‘Phantom Menace’ doesn’t deserve the hate

There are movies that people hate, and there are movies that people hate with a passion, devoting countless hours to shooting down and destroying. Whether it’s “Spiderman 3,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” or “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” certain films are remembered only for the rage they inspire in most everyone that comes across them.

One movie reigns supreme over all the love-to-hate films, a movie that has been deemed so detestable that it is commonly recognized as a foul utterance in many corners of the Internet. That movie is “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” and its arrival in theaters with a gloriously superfluous 3D tune-up is giving you another reason to ignore what is probably your least favorite “Star Wars” movie.

But, you could still give it another try.

I’ll say it; I kind of like “The Phantom Menace,” and seeing it again reaffirmed why. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor obviously enjoy playing Qui-Gonn Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and they give it way more effort than the script deserves. Also, the color pallet and backdrop design is really smart and interesting, there’s some great music and despite his inability to write believable dialogue, George Lucas really knows how to shoot an action scene.

And I know what you’re probably thinking. “What about Anakin? He was terrible,” or “but, the pod-race,” or some similarly inane complaint about the movie and, y’know, you’re mostly right. “The Phantom Menace” has a ton of problems, including the fact that neither Jake Lloyd or Natalie Portman is giving even a minimal amount of effort into delivering their lines and there are some insane leaps of plot and logic in the movie, but is that really all we focus on when we critique films anymore?

A lot of people have heard the complaints or made them themselves and no one has done it as succinctly as the infamous Red Letter Media review of the film. But was that criticism? While I respect the hour and a half epic that those guys made, what they’re doing is little more than nitpicking. Movies are meant to be celebrated for what they are, not mercilessly picked clean of their imperfections.

Watching it again for the first time in years, it’s obvious that “The Phantom Menace” was Lucas making an independent film the only way he knew how. The movie is ruthlessly in his style, pandering and filled with explosions, but coming from him, it feels earnest and earned. It’s the kind of movie viewers both expect and want him to make.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think “The Phantom Menace” is a classic. It’s not. It’s a deeply flawed movie that brings all the excitement of interstellar taxation to children while giving adults all the alien-rabbits stepping in alien-horse poop jokes they could ask for. That being said, the moments where the movie shines, the final lap of the pod-race, the scenery at the sacred circle or the deliberately Harryhausen-esque trip through the planet’s core, prove that Lucas is a competent visionary, although certainly not a great screenwriter. That being said, I’m also the guy who likes “Terminator 3.”