5 reasons 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' worked

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

After 15 years, meesa not so angry anymore.

They say time heals all wounds, and with this year marking the 15th anniversary of the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, I’ve found that to be true. Where I once let the hate flow through me, I now feel a sort of Ben Kenobi-type of nostalgic fondness for what some consider the most odious chapter in the Star Wars saga.

Late next year – assuming the date doesn’t get pushed back – we’ll see the first instalment in a new Star Wars trilogy, directed by Star Trek rebooter J. J. Abrams. Many fans are cautiously optimistic that even if Abrams doesn’t quite meet their expectations, it can’t possibly be worse than George Lucas’s prequel trilogy.

But if we grab our rose-coloured electrobinoculars and take a look back, was The Phantom Menace really all that bad? Here are five things might just redeem Star Wars: Episode I.

Darth Maul

While he didn’t have the raspy gravitas of Darth Vader, the red-and-black horn-headed Sith was a badass villain. A man of few words, Darth Maul wielded a dual-bladed lightsaber – the first time we’d seen such a thing on screen – and was a swift, scary menace, doggedly pursuing Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) throughout the movie. Sadly, his death at the hands of Obi-Wan was a bit anticlimactic, although he eventually returned in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. ’Twas but a scratch!

The pod race

Say what you will about young, tow-headed Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), but the pod race sequence in The Phantom Menace was a definite high point, as long as you ignored the goofy lead-up and the dumb two-headed announcer. The digital effects still hold up well today, and the sheer amount of imagination that went into the design of the various pod racers was pretty amazing. Suck it, Sebulba.

Coruscant

In my humble opinion, the city-planet of Coruscant is the most interesting place in the entire Star Wars universe, and The Phantom Menace gave us our first – albeit brief – glimpses of this massive world. During the scenes in the Jedi Council chamber, I found myself tuning out Yoda and pals to gaze at the towering spires and flying cars in the background. Hopefully Coruscant will be a major setting in the new trilogy.

Practical effects

George Lucas took a lot of heat for relying so heavily on digital green-screen effects, and The Phantom Menace was one of the first major Hollywood films shot entirely with digital cameras. But there were a surprising number of practical miniature effects and models used as well, from panoramic shots of Naboo and Mos Eisley to various spaceships and vehicles. The fact that many of these were assumed to be all-digital creations is a testament to the skill of the modellers and designers.

Samuel L. Jackson with a purple lightsaber

OK, Sam Jackson was wasted in this movie. Actually, pretty much all of the otherwise talented actors who appeared in the prequel trilogy were dragged down by Lucas’ absolutely wooden script. But simply seeing Sam the Man as Jedi master Mace Windu, wielding a purple lightsaber (his personal choice, allegedly so he’d stand out in battle among the usual red, blue and green lightsabers), was something undeniably cool. Cool enough to erase Jar Jar Binks from our memory? No. Nothing short of a CG Leia in a golden bikini could do that.

Twitter: @stevetilley

steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca

 


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