The Phantom Menace is 20 Years Old!

That’s right. We’re all super old now because Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is now twenty.

Pop culture’s favorite movie to make fun of is now old enough to drink in most countries, and we’re supposed to be okay with that? No, we should never be. We must fight against the passing of time and destroy the temporal oppression.

Until that, though, I guess it’s time for us to reflect back on the movie that consumed the world for a couple months back in 1999.

Knowing who I am, it’s not hard to guess that I’m about to heap loads of praise on this movie that has been unfairly maligned, a masterpiece treated as a black sheep for so long it has passed into pop culture legend. But unless you’re already part of the Cult of Prequel Lovers, you’re probably gonna act really dismissive of the whole thing. Now that the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy is there to be the new punching bag among whiny fanboys, the Prequel Trilogy is starting to improve in reception, but you still have a massive contingent of people who act like The Phantom Menace is an atrocity that breaks the Geneva Conventions.

You gotta get over it at some point though… right?

Obviously, the movie works best in retrospect, as the first part of three, or the prologue to a full six-film (now nine-film) epic saga. It’s fully standalone in a way that annoys people who are obsessed with serialization (see most of the recent Marvel Studios films for an example of movies so serialized they don’t work at all out of context). But it’s also a movie that is so essential to the rest of the saga that its execution ended up disappointing a lot of viewers. (Well, later on at least.)

So much of that disappointment was just hype, though. Do you REMEMBER the size of the marketing campaign? They just don’t do movies like this anymore; honestly this whole decade there hasn’t been a movie with a comparable promotional onslaught.

I don’t know what the hell the alien in this Pespi commercial is supposed to be. What is this?!

There was so much Phantom Menace around that it was probably inevitable, in the end, that people were going to be a little bit disappointed. Compound that with the fact that fanboys hate everything, and the fact that the movie needed two further movies to be fully appreciated, and it was going to be a tough time.

I’m glad that we’re finally starting to get to an age where this movie is being looked at better. Because it’s been a long time coming. And finally being able to be vocal about my love for this movie without getting baffled looks is really refreshing.

What happened?

Obviously, a huge part of why the movie has gotten more popular is pure nostalgia. The kids who grew up with the movie (myself included) are now adults, and those voices outweigh the adults who saw and loathed the movie when it first came out. There’s more to it, though. I’d want to say the resurgence first started sometime around the time that the brilliant Star Wars Ring Theory essay was published in late 2014. Around the same time, you also got the wildly popular Jedi Party Saga, whose Phantom Menace episode remains some of the best content on Youtube:

I’ve been wondering, what are midichlorians?

With something as funny as Jedi Party, and something as insightful as Ring Theory, it was only a matter of time before opinion shifted. And no amount of “lol it’s like poetry” comments could hold back the tide.

I’ve written too many reviews about this movie on Letterboxd already, but the short of it is that this movie’s frickin’ good.

Look at the effects!!!

CGI was right on the cusp where you could extensively use it for everything. You get fully-animated characters like Jar Jar Binks and imaginative worlds like Coruscant, but it still wasn’t good enough to carry an entire movie. Therefore, we get some of the best PRACTICAL effects in movies, too. Amazing puppet work, gigantic models, and so, so many gigantic podracers. The set work in the Tatooine scenes is like… Gosh.

The movie is also absolutely instrumental to the rest of the Star Wars saga. It establishes the Jedi as an ivory tower of arrogant elitists, the Republic as a hulking behemoth of corruption, and begins the secret plot of the ultimate villain, Darth Sidious.

The true story of Star Wars begins with this movie’s famous Senate scene:

You could write a lot dissecting every moment of this scene, at how Sidious takes hold of the entire galaxy by fitting all the right pieces together. It’s a political allegory stronger than most any comparable movie, and it’s only enhanced by everything that comes after.

(Also, the convoluted political intrigue is enhanced even further by the novel Cloak of Deception, one of Star Wars’s very best. Check that out if you’re ever interested.)

It also has one of the best scores…. pretty much ever.

And of course, we have our favorite boys:

This article has mostly been an excuse for me to link some of my favorite Star Wars Episode I-related stuff. And I hope you love it too. So here’s to twenty years to The Phantom Menace, and another twenty soon to come unless we finally master the fourth dimension and stop time from progressing, as is humanity’s ultimate goal.

4 thoughts on “The Phantom Menace is 20 Years Old!”

  1. As someone who didn’t grow up with anything Star Warsy at all, who had to watch these movies having heard every opinion under the sun beforehand…I go from lukewarm to lukecold on the prequels. Episode One ain’t no fun, Episode Three got good (I admit begrudgingly), but I have strange affection for Ep. 2. I like loopy science fiction concepts like “who ordered this army of clones for us? …eh, we’ll take it.” Also I thought it was funny.

    These films were weird. We’re never gonna get sci-fi extravaganzas quite like them again.

    1. the late 90s and early 00s were extremely weird for sci-fi, where budgets were getting bigger but you could still do a ton on, say, a $50 million budget. So there was a ton of weirdness, and even the biggest of them all, aka Star Wars and Matrix, were basically genre trailblazers without regarding audience reaction at all.

      All three prequels combined cost less than Avengers: Endgame, after all. Now, movies are so expensive that we never get sci-fi movies that are both really weird, and also fun. It’s either mega-budget tentpoles designed to make money simultaneously in Korea and Paraguay and France, or it’s low-budget kinda experimental stuff (e.g. Ex Machina, which we should all watch).

      1. It feels to me like people are trying and failing to get odd big-budget sci-fi on the map. Then again, fully written, existing, and popular source material (Alita, Ghost in the Shell, All You Need is Kill, Valerian) is a lot different from original stories and sequels cut from whole cloth. And a lot less experimental. Also, I haven’t seen 3 of the 4 films I mentioned, so my comment may be kind of…false…sorry

        1. All of those you mentioned are based on source material. All You Need is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat is completely different from the book, but it’s also not really very “weird” anyway. Valerian and Alita are weird in a very film auetur way, with their directors having a big stylistic impact on the movies, but the source material was really weird too.

          The only truly original sci-fi blockbuster in the past 5 or so years has been Jupiter Ascending, and everyone hated it except Wachowski fans.

          Most importantly: All these movies flopped at the box office. They don’t make em because people don’t watch em.

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