For years, it was a commonly accepted truth in Star Wars fandom that the prequel trilogy was unequivocally a blight on the franchise and perhaps even the worst set of movies unleashed on mankind. In fact, I’m sure in many areas of the fandom that sentiment still holds true. Liking the prequels was not something one admitted to, and especially not The Phantom Menace. A Star Wars movie about trade disputes? Ridiculous.
However as the years have gone on and social media has become a much bigger force in fandom, that sentiment is slowly changing. Far from being universally derided, the prequels have quite a large and devoted fanbase and the era itself is enjoying something of a renaissance these days through books, comics, and television. As we approach the twenty-year mark of the start of this trilogy, it’s worth looking back on the prequels and acknowledging that there’s quite a lot to enjoy…and quite a lot done well.
The Phantom Menace in particular has received the brunt of anti-prequel sentiment, and unfairly so. Not only is it a genuinely fun movie on its own, but it’s vital to the overall Star Wars saga and to the Skywalker mythos. It introduced key characters who are still important to the story years later (hello Darth Maul), brought depth to the franchise as we knew it then, and added key ideas, themes, and concepts that we now take for granted. While the prequels as a whole have experienced a resurgence in public favor lately, so too has TPM finally been getting the respect and appreciation it deserves.
And so in honor of its twentieth anniversary it’s time to take a look back at The Phantom Menace and see what makes it so great. In both its characters and its story, it’s worth appreciating all that it adds to the Star Wars universe.