The Phantom Menace was the most highly anticipated movie of all time when it came out in 1999. The lofty dreams of another masterpiece to rival The Empire Strikes Back were always unrealistic, but that was no excuse for the embarrassment that George Lucas served the world. He hadn't directed a movie in over twenty years, but the direction isn't the main problem. It's the callous contempt Lucas shows for his audience as he delivers the most soulless movie of all time.
Somehow, George Lucas takes a movie that involves Yoda, the King of Cool, Samuel L Jackson and space battles and makes it excruciatingly boring. A problem that haunts much of the prequel trilogy is the sheer amount of time that is wasted discussing taxes and politics. The Phantom Menace is quite simply about politics and trade negotiations, not good versus evil or love, but trade negotiations in a movie aimed at a young audience. The movie doesn't even try to say anything interesting about taxes, it just drones on and on endlessly and you become uninterested before the movie has properly started.
We are never properly introduced to the Sith villain of the movie - Darth Maul - who, with his brief screen time makes more of an impact than Liam Neeson's dreadfully boring Qui-Gon Jinn. Darth Maul has a double-ended lightsaber, flamboyant martial arts skill and horns to make him look like the Devil. He's the best thing in it and given barely anything to do as floppy-haired Jake Lloyd takes a gigantic step into ruining the mythology of Darth Vader.
Everything about The Phantom Menace stinks of laziness. Lucas is more interested in selling dancing Jar-Jar's to manipulated eight year-olds than he is telling a cohesive story as the movie finally slumps under the badness of the final celebratory scenes. There is no defining moment, no quotable dialogue and most importantly, no heart. Lucas ruins his own mythology by over-explaining everything and giving answers to questions nobody ever asked. Even as a stand-alone film viewed by somebody who had no prior experience of Star Wars, it is awful.