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J.C. Reviews: The Phantom Menace is an Imperfect Start to an Imperfect Trilogy

by James Coulter

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away (or rather, in Burbank, California in 1977), a blockbuster movie from a then up-and-coming director was released that would change the landscape of pop culture and cinema. That movie was Star Wars.

Moviegoers lined up around the block for hours to watch this sci-fi epic—many of them waiting to watch it an umpteenth time. Star Wars would go on to spawn two theatrical sequels, several television specials, a line of action figures and comic books, and even a state-of-the-art thrill ride at Disney Parks.

More than 20 years later, another movie would be released that, like the original Star Wars in 1977, would set up another film trilogy, with these “prequel” films being set before the events of the original movies. Released on May 19, 1999, that movie was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

I was 12 years old when I watched that movie at my local cinema back in 1999. It was the first Star Wars movie I ever watched in theaters. As a young kid, it was one of the most exciting films I had ever seen on the big screen, with spectacular light-saber fights, adrenaline-rushing pod races, and high-octane space battles.

I would later watch the other two movies in the prequel trilogy: Attack of the Clones (my personal favorite!) and Revenger of the Sith—the latter of which was released after my high school graduation.

Even though I loved these movies, little did I know they proved highly contentious and controversial, especially among older Star Wars fans, many of whom had watched the original films in theaters, and who felt that the prequel films were nothing but a hollow imitation.

Little did I know the seething hatred these films elicited from diehard fans to the point where many of the actors received harassment over their roles. One of these actors, Ahmed Best, received so much hate mail and harassment that he contemplated suicide. Even a then-young child actor like Jake Matthew Lloyd could not escape the hate.

As an adult looking back at the Star Wars prequel films (especially the Phantom Menace), I have to concur that these movies are flawed. I agree with most of the criticisms against them: the wooden acting, the glaring plot holes, the annoying side characters, the flimsy retcon-ridden worldbuilding. These movies are, indeed, rather imperfect.

But ultimately, that’s all that they are: imperfect.

Again, looking back at these movies and the “controversy” surrounding them, I find most of the drama to be rather overblown. Even if these movies were imperfect and flawed, in the end, they were still Star Wars movies. They still contained all the good things people love Star Wars for. They didn’t deserve to be over-hated as they were, and the actors who starred in them most certainly did not deserve the hate and harassment they received.

Ultimately, as someone who grew up watching these movies in theaters, the Star Wars prequels still hold a special nostalgic place in my heart, especially with them being the first Star Wars movies I saw in theaters. I recognize and acknowledge their flaws, but, in the end, I still love them, flaws and all. No movie is flawless, and true love is accepting something despite its flaws. That’s what being a true fan is about.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is currently being re-released in theaters for its 25th anniversary. See local listings for showtimes.

Recently, I sat down with two local sci-fi fans—Sean Serdynski of Syfy Bartow and Ken Heavenridge of the Tampa Squad of the 501st Legion—to discuss the Phantom Menace and the other Star Wars prequels. Listen to our discussion in the latest episode of the Chattin on the Ridge podcast on Acast: https://shows.acast.com/chattin-on-the-ridge/ep-33-star-wars-roundtable-wsean-serdynski-ken-heavenridge

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Staff Reporter

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