This month marks 20 years since the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. We’ve had ample time to analyze its flaws and weaknesses (which are many), but most fans can still appreciate it for bringing Star Wars movies back to the big screen and introducing the series to a whole new generation.
Even aside from its great technical achievements, the movie does have bright spots, which Germain Lussier tallied in an article for io9. I think it’s a great list, and I want to expand on a few of my personal favorites from it. (The images below–screenshots of TPM–were taken from the io9 article.)
How to top Leia’s space buns in terms of fashion? Her mom Padmé Amidala managed to do it in TPM with a whole wardrobe of amazing dresses and fabulous hairpieces that indicated ceremony and tradition while still looking forward–a wonderful way to represent her role as queen of Naboo. Her clothing has been an inspiration to a generation of cosplayers, as well as to me, a budding fan artist at the time. I had so much fun designing and drawing new outfits for her; you can see one here that was a bit inspired by the image above.
Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber
I still remember the excitement of seeing Darth Maul extend the second blade on his lightsaber in TPM’s trailer. It is rather impractical as a weapon, but wow, does it look cool. It certainly allowed for some amazing choreography in the climactic fight scene with the Jedi. I often give my video game characters double-bladed lightsabers, even though it is usually not as good as dual-wielding two separate sabers.
Bringing the EU into canon with Coruscant
Coruscant, the city planet and Republic/Imperial capital, was first named by Timothy Zahn in his Thrawn trilogy, though Lucas had developed the concept from the time of the OT. It was shown briefly in the special edition of Return of the Jedi, but appeared properly for the first time in TPM. The pronunciation was also cemented, with the “c” being silent. It is just an interesting note in the world building of the SW universe, as well as gratifying for us EU fans. There are a few other instances of this happening, but not really any as significant.
“Duel of the Fates”
John Williams’ music is essential to Star Wars, and he really brought his A-game to the prequels. TPM has a nice soundtrack that is anchored by one of the most iconic pieces of Star Wars music ever: “Duel of the Fates” from the climatic battle scene. It brings such energy while giving a sense of “other”ness with the chanting in Sanskrit, perfect for a fight between disciples of two sci-fi religions, like a ritual combat. It was the first full choral piece in Star Wars, which was a great choice for impact. And it fit so well with the on-screen action.
I’ve played a version of this piece before and boy, does that ostinato make you tired!
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Ewan McGregor had a tough job, playing the younger version of a character already established in the OT by esteemed thespian Alec Guinness. But he really stepped up with one of the best performances of the prequel trilogy. Obi-Wan seems like the same character, down to the accent and mannerisms. He brings a great dry humor to the role as well, much needed in a trilogy that could be overblown at times. Plus, this role made him my first celebrity crush! I really used to have a life-size cardboard cutout of TPM Obi-Wan in my room (a birthday gift from my fellow Star Wars-fan friends in high school).
Obi-Wan’s emotional journey during final lightsaber battle is really excellent. His anguish as he watches helplessly as his mentor is killed in front of him; his struggle to control his emotions instead of letting them control him; his quick thinking and fortitude that eventually help him to overcome a superior foe: it’s all there on his face and in his actions. There’s nothing better than a fight scene that provides character development.