I'm here to tell you that the most reviled Star Wars film is actually...good.
I recently applied for a job that posed an interesting question. "What is your most unpopular opinion? Defend it." I leaned back in my chair and pondered, then decided to consult friends of mine who I was sure had some animated arguments with me stored in their memory bank. I asked some high school buddies. Some college buddies. My fellow Peanut Gallery writers. Everyone I know who has gotten a taste of my likes and dislikes in the worlds of sports, movies, TV, etc. Got back some interesting responses.
"Aaron Rodgers is the best QB of all time."
"Salted caramel is wildly overrated."
These are all good ones that I'm happy, nay, YEARNING to defend, but one particular hot take stood out to me.
Are you ready? I don't think you're ready. You're definitely not ready, but here goes...
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, is a GOOD Star Wars film weighed down by one element alone.
Well-Executed Star Wars Themes
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is widely considered the worst of the theatrical Star Wars films. While it is not perfect, my contention is that it is weighed down purely by the presence of the infamous Jar Jar Binks.
What do we love about Star Wars? We love the dichotomy of good and evil. We love the action. We love the bizarre, fantastic worlds and characters. We love the universal themes (love, loss, friendship, etc.). When George Lucas created the galaxy far, far away, he infused it with elements he knew had staying power. Star Wars is as evergreen as it gets.
The Phantom Menace has ALL of these elements. You want good vs. evil? Here's Darth Maul, probably the most evil-looking character ever conceived, up against Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, two jedis with cool hair just trying to do their part in defending the galaxy.
You want action? Child’s play. Even the film's firmest detractors acknowledge its technological and choreographical advancements. The Boonta Eve Classic feels like Max Verstappen dethroning Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the 2021 Formula 1 season. The lightsaber battles put the original trilogy to shame, setting a new bar in fight choreography. We have Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, and martial artist/stuntman Ray Park, who played Maul, to thank for that.
Episode I gave us a more in-depth look at the underbelly of Tatooine. The real magic though, happened on Naboo, both on land and beneath it. There is no comparison to Naboo's rolling green plains or underwater Gungan empire in Episode IV, V, or VI. Lucasfilm used every arrow in their computer-generated quiver, to stunning results.
I touched on this, but the battle of good vs. evil is beyond obvious in Episode I. We love that. What we also love is the pain of unimaginable loss, like Anakin's farewell to his mother and Obi-Wan holding his dying master in his arms, followed by a ray of hope, such as Anakin's impending training that now connects him to Obi-Wan. No relationship in Star Wars is more important than that of Obi-Wan and Anakin, and Episode I does a great job setting this groundwork.
We love all these things! What we don't love is Jar Jar Binks.
The Bane of The Phantom Menace
Offensive. Campy. Meaningless. All words use to describe Jar Jar. George Lucas created him as the comedic balance to Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, but failed. Jar Jar serves no purpose other than pointing our heroes in the right direction, and provides few laughs. He's just a bad character.
I’ll never defend Jar Jar. All I'm asking is to not mistake the part with the whole. Roll your eyes every time he appears in The Phantom Menace, but don't let him take away from the other aspects of this...dare I say...solid Star Wars film. I've previously ranked it as #9 out of the 11 cinematic Star Wars films. Upon further review, I'm comfortable bumping it up to #7, sandwiched between The Force Awakens and Solo.
Take out Jar Jar and this puppy jumps into the top 5. He is a thorn on the bottom of the lion's paw. Aggravating? Absolutely. But don’t confuse the lion for a house cat.
(For what it's worth, I didn't get the job. But that's neither here nor there.)