Where to start... I'm not going to summarize the story line because, frankly, it's a bit hazy and I have no intention of watching it again. Suffice to say, I'm still not sure who or what the phantom menace was, and the plot such as it is, revolves around some sort of mind-numbing trade dispute. Other problems include an unappealing child Anakin, and a remarkably- almost deliberately- obtuse Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn. Queen Amidala is boring, and Jar Jar Binks is, frankly, a crime against cinema. Ewan McGregor is fine as young Obi-Wan Kenobi, but is given little to do until the end of the movie. Lucas also tries to get cutesy by having Anakin construct C3PO , which doesn't work at all.
T.P.M. had a potentially promising villain in Darth Maul, but then got rid of him almost right away. If I had to sum up the terribleness of this film in one sentence: they killed Darth Maul and kept Jar Jar Binks.
Again, I'm not really sure about the plot of this movie: I know it takes place about a decade after the last film, and Padme is now a senator in the Galactic Republic. There's a separatist movement brewing, and Senator Palpatine is sneakily consolidating power and influencing an increasingly dark Anakin. Oh, yeah- and Anakin and Padme somehow manage to fall in love and get married.
Apparently the acting, the writing, and the dialogue are all terrible... no surprise there. In the clips I've seen, Anakin acts like the most annoying character imaginable: a whiny, sulky teenager. It requires a willing suspension of disbelief to accept that Padme, who is significantly older, would find this pouting, immature brat attractive, especially when Ewan McGregor is on the scene.
The only way this film might work is as a sly critique of the United Nations, using the Galactic Senate as an example of an ineffectual body where the members are either hopelessly oblivious and gullible, or infinitely and irredeemably corrupt. I'm pretty sure, however, that this wasn't George Lucas' intention. Too bad... instead viewers are treated to the sight of Anakin graduating from being an angst-ridden, annoying jerk to being a murderous- and still annoying- jerk. Fail.
As I said, this isn't a great movie, but it does manage to get all the variables and characters put in place for A New Hope. As I see it, the biggest problem with this film is that it was supposed to relate the tragic descent of Anakin Skywalker from a well-intentioned Jedi to a Sith Lord dedicated to the dark side of the Force. Unfortunately, due to bad writing and bad acting, no one likes Anakin, and therefore we don't have any emotional connection to his character and don't care that he's turned, because he was a jerk anyway. Besides, while Darth Vader is a great villain, picturing whiny Anakin beneath the mask renders me unable to take him seriously... his villain credibility is destroyed. Only by forgetting who the man behind the mask is can I still regard him as a threatening figure, not a little whiny baby.
So that's my look at Star Wars: Episodes I-III... it's been a pretty negative review, but I'll have kinder things to say about the next three films.