I am wondering something: Did the critics see a different movie than I did? I have seen The Phantom Menace three times now, and it keeps getting better and better, revealing more subtleties and nuances that foreshadow things to come. Not to mention it kicks ass.
Of course, there is the Jar Jar factor. He truly is an annoying creation, albeit pivotal to the story. But upon multiple viewings, he is not so obnoxious. I read one review that complained that the film is - paraphrased - "nobody's story. Not Anakin Skywalker's, not Obi-Wan Kenobi's, not Qui-Gon Jinn's." My question is this: was Empire Strikes Back (arguably the best film of the series) anyone's story in particular? We followed all the characters around. Does that not make it a good film?
The Phantom Menace has an epic saga to introduce to us, and only about 2 hours and 10 minutes to do it.
This film is pure Star Wars, especially the last 20 minutes. Great story, great non-wooden acting by all, and amazing action sequences, including the best lightsaber duel in any of the Star Wars films.
I can't wait for Episode 2.