Though fans have largely moved on to debating the new trilogy, it looks like George Lucas's unfortunate lot in life is to stand by and defend his three Star Wars prequel films: The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).
As Phantom turns 20-years-old this year, the celebrated filmmaker spoke with StarWars.com, which compiled a comprehensive oral history of Episode I. When it came time to discuss the poor fan reception of these movie, Lucas brought up an excellent point: that his intention was always to entertain kids and not snooty connoisseurs.
"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," he said. "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. I think you were kind of embarrassed, and what you thought was a really fantastic movie for a 12-year-old wasn’t that great for a grownup. I think that was the main cause of the fall of Episodes I, II, and III. Believe me, it took a beating."
He makes some fair points. The prequels are pure popcorn adventure flicks meant to stimulate the part of our brains that goes nearly silent when a person reaches maturity. If you can turn off everything else for two hours and not nitpick the plot too much, you may end up feeling like a kid again, eyes wide and full of wonder at what can be achieved via the enigmatic term we refer to as "movie magic."
Criticism of the prequels range in variety from problems with the story (trade talks, anyone?) to character designs and execution. The most famous of the latter is Jar Jar Binks, the bumbling Gungan, who proves to be a valuable ally to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), ultimately becoming a major hero during the Battle of Naboo. And while Binks is a wholly CGI creation, it's easy to forget that he was played by a flesh and blood human being, Ahmed Best, an actor nearly driven to suicide over the intense hatred of the character.
In SYFY WIRE's own oral history of Episode I, Best echoed Lucas's sentiments about the movies being geared toward children. Based on Best's experiences, it was mainly just fully grown adults who promulgated the anti-Jar Jar movement.
"Years ago, George told me that this was how it was going to be. He was like, 'The kids that grow up with Jar Jar, they’re not even going to think about all the criticism that happened back then.' He was very prescient. Everyone now who was a child then has so much endearment for Jar Jar, they just grew up with that and they look at their parents like, 'What are you talking about?' People my age are the ones who were the Jar Jar haters, but the young people are the ones who gave it the strength."
The cosmic saga that Lucas kicked off more than four decades ago comes to a close on Dec. 20 when Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters everywhere.
For SYFY WIRE's history of how Phantom Menace changed moviemaking technology, click here.