Since the first movie was released more than 30 years ago, the “Star Wars” film saga has drawn a wide and very devoted fan base and spawned numerous spin-offs, such as an “expanded universe” book series, an animated “Clone Wars” TV show, graphic novels and more.

Yet even though fans love the saga, they haven’t always agreed on all the changes and additions that have been made to the “Star Wars” universe, and one of the most polarizing topics has been George Lucas’ newer trilogy of films, Episodes 1 through 3. Some fans love the newer trilogy and believe the films are a good addition to the saga, while others wish Lucas had stopped at “Return of the Jedi.”

“Episode I — The Phantom Menace” (1999) probably took the most heat from fans and critics, and the film recently has been re-released in theaters in 3-D. Over the past decade, I think this film has received more criticism than it probably deserved, and maybe it’s time for fans to show the film a little more love than they have in the past.

A lot of that criticism has centered on the character Jar Jar Binks, who has probably become one of the most disliked characters in film history. You may think I’m crazy, but maybe it’s time to give Jar Jar a break, as well. Yes, he’s irritating, and yes, I’ll admit he’s not my favorite Star Wars character. However, I don’t think his presence ruins the entire film, and complaints about Jar Jar have unfortunately overshadowed some of the things that are good about this movie.
Actor Liam Neeson is great as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn, and watching the movie again reminded me of why Ewan McGregor was a perfect choice to play a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. And Sith assassin Darth Maul, wielding a red, double-bladed lightsaber, is pretty much one of the most awesome “Star Wars” villains ever.

The film has some nice action set pieces, such as the podrace through the desert sands of Tatooine and the battle to free Naboo from the Trade Federation’s oppression. I’m still a little skeptical of the 3-D concept in general, but the scenes where I noticed it “pop” the most were the parts where ships were flying through space.

And no matter what you think of the rest of the movie, the Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul duel at the end of the film is all kinds of awesome, and one of the best lightsaber fights in the whole saga. The scene plays out like a well-choreographed dance performed at lightning speed, and it’s breath-taking to watch on the big screen.

I went to see “The Phantom Menace” in 3-D in theaters this weekend, and though I didn’t go opening night, the theater was still packed, even on a Sunday afternoon in bad weather. The audience was so excited they clapped three different times: when the curtain went up, when the “Star Wars” logo flashed on screen at the beginning of the film, and when the credits started rolling.

I probably could have sat down and picked apart some of the movie’s weaknesses after watching it, but I found myself not really wanting to. I just had fun watching the movie again. For me, it wasn’t about the film being in 3-D, or even that it was “The Phantom Menace.” It was about seeing a “Star Wars” film on the big screen in a packed theater with other fans who love this saga as much as I do. That was worth the price of a ticket. 🙂