A fanbase can be a fickle crowd, as liable to territorially defend their franchise of choice as they are to turn against it with all the fervor of Annie Wilkes in Misery, and for a saga that inspires as much passion as Star Wars, the fan consensus has an interesting and eventful history in itself. Just take this new video from EckhartsLadder, which discusses the initial reception to Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and how the film’s reputation took a turn for the worse over the years.
As you may already know, the response from audiences and critics at the time was actually pretty positive, with the 1999 release earning glowing reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert. Even today, the film has a so-so Rotten Tomatoes score of 54%, with the bulk of the movie’s strongest reviews being almost twenty years old. Meanwhile, it’s said that hardcore fans posted positive Phantom Menace reviews online before the film had even come out, demonstrating their blind faith in the art of George Lucas.
Of course, even at the time, the movie had its detractors, but this negativity wasn’t always for the reasons you’d expect. Interestingly, some of the initial backlash received by The Phantom Menace is echoed today in responses to the ongoing Sequel Trilogy, with fans accusing Lucas of pandering to the PC crowd by inserting feminist ideas into his picture.
While that’s not a criticism you often hear today for this particular film, a lot of the viewers who were positive about the movie in 1999 have since changed their tune. A look back at the oldest IMDb reviews for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, for example, show many pleasing responses accompanied by one- or two-star ratings, indicating that these assessments were written by fans who liked the film at the time but have since lowered their ratings without taking down their initial reviews.
What exactly this change in consensus can tell us about the state of the Star Wars fanbase today is very much up for debate, but it’s clear that when you’re dealing with viewers this emotionally invested in a franchise, sometimes there’s a fine line between love and hate.