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In Defense of ‘The Phantom Menace’

There’s a lot of things to like about this movie if you stop yelling for five seconds and listen to me.

Okay, yes. I know this headline probably made you angry. Bear with me, folks.

I will not say that Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a good film. In many ways, it isn’t. However, I will say that it is fun, worth your time, and downright enjoyable through the right lens.

So here we go. Here’s my case for The Phantom Menace. (I’ve got a bad feeling about this.)

Darth. Maul.

Don’t you dare lie to me. You like Darth Maul. He’s rad as hell. The color scheme, the lightsaber, the brooding in silence, the spiky damn head, and the three lines in the entire movie are all incredible.

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If you can be into Boba “I Was Taken Out by a Hole in the Ground” Fett, get behind Darth Maul, too. He’s endlessly fascinating and so fun to watch. Sure, he doesn’t have an exorbitant amount of screen time, but every second he’s there, he makes the movie better. He elevates every scene with badassery and intrigue.

There’s not much more to say about him. He’s just great. Bye.

Qui-Gon

Yes, there are issues with Liam Neeson. He’s probably not the best of dudes, and I’m not dismissing that at all.

His portrayal of Qui-Gon Jinn, however, is incredible for so many reasons. First, Neeson is a great actor. He’s good at his job. Second, the character is just so unique and interesting.

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This is a Jedi Knight who questions everything the Council does. He goes his own way and is defiant at every turn, and always for good reasons. He has a heart, but he totally cheats. He’s complicated, he’s sometimes a hypocrite, and he doesn’t always make the best decisions. To see that in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s master is pretty singular. Qui-Gon is calm, cool, and collected, yet emotional. He’s Obi-Wan without the sass and with just a tad more empathy. It makes total sense, but it’s not contrived or the easy choice.

I find more things to like about him on every rewatch, even if he’s so wrong so often (as most Jedi are, to be quite honest).

Podracing

Does it add to the plot? Absolutely not.

Did the scene need to be that long? Not a chance.

Was it a blast? You bet your life on it.

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The podracing scene is controversial as hell, and I totally see why. It’s flawed, and there’s no denying that. However, it has merit and I think a lot of people enjoy it!

If you’re going to free Anakin Skywalker from slavery (big yikes, I grant you that), do it in a way that’s interesting, high energy, and actually involves him. In a lot of ways, Anakin frees himself here. It shows agency, brains, intuition, skill, and heart in an otherwise annoying little kid. The scene highlights every instinct that we need to see in a young Anakin Skywalker and it’s all presented in a package that also became a dope racing videogame.

Also, if you don’t tear up when this kid leaves his mom, you’re just angry and you need to reevaluate some things.

Duel of the Fates

I am talking about both the scene and the score cause holy Kenobi this whole situation changed me.

Even if you don’t know the “Duel of the Fates” song by name, you absolutely know it. It’s an incredible piece of music and I don’t think anyone will argue with me on that point.

What you may not agree with is this: The lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul (specifically Obi-Wan v. Darth Maul) is the best lightsaber battle in all of Star Wars. Perhaps not in terms of plot or drama (I think it’s pretty dramatic, but I can totally see a differing opinion here), but definitely in terms of choreography and execution.

Angry Obi-Wan is my favorite Obi-Wan, and he launches at Darth Maul with a series of strikes that is still just insane to me. Acrobatics, emotion, stunning cinematography — it’s like watching a dance.

It is one of the best scenes in Star Wars history, and that alone could make this film worthwhile.

Darth Jar Jar?

Friends. If you don’t know about this, you are so welcome. Check out the theory here. It even has its own subreddit.

To summarize, the theory is that Jar Jar Binks is not just a bumbling, annoying idiot. He uses the same technique that Yoda did in Empire as to not arouse suspicion that he’s a skilled Force-user. Sounds insane, right? Yes, until you watch Jar Jar in background of The Phantom Menace. Often, this dude is moving his mouth in tandem with other characters at pivotal moments, while he’s lurking in the background, perhaps using the Jedi Mind Trick. He makes stupid suggestions that often pan out. He suggests to a small child that Padme is “pretty hot,” which could be a catalyst for the love affair that opened Anakin up to the Sith.

Oh, and who gave power to the Emperor via the Senate later on in the prequels? Oh right, that was FREAKING JAR JAR.

Jar Jar actor Ahmed Best even discussed deleted scenes between his character and Palpatine.

The idea is that George Lucas had this whole master plan to expose Jar Jar in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith, but the fan backlash was too much for it to work. So, Lucas changed gears, perhaps introducing Count Dooku instead. (Not sure if Dooku was always supposed to be there, but if Jar Jar were to be exposed as Sith, he could slide into that spot pretty easily.) Then he still made Jar Jar the idiot who gives emergency power to Palpatine, because that was always the plan.

Is it a viable theory? Maybe you can poke holes in it, but I wholeheartedly believe it and it makes watching Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace bearable, even enjoyable. So, if he’s your biggest gripe with this movie, try shifting your perspective a little. Give that theory a read and try to watch for things like that yourself. You’ll find that it is so much fun to entertain it, even if you don’t buy in.

I could also talk about Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan, but I think that’s universally loved throughout the prequels. He’s awesome, we love him, yay! Case closed.

So, maybe you will always hate The Phantom Menace on principle. Maybe you’re only open to the prequels right now because you hate the new trilogy. (If this is you, you’re just wrong, and please stop.) Whatever the case, the hate just needs to cease. There are bright spots and worthy moments in EVERY Star Wars film, book, comic, show, etc.

Let people enjoy the things they like without all the vitriol, for crying out loud. I choose to like The Phantom Menace in spite of its flaws and missteps. Find those things to enjoy, and suddenly, the galaxy seems a little bit wider.

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