It’s often maligned among Star Wars fans and the film community in general, and for good reason, but The Phantom Menace is not the worst Star Wars movie, and it really isn’t that close.
There are many, many problems with The Phantom Menace — Jar Jar Binks, politics, trade negotiations, way too much computer-generated imagery — but it has three things that redeem it and make it a far superior film when compared to its successor, Attack of the Clones.
Attack of the Clones has no charm and no “wow” moments. Nothing new in it is really exciting: clones, Jango Fett, Yoda’s lightsaber? CGI monstrosities like the arena beasts, Kaminoans and Geonosians give the entire film a video game look that further removes the viewer from the film.
The villain, Count Dooku, is dull, much like the rest of the cast. Legendary Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi is reduced to sarcastic one-liners, headstrong Senator Padme Amidala falls for a moody teenager, Mace Windu wastes Samuel L. Jackson by making him a diplomat with a lightsaber and boring Anakin Skywalker moans about sand and teenage hormones.
Speaking of Anakin, Jake Lloyd, who was 10 years old during filming of The Phantom Menace, somehow managed to outperform his successor, Hayden Christensen, a grown man. The now-infamous , combined with a generally lackluster performance, turned Darth Vader from a terrifying space villain into a whiny teenager who misses his mommy.
To top it all off, not much happens in the plot of Attack of the Clones. Obi-Wan and Anakin split up after attempts on Padme’s life. Obi-Wan tracks down Jango Fett and discovers a clone army; Anakin takes Padme to Naboo, where they inexplicably fall in love after the worst attempts at flirting ever. All three eventually wind up on the desert planet Geonosis, get captured and are put in an arena. Then Yoda ex machinas his way in with the clones, and the day is saved. Yikes.
In The Phantom Menace, the plot is still pretty dumb; three things save the film from utter embarrassment: Liam Neeson, podracing and Darth Maul.
Liam Neeson is one of the great actors of our generation — Schindler’s List and Batman Begins come to mind as his best roles, and, mediocre as the film may be, his role in Taken is perhaps his most iconic. His performance as Qui-Gon Jinn, who is both a steadying influence to Anakin and a counterpoint to the Jedi High Council, is wonderfully executed, especially since many of his scenes were shot with a 10-year-old and a goofy CGI alien.
Podracing is exciting, damn you. I don’t care if it’s basically all CGI. If you don’t have fun watching it, I’m not sure what to say.
And Darth Maul is, save for Darth Vader, the best villain in Star Wars. His aura of evil, plus his growling voice and impressive acrobatics, make him an iconic presence. George Lucas’ greatest mistake with the prequel trilogy was killing Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.
So next time you watch the prequels, consider if Jar Jar Binks really was the only thing to come out of The Phantom Menace.
Alex McCann is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you like Jar Jar? Let Alex know by tweeting him @alexrmccann.