In Honor of Star Wars Day: 'The Phantom Menace' Is Actually Awesome And I Can Prove It

In celebration of Star Wars Day let's revisit one of the most misunderstood installments in the blockbuster sci-fi franchise, George Lucas' much maligned Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

Set 32 years before Episode III: A New Hope, the first episode established the origin story of Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who grew up to become the most feared ruler in the galaxy, Darth Vader. Released in 1999, the first prequel has a 55 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes from critics who trashed the film. At 58 percent, audiences didn't turn out in droves either to defend the movie either. Don't let those numbers fool you: because this Star Wars fan is going to tell you why The Phantom Menace isn't as bad as you think.

True story, my college roommate and I often debated the merits of this Star Wars movie. Thank goodness it wasn't about whether or not Han Solo shot first, I can write a whole other article about that though. Instead, the feature that divided us was one Jar Jar Binks.

My roommate blamed Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) for ruining the film. I argued that Lucas had intended to make a kids movie, which explains the lighthearted spirit and juvenile humor. Jar Jar Binks isn't for adults, and that's by design. Jar Jar is a slapstick cartoon character whose sole aim is to delight children, not captivate adults. Yeah, I'm too old for fart jokes (for the most part) but Jar Jar's slide because they weren't meant for me.

Last year for the film's 20th anniversary, Lucas reiterated what I told my college friend in the official Star Wars website, "The films were designed for 12-year-olds. I said that right from the very, very beginning and the very first interviews I did for A New Hope. It's just that they were so popular with everybody, that everybody forgot that."

"Then when I came back to do Phantom Menace, it was 20 years later. So if you were 10 years old when you saw A New Hope, you would be 30 years old when you saw Phantom Menace. So you weren't a kid anymore," added the Star Wars creator.

The Phantom Menace
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08: Characters from Star Wars pose for a photocall to promote the release of Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace 3D at The London Eye on February 8, 2012 in London, England. Dave J Hogan/Getty

Before Lucas made millions off the Star Wars franchise, he was a struggling indie filmmaker kickstarting his career. If you are a true movie buff like me, then you've probably seen Lucas' 1973 teen comedy American Graffiti. In the movie, Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) and John Milner (Paul Le Mat) compete against each other in a drag race. Notice how Lucas uses sound effects of the engines roaring and editing tricks to extend the race, a precursor to the effects he would later use in Phantom Menace.

Lucas' love for racing can visually ben seen in Anakin's exhilarating podrace. Notice how far Lucas has come, using special effects and digital explosions to heighten the race. Even Lucas stated in the same interview as before, "The podrace was the direct result of my lifelong fascination with racing."

The main reason to watch, Phantom Menace can be summed up in two words: Darth Maul. Say what you will, this flick has the best lightsaber duel in the entire franchise. Towards the third act, Darth Maul (Ray Park), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) fight to the death in an epic three-way combat battle. John Williams' exciting score pumps up the action, especially during Maul's kicks and Jinn's Force punch.

Darth Maul's popularity took a life of its own as fans dressed up as the Sith at comic cons and Halloween. Maul starred in his own books, such as 2001's Shadow Hunters and 2014's Maul Lockdown. Returning for the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Park participated in the motion capture so that the digital animators could sync his every movement during Maul's battle with Ahsoka Tano.

The Phantom Menace might not be everyone's favorite, but it's not without its merits. Maul has a special place in the culture, and even if you can't stand him, so does Jar Jar Binks, just show him to a kid and see what happens! For these reasons, this May the 4th, I'm celebrating the ugly red-headed stepchild, Phantom Menace, and I suggest you try doing the same.