After a 16-year hiatus, Star Wars made a triumphant return in 1999 to kick off the prequel trilogy with The Phantom Menace.
George Lucas took the world by storm in the late 70s - early 80s with his highly successful space opera, telling the ultimate redemption story with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The franchise amassed millions of fans across the globe, and when Lucas announced that three more films would be going into development, this time set before the reign of the Galactic Empire, the buzz that followed was unmatched.
The Phantom Menace's trailer was a phenomenon in itself, with fans buying tickets as fast as they could to other films playing at their local movie theater, only to sit down to watch the sneak peek and then leave. When Episode I itself was finally released, however, the ecstatic feeling quickly faded for most.
A slow storyline, bad CGI, and Jar Jar Binks stole the show, though not in a positive way. Many viewers did praise the newly introduced villain, Darth Maul, but since his fate ended in a bottomless pit and there were no indications of his return, there was not much excitement for the remaining two films of the trilogy.
Fast forward to 2021, and fan appreciation of The Phantom Menace, along with the rest of the prequels, has risen exponentially. However, the technical complaints of CGI and other production miscues still have not been overlooked.
One person extremely close to Lucas in the past has, for the first time, made her opinion on the film known, and it is none other than the creator's ex-wife.
George Lucas' Ex-Wife on the Prequels
In the newly released biography about film producer Howard Kazanjian, Howard Kazanjian: A Producer's Life, George Lucas' ex-wife/film editor Marcia Lucas, who worked as an editor on all three films in Star Wars' original trilogy, had the privilege of writing the foreword. Additionally, some of her comments about the prequel trilogy came from a story deeper into the book.
Having worked on the Original Trilogy, Lucas praised her ex-husband, calling him "a good guy and a talented filmmaker." However, she then expressed that upon her first viewing of The Phantom Menace, she "cried" tears of sadness:
"George is, in his heart and soul, a good guy and a talented filmmaker. I wish he would’ve kept directing [other kinds of] movies. But when I went to see Episode I—I had a friend who worked at ILM, who took me as a guest to a preview—I remember going out to the parking lot, sitting in my car and crying. I cried."
The decorated film editor, known for working on the likes of Taxi Driver and Star Wars' original trilogy, "didn't think it was very good:"
"I cried because I didn’t think it was very good. And I thought he had such a rich vein to mine, a rich palette to tell stories with. He had all those characters."
Lucas then voiced her frustration with a facet of The Phantom Menace that many fans still have a problem with to this day - the fact that Anakin Skywalker "looked like he was six years old," and the character of Padme, who Anakin later marries, "looked like she was twenty years old:"
"And I thought it was weird that the story was about this little boy who looked like he was six years old, but then later on he’s supposed to get with this princess who looked like she was twenty years old."
She then went even further by criticizing "the casting," as well as the "eye candy" CGI:
"There were things I didn’t like about the casting, and things I didn’t like about the story, and things I didn’t like—it was a lot of eye candy. CG.”
It's Hard to Please Everyone
Everyone that consumes a piece of media, whether it be film, music, or paintings, has the right to form their own opinion about it.
It isn't surprising that Marcia Lucas didn't like The Phantom Menace, and there's nothing wrong with her displeasure with it. However, it is odd that she couldn't name one positive aspect about the film, considering that she worked on the trilogy that built Star Wars to what it is today.
She also gave a highly vocal and detailed criticism of the sequel trilogy in the same novel. Disney's culmination of the Skywalker Saga has split the fanbase in a divisive way, as the prequels similarly did when they were first released.
Lucas' comments on her ex-husband as a person and as a filmmaker, which addressed him as "a good guy and a talented filmmaker," do say a lot about him. Since he sold the franchise to Disney in 2012, the father of Star Wars has tried to keep a low profile, only making a limited number of public appearances.
He has made his own comments, however, about his opinion of the sequel trilogy as well, echoing his ex-wife in his frustration with them. If he were to see what she has said about the prequels, one would have to assume that he wouldn't agree with those.