Nostalgia is a tricky thing. It’s often ridiculed, but we don’t get to choose what we feel nostalgic for, really. The trick of parsing nostalgia is separating what you feel good about simply for nostalgic reasons, and the things that are actually good. Conflating both is when things start to get dicey and leads to the aforementioned ridicule. Anyway, all this is to say, I’ve been feeling a hefty amount of nostalgia for The Phantom Menace — which was released twenty years ago this week — recently and I am unbelievably surprised by this turn of events.
Look, I’ll openly admit I was one of those people who convinced themselves that they loved The Phantom Menace after the first viewing. Yes, I was that person strutting out of the theater saying stuff like, “Hey, how about that lightsaber fight at the end with Darth Maul? That was pretty awesome!” while just ignoring the rest of the movie. It was only after the second and third time I saw it I started to have those, “Hm, I don’t know about this one,” feelings.
And, today, I can barely make it through The Phantom Menace without falling asleep. It’s funny, it’s usually about right now in essays like this that people make jokes about the taxation of trade routes. I actually find this part interesting! Atrocities often start with something benign. And at least there is a point it. As opposed to the pod race, which serves a very flimsy purpose and goes on forever. People often cite the pod race as “exciting,” but it’s just an extended late ‘90s CGI orgy. I’d rather hear more about the trade routes. At least that’s something driving the plot. So, no, I have no problems with the film’s take on taxes, instead it’s just the entire film’s strange lack of urgency and stilted dialogue.
So this does not explain at all why I’m feeling nostalgia for a movie I objectively do not like very much. And then I finally figured it out. I’m not feeling nostalgia for The Phantom Menace. I’m feeling nostalgia for the lead up to The Phantom Menace.