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Is 'The Phantom Menace' still a joke? 'Star Wars' fans weigh in 20 years later

From left: Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) appear in a scene from “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”
From left: Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) appear in a scene from "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."
Lucasfilm

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty years ago, “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” reintroduced the classic sci-fi series to new audiences — and promptly fell flat on its face in some respects.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film — which was released on May 19, 1999 — received a mixed reception from film critics, while only 59 percent of audiences liked it. Polygon also notes that even before the film released, director George Lucas recognized the film had some issues.

“I may have gone too far in a couple of places,” Lucas said following a showing for an early cut of the film.

Some of the film’s actors also bore the brunt of the negative response — Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker, left the film industry and BBC reports Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) considered taking his own life. Lucas also wondered out loud why he should make more “Star Wars” movies if people continued to attack him over “The Phantom Menace,” according to The New York Times.

But despite early criticisms, time has been kind to the prequel film. The Verge notes the film — and its sequels — served as a strong basis for multiple spinoffs in books, video games and television. It also predicted and encouraged the current franchise-centric climate in Hollywood today — giving rise to sagas like “The Lord of the Rings” or the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Fans on Twitter have also voiced their appreciation for the film in commemoration of its anniversary, with a few saying the movie introduced them to "Star Wars" as children. Others noted the positive aspects of the film, like strong central actors, a powerful score and an interesting villain.

Others talked about the hype — and disappointment — surrounding the movie at its release.

Actors and crew members from the film and other “Star Wars” movies also took time to highlight the film and discuss their memories.

The “Star Wars” saga concludes its throughline with the Skywalker family in “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker,” which releases on Dec. 20, 2019.