiences.
Then there is the unpredictable ending. It’s tragic and it’s potent. Certainly not the way we expected Star Wars to return.
It’s still not a good film, but I’ve grown fond of it. Like a partner’s cat. You’re not crazy about it at first, but when it inevitably keeps showing up, you’re polite and give it your attention. You ultimately realize it’s not as bad as you thought it was.
In the end, the Phantom Menace wasn’t even the most memorable film from that summer. It was “The Matrix”, a film with zero hype that exceeded the world’s expectations.
Watch them back to back. It should make a for a fun afternoon.