Making the case for The Phantom Menace

Why I like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and why I think you might too

This was written on Dreamwidth as an entry for a yearly challenge in January 2020 (revised December 2020 as I’m posting it).

tl;dr Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is a better movie than you remember, if you watch it as a kids movie, not as the rest of the SW canon.

The prompt #9 of Snowflake Challenge says to “promote at least one canon that you adore (old, new, forever fandom)”. So I’m gonna talk about why I like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, aka “the one with Jar-Jar Binks and midichlorians”.

Okay so first, I won’t try to be objective (much). I’m sure someone on the internet has written a Serious Analysis of Episode I and I’m sure they’re very happy with their job!

Second, my whole argument pretty much boils down to this: “The Phantom Menace was made for kids, and as such, it does a really good job. Also, baby me loved it, so there.”

Anecdote time! So. Imagine me, age 7. My dad, a programmer, had internet access at work and as a hobby downloaded… anything interesting, pretty much. Music (remember Napster?), software, games, and of course movies.

And that’s how I saw my first Star Wars movie: a two-CD rip with no subtitles that split in the middle of the podrace scene. I remember seeing the pod race scene first, for some reason. My English at that time consisted of a few words gleaned from computer games, but I don’t remember minding much.

I loved that movie. It had funny quotes, the main hero did cool things (pod racing! space fights!), there was magic Force and sword fights and cute robots! And yes, I thought that Jar-Jar was really funny.

A decade or two later I encountered SW fandom online and found out that apparently, the general opinion of Phantom Menace is “we hate it and pretend it doesn’t exist”, and I was like… WHUT??

I mean, is Phantom Menace a brilliant film? Hardly. Is it a bit dumb? Yes, but come on, so is the Original Trilogy! And if we’re talking about “annoying”, teenage Anakin in Episode II is much worse. So why the hate?

Alright, partially it’s because in SW fandom, haters are loud. (Oh, fandom. I love you, but you can be a cesspit.) Mostly though it’s because Phantom Menace has a problem: it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the SW movies.

Original, Sequel AND the rest of the Prequel movies are either Young Adult or a light-hearted General Adult category. There are some variations, especially since Original Trilogy technically predates YA as a category, but more or less. And then there’s Phantom Menace, which is a clear cut “children’s movie with adult appeal”. (Not much of a thing these days, actually! It used to be a big genre in the 90s. Consider Mackulay Kulkin’s whole career.)

(Also, interesting sidetrack: almost none of the heroes in this movie are adults. Anakin is a kid, Padme is a teenager, Jar-Jar is extemely child-like, and while I don’t know Obi-Wan’s canonical age he definitely acts very young, compared to Qui-Gon.)

It’s not that you can’t enjoy a children’s movie as an adult! It’s just that if you watch a children’s movie expecting it to be YA/General Adult, you will not have a good time. Imagine watching Matilda and expecting it to be like Hunger Games.

So. People watch the movie. It doesn’t do what they want it to do, and worse, they’re not even its target audience! If they’re emotionally invested (hello, fandom!), the’re disappointed. And if they feel entitled… tada! “WE HATE iT, iT iS BAD”

(And like. I don’t want to say that SW fandom skews male, therefore the tolerance for not being the target audience is lower, buuuuuuuuut… )

So there. Phantom Menace isn’t the best SW movie, and it isn’t even my favorite SW movie, but it’s not as bad as people say. Maybe consider giving it a try!