25 Years Later: All Of The Good (And None Of The Bad!) Of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

 Star wars episode 1 the phantom menace obi wan qui gon lightsabers drawn.
Star wars episode 1 the phantom menace obi wan qui gon lightsabers drawn.

Much has already been said about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace — a lot of it bad.

But, look. It's the 25th anniversary of the movie, and I don't want to talk about any of the negatives. Because despite what you may or may not remember, a lot of Episode I is actually pretty awesome.

I've already discussed why Star Wars parents should start their kids off with The Phantom Menace, and now I want to gush about the flick even more.

Qui-Gon Jinn in Obi-Wan Kenobi
Qui-Gon Jinn in Obi-Wan Kenobi

Qui-Gon Jinn Is Such A Badass

There is no cooler human mentor Jedi than Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I mean, he’s just never going to be surpassed. When Ewan McGregor was getting ready for the Obi-Wan Kenobi show on Disney+, he looked to Guinness as an inspiration. So, yeah, Guinness is the GOAT. Duh.

Do you know who is a close second? Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn. Sure, The Phantom Menace might not be deemed as one of Neeson’s best movies, but when it comes to badass, sagacious role models in the Star Wars universe, Qui–Gon is top-tier.

I think it’s because we know how cool Obi-Wan is, and Obi-Wan looks up to him. It might also be because Qui-Gon does things on his own terms, and even willingly faces off against Darth Maul on his own (which sadly leads to his demise). We didn’t get him for all that long, but he left an indelible impression, to be sure.

The cover of Star Wars Episode I: Racer
The cover of Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Podracing (Even On A Small Screen) Is Still Awesome

Look, I’m old, so I wasn’t a little teenybopper when I saw Phantom Menace in theaters. But, I kind of wish I was, since I’m sure podracing would have absolutely blown my mind if I had seen it up on the big screen as a child.

As it stands, I was 16 when I first saw Episode I, and let me tell you. Even as a jaded 16-year-old who didn’t want to admit that anything was cool, I leaned forward in my seat and bounced up and down like a little kid during all the podracing scenes, because they’re freaking enthralling.

It’s still really cool today, even on my much smaller screen. I watched Episode I with my kids not too long ago, and while they weren’t completely into the entire movie, they both stopped what they were doing and watched the podracing scenes, which really says a lot.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that we also got that awesome podracing video game back in the day, which was like a mix between F-Zero and Wipeout. Ah, memories.

Darth Maul, looking tough
Darth Maul, looking tough

The Lightsaber Battles Are Incredible

I’ll be straight with you. When it comes to Star Wars, I’m not really all that much into lightsaber battles. Honestly, at my ripe old age of 40, I’d much rather watch a slower-paced show like Andor, or a movie like Rogue One (my favorite Star Wars flick) than watch the light shows that can be Jedi and Siths slamming their lightsabers together.

I know, I know. What kind of Star Wars fan am I? But, truth be told, even though I’m not much into lightsaber battles, what I will say is that the ones in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace are probably the best in the series.

It just feels like there’s so much more at stake in Episode I’s energetic and visceral fight scenes. In the original trilogy, lightsaber fights were much more methodical, almost like a samurai stand-off. This makes sense, since George Lucas was very much influenced by Japanese movies like The Hidden Fortress when he made the original Star Wars.

That said, Lucas clearly aimed The Phantom Menace at a younger audience, as there are no slow-paced lightsaber duels in this movie. Instead, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul (who I will get into later), are spinning around, doing flips, and all manner of acrobatics when they go into battle.

When I first saw this, it was like a shock to the system, since I wasn’t used to this manner of combat in my Star Wars movies. Nowadays, it’s all very commonplace. Back then, though, it was really quite something, and I think it’s handled the best in this particular movie. It really holds up today.

Natalie Portman as Princess Amidala / Padme in Star Wars: Phantom Menace
Natalie Portman as Princess Amidala / Padme in Star Wars: Phantom Menace

Padme Amidala Is A Great Addition To The Franchise

Okay, so I’m not a huge fan of Padme Amidala’s character arc throughout the entire prequel trilogy, as her death being the main reason why Anakin turned to the dark side never really sat well with me. That said, I think she’s an excellent character in The Phantom Menace, and I also think that she’s a great addition to the franchise as a whole.

For one thing, I love how proactive she is. As a young queen, she feels strongly about putting a kibosh on Naboo’s Trade Federation. She also doesn’t want to be cornered into making any decisions that might harm her people.

I also love how she’s not opposed to using force (not the Jedi kind, mind you, but brute force) to fight back if necessary, so she’s a queen who’s also willing to go into battle. In all ways, she’s made out to be so much more than just the woman who would eventually give birth to Luke and Leia, which is greatly appreciated.

Jar Jar Binks in Attack of the Clones
Jar Jar Binks in Attack of the Clones

So Is Jar Jar Binks (I'm Serious!)

There is no more despised character in possibly all of Star Wars history than the Gungan, Jar Jar Binks. Even back then, fans loathed him, and the ridicule was so bad, that even the character's actor, Ahmed Best, grew so emotionally distraught by the reaction, that it could have ended tragically.

What if I were to tell you that 25 years later, I kind of love the character? I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that fans seem to have embraced how goofy he is, as he was never meant to be taken seriously, even (or rather, especially) back then.

Looking back, the backlash was childish and stupid, and I'm glad that we can all now joke about it with fan art like Darth Jar Jar.

And hey, Ahmed Best actually returned as a kick ass Jedi in The Mandalorian, so things turned out for the, er, best, for the actor. So, long live the Bink!

Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I
Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I

And What More Can Be Said About How Cool Darth Maul Is?

Last but not least, what more can I say about Darth Maul? Even back then, everybody loved the character, and how could we not? Just look at him. He's awesome!

With his bitching make-up, amazing choreography, and dual lightsaber, Darth Maul was a hit, and he really hasn't ever gone down in popularity.

Honestly, of all the things about Episode I that people moaned and complained about, Darth Maul was never one of them. He was cool back then, and he’s just as cool (if not more so) today. Now, I just need an epic lightsaber duel between him and Darth Jar Jar for my life to finally be complete!

All of the good (and none of the bad!) about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. May the force be with you. Always.