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.
I disliked The Phantom Menace when it first released, but 20 years later it’s my favorite of the prequel trilogy because it has the:— Brian Altano (@agentbizzle) May 19, 2019
✅Best lightsaber fight
✅No whiny teen Anakin
✅Most practical effects/sets
Happy 20th, TPM pic.twitter.com/60qFIigd6I
Phantom Menace showed that movie studios don’t just invest in films, they invest in “worlds”.— Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite) May 20, 2019
Thanks for the shout-out in this piece on @verge, @AndrewLiptak! #starwars #PhantomMenace
Happy 20th anniversary #PhantomMenace! My fav. #starwars & 2nd fav. movie period. A film that epitomizes the best of all things SW in its characters, themes & underlying philosophy as well as its envelope pushing FX and technical filmmaking craftwork pic.twitter.com/plH6PbLXsl— Andy Schroeder (@That_Andy_S) May 19, 2019
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is 20 years old today. The excitement I had for that movie, the experience of seeing it at the height of late 90s movie theater excess, and being a teenager seeing it with friends holds it among my favorite moviegoing experiences of my life. pic.twitter.com/xmEX4YH2N3— Alan Johnson (@TheAlanJohnson) May 19, 2019
Others talked about the hype — and disappointment — surrounding the movie at its release.
20 years ago I waited eight hours in line in the Florida sun on May 12 to get tickets and then waited 5 1/2 hours in line May 18 to get good seats to watch the 12:01 AM May 19th debut of Phantom Menace after waiting 16 years for a new Star Wars movie.— Jared Petty (@pettycommajared) May 19, 2019
It was a very bad movie. pic.twitter.com/MzMiUHVpqq
Me in early 1999: “The Phantom Menace is going to be the greatest movie ever!”— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) May 19, 2019
Me in mid 1999: “The Phantom Menace is the worst movie ever!”
Me in 2019: “The Phantom Menace is fine” https://t.co/KEKCNga06R
Two decades ago tonight, I was standing in line to see THE PHANTOM MENACE at a Cinemark outside of Dallas, TX, convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would rule extremely hard. lol owned, indeed. pic.twitter.com/2SNgywrRyZ— Scott Wampler™ (@ScottWamplerBMD) May 19, 2019
Happy 20th Anniversary, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. There's a lot I wish were very different about TPM and plenty I admire. What a fascinating mixture of excitement and disappointment this film represents when I look back on my moviegoing experiences. pic.twitter.com/RVJdUDyQFm— Eric Goldman (@TheEricGoldman) May 19, 2019
The Phantom Menace is 20 years old ~ For a film that drew such incensed vitriol on release time has not been kind, perhaps the biggest disappointment in retrospect is the feeling of such wasted potential pic.twitter.com/Lb7wlLHhxE— Samuel J. May (@sjmay92) May 19, 2019
Actors and crew members from the film and other “Star Wars” movies also took time to highlight the film and discuss their memories.
20 years of The Phantom Menace. Crazy. I saw it a few days early, because I was the "local angle" guy for newspapers in Winnipeg, and I traded an interview for a press screening. Randall King, who was at the Sun at the time, got me to see it early, and then he did the interview.— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) May 19, 2019
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.