15 Years of The Phantom Menace

Today we celebrate 15 years of The Phantom Menace. Wait. What did I just say?

" I am a log. Watch me act."
Fifteen years ago we got the movie that was supposed to bring balance back to the force. What we got was a misaligned entry with no core story other than to show off Jake Lloyd's non-talent and an annoying CGI creature that still haunts my undying love for nearly everything Star Wars.

The Phantom Menace started a new trilogy that would (ahem) recharge the Star Wars legacy for a whole new generation of fans and was meant to reinvigorate the fandom of parents that had grown up with the earlier (better movies). Expectations were high that something great would come from this first entry in a brand new Star Wars trilogy. But within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, this rabid, die hard, Star Wars whack job knew something major was off.

Obi-Wan sounded funny and Liam Neeson suddenly forgot how to act. 
Jake Lloyd never knew how.

Lucas deserves major props for everything he's done for the world of film. His ambition helped drive the visual effects craze and his dedication to the arts is astounding. However, The Phantom Menace was two steps back for the galaxy he created. All the charm of the original trilogy was immediately missing in a movie that put a wooden (talentless) Jake Lloyd at the forefront of a political melodrama that had no chance of recapturing the minds of the core, older Star Wars audience. The wit was gone and there were no characters that audiences could grasp on to besides Natalie Portman and her best efforts to go against the
grain of George's apparent hatred for natural dialogue.

This didn't feel the same. There was a major disturbance in the force and it was all caused by the creator himself, George Lucas. The Jedi mind trick of global mass marketing had worn off and fans were now faced with a disastrous first entry in the new trilogy. 

"Okay, Jake. This is the scene
where I tell you that you'll
never act again. Be sad."
In all honesty, I tried for years to convince myself that there were good qualities to the movie. But in retrospect, I can find only one. His name is Darth Maul and he was sacrificed for no good reason other than sad dramatic effect and a small bit of character development aimed at a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is perhaps the biggest flaw in the whole filmed Star Wars canon. The Phantom Menace was sold on this brand new villain: the athletic Sith lord that used martial arts and would have been a solid rival for Vader. Yet, Lucas chose to destroy the one good thing he had going for the movie and chose to make Jar-Jar Binks a mainstay for the whole trilogy despite fan's disdain for the character. 

Let's get this straight.
Darth Maul: loved by fans.....killed in first movie.
Jar-Jar Binks: hated by fans....gets whole trilogy story arc.
Yes, it's true. George Lucas hates you.

To this day, not even my kids are interested in watching The Phantom Menace. We tried seeing the 3D version and we all had a hard time keeping our eyes open. It's (simply put) a giant idea gone wrong.

I believe Lucas had his heart in the right place when he decided to give fans another trilogy, but with age he just lost the focus and could no longer control the beast that is the Star Wars universe. Fans wanted something similar to the original and what they got was a first movie that totally sucked, a second one that wasn't nearly as bad, and finally a Revenge of the Sith that (at least) had some shared qualities with the original trilogy.

With that said, I plan on never watching The Phantom Menace again. But I still have plenty of packaged action figures from the movie. Anyone want to have a Jedi funeral? You bring the matches and I'll bring the wood.