Let’s cast our minds back to May 1999. There was a huge amount of anticipation about the upcoming Star Wars prequel, titled The Phantom Menace. There had been a huge campaign in the proceeding years with the original trilogy being remastered and rereleased at cinemas to much fanfare. However, the prospect of a new Star Wars film was on another level.
So what made everyone so excited? Wasn’t The Phantom Menace terrible?
At the time, George Lucas directing again after a long time on the sidelines wasn’t met with derision. Indeed, it was welcomed. The first film, released 22 years earlier, is still considered by many to be the best in the series so there was scant evidence to suggest this would be a stinker.
Secondly, the trailer made it look tremendous.
We all wondered who this Phantom guy was with the double lightsaber. He looked entirely badass and mysterious and looked like a fantastic potential antagonist to our heroes.
Speaking of which, let’s look at who we had on our side. The main characters were to be played by Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson, both freshly popular actors with a lot of talent between them. There was a lot of excitement about how well Ewan would cope with filling the role of a young Alec Guiness. Yoda span some pearls of wisdom in the teaser and the chance to get to see him before he went off to Dagobah was tantalising. Elsewhere, knowing we’d see Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman alongside C3PO and R2D2 meant all ’round there was a huge amount of promise.
The score, provided by John Williams, was as epic as any of the originals, even though it wasn’t fully evident until we saw the finished product. His track record meant there was no cause for concern.
The pod races looked cool too.
It’s worth noting that on release, The Phantom Menace was by no means a critical flop. Roger Ebert said it was “an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking”, giving it 3.5 out of 4. Even in 2008 Empire Magazine put it in their Top 500 list of all-time greatest movies. The momentum of hatred for it has just grown over time, as the technology has been left behind and the realisation that a film essentially about trade disputes doesn’t quite cut it.
So why mention it now? Well, it’s just a word of warning that we’re in the same boat now. There’s no way any of the big magazines will rate it below 3/5, probably much higher. Everything looks perfect and there’s no reason to think it will be a flop.
Just think twice before you buy that next piece of merchandise. Hopefully you aren’t buying the action figure of 2015’s Jar Jar Binks.