It has been a little over 20 years since the much anticipated Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace hit theaters. I saw it in the theater, although not opening weekend. Maybe I saw it again, when it came to DVD, but I am not sure. I certainly have not watched in the last 10+ years. But! I did recently watch it via Disney+. This was probably because I had just read Master & Apprentice, which takes place just before the events of The Phantom Menace.
Like many were at the original release, I was very much turned off to the character of Jar Jar Binks. In the Star Wars Episode I: The Making of The Phantom Menace Documentary, George Lucas says “Jar Jar is the key to all of this. If we get Jar Jar working. Because he is a funner character than we’ve ever had in any of the movies before.”
When my nieces and nephews first started watching the Star Wars movies, which was a few years ago, I asked them what they thought of Jar Jar. They said he was really funny. I also recall seeing footage of Lucas with his kids on set, and the explanation that this new trilogy was meant for a younger generation. It sounds like maybe he succeeded.
For my re-watch, I found Jar Jar to be significantly less annoying than I originally did. Still annoying, but not to the point of wanting to just shut it off, or even to fast-forward. The acting delivery still leaves a lot to be desired, but if you watch the making of documentary, you can hear the editor gripe about how Lucas was constantly rearranging scenes, so performances were mismatched compared to how they were actually filmed. No doubt this led to at least some of the imbalance in the final version. I think Lucas is on record as being a meddler.
The pod race drags on for me. I think they do three laps, and you are literally there for all three of them. The grand light saber duel is also somewhat long, which still strikes me as looking overly choreographed. Obviously the scenes have to be choreographed, but ideally they would be in a way which didn’t look like it. Particular having watched Clone Wars, and Rebels, the use of the force in the on-screen duels is significantly diminished compared it delivered in the cartoons.
I don’t love this movie, but it is certainly tolerable. Which means my opinion of the movie has significantly improved since it was released in theaters.