Welcome to our Star Wars countdown. The Rise of Skywalker hits screens in less than a month, and excitement for the final installment of the Skywalker saga is starting to rise. We’ve had two trailers and one piece of D23 footage to get excited over and, now, TV spots are beginning to drop with increasing regularity.
So, we’re now going to take a look at the Star Wars movies that have come before, pouring over 40 years of storytelling in the process. Here are the best and worst things about The Phantom Menace, which is where, chronologically, at least, the story begins.
10 Best: The Planets
Star Wars fans had been treated to a plethora of amazing locations during the original trilogy. Whether it be the sandy dunes of Tatooine, the picturesque setting of Bespin, or the harsh and desolate planet of Hoth, George Lucas always tried to make his worlds full of imagination, and, with the prequels, he nailed this again.
Naboo stands out due to its sheer beauty, while the gorgeous views of Coruscant make it another iconic location. Tatooine features, too, while the scenes Trade Federation’s headquarters are similarly atmospheric to the Death Star during the original three movies. Say what you want about the prequels but, visually, they’re up there with the very best the franchise has to offer.
9 Worst: Jar Jar Binks
Let’s get this one out of the way. To this date, Jar Jar Binks remains the most critically-panned character in Star Wars history, and his prominent role in The Phantom Menace is one of the biggest reasons why.
Jar Jar is pretty much everywhere, crammed into every scene with the intention of bringing laughter to a movie where humor was sorely lacking. But most people ended up hating the character, accusing George Lucas of creating him solely to sell toys and cater to younger audiences. Ahmed Best even recommended Lucas have Jar Jar brutally murdered by Anakin Skywalker, but the director opted against that. To this day, he still defends his decision.
8 Best: Palpatine’s Origin
It’s easy to forget that, before George Lucas did the prequels, very little was known about Emperor Palpatine. Everybody knew that he’d ruled the Empire through fear and was the holder of Darth Vader’s leash, but nobody quite knew how he’d risen to power and what he’d been like before he’d been an evil, cackling villain.
he Phantom Menace answers that question perfectly by showing Palpatine to be a politician, one gifted at influencing others to do his bidding. While this isn’t the movie where his true identity is revealed, it does show that Palpatine had been planning his rise to power for years. And his corruption of Anakin Skywalker, too…
7 Worst: Anakin Skywalker
Which takes us to Anakin Skywalker. We’d like to make it clear that Jake Lloyd did a stellar job at portraying a nine-year-old version of the character that would later become the menacing Darth Vader of the original trilogy. He certainly did not deserve the horrendous abuse that went his way.
He was working with his hands tied behind his back. We always knew that we’d get to see Vader’s origins, but having the biggest bad guy in cinematic history as a nine-year-old was poor thinking on George Lucas’ part. They should have had him a bit older, at least. Instead, many thought Vader had been diminished by showing such a young version of himself. And Hayden Christensen, like Lloyd, would later bear much of the fans’ frustrations as well.
6 Best: Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi
Thankfully, while the decision to have Anakin Skywalker as a nine-year-old didn’t exactly take off, the casting choices for the characters of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi were exactly spot on, with Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor’s portrayals both going down a storm.
Neeson is perfect as the reckless yet noble Qui-Gon. It’s genuinely gut-wrenching when he’s murdered by Darth Maul during the epic fight on Naboo. McGregor, playing a padawan version of the same Kenobi we’d met during the original trilogy, was believable as a younger form of Alec Guinness’ character. We’d love to see them reunite with the Kenobi TV series eventually comes to Disney+.
5 Worst: The Politics
As stated above, George Lucas has always had children at the forefront of his thinking when it comes to making a Star Wars movie. He’s always insisted that, while older audiences may love it, it’s a story designed specifically for the youngsters of the world. It’s his gift to them.
But, if that’s the case, why shove so much political jargon into The Phantom Menace? That, perhaps more than Jar Jar Binks or a young Anakin Skywalker, damaged the movie’s reputation among fans. It felt so very un-Star Wars-like at the type and many thought Lucas had made a mistake by having words like ‘senate’ pop up with such frequency. Trade deals? Separatists? As a younger viewer, that’s all a bit overwhelming.
4 Best: The Fight Scenes
George Lucas knew he’d have to go bolder and bigger than ever before when it came to creating a prequel trilogy, and he decided to up the ante when it came to the battles within the movie, whether they be taking place in outer space or on the ground.
The space dogfights and quicker, slicker, and far more polished than they were during the original movies. Plus, the fight between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul happens at breathtaking speed, being far quicker than anything we’d seen Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker do all the years previously. This was to be a regular theme for the prequels, too, with all three installments having lightning-quick lightsaber duels.
3 Worst: Underusing Darth Maul
Before the blockbuster came out in theatres 20 years ago, many fans were intrigued by the character of Darth Maul. With his red face, double-bladed lightsaber, and resemblance to a ninja, many were expecting the character to be what Darth Vader was during the original movies: someone there, chasing our heroes at all times with evil intentions at heart.
But that didn’t happen. Maul barely speaks during the movie and is then chopped in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Naboo. He was so popular that Star Wars later decided to bring him back. Firstly, in the Clone Wars TV series. Maul made his return to live-action during last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story.
2 Best: The Explanations
Before the movie came out, Star Wars fans were buzzing to know they’d learn more about their favorite characters. And The Phantom Menace, while being far from perfect, gives us fitting explanations.
It was nice, and somewhat amazing, to find out that it was a young Anakin Skywalker who had first constructed C3PO. It was similarly sweet to discover that he was close with R2D2 long before Luke Skywalker was. We also got other explanations, such as how Obi-Wan Kenobi evolved from Padawan to Jedi Knight and who ruled the Galaxy long before the evil Empire. Plus, we learned how Anakin and Obi-Wan first met. All in all, regarding explanations, and the bulk of fans went home happy.
1 Worst: The CGI
Fair play to George Lucas. He did a majestic job at doing his own thing. He wanted the Star Wars prequels to be remembered as bigger, more ambitious and deeper than the originals ever were. However, many fans of the franchise were turned off by his decision to abandon practical effects and instead place most of his trust in technology and CGI.
This meant that the tone of the movie was very different from what people had known and loved, causing outrage at the time. But, in a day and age where technology continues to go from strength to strength, there’s no denying that, visually, they’ve aged better than the three films that came before.