Shown from left: Natalie Portman (as Queen Padmé Amidala), Liam Neeson (as Qui-Gon Jinn), Jake Lloyd (as Anakin Skywalker), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi) all stand together.
(20th Century Studios)

‘Star Wars’ Most Maligned Movie Still Slaps 25 Years Later

The Phantom Menace was a fresh and revolutionary Star Wars reboot for a whole generation of kids.

Today, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace celebrates its 25-year anniversary. When The Phantom Menace emerged in 1999, it was the first new Star Wars film to appear in theaters in 16 years, since Return of the Jedi had premiered in 1983.

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After the original trilogy became a global hit in the 1970s and ’80s, there were lots of expectations as millions of Star Wars fans flocked to the premiere of this new film. In 84 weeks, The Phantom Menace grossed almost a billion dollars across the world as it played in theaters well into the following year. The world was hungry for more Star Wars. In 1999, I was a middle school kid who was as hungry for The Phantom Menace to come out as everyone else. After I had worshipped the original trilogy for years as a child and carried my Princess Leia action figure everywhere, it felt extraordinary to receive the gift of new Star Wars movie that May.

It wasn’t just Queen Amidala and Obi-Wan Kenobi who caught my attention, but the promise that this was the beginning of a new trilogy. The image of Darth Vader as a child. The epic, groundbreaking, more aggressive lightsaber fighting style. And yes, despite many protests from people who endured The Phantom Menace in 1999 in theaters as full adults, the podracing was badass from a kid’s perspective, and so it remains to this day in a dear, nostalgic way. I am just one in a generation of people who love The Phantom Menace and all it did for our favorite galaxy.

The meaningful path Star Wars: The Phantom Menace paved for new Star Wars stories

Shown from left: Natalie Portman (as Queen Padmé Amidala), Liam Neeson (as Qui-Gon Jinn), Jake Lloyd (as Anakin Skywalker), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi) all stand together.
(20th Century Studios)

The Phantom Menace unlocked a whole new era for Lucasfilm and for the SW franchise. The world’s love for a galaxy full of scoundrels, heroes, and Jedi renewed. At the time, Lucasfilm enjoyed testing the limits of what they could create with new animation software. It shows throughout the film, from podracing to a Gungan underwater city to a massive battle between the Trade Federation and Gungans. The studio went ham on the visuals, and continued to do so as they would go on to release another eight Star Wars films for the next 20 years. And that’s not even touching the number of Star Wars television shows that have aired since 2000.

Our newly beloved Star Wars characters in gave us insight into the history of the universe we all loved that had emerged in the 1970s, and from their backgrounds and settings exploded a bigger galaxy than ever before. Galactic politics, forbidden romance, honored vows, the brink of war, and the beauty of hope in rebellion all returned to us. These are the parts of the mythology of Star Wars that draw us in. The Phantom Menace was the key that unlocked it all, and took the science-fiction franchise to the next level.

The Phantom Menace is still controversial today

Qui-Gon Jinn grabbing Jar Jar Binks' tongue in Stars Episode 1 the Phantom Menace
(20th Century Studios)

Despite all that it has going for it and how it rocked the world, The Phantom Menace is far from flawless. Actors who played characters that were not as beloved by many full-grown adults watching the movie, like Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best, were bullied by fans online and in public. Both Lloyd and Best have talked about their negative experiences in interviews, and carry traumatic memories from bullying that lasted for over a decade.

Another problem with The Phantom Menace is the allegations over the years that racial stereotypes are rampant throughout the films, and accusations that Star Wars creator George Lucas uses racial stereotypes to create alien cultures have been around since the year The Phantom Menace came out. Despite its iconic status, The Phantom Menace also has some major mistakes that Star Wars creators have worked to fix in more recent shows.

The Phantom Menace remains an iconic film

Obi-wan Kenobi, Qui-gon Jinn, and Darth Maul battle with lightsabers.
(20th Century Studios)

Despite its flaws, The Phantom Menace took the parts of my love for Star Wars and put it together into a cute R2 unit in my heart. It was a fresh, revolutionary Star Wars myth that rebooted the series for a whole generation of people who can now share their love for the story with their kids. From Bad Batch to The Mandalorian to Rogue One and so, so much more, many of us hear the Star Wars musical theme and our heart swells. Our eyes get a little misty. Don’t worry, that’s just our allergy to the dust we just brushed off our old Phantom Menace Blu-ray. Let’s go rewatch it together. May the Force be with you.


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Author
Coco Poley
Coco Poley is a freelance writer, prolific poet, and artist who has been writing professionally for seven years. When Coco isn't writing poetry and fiction, they are creating some form of art or roller skating. You can find Coco's features on comics, TV, games, software, and film across the web on The Stack Overflow blog, How-to Geek, Women Write About Comics, and Sidequest.Zone. Follow Coco's journey as an author or buy their art at http://linktr.ee/youcancallmecoco.