“Ask a Star Wars fan what they think about The Phantom Menace and you’re going to get a very specific answer. At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago last month, io9 spoke with fans about their memories and feelings on the eve of the film’s 20th anniversary, and the sentiment was way more positive than expected for all kinds of different reasons.
In the 20 years since its release, almost no Star Wars film has been thought about or debated more. On one hand, it gave us Darth Maul, Mace Windu, and Padmé Amidala. On the other hand, it also gave us Jar Jar Binks, Trade Federations, and midi-chlorians. The film introduced some of our favorite, and least favorite, things into Star Wars canon—and every fan has a story about their relationship with it.
In Tampa, Florida, it was a family affair. As Jasmin Seals recalls, her family almost had the police called on them for watching the film a bit too loud at home.
“I remember after watching The Phantom Menace at home with my dad, we played the podracing scene so loud that the neighbors came over and almost called the police on us,” she told us. “They thought something was crashing into that house. And I thought that was cool when I was younger. Then as I got older I really appreciated the political aspects of the movie. Even though it isn’t my favorite Star Wars movie I think it did a really good job of introducing so many new characters and creating a new trilogy. It’s very important to the fandom.”
Not all memories of the film are that dramatic, of course. Some are very relatable.
“I have a personal connection to that movie,” said Natassia Strayer, who was cosplaying as Rey at the convention. “When I was younger my favorite character was young Anakin and I used to have this pair of ski goggles that looked like the podracing goggles. So, when I was like four or five, I would just wear them and run around my basement like I was podracing. I know that a lot of people don’t like [The Phantom Menace] as much but for me, just because of that nostalgia, I still enjoy it because I think back to that childhood.”
Nick Evans of Columbus, Ohio had a similar story. He was just four years old when the film was released. “My parents had actually gotten me into Star Wars before that but I absolutely just walked out in awe of the movie. I remember going to the theater. It was such a memorable point for me,” he said. “It got a lot of hate for a while. There was definitely a couple of YouTube videos that [led to that], but then I realized there’s a lot of good stuff in the movie.”
He continued, “Maybe the execution isn’t there through the entire thing. But the ideas behind them are super solid. I mean, who doesn’t love “Duel of the Fates” with Darth Maul dueling Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan? That’s the best lightsaber battle in Star Wars.”
Now, both Evans and Strayer saw the film when they were young, so age may be the primary factor in a fan’s memory or enjoyment of the film. But, as we talked to more people, that was decidedly not the case.
“I’m kind of new Star Wars fan and I started [by] watching The Phantom Menace first,” said Lindsey Oates, also from Columbus. “So, for me, I’m similar to those fans that grew up with The Phantom Menace in that it’s one of my favorites, especially because it has a lot of miniatures and really fun colors and stuff like that.” […]
The release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace brought infinite possibilities. It brought the promise of something fans never thought they’d ever see again: new Star Wars movies. It brought a chance for answers to questions we never thought would be answered. And, of course, it brought something none of us could have expected: very public venom toward Star Wars. Still, it’s nice to know that some fans out there still hold reverence for that film and that moment. A moment that arrived 20 years ago next week.”