I have never been a Star Wars fan. Actually, it was kind of a turn-off growing up to see my friends collecting every comic book, novelization and special edition release. Even to a twelve-year-old, the plot of the EU was clearly running on fumes, recycling old plots and images (decades after the events of Jedi
) rather than rolling the dice on new stuff. The video games don't help, reusing the same old Cloud City textures. Basically, the EU does a disservice to the variety and color of the original trilogy.
Which is why everyone looks so fondly on Episode One. For all the script's faults, at least we get to see something different. Some places are familiar, like the Trade Federation warship (intentionally patterned on a future Star Destroyer) and Tattooine, but overall this is the riskiest of the prequels. The later movies were an endless parade of caverns for some reason.
Unfortunately, if Episode One has a leg up on scenery, Episodes 2 & 3 had better characterization. I'm a plot guy, and I can tell you that The Phantom Menace is constant foreshadowing. Sure, a lot of stuff happens, but if we have no connection to the characters, who cares? Chancellor Velorum ends up being the most sympathetic character in the movie, and he's just a pencil-pusher! You might say Shmee and Anakin are tragic figures, but Lucas is queasy about inserting miserable-looking slaves into a family film, so the mother-son act like they're on siesta at Disneyland. I had always envisioned Obi-Wan and Anakin as contemporaries. While I'm sure a lot of kids loved putting themselves in Anakin's shoes, I'm sure the same could be done with an adult character. This movie got off to a bad start with making Anakin and Obi-Wan into naive adolescents for the whole trilogy —and THUD goes the drama.
As a film in its own right, Episode One is fun but unmemorable. As a Star Wars movie, the whole story could probably be consolidated into Episode Two and not lose much.