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A still from Star Wars : Episode I - The Phantom Menace.

Hear me out: why The Phantom Menace isn't a bad movie

The latest in our series of writers defending maligned movies is a plea to revisit George Lucas’s loathed Star Wars prequel

With the levels of global hysteria that had built up around the 1999 release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it was always destined to disappoint.

Initial reviews of the film were actually sort of positive. Critics picked up on the fact that a story about trade taxation was a bit flat, in the same way a date with a bank manager is a bit flat; that the dialogue was ripe; that Jar Jar Binks – the CGI comic relief intended to give the toy companies something to sell – was, unforgivably, not funny. But it had Jedi, spaceship battles, it looked staggering, and the consensus was that it had set up a fresh trilogy fairly ably. Job done, then. Or so it seemed.

In the months following the movie’s release, opinion shifted. The wow-factor of the CGI rubbed away, revealing the creaky bones of the film beneath. Questions were asked of the relevance of the CGI aliens’ accents, from the Caribbean patois of Jar Jar and the south-east Asian timbre of the Trade Federation Neimoidians to the slave-owner Watto, who was accused of being equally offensive to both Arabs and Jews. (George Lucas strenuously denied any racial stereotyping, making these elements of the film, at best, bewildering oversights.)

Special hatred was reserved for Jar Jar, played by Ahmed Best, and for young Anakin Skywalker (the then nine-year-old Jake Lloyd). In the early days of the internet, both actors were unprepared for the now sadly commonplace levels of abuse the toxic side of fandom can discharge. All of a sudden, The Phantom Menace was loathed . (“I had death threats,” Best said later . “I had people come to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’”)

It would be impossible to stage a defence of the film without at least addressing its faults, which are certainly legion. Jar Jar is the main culprit, but on reflection, he’s little more than an occasional annoyance. He’s goofy. Kids like him. He’s hardly the film’s protagonist. So it’s no great challenge to ignore him. Likewise, the odd “yippee!” aside, Anakin isn’t half as irritating when seen at a cool remove of 22 years after the fact. He’s merely one of an entire ensemble of characters without a single definable personality trait between them.

Throughout the film, scenes seem to linger for a few awkward seconds after they should, or cease abruptly without any purpose for their existence having been established. There’s also an uncanny weightlessness to much of the CGI. In fact, from editing to dialogue to plotting, some of the nuts-and-bolts film-making on show is, frankly, baffling.

But there is – there is ! – a great movie lurking beneath all this. The sheer amount of world-building is remarkable: in one film we are introduced to the whole power structure of the galaxy before The Empire: a Republic, a Senate, a Jedi Council, Coruscant, Naboo and the Gungan city, and we are reintroduced to lawless Outer Rim planets like Tatooine. We see how it all works, and witness actual, jobbing Jedi going about their Forcey business in the inexorable run-up to war. It all whips along at a fair old clip.

And the action set pieces are peerless. The pod race is an astounding assault of speed and noise. The land and space sorties are as good as anything the original trilogy managed, if a little inert in their lack of overall stakes. And the lightsaber battles remain the best of any Star Wars film to date. Darth Maul is the coolest baddie Star Wars ever gave us, and the athleticism he brings to the previously stiff duels has yet to be bested.

Attack of the Clones features some of the blandest CGI action ever filmed, and a love story so lumpenly delivered it makes you wonder whether George Lucas has actually ever met another human being, let alone courted one. And Revenge of the Sith, while bringing the trilogy to a generally satisfying close, is festooned with the hokiest dialogue this side of The Room. (One climactic scene genuinely features the lines “The Sith are evil!” “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!”)

The Phantom Menace, though, isn’t bad at all. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are excellent. It tells a satisfying, enclosed story. Its action is handled with zip and flair. And, from the death of Qui-Gon to Anakin’s mother giving him up, it even manages to tug on the old heartstrings occasionally. Gungans notwithstanding, it is a very solid Star Wars film. Is it a classic? Goodness, no. But if you haven’t seen it since you left that movie theatre in 1999 with your hands clenched in tight white fists of fury, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Don’t be afraid. Remember: fear leads to anger …

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is available to watch on Disney+ in the US and UK

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Sorry, but 'The Phantom Menace' is better than any 'Star Wars' movie of the last decade

  • "The Phantom Menace" is often criticized as a weak movie.
  • But Episode 1 is a better "Star Wars" movie than any made in the last decade.
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Insider Today

"The Phantom Menace" was called the most "overhyped motion picture of the last decade" upon its 1999 release, but the truth is that all of the most recent "Star Wars" movies released by Disney deserve this title a lot more.

That's not to say that those films in the last 10 years have been terrible. "Rogue One" is excellent, and there are some great moments in Disney's sequel trilogy, too. But George Lucas is "Star Wars," and so too, therefore, is "The Phantom Menace — far more than Disney's polished trilogy.

The movie is also crucial to the wider context of the "Star Wars" universe, and set things up that are now treasured by the "Star Wars" fandom, including a certain red-headed Sith wielding a double-bladed lightsaber.

'The Phantom Menace' has flaws, but none as deep as the sequel trilogy's

It's no secret that "The Phantom Menace" could probably use a good edit. It has pacing issues, and the stilted dialogue the prequel movies are often criticized for is almost part of the fabric of "Star Wars" by this point. And yes, Jar Jar Binks is kind of annoying, but not nearly as much as is now widely accepted.

These are surface-level flaws, creases in an otherwise confident and assured start of a definitive new era of "Star Wars" with believable characters and clear plots.

The three latest Disney movies, meanwhile, feel like a jumbled mess with no cohesion. It's obvious that the planning was poor, hence Rian Johnson's "The Last Jedi" abandoning all that came in JJ Abrams' "The Force Awakens." Then, when fans voiced their displeasure with Johnson's movie, Abrams was brought back on board for the grand finale of the Skywalker saga, "The Rise of Skywalker," which essentially felt like two hours of retconning and jamming in plots and characters that were jarring and confusing.

The flaws in Disney's movies are not just creases, they were deep-rooted issues that undermined "Star Wars" as a whole. From Palpatine's return to Finn's non-existent character arc to Rey's heritage and her sudden force healing ability, plus the series' betrayal of Luke Skywalker ... nothing felt cohesive, unlike the thoughtful, coherent and deliberate expansion of the universe that "The Phantom Menace" achieved.

'Star Wars' is at its best when it's new and bold, just like 'The Phantom Menace'

"Star Wars" is at it's best when it's offering innovative, bold new stories, as it did with its first-ever installment, "A New Hope" and its sequel "The Empire Strikes Back."

In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2015, shortly after "The Force Awakens" came out, Lucas said of his previous six "Star Wars" movies: "I worked very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships — you know, to make it new."

I walked away from "The Force Awakens" feeling like I'd seen a box-checking tour: Alien bars — tick! A sinister army — tick! A band of rebels — tick! A cute droid — tick! Rather than an innovative experience. As Lucas said himself of the movie : "there's nothing new."

This is why "The Mandalorian" works so well. Yes, it brings back old characters, but we also get to see things in the "Star Wars" universe that we haven't seen before, and it expands upon the lore and legend in a completely different era of "Star Wars." We come away from "The Mandalorian" more enriched by "Star Wars," but I never felt that way after one of Disney's sequels, or "Solo." "Rogue One," thankfully, did achieve originality, but not to the degree of the "The Phantom Menace."

'The Phantom Menace' is vital to the wider franchise and added to the lore of 'Star Wars'

Not only did we get to see a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in action, shading in the life of someone we previously only knew as a wise old man, but we also saw the early beginnings of the boy who would be Vader.

Plus, we learnt more about the mythical Jedi, and got to see them at the height of their powers in a never-before-seen era before their fall. We learnt about the Sith's rule of two and how a sprawling galaxy was ruled before the Empire took over, not to mention the numeral new planets, species, characters, and civilizations we've come to know and be fascinated with introduced by "The Phantom Menace."

We also have "The Phantom Menace" to thank for Darth Maul, one of the coolest villains in movie history who immediately became a fan favorite. Animated series "The Clone Wars" and "Rebels" have since expanded upon him to make him one of the saga's most complex and beloved characters — we have Lucas and "The Phantom Menace" to thank for the creation of the spike-headed Sith lord.

Meanwhile, Qui Gon Jinn, played with perfect serenity, spirituality, and facial hair by Liam Neeson, is one of the most underrated characters in "Star Wars." He is the quintessential Jedi, his longing for peace and calm is exemplified when he kneels and meditates in a pause in battle with Maul in the Duel of the Fates.

Qui Gon's  impact is felt across the rest of the "Star Wars" movies — Kanan Jarrus in "Rebels" has more than a hint of Qui Gon about him. And Qui Gon, let's not forget, is the one who found the boy who would become Darth Vader. 

Disney's sequel trilogy are meringue movies — they look good but there's no substance

The Duel of the Fates battle between Obi-Wan and Qui Gon and Maul features two Jedi knights at their peak fighting a Sith lord, and the dazzling style of lightsaber combat is riveting to watch.

But in "Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian," Dave Filoni, co-creator of "Rebels" and producer and director of "The Clone Wars" and "The Mandalorian," explains why this fight is so much more than a flashy spectacle.

Filoni said: "He's fighting for Anakin. That's why it's called the Duel Of The Fates, the fate of this child and depending on how this fight goes, Anakin's life will be dramatically different ... it's everything that the entire three prequel films hangs on."

—Adam Hlavac (@adamhlavac) May 10, 2020

Qui Gon's death gives the movie weight. Conversely, consequences feel light in Disney's movies. It's a tired criticism by now but Rey, who has never held a lightsaber before, manages to beat fully-trained Sith lord Kylo Ren in a duel. This betrays the nature of "Star Wars," where skill in combat has always been crucial. The new trilogy doesn't follow the universe's rules that Lucas' movies lovingly follow to create a believable, immersive, and meaningful story.

This is why "The Phantom Menace" is so underrated. It's taken for its surface-level flaws when it has so much more to offer.

Disney's sequel trilogy are meringue movies. They are well made and look good, and are certainly more polished than the prequel series, but they are ultimately lightweight and empty.

But "The Phantom Menace" is one of the most important and thoughtful slices of "Star Wars" we've ever been given, and not even Jar Jar Binks can stand in the way of that.

the phantom menace is underrated

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Star wars: the phantom menace — 10 things that still hold up today.

The first Star Wars prequel wasn't appreciated in its time, but The Phantom Menace has since been reappraised as a timeless cult classic.

When George Lucas kicked off the Star Wars prequel trilogy with The Phantom Menace , it was rejected by a lot of fans and critics. However, like the two movies that followed it, it’s since been reappraised as a timeless cult classic.

RELATED:  10 Things That Make The Phantom Menace The Best Star Wars Prequel Film

More than two decades after Lucas released one of the most highly anticipated blockbusters of all time and it quickly became one of the most polarizing movies ever made, Star Wars fans are still talking about The Phantom Menace . Thanks to enduring gems like Darth Maul and “Duel of the Fates,” Episode I holds up.

The Tragic Foreshadowing Hits Harder On Repeat Viewings

The tragic foreshadowing in The Phantom Menace hits a lot harder on repeat viewings when the audience knows where it’s all leading. Anakin will inevitably become Darth Vader one day, and George Lucas uses that inevitability to give the story dramatic weight.

Yoda senses darkness in Anakin’s soul and doesn’t want to train him as a Jedi, but reluctantly agrees to train him at the behest of Qui-Gon’s dying wish. This seals Anakin’s dark fate – and that of the entire galaxy – and when the audience knows the tragedy that comes next, The Phantom Menace is even more heartbreaking.

Ewan McGregor’s Spot-On Performance As Obi-Wan

One of the very few aspects of the prequel trilogy that critics, diehard Star Wars fans, and casual viewers all enjoyed was Ewan McGregor’s charming portrayal of young Obi-Wan Kenobi .

McGregor didn’t set out to shallowly mimic Alec Guinness’ vocal inflections and characteristics; instead, he offered his own take on a younger, more naive incarnation of Obi-Wan, and it was spot-on. McGregor’s performance has since become the gold standard for playing the younger version of a role made iconic by another actor.

The Podracing Sequence Is Riveting

The most unique set piece in The Phantom Menace is the podrace. The stakes are clear – the race will determine Anakin’s freedom – and the concept of a deadly auto racing tournament in a galaxy far, far away creates an action scene like no other.

Unlike a lot of Star Wars action sequences, the podrace isn’t complemented by a John Williams score . Ben Burtt’s unique sound effects, breathing life into the blaring engine noises of fictional vehicles, create their own kind of hypnotic rhythm.

Jake Lloyd’s Subversively Wholesome Performance As Young Vader

Jake Lloyd’s performance as a nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace is massively underrated. Unlike his successor Hayden Christensen, Lloyd’s acting has yet to be retroactively reappraised by the fan base. Lloyd doesn’t lean into Anakin’s darkness right away; instead, he plays him as a starry-eyed desert scavenger like his son in the original trilogy.

RELATED:  Ranking Every Character Introduced In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Depicting the future Darth Vader as a sweet, innocent kid rubbed some fans the wrong way, but it beautifully foreshadows the ultimate tragedy of the character. The prequels tell the story of Anakin’s downfall, and Lloyd’s bright-eyed performance gives him somewhere to fall from.

The Old Republic Worldbuilding Separates The Prequel Era From The O.T. Era

While the sequel trilogy would go on to closely mimic the original trilogy and evoke its iconography, the prequel trilogy deliberately set itself apart from its predecessors. It takes place at the time of the Old Republic, and Lucas introduced a very different universe than the grimy “used future” he depicted in 1977.

The Old Republic worldbuilding introduced the Jedi at the height of their powers and established the capital city-planet at the center of a functioning galaxy-wide democracy. These worlds were new and exciting, and that spectacle holds up to this day.

“Duel Of The Fates” Is John Williams’ Grandest, Most Operatic Star Wars Piece

Before retiring from the franchise with his Oscar-nominated score for The Rise of Skywalker , John Williams composed a handful of unforgettable pieces of music to accompany the high-flying adventures in a galaxy far, far away, from the foreboding militaristic menace of “The Imperial March” to the sweeping sounds of Anidala’s love theme “Across the Stars.”

But arguably the grandest, most operatic composition from the entire saga is “Duel of the Fates.” The combination of a symphony and a choir sells the gravity of what’s at risk. The piece captured the stakes of Anakin’s turn to the dark side so beautifully that Williams later incorporated elements of it into “Battles of the Heroes,” his score for the Mustafar duel.

Qui-Gon’s Heartfelt Father-Son Dynamic With Anakin

The emotional core of The Phantom Menace is the father-son dynamic that Anakin develops with Qui-Gon. Liam Neeson and Jake Lloyd share strong enough chemistry that these emotions ring true.

Dave Filoni explained in Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian that Qui-Gon was the father figure Anakin needed . If he’d survived, he could’ve trained Anakin himself and kept him from turning to the dark side. After Maul killed Qui-Gon, Anakin lost his ideal father figure. Obi-Wan was more of a brother, so Palpatine swooped in and filled that role to kickstart his empire.

The Groundbreaking CGI Has Aged Surprisingly Well

When CGI is done poorly, it can age like milk and even ruin the audience’s enjoyment of a movie. But the groundbreaking early effects from movies like T2 and Jurassic Park that set the stage for all the rest still hold up today.

RELATED:  5 Reasons New Star Wars Viewers Should Start With The Phantom Menace (& 5 Why It Should Be A New Hope)

Lucas developed brand-new VFX technologies to bring the worlds of the Star Wars prequel trilogy to life. Some of the CG shots look a little rough around the edges – and the hilly environments of Naboo have been compared to the generic Windows XP wallpaper – but the space battles are just as spectacular today.

The Return To Tatooine Is A Nostalgia Trip

The Phantom Menace evokes fans’ nostalgia far more effectively than The Force Awakens . Much like Luke Skywalker’s humble beginnings in the original trilogy, Anakin is introduced leading a mundane existence in The Phantom Menace . He works in a junk shop in a dusty, crime-ridden town and dreams of leaving the desert planet behind to become an intergalactic hero. The prequels’ return to Tatooine could’ve felt like a re-tread, but new elements like podracing keep the story feeling fresh.

The plain, barren landscapes of Tatooine make it a great location to use as a springboard into the larger story. In both of his Star Wars trilogies, Lucas took audiences to Tatooine before launching the heroes into a galaxy-spanning three-part epic.

Obi-Wan & Qui-Gon Vs. Maul Is The Most Spectacular Lightsaber Duel

Thanks to its sky-high stakes, Ray Park’s unparalleled abilities as a martial artist, and the unique spectacle of two single-bladed lightsaber wielders simultaneously fighting a double-bladed lightsaber user, The Phantom Menace ’s climactic duel is the greatest in the saga’s history. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s ultimately fatal struggle to defeat Darth Maul both determines Anakin’s dark fate and stands out as a masterpiece of action filmmaking.

The explosive visuals of Obi-Wan and Anakin’s duel on Mustafar offered some fierce competition in Revenge of the Sith , but The Phantom Menace ’s “Duel of the Fates” is still the most spectacular lightsaber duel ever put on film.

NEXT: 10 Ways Star Wars (1977) Still Holds Up Today

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Is Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) underrated?

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Poll Is Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) underrated? (34 votes)

I personally think it's underrated and massively overhated, as it's always been one of my favorite Star Wars movies and it was the film that got me into the Star Wars Saga seeing as it was the first Star Wars movie I ever saw in theaters as a kid (I was four years old).

Plus, the score is simply magnificent and the film has some of my favorite elements from the Star Wars Saga like the characters of Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi as a youn Padawan, Anakin Skywalker as a young innocent child played by Jake Lloyd and Anakin's mother, Shmi Skywalker.

Plus, I've never heard a real legit good reason why so many Star Wars "fans" hate this movie other than the fact "it's a Prequel and it has too much Jar Jar, therefore it sucks!" I think it's just a tired and lame meme that refuses to die and it's just trendy to hate The Phantom Menace and most people jump on the anti-Episode I bandwagon to be cool and fit in with the Internet and the so-called Star Wars "fanbase."

Also, if you think this movie is worse than Attack Of The Clones, you have to have some serious brain damage.

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Yes, it was epic.

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It is generally underrated. it's flawed, but not much more than any other Star Wars movie.

I think it's the best looking Star Wars movie there is. at times the cinematography is fantastic. also Lucas was really trying to achieve something big with the prequels and I believe Phantom Menace reflects the optimism and ambition of everyone at the beginning of the project. whereas Ep 2 and 3 (while also good and interesting for other reasons) reflect the deflation of Lucas' ambitions.

as a first chapter in the story of Anakin becoming Vader, I think the movie fails, and the prequel trilogy in general failed in it's main purpose to tell a compelling and satisfying story of Anakin's turn to the dark side. but judging it purely by it's other purpose which is to entertain you as a big budget action/adventure blockbuster, it absolutely achieves this goal. the production was truly impressive; the score, set designs, costumes, all go above and beyond, and if anything exceeded expectations.

Avatar image for tomkatie

As a Star Wars fan, Star Wars fans are their own worst enemy. It’s a cycle of loving the trilogy you grew up with, then hating the next generation’s trilogy

I guarantee in 10-20 years there will be forums and memes about how underrated the sequel trilogy was

Avatar image for incursion2

Eh its perfectly rated, its an average movie at best with some cool moments. That said I enjoy it because its star wars lol.

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Nah. It's bad.

It'd be nice if you actually gave a constructive reason why you think it's a bad movie instead of just saying "It's bad" because you say so.

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User Lists: 10

It's over hated for sure

I personally liked it

Avatar image for skywalker95

Nope, worst SW film imo.

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Yes, the podrace was awesome.

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User Lists: 6

No, it's legit garbage.

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I felt the podrace was boring, but I do agree TPM is underrated

  • Boring and terrible plot.
  • Horrible acting from young Anakin actor. And he was so annoying.
  • It features the worst movie character of all time - Jar Jar Binks. A character who's so unbearable and irritating to the point he puts me (and millions of other SW fans) off this film.

The podrace and Maul vs Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are the only saving grace. Other than that, it's complete trash and the film deserves more hate. I find it laughable that people think AOTC, TLJ and ROS are worse than this garbage.

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I’ve almost always seen people rate it somewhat reasonably. It’s not the worst Star Wars film, but it’s definitely bottom 5.

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Yes, I think so.

I don't get the hate for jar jar an anakin. And ROS is much worse. At least this is enjoyable and doesn't shit on the lore

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User Lists: 1

OH! Isn't that the movie which introduced midi-chlorians?

Avatar image for simplebatmanfan

Yes it is….as it is better than the next two Prequels and leagues better than any of the Disney Star Wars movies.

Avatar image for last0fth3risen

The duel of the fates is excellent, and the only reason anyone remembers it fondly. But the rest of the film is horrendous.

Avatar image for boc

Very, IMO. It serves its role as the foundation of the trilogy excellently. Without it, the quality of the latter two drops drastically. For that - and the independent quality of those foundations - I'd put it above the other trilogies, except, maybe, ESB.

Avatar image for absolutespirit

Duel of Fates solos Attack of Clones and the sequels.

Avatar image for kaithighju

Maybe back then but I feel like most SW fans at least don't dislike/hate TPM anymore. Although most of the scenes in TPM are mid except a few scenes.

Avatar image for thotheus

Underrated, movie was made for a good theater and a big home sound system and it sounds good with surround and d bass . Pod race baby

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the phantom menace is underrated

Star Wars: Jake Lloyd's Performance In The Phantom Menace Is Massively Underrated

Hayden Christensen's work in Episodes II and III has been retroactively praised, but Jake Lloyd's performance in Episode I is still overlooked.

When Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace first hit theaters in 1999, Jake Lloyd became one of the first Star Wars actors to face the most toxic corner of the fan base. The movie as a whole was massively polarizing, with some fans praising Darth Maul and other fans decrying Jar Jar Binks. George Lucas’ return to a galaxy far, far away was a mixed bag, to say the least, and there were a lot of strong opinions flying around in the wake of its release. Lloyd’s performance as a nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker was one of the aspects that divided fans the most.

Contemporary Star Wars fans who weren’t quite sure what to make of The Phantom Menace (except that they hated it) were polarized by how sweet and innocent Lloyd played the kid who would be Vader. But this innocent characterization masterfully sets up Anakin’s inevitable fall to the dark side . The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is that the Sith Lord he eventually becomes is so far removed from the bright-eyed Jedi prodigy he once was.

RELATED:  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Has The Most Confusing Plot Point In The Series

Audiences need to cut child actors some slack. No matter how talented they are, kids are just kids. The fact that Jake Lloyd could even remember all his lines and stay in character under the blistering heat of Hollywood-grade lights at such a young age is impressive enough. Few child actors are able to give strong enough performances that there’s no evidence of the artifice of acting at all, although it’s not impossible, as proven by Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon , Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild , and Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone .

Lloyd’s performance in The Phantom Menace isn’t flawless, but considering his young age, he’s a surprisingly perceptive scene partner with seasoned actors like Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson. He developed a tangible mother-son bond with Pernilla August that made Anakin’s departure from Tatooine suitably heartbreaking. Plus, Lloyd’s take on the role was perfect for that stage in Anakin’s life. His warm, likable characterization complements the tragedy of Anakin’s arc .

As the backstory of the Star Wars saga, the prequels promised to detail Darth Vader’s origins for fans who’d been pleasantly surprised by the revelation of his illegitimate children and his ultimate redemption in the initial trilogy. For some fans, the prequel trilogy didn’t start close enough to Vader’s turn to the dark side , as Anakin is introduced as an adorable nine-year-old kid with dreams of becoming a pilot and saving his mother from a life of slavery. But this just emphasized how far Anakin would fall from grace throughout the rest of the trilogy.

Since the audience goes in knowing how the story ends, prequels have the unique opportunity to use the inevitability of fate as a dramatic tool. The best prequels, like Better Call Saul , have leaned heavily into this element in crafting their characters’ arcs. The Star Wars prequels obviously aren’t perfect, but reintroducing Darth Vader as a cutesy little kid was a bold and unexpected way to set up his origin story. Moviegoers knew that, one day, this kid would become Darth Vader – the question was, how?

One of the most celebrated sequences in The Phantom Menace is the pod race . During the race, which is established to determine Anakin’s fate, he has to face sabotage by his rival Sebulba. While he’s driving a hovercraft at nearly 500mph, Anakin has to reconnect the engine to the main pod. Lloyd would’ve had to perform all these scenes in front of a greenscreen, but his acting in the face of CGI danger is believable enough that, even though the character is protected by plot armor, the tension is palpable throughout the set-piece.

Fans who were disappointed with Lloyd’s subversively wholesome portrayal of Anakin apparently would’ve been more satisfied if the character had begun the trilogy as a dark, brooding antihero on the verge of turning to the Sith. But Kylo Ren’s arc in the sequel trilogy proved that if that had happened, it wouldn’t have worked . This trilogy set out to tell the story of how Anakin became Vader. In order for this arc to work, Lloyd had to lay the groundwork with his performance as a young Anakin who isn’t so different than the Skywalker seen watching Tatooine’s twin suns set over the desert in the original 1977 movie.

The actor who succeeded Lloyd as Anakin, Hayden Christensen, was similarly vilified for his performance when the movies initially arrived in multiplexes. But, over time, Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin has been retroactively praised as fitting for the character and the overall saga. Fans have come to accept that Christensen did the best job he could with the awkward material Lucas gave him. Unfortunately, they haven’t extended the same gratitude to Lloyd and his work in The Phantom Menace remains overlooked.

MORE:  How The First Ten Minutes Of Phantom Menace Launches Palpatine's Evil Plan

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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Anthony Daniels, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Keira Knightley, Ray Park, and Peter Serafinowicz in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their original glory. Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their original glory. Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their original glory.

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Oliver Ford Davies

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Ahmed Best

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Anthony Daniels

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  • Trivia Liam Neeson was so eager to be in the film that he signed on without having read the script.
  • Goofs Some naturalists have stated that Watto's wings weren't big enough to lift his body in flight. George Lucas explains that Watto's digestive system filled his rotund belly with helium, making Watto a blimp, not a bird.

Obi-Wan : But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future.

Qui-Gon Jinn : But not at the expense of the moment.

  • Crazy credits Jabba The Hutt - Himself
  • Alternate versions The 2011 Blu-ray version replaces the Yoda puppet with a computer generated Yoda.
  • Connections Edited into Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

User reviews 4K

  • Planets design
  • Some of the action scenes
  • Musical score
  • Dull cinematography
  • Jun 1, 2019
  • How do the Gungans lose their shield generator in the droid battle? When the generator is hit the shield is still active until it explodes so how did the droids do that if as we see the shield blocks all laser fire even from the tanks?
  • When does this take place in the Star Wars timeline?
  • What is 'Phantom Menace' about?
  • May 19, 1999 (United States)
  • United States
  • Disney+ Hotstar
  • Lucasfilm Ltd. [United States]
  • Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace
  • Sidi Bouhlel, Bouhlel Sdada, Tunisia (Podrace, Tatooine)
  • See more company credits at IMDbPro
  • $115,000,000 (estimated)
  • $474,544,677
  • $64,820,970
  • May 23, 1999
  • $1,027,082,707

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  • Runtime 2 hours 16 minutes
  • Dolby Digital

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Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Anthony Daniels, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Keira Knightley, Ray Park, and Peter Serafinowicz in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

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10 Greatest Fictional Holidays, Ranked

Posted: December 30, 2023 | Last updated: December 31, 2023

There are of course plenty of TV shows and movies that have their fictional characters celebrate real-world holidays. After all, there wouldn't be such a market for Christmas movies (even the charmingly bad ones ) if people didn't enjoy seeing that holiday in fiction, for example. And then of course there are all the horror movies intrinsically tied to Halloween, romance movies about Valentine's Day, and, in 2023, even a high-profile Thanksgiving movie got a decent amount of love.

Yet in fictional worlds, holidays don't have to have a basis in fact, and this results in plenty of TV shows and movies showcasing entirely made-up holidays . Some of these were inspired by real-life people or attitudes towards holidays, and some have gone on to become ironically or sincerely celebrated by fans. What follows are some of the most notable of these holidays, ranked from fairly iconic to most iconic.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (1997-2003)

Night of saint vigeous.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show where demons and vampires are real (and need slaying), though such creatures do still find themselves celebrating certain historical events and holidays. The show was always very good at world-building, especially once it found its footing toward the end of its first season . The fictional holiday known as the Night of Saint Vigeous was one example of this world-building, and was focused on during the early days of Buffy's second season.

It's mentioned in the third episode of season 2, "School Hard," which is also notable for being the episode where the sometimes fan favorite, sometimes divisive Spike was introduced. He comes to Sunnydale to celebrate the holiday, which occurs annually on October 4, and commemorates an ancient vampire from medieval times and the destruction he caused . Of course, attempts to rampage through Sunnydale on this occasion are cut short by Buffy Summers, pitting her against Spike for the first (and certainly not final) time.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Watch on Hulu

'A.P. Bio' (2018-2021)

Katie holmes day/jamie farr day.

A.P. Bio ran for four seasons between 2018 and 2021, and never quite achieved mainstream success despite being a relatively well-received sitcom. Still, in a modern TV landscape where many shows get canceled way too quickly , A.P. Bio's run wasn't too shabby, and in that time, it did manage to showcase not just one, but two fictional holidays, and all within the space of a single episode.

It takes place inside a high school in Toledo, Ohio, and the characters are shown to be rather proud of the fact that that's where renowned Hollywood actress Katie Holmes was born. As such, Katie Holmes Day is an annual holiday celebrated there , but just as holidays in real life are contentious and sometimes divisive, so too is this fictional one. As such, there's also a Jamie Farr Day celebrated in protest on the same day, recognizing Jamie Farr (another actor hailing from Toledo) for his status as a great yet underrated comedic actor, most notably for playing Maxwell Q. Klinger in M*A*S*H .

Watch on Peacock

'Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace' (1999)

Few franchises in cinema history have quite as much backstory and history present in the worlds they've created as Star Wars does. What began as a single movie directed by George Lucas in 1977 has ballooned into something gigantic, because beyond the sequel and prequel movies, there are also countless Star Wars TV shows, video games, toys, novels, and any other kind of merchandise you can imagine, much of it adding to the overall far, far away galaxy.

Even a divisive entry in the series, like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace , has added things to the lore and overall storyline present throughout the franchise. Take for instance the holiday of Boonta Eve, which was celebrated on Tatooine and commemorated a being that attained godhood . It's most notable for also giving The Phantom Menace what's arguably one of its best sequences: the whole pod racing scene, that event always being a component of Boonta Eve celebrations.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Watch on Disney+

'Puss in Boots' (2011)

Festival del fuego y el pollo.

Though it’s been overshadowed by its superior sequel, 2022’s emotional and action-packed Puss in Boots: The Last Wish , 2011’s Puss in Boots is still significant for being the titular character’s first solo movie, and for briefly featuring a fictional holiday. It’s short-lived, but in one scene in the film, various characters are shown celebrating a holiday event known as Festival Del Fuego y El Pollo, which translates to “The Festival of the Fire and the Chicken.”

There’s not a great deal of information given about it, and it’s really a background event that plays out during a larger story, which centers on Puss in Boots going on his own adventure separate from recognizable characters like Shrek and Donkey. Still, it’s also a holiday that spells out what it entails from its name alone; from what viewers glimpse, there are indeed ample amounts of fire and chicken involved .

Puss in Boots

Rent on Apple TV

'Firefly' (2002)

Unification day.

What could have been an all-time great action/sci-fi/drama series was regrettably cut down after less than one season, but at least what viewers have of Firefly is still pretty great, all things considered. This was an expansive and hugely ambitious series that aimed to feel like a Western/action/adventure show set in space, all the while having a balance of comedy and drama thanks to its wise-cracking yet deeply human and endearing main cast of characters.

Still, with just 14 episodes (and a 2005 finale movie, Serenity ), the whole world of Firefly became pretty fleshed out, with the backstory surrounding the Unification War - fought before the series proper commences - being hugely influential on the events of the show. The series' protagonist, Malcolm Reynolds, fought on the losing side, and therefore hates the yearly holiday of Unification Day, where the other side celebrates their victory. Rebellious antihero that he is, he's happy to put himself in great danger when it comes to protesting .

'The Star Wars Holiday Special' (1978)

The Star Wars Holiday Special is an infamous so-bad-it's-good holiday movie , yet the event being celebrated throughout much of its duration is not actually Christmas or Thanksgiving. Life Day is what the main plot of The Star Wars Holiday Special revolves around... though saying the entire thing has a plot feels generous, because numerous scenes are entirely disconnected from one another, giving the TV movie the feel of a surreal (and mostly unfunny) sketch show.

Certain scenes, however, do concern Chewbacca trying to get back home to his family so they can all celebrate Life Day, which began as a Wookie holiday but later became celebrated by other races/individuals across the galaxy. It's perhaps a holiday many Star Wars fans would like to forget, owing to this early piece of Star Wars media being notoriously bad, but it is still a prominent event within the franchise, and worth noting, regardless of the Holiday Special's quality.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

'the simpsons' (1989-), whacking day.

Sure, The Simpsons isn't what it used to be , but when it was on fire, it was up there with the very best TV shows of all time. One episode from its golden era was season 4's "Whacking Day," with the titular holiday being explored throughout the episode. It's an annual holiday in the town of Springfield that revolves around getting all the snakes the townsfolk can find into the center of the town, at which point the whacking commences - in other words, the snakes get clubbed to death.

Only in Springfield could the holiday exist, and naturally, it's one that Lisa Simpson finds to be abhorrent and protests against. It can be seen as an episode about problematic or contentious holidays, or can simply be enjoyed as a Simpsons episode about an absurd annual event that provides a good deal of comedy.

The Simpsons

'the o.c.' (2003-2007), chrismukkah.

The holiday of Chrismukkah, as seen in The O.C . , is one of those rare fictional holidays that's actually seen some people adopt it in the real world . It's not too difficult to see why, either, because as the name implies, it's a combination of Christmas and Hanukkah , the former being a Christian holiday celebrated December 25 every year, and the latter being a Jewish holiday that's celebrated over the span of eight days, usually around December (the dates vary a little year to year).

The O.C. might not have invented the term, but it was definitely popularized within the show , and an obscure idea became a fictional holiday, which in turn became something tangible people could celebrate in the real world. It's a way of combining two holidays into one, done by Seth Cohen in the show because his father is Jewish and his mother is Protestant, and he wants to acknowledge both faiths equally at the same time.

'30 Rock' (2006-2013)

Merlinpeen/holiday of mouth pleasures.

30 Rock invented two ridiculous holidays tied to a make-believe religion that isn't just fictional outside the show, but also a total sham within it. This is in keeping with the show's overall sense of humor, as it wasn't afraid to make up other fake things that were real within the context of its world. Season 4 introduces the idea of Verdukianism, which is a fake religion made up by several characters, so they can avoid taking part in another's uncomfortable yearly Secret Santa.

The fake religion doesn't last long, but it is fleshed out enough to have two made-up holidays invented for it : Merlinpeen (which involves leaving work to go to the movies) and the gross-sounding Holiday of Mouth Pleasures. It's all very stupid, but that's also what helps make these two fictional holidays memorable, though you'd have to be a pretty dedicated 30 Rock fan to celebrate either in real life.

'Seinfeld' (1989-1998)

One of the greatest sitcoms of all time is also home to what's arguably the greatest fictional holiday of all time . The sitcom is Seinfeld , and the holiday in question is the legendary Festivus, which is introduced in season 9's "The Strike" as a holiday that George Costanza's father, Frank, celebrates yearly. It's established as one that rejects Christmas cheer and traditions, having things like a metal pole instead of a Christmas tree, airing grievances at family gatherings, and eating rather unappetizing food: here, it's plain-looking meatloaf served on lettuce.

There's also the feats of strength, which really just boil down to Frank showcasing how he's still physically stronger than his son, and the declaration that minor coincidences are actually "Festivus miracles," mainly from Kramer, who gets surprisingly attached to the idea of Festivus. It's a hilarious fake holiday that was apparently based on a real one celebrated by the father of one of the episode's writers, Dan O'Keefe . It is indeed a Festivus for the rest of us, and fictional holidays have never been more iconic.

Watch on Netflix

NEXT: The Best Christmas Movies of All Time, Ranked

10 Greatest Fictional Holidays, Ranked

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This Is the Most Underrated Performance in ‘Oppenheimer’

This brief performance leaves an explosive impact.

The Big Picture

  • Oppenheimer is an exhilarating cinematic showcase that captivates audiences with its morally complex characters and gripping depiction of the creation of nuclear bombs.
  • The extensive cast of movie stars and character actors in Oppenheimer is a testament to director Christopher Nolan's ability to assemble a talented ensemble, with Dane DeHaan delivering a brilliant performance.
  • Dane DeHaan portrays Major General Kenneth Nichols, a character who represents the menacing power of the military-industrial complex and highlights the collision between groundbreaking science and bureaucracy.

Along with its spellbinding portrayal of a morally complex American figure and harrowing depiction of the meticulous creation of nuclear bombs, Oppenheimer is an exhilarating cinematic showcase that audiences have not experienced in years . The new film by Christopher Nolan is being celebrated for its dense cast of movie stars and sturdy character actors. There is plenty of justified acclaim for the likes of Cillian Murphy as the titular role, Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss , and even Jason Clarke as Roger Robb, but a cast this expansive and eclectic is prone to overshadow dynamic supporting performances , such as the brilliant performance by Dane DeHaan .


The story of American scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.

Dane DeHaan Is Part of a Hugely Talented Cast in 'Oppenheimer'

As news hit the public about the film's production, many were transfixed by the deep bench of its supporting cast . The extensive cast is a testament to Nolan's refraining from writing composite characters . It wasn't about who was starring in Oppenheimer , but who wasn't. Anticipation for Murphy receiving the promotion to leading status in a Nolan film and Downey finally emerging out of the post-Tony Stark shadow was paramount. He granted actors like Josh Hartnett and Alden Ehrenreich a revival after years of mainstream dormancy. Kids of the 2000s were baffled, but intrigued by the casting of Josh Peck and Devon Bostick in this austere historical biopic. On top of all this, Oppenheimer will also remind everyone why Dane DeHaan was one of the hottest assets in Hollywood not so long ago.

DeHaan, most known for his entrancing leading role in the Gore Verbinski film, A Cure for Wellness , Josh Trank 's found footage superhero thriller Chronicle , and a handful of indie productions, had the makings of an off-kilter but captivating movie star. His appearances in films such as The Place Beyond the Pines , Lincoln , and Lawless equally shaped DeHaan as a reliable character actor. With his piercing blue eyes and gaze of inscrutability, the actor could undermine his boyish good looks with an internal sinister quality . A big break for DeHaan was unfortunately compromised by the unfavorable reception to Amazing Spider-Man 2 , where he played Harry Osborn. The box-office bomb that was Luc Besson 's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in 2017 certainly didn't help matters either.

His quick rise to fame in the 2010s appeared to have completely dissipated until he received the call from the master director of populist sentiments with ostentatious thematic structures , Christopher Nolan. Along with starring in Nolan's critically acclaimed blockbuster, DeHaan appeared in Dumb Money , the docu-dramedy about the Gamestop stock phenomenon of 2021, where he played a Gamestop manager. Since he is wearing a mask throughout most of his screen time, viewers may have been oblivious to his appearance in the film.

Who Does Dane DeHaan Play in 'Oppenheimer'?

In the new film about J. Robert Oppenheimer and his coordination of the creation of the atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project during World War II, DeHaan plays Major General Kenneth Nichols . He worked as a civil engineer on the Manhattan Project and subsequently joined the Atomic Energy Commission following the war as a military liaison. In 1953, Nichols was elevated to the general manager of the AEC, which was led by Lewis Strauss, who also spearheaded an investigation into Oppenheimer's loyalty to the United States as a result of his past ties to the Communist Party.

Like many of the roles played by recognizable faces, including Oscar-winning actors such as Casey Affleck , Gary Oldman , and Rami Malek , DeHaan doesn't have that much screen time. However, as is the case with the rest of the steep cast, it is not about what DeHaan brings to the plot but rather the presence he conveys. Captured in exquisite black-and-white photography, his reserved menace is exploited throughout the film . From his first appearance, he is strikingly unmistakable with the glasses, slicked-back hair, and military officer uniform.

Oppenheimer is filled with countless mesmerizing shots under the eye of Nolan's cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema . In the same wavelength of under-the-radar magnitude, a scene involving a meeting between Oppenheimer, Strauss, and other AEC officials features a quick and subtle shot of a floral arrangement being moved aside, which reveals Nichols sitting in a seat previously blocked by the object. He is seen glaring into the soul of Oppenheimer , as the film has established to be following from the physicist's perspective. The reveal has the suddenness of a jump scare, and with this seemingly innocuous shot, Nolan shows that a minor character with nefarious intentions for our protagonist is lingering, waiting for his moment.

In the film's somewhat divisive third act, which intercuts between Oppenheimer's security hearing, a more-or-less character deconstruction covertly ordered by Strauss, and the confirmation hearing of Strauss' appointment as Secretary of Commerce by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nichols plays a subdued, yet crucial role. Strauss, who resents Oppenheimer for dismissing his concerns regarding the Soviet Union's progress in manufacturing atomic weapons, digs up the physicist's alleged ties to communism, notably surrounding his romantic relationship with Jean Tatlock ( Florence Pugh ), to effectively deny his influence in bureaucracy.

One Thing You Wouldn't Expect to Find on a Christopher Nolan Set

While in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the location of the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer wanted to hear the status of his government clearance, and he asked Nichols, who was in charge of security parameters of the site. In choice words, he informs the soon-to-be father of the atomic bomb that he is overstepping his boundaries with this inquiry. The U.S. military-industrial complex, and by proxy, him, ultimately determines the fate of Oppenheimer and the entire project. The doctor triggers suspicion among his military superiors when a colleague of his is believed to have leaked intel to the Soviets regarding the Manhattan Project. At this moment, Nichols operates as a sobering reminder of Oppenheimer's obligation to serve under a master in the U.S. government. His virtuosic mind for quantum theory does not run the show here.

Dane DeHaan Conveys a Quiet Menace in a Brief Amount of Screen Time

In the timeline presenting the legal face-off between Oppenheimer and Strauss, Nichols enlightens the latter on the former's questionable background. Taking place in the early 1950s, when the second Red Scare led by infamous Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy was rampant in the political climate, Nichols is dauntingly representative of the paranoia at the heart of the bureaucratic system , as he feeds Strauss with the indictable information of Oppenheimer's loose communist ties. DeHaan conveys a particular brand of government sleaze in his brief performance — a deplorable superior officer who uses power to maintain control at all costs. He precisely embodies the government's lack of integrity depicted in the film, the kind that expresses no remorse for deploying weapons of mass destruction, but aggressively upholds a moral panic over political alignment.

DeHaan's performance crystallizes an important overarching theme of the film. The collision of idealistic groundbreaking science with the military-industrial complex amounts to Robert Oppenheimer being a helpless figure, contrary to Nolan's claim that he is the most important individual in the history of civilization . The power and influence that figures like Nichols possess is a rude awakening for hopeful pioneers like Oppenheimer, who is immensely conflicted with his ego and the monstrosity that he created, and Strauss, who fancies himself more as an advocate for science rather than an empty suit bureaucrat. Both of them are expendable in the eyes of the suppressive system carried out by Nichols.

Despite his prowess and inclination towards spectacle-driven action and science fiction , Christopher Nolan allows Oppenheimer to excel as a chamber drama featuring dynamic performers talking in legal hearings . The film is the closest instance of Nolan directing an Aaron Sorkin script (many have cited The Social Network as a fitting companion piece to this film). Banding together this plethora of compelling screen presences to discuss nuclear physics and yell in suits over eyewitness testimony is an ingenious way of exploiting their respective untapped abilities. It is refreshing to see this volume of familiar and respected faces on screen, even in a limited amount of screen time, such as Dane DeHaan, who brilliantly portrays a general conveying the overbearing power of the military-industrial complex, sometimes with just a glare.

Oppenheimer is available to rent on Apple TV+ in the U.S.

Watch on Apple TV+


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