Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
George Lucas, USA
In the spirit of yet another Star Wars movie opening this weekend, I thought I'd write about the prequel that jump started the George Lucas hate train. I'll be upfront in saying that I'm actually a fan of the prequels, but I'll detail that in another post. It'll take a bit of room for that. For now though, let me just say that Episode I was a big deal for me when it first came out. George Lucas had famously said that the prequels were meant for a much younger audience compared to the original films, and as it were, I fell into this supposed target age range. Having grown up watching the original movies on VHS and falling in love with the Star Wars universe, I never got to experience the excitement of a new Star Wars movie being released in theatres. The excitement around how the next part of the saga would unfold, getting wrapped up in the media hype surrounding its release, getting to know new characters - these were things I never got to experience. That is, until Episode I came out. For older audiences, I can see how parts of the movie were hard to watch, but being a kid in elementary school at the time, this movie was a blast from beginning to end. I won't go into the specifics here as it's hard to condense my views on particular elements of the film seeing as they obviously changed when I got older. An easy example would be my initial appreciation for Jar Jar Binks as a hilarious space alien, to realizing the unfortunately obvious racial implications of the character. Darth Maul, however, is still one of the best characters ever created in my opinion. Whatever the case, Episode I was for me what The Empire Strikes Back probably was for people back in 1980. You were already a huge fan of Star Wars, and now you got to savour the anticipation and excitement of seeing the next part of the saga in theatres. The expanded universe was always active, and I had dabbled in it prior to the release of Episode I, but Star Wars is at the core a movie franchise and nothing beats the movies. So yes, the prequels might have been terrible in many ways (again, a future post to fully explain my thoughts on this), but as a kid, The Phantom Menace was beyond magical. I'm sure a lot of kids of the current generation would say the same thing about Episode VII - they're just luckier in that the new trilogy seems to be sitting on a different end of the quality spectrum.