The best things from The Phantom Menace, 20 years on

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.)

Amidala’s Wardrobe

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.

Do you agree with the list?  What do you think has held up from TPM?

12 thoughts on “The best things from The Phantom Menace, 20 years on

  1. Writergurlny May 29, 2019 / 1:22 pm

    Darth Maul’s lightsaber. It is by far the coolest lightsaber among the dark side characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei May 29, 2019 / 1:29 pm

      I have to agree! Kylo Ren’s is pretty cool, too, but for me Maul’s is the best. Just iconic.

      Like

  2. For Tyeth May 29, 2019 / 5:13 pm

    Hi Mei-Mei, Yes Dath Maul’s saberstaff was impressive (and I have two versions I have modelled coming soon on my site) but I have to agree that Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson and Ray Park delivered a classic in the Duel of Fates (despite Maul’s high kick to Obi-Wan’s face missing by a mile 🙂 ) The way the emotions built and developed was very similar to Luke and Vader’s duel in ROTJ. You could see how Luke and Obi-Wan were tested emotionally (Luke by Vader’s interrogation/taunts and Obi-Wan witnessing Qui-Gon’s death) through their battles and Ewan nailed it as Kenobi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei May 29, 2019 / 8:57 pm

      Haha that fake kick always makes me laugh. Looking forward to seeing the Maul sabers!

      What a great connection you made to ROTJ. That fight scene is really all about Luke’s emotional journey, too. I had never thought about the two being similar before! Great point.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. NovEllaandBanannabelle June 1, 2019 / 4:14 pm

    Those are all great Phantom Menace highlights! I recently went to a Music of Star Wars presentation that mentioned that piece, too, and how the lyrics are from an old poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei June 1, 2019 / 4:30 pm

      Yes, an old Welsh poem that was translated into Sanskrit. I’m sure it does not make any literal sense, but it sounds cool!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Eugene Flores June 2, 2019 / 5:58 pm

    Cool article! Kenobi vs Maul is fantastic and perfect casting choice on Ewan McGregor.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael J. Miller June 16, 2019 / 8:44 am

    A friend of mine likes to joke that it was eleven years after the film came out before she realized she was supposed to hate TPM. Because it’s so good! And neither of us saw anything wrong with it when we were falling in love with it in theatres in 1999. Yes, there’s a lot of scene setting and yes, there’s a lot of rising action but, for me, the good always far, far outweighs those factors (and I can’t ever wrap my head around that machete order thing 🙂 ). Seeing the Jedi as an order for the first time was exciting. The new worlds paired with the old was fun. And it being the first time I ever saw a Star Wars movie in theatres before renting it makes it special too! I loved that you mentioned the first time you saw the double-bladed lightsaber. I think we all kind of remember that, the first time we saw it. I remember taping the trailer premiere on Entertainment Tonight so I could rewatch it and my mind being BLOWN when I first saw Darth Maul extend that second blade.

    I know I’m supposed to “hate” this one now, but it will always be amazing to me :).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei June 16, 2019 / 9:53 pm

      It’s never going to be my favorite Star Wars movie, but I know I liked it when I saw it, and it makes me feel a bit like a kid again to watch it now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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