A Case For The Phantom Menace: 5 Important Things It Brought To Star Wars
Two decades have passed since the wildly hyped reboot of George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise made its debut in the form of the first of three prequel movies, The Phantom Menace. It… didn’t go well. At least not in terms of pleasing Star Wars fans or garnering critical acclaim. Overall, the trilogy is not well-loved, but it’s the first film that took the the brunt of the hate (at least Twitter didn’t exist back then).
The Phantom Menace was (rightfully) maligned for its racist caricatures (see: Watto, Nute Gunray, and the universally hated Jar Jar Binks) and ridiculed for its childishness. But was the movie really all bad? In hindsight, we’d argue that it brought some important things to the table. Here are four major contributions that The Phantom Menace made to Star Wars as a franchise—besides driving home the point that “Darth” isn’t Vader’s given name (h/t Maul and Sidious).
The Phantom Menace introduced a new generation of kids to the Star Wars universe
While fans of the original series were expecting Lucas to deliver a film that appealed to them, he instead made one that appealed to kids—and for good reason. Making a movie that kids would like meant adding to the Star Wars fan base. And the kids who saw the prequels are now the adults going nuts for the latest Disney reboot of the franchise (aka making sure the new films are a box office success).
It gave us “new things to look at”
Roger Ebert was one of the few critics to champion the film, pointing out that The Phantom Menace isn’t about dialogue or storytelling, it’s about “new things to look at”—the CGI effects, Natalie Portman’s cool makeup and costumes, the double-ended lightsabers, podracers and other new Star Wars ships. The film not only brought us all of the above, but it upped our expectations for future films in terms of special effects, costumes, and sets.
It taught us that the Force is fallible
Phantom Menace created at least a little bit of sympathy for that original trilogy devil, Darth Vader. It taught us that the Force could corrupt as easily as it could empower. It also showed us that even those who use the Force for good can make huge, universe-altering mistakes.
It put a woman in charge
Natalie Portman’s Amidala may have only been a teenager, but she was no princess. Amidala was QUEEN of Naboo, and not the kind that sat on her throne all day sipping champagne and trying on tiaras. When she wasn’t making bold political moves, Amidala would often swap outfits with her handmaiden so that she could walk among her own people to see what their lives were like and how she could help them. In other words, she was a total boss.
It made George Lucas a lot of money
To this day, The Phantom Menace is George Lucas’ highest box office earner as a director, and while this might seem superficial no one (as in Disney) is going to invest billions of dollars into a franchise that flops at the box office. The fact that the movie made money (while under heavy fire from film critics) could only have helped to convince Disney to purchase the franchise from Lucasfilm and once again bring it back to theatres.
For a stroll down memory lane, check out the original trailer for The Phantom Menace below.