Continuing Unpopularity Content’s proud (and still very young) tradition of defending widely condemned movies is first of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy, designed to flesh out the backstory of some of Star Wars’ most iconic characters.
Let’s just start by saying that, right off the bat, The Phantom Menace begins doing exactly what it set out to: laying groundwork. Objectively speaking, it does so quickly, informatively, and in a relatively organic fashion.
I’m aware that the opening text crawl about trade disputes and turmoil in the Galactic Senate isn’t overly enthralling, but when you consider the task the prequel trilogy had to achieve, it makes perfect sense.
After all, we’d seen three movies about the Rebellion fighting to take down the Empire, and the prequels tell the story of how that Empire rose. The trade dispute on Naboo was where the first cracks in the Republic began to show, and where the Sith finally revealed themselves to the Jedi.
There’s also a short back-and-forth between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan that goes a long way towards detailing the core philosophies of the Jedi Order, and it’s done without it feeling like an exposition dump.
Overall, the movie details a handful of political issues plaguing the galaxy, but in truth, there’s very little filler. Every scene was designed to establish not just the movie’s independent plot points, but to continue to build the Star Wars Universe, and that’s done deftly.
Yes, there’s a few things to laugh at. There are a few scenes where the dialogue falls flat, and there’s also a few less than stellar performances, but The Phantom Menace delivers in all the ways that a Star Wars movie should: it’s got action, excitement, plenty of world-building lore. It also subtly highlights that each of the Jedi have slightly different interpretations of exactly how the Force should be employed, hinting at the fact that they’re doomed to fail to any of those willing to read between the lines.
Episode I’s standing with the Star Wars fanbase has improved in recent years, but it’s still plagued by its reputation as a boring story brought to life by bad acting, and that really isn’t fair to what should be regarded as nothing less than a solid foundation for everything that has come since.