DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd :
I will try and explain why I dislike this film so much. It is a bit of a geeky rant, so bear with me.
A Universe of Boredom
The original trilogy gave us a window to one of the most interesting universes ever created. It is a fantasy, filled with amazing aliens and wonderful characters. The Phantom Menace was the film that could expand on this universe. We could have gotten more fantastical worlds, more foundation to the mythos. What we instead got was Tatooine......again. It could have traveled the entire universe but it instead gave us a planet we already know. This is but a tiny example of the unbelievable unimaginative feel this film has. This is most present in its plot. We start out this film with a dispute about tax regulations. Really? What a hook! I'm riveted! And when did Star Wars turn into some weird political thriller that isn't very exciting? The backdrop loses all of its magic and turns it into a dull political intrigue that isn't very intriguing on the one hand and an excruciating, soul destroying road movie on the other. These films are supposed to be fun. This one just isn't, apart from the ludicrous plot, Lucas manages to suck out the magic of the original mythology completely.
What was that? The whole basis of the Jedi belief system that there is a universal force that lives between every living and inanimate object can be boiled down to a substance in someone's blood? Right.... This is exemplary of everything that is wrong in this film. There is no spark of, well, anything here. It's almost like the Industrial Revolution. More science, less magic. No, the reason why the original films are so fantastic is that they are based on, bathe in and radiate that specific magic that makes us want to watch these films. This does not have that. Not once.
Lack of character
We already know who Anakin is and what he is going to become. The fact that we get to see him as an annoying nine year old doesn't help. Sure, it is probably meant to show us that he was innocent once, but you could just have told me that, I don't need to have my face rubbed in it for some two hours. Apart from that, where Luke evolves somewhat and realizes what he can do and thus ensures victory for the good guys, Anakin just stumbles around, saving the day by pushing random buttons. What a hero.
And then there's poor Liam Neeson's Qui Gon Jin. Is there one piece of information anyone can give me about this character apart from the fact that he is a Jedi and that he stole Alec Quinness' wardrobe? We know nothing about him and thus we don't care wether he lives or dies. Classic mistake and rather annoying as this is allegedly the hero of this story here.
A story needs a villain. For me the villain was Jar Jar because he killed this film, but that's personal. His annoying ramblings with that evil voice made me cringe every time he was on screen. He serves no purpose whatsoever and should be deleted in re-realse #20. Storywise, the villains are supposed to be Palpatine and Darth Maul. The only thing that kind of works is Palpatine, but only because we know what he will turn into. Darth Maul has less screen time than Jar Jar. So, the threat we are supposed to feel there is non-existent.
There is not one character in this entire film that is fun, funny, engaging, original or likeable. And that's kind of a big problem.
George the director
Now, all geek problems aside. This film is simply poorly made. George Lucas is a creative man, but he isn't a good director. His pacing here is so bad it makes this film feel it lasts twice the running time. The way he directs the big action sequences is convoluted and messy. There is ni exuberance there, no kinetic energy, no excitement.
Apart from all this it also looks really bad. The special effects are ok, but the digital backdrops are awful. In fact, one could almost argue that this is really an animated movie. There is so much digital material here, why not make a cartoon. The main appeal in the original was the production design. Here everything looks more realistic, more polished and therefore more boring.
On a personal note, I always thought that my initial disappointment stemmed from the fact that I grew up with the original films and this just didn't meet my strict expectations. But it's more than that. It is a poorly written, weakly directed and uninspired mess of a film.