The Star Wars prequel trilogy - Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Episode II - Attack of the Clones, and Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - released nearly two decades after the original trilogy concluded in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, George Lucas' latest chapters weren't exactly what fans hoped they would be, and those objections were evidenced in critics' berating of the prequels in their brutal reviews.
Lucas' original 1977 Star Wars film released as a single story, but when the filmmaker was gearing up for the sequel, he announced plans to expand his then-burgeoning Star Wars saga into nine parts, broken into three trilogies. The original trilogy was being told first, with the prequel and sequel trilogies coming later. While Walt Disney Studios-owned Lucasfilm is currently helming their own version of Lucas' tales in the ongoing Star Wars sequel trilogy, Lucas took it upon himself in the late 1990s and early 2000s to write, direct, and produce each installment in the prequel trilogy (though he only really wanted to come up with the stories and let others helm the films).
Although the Star Wars prequels are among the lowest rated films in the franchise, despite having redeemable qualities, they still managed to rake in hefty sums at the domestic and worldwide box office. The Phantom Menace, for instance, earned an approximate $757 million domestically when adjusting for ticket price inflation. But those box office hauls didn't preclude the films from being ridiculed by many critics, with some going as far as to call the films abominable.
The Phantom Menace
The actors are wallpaper, the jokes are juvenile, there's no romance, and the dialogue lands with the thud of a computer-instruction manual. ... McGregor is saddled with lines like, "I have a bad feeling about this." And Neeson must answer, "Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan." Ouch! Is it a coincidence that Phantom Menace and James Cameron's Titanic – whose box-office record ($1.8 billion worldwide) Lucas is chasing – were made by men with a poet's eyes and tin ears? - Rolling Stone
Neeson gives the film's best performance, in the only full-dimensional human role. McGregor will make a strong Obi-Wan in future episodes, but he has little more than a supporting part here. Portman is mostly wasted as the stiff, overdressed queen, and though kids will love Lloyd, parents may be reminded of Beaver Cleaver when he speaks. - New York Daily News
...No matter how much detail went into turning clumsy sidekick Jar Jar Binks into an expressive digital creation, he can't overcome Lucas' conception of him as an incomprehensible "Amos 'n' Andy"-type blubberer (actually, he sounds most like a prepubescent Mushmouth from "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids") who walks in an exaggerated pimp strut. He's not the only ethnic caricature, either; the Trade Federation officials sound like stock Oriental villains. - Chicago Tribune
George Lucas has been quoted as saying that "actors are still the best way to portray people," but, in watching his Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, you get the feeling he wishes it wasn't so -- that he could dispense with actors altogether. ... Being human has never seemed more humdrum. And maybe this was Lucas's intention: By making his CGI creatures -- his 'droids and globs and thingamajigs -- so much more captivating than his people, he's striking a blow for the primacy of special effects over human effects. At this point in his career, he may not know, or care about, the difference. - New York Mag
...unfortunately for a film that has three times more computer-generated shots than any previous effort, its biggest miscalculation is a computer-generated sidekick. That would be Jar Jar Binks. Looking like a large and ungainly sea horse, Jar Jar, who inexplicably speaks in a kind of Caribbean patois, is a major miscue, a comic-relief character who's frankly not funny. The Gungan as a whole prove very difficult to understand, and when you can make out what they're saying ("You're in big do-do this time") you wish you hadn't. - Los Angeles Times
The numerous reviews that chastised The Phantom Menace all agreed that George Lucas misjudged what made the original Star Wars trilogy so special and how to use its star power. What's more, everyone thought Lucas' dialogue, though coming from good intentions, fell flat. That's something that even the movie's strongest supporters can also agree on.