Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

 

Theatrical poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum
George Lucas
Written by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor
Natalie Portman
Jake Lloyd
Ian McDiarmid
Ray Park
Ahmed Best
Music by John Williams
Cinematography David Tattersall
Editing by Ben Burtt
Paul Martin Smith
Studio Lucasfilm
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) May 19, 1999 (1999-05-19)
Running time 133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $115 million[1]
Gross revenue $924,317,558[1]

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a 1999 American epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas. It is the fourth film to be released in the Star Wars saga, as the first of a three-part prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy and the saga. The Phantom Menace was also Lucas’ first product as a film director after 22 years, and only his fourth overall. The film follows the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, who escort and protect Queen Amidala in traveling from the planet Naboo to the planet Coruscant in the hope of finding a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute.

Along the way, their starship must stop for repairs, and it is landed on the planet Tatooine, where the Jedi encounter Anakin Skywalker, a young slave boy who seems to be unusually strong with nascent powers of The Force. Meanwhile, they must contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.

Lucas began production of this motion picture after he had concluded that the science of movie special effects had advanced to the level of what he wanted for his fourth film in the Saga. Its filming took place during 1997 at various locations including Leavesden Film Studios and the Tunisian desert. Its special effects included extensive use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), with some of its characters and its settings being completely computerized and not existing at all in the real world.

The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters on May 19, 1999, sixteen years after the 1983 premiere of the previous film in the saga, Return of the Jedi. The film’s premiere was accompanied by extensive media coverage and great anticipation. Despite mixed reviews by critics, who tended to praise the visuals and action sequences but criticize the writing, characterization and acting, it grossed $924.3 million worldwide, making it the Star Wars film with the highest gross income (unadjusted for inflation), the 14th highest gross-income film of all time, and the highest-income film of 1999. It is also the seventh highest-income film of all time at the American box office.

Plot

The Galactic Republic is in a period of decline, with its bureaucracy bloated and corrupt and its economy deteriorating. In response to a taxation on trade routes, the greedy Trade Federation organizes a blockade of battleships around the planet of Naboo. Hoping to resolve the matter, the Supreme Chancellor dispatches two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and his Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, to negotiate with Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray. Unbeknown to them, the Trade Federation has become in league with the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious, who orders them to kill the Jedi and invade Naboo with an army of battle droids. Narrowly evading death, the two Jedi stow aboard landing craft and escape to Naboo. There Qui-Gon saves local Gungan outcast Jar Jar Binks from being trampled by a Federation tank. Indebted to the Jedi, Jar Jar leads them to the underwater Gungan city of Otoh Gunga, where the Jedi unsuccessfully attempt to persuade the Gungans to help the people of Naboo, though they are able to obtain a transport to reach the Capital city of Theed on the surface.

Queen Amidala of Naboo is captured by the Federation army, but is rescued by the Jedi. The Queen escapes Naboo with the Jedi on her personal starship, which is damaged on its way through the blockade surrounding the planet, forcing them to land on the nearby desert planet Tatooine for repairs. Qui-Gon ventures into the settlement of Mos Espa with Jar Jar and R2-D2 to a junk shop to purchase a new hyperdrive generator. In fulfillment of the Queen’s wishes, they allow one of her handmaids, Padmé to journey along with them. There they meet a young slave child named Anakin Skywalker. After spending time with Anakin, his mother Shmi Skywalker, and their droid C-3PO, Qui-Gon senses a strong presence of the Force within him, and suspects he may be the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon makes a bet with Anakin’s owner, Watto, to enter him in a podracing tournament, and that if Anakin wins, he will be freed. Anakin manages to win the race and joins the group to be trained as a Jedi, but he is forced to leave his mother behind because Qui-Gon was unable to arrange for her release as well. Before they leave, they are attacked by Darth Sidious’ apprentice, Darth Maul, who was dispatched to capture the Queen. After a brief fight, they manage to escape.

The Jedi escort the Queen to the Republic capital planet of Coruscant so she can plead her people’s case to the Galactic Senate. Qui-Gon, meanwhile, attempts to persuade the Jedi Council to train Anakin as a Jedi, but they refuse as Anakin is too old and has too many attachments, which would risk him turning to the dark side of the Force. Within the Senate, Senator Palpatine of Naboo convinces the Queen to move for a vote of no confidence in the Supreme Chancellor so they can vote for a new, stronger Chancellor who will help end the conflict. She indeed pushes such a vote, but grows frustrated with the lack of action by the Senate, ultimately deciding to return to Naboo with the Jedi.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan duel against Darth Maul.

Back on Naboo, Padmé reveals herself to be Queen Amidala, the other “Queen” having been a decoy for her own protection. The Queen convinces the Gungan people to form an alliance against the Trade Federation. While the inept Jar Jar leads his people in a battle against the droid army and the Queen moves in to capture Viceroy Gunray in Theed, Anakin commandeers a vacant starfighter and joins the dogfight against the Federation droid control ship in space, using his skills with the Force to destroy it, which deactivates the entire droid army. The Jedi, meanwhile, encounter Darth Maul once more and engage him in a two-on-one lightsaber duel. Qui-Gon is killed in the battle, but Obi-Wan manages to kill the Sith apprentice. Senator Palpatine is elected as the new Supreme Chancellor, the Federation Viceroy is sent to stand trial for his crimes, Obi-Wan is bestowed the rank of Jedi Knight, and the Jedi Council reluctantly allows Anakin to become Obi-Wan’s apprentice. At a grand ceremony, Queen Amidala presents a gift of appreciation and friendship to the Gungan people.

Cast

Jake Lloyd portrayed 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker

  • Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn: A Jedi Master and mentor to Obi-Wan. When he discovers Anakin, he insists that the boy be trained as a Jedi, despite the protests of the council. Lucas originally envisioned an American actor in the role, but cast Neeson, who is Irish, because he considered Neeson to have great skills and presence, describing him as a “master actor, who the other actors will look up to, who has got the qualities of strength that the character demands.”[2]
  • Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi: Qui-Gon’s young Jedi Padawan apprentice. He holds Qui-Gon in high regard, but questions his motives at times. McGregor prepared for the role by watching Alec Guinness, who portrayed the elderly Obi-Wan, in both the original Star Wars trilogy and Guinness’ early work.[2]
  • Natalie Portman as Queen Padmé Amidala: The young queen of Naboo at 14 years of age, Amidala hopes to protect her planet from a blockade brought on by the Trade Federation. Over 200 actresses were auditioned for the role,[3] with production notes stating that “The role required a young woman who could be believable as the ruler of that planet, but at the same time be vulnerable and open.” Portman was chosen specially for her performances in The Professional (1994) and Beautiful Girls (1996), which impressed Lucas.[2] He stated, “I was looking for someone who was young, strong, along the lines of Leia [and] Natalie embodied all those traits and more.”[2] The actress was unfamiliar with Star Wars prior to being cast,[2] but was enthused over being cast as the Queen of Naboo, a character she expected to become a role model: “It was wonderful playing a young queen with so much power. I think it will be good for young women to see a strong woman of action who is also smart and a leader.”[4]
  • Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker: A nine-year-old slave boy from Tatooine. He is discovered to have a higher midi-chlorian count than any Jedi, and is therefore exceptionally gifted in the Force. More than 3,000 young actors auditioned for the role of Anakin Skywalker through North America and the United Kingdom.[5] They included child actors Michael Angarano, Erik von Detten, Justin Berfield, and Haley Joel Osment.[6] The field narrowed to three actors, all of whom were interviewed by Lucas and then screen-tested with Natalie Portman.[5]
  • Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Darth Sidious: The Senator of Naboo, who is eventually elected Chancellor of the Republic. McDiarmid was surprised when Lucas approached him 16 years after Return of the Jedi to reprise the role of Palpatine, because he had assumed that a younger actor would be play the part in the prequel films.[7]
  • Ahmed Best as the voice of Jar Jar Binks: A clumsy Gungan, exiled from his home but taken in by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. He accompanies them throughout the film. Best was hired after Gurland saw him on a Stomp performance in San Francisco,[8] and originally was just going to provide motion capturing, but after offering to also voice the character, was accepted. He wandered in the set in a foam-and-latex suit and headpiece to provide reference for the actors, with his filmed performance later replaced by the computer-generated character.[9] Best frequently improvised movements to make Jar Jar as clumsy and comedic as possible.[8]
  • Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker: Anakin’s mother. She is concerned for her son’s future, and lets him leave with the Jedi. August, a veteran of Swedish cinema, was chosen after auditioning with Liam Neeson, although she was afraid of not being chosen due to her accent.[9]
  • Ray Park and Peter Serafinowicz as Darth Maul: A young Zabrak Sith apprentice to Darth Sidious who uses a double-bladed lightsaber. A martial arts champion with experience in gymnastics and swordfighting, Park was originally only a member of the stunt crew,[8] and stunt coordinator Nick Gillard filmed Park to demonstrate how he envisioned the lightsaber battles. Lucas and McCallum were so impressed with the test tape that they gave Park the role of Maul. But his voice was considered “too squeaky”, leading him to be dubbed over.[9] He was voiced by Peter Serafinowicz.
  • Anthony Daniels voices C-3PO: A protocol droid built by Anakin, he lacks a metal covering in this film, which R2-D2 refers to as being “naked”. A puppeteer—dressed in a color close to the one seen in the background, similar to the Japanese puppet theater Bunraku, so he could be erased during post-production—manipulated a skeletal C-3PO figure attached to his front, while Daniels read his lines off-camera.[8][10]
  • Kenny Baker as R2-D2: An astromech droid, notable for saving Queen Amidala’s ship when all other droids fail.
  • Silas Carson as Nute Gunray: The Viceroy of the Trade Federation who leads the invasion of Naboo and tries to force Queen Amidala to sign a treaty to legitimize the occupation. Carson also portrays three minor characters: Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, Trade Federation Senator Lott Dod, and an ill-fated pilot (which was the role Carson originally auditioned for).[11] Carson got the role because another actor was uncomfortable with the costumes used by the Trade Federation characters — which were hot, exerted a lot of pressure on the bearer, and took about 15 minutes to apply. The Thai accent used by the character was chosen after Lucas and McCallum listened to various languages to pick how the Neimodians would speak.[12]
  • Hugh Quarshie as Captain Panaka: Queen Amidala’s chief of security at Theed Palace.
  • Andy Secombe voices Watto: A junk dealer on Tatooine who owns Anakin and his mother as slaves. With a design that was an amalgalm of various rejected ideas, Watto’s expressions were based on video footage of Secombe doing the voice acting, photos of animation supervisor Rob Coleman imitating the character, and modeler Steve Alpin saying Watto’s lines to the mirror.[13]
  • Lewis MacLeod voices Sebulba: An aggressive, scheming Podracer and rival of Anakin. Sebulba’s design was described by Lucas as “a spider crossed with an orangutan crossed with a sloth”,[14] with a camel-like face, and clothing inspired by medieval armor.[15]
  • Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda: The centuries old leader of the Jedi Council who is apprehensive about allowing Anakin to be trained. Yoda was mostly portrayed as a puppet designed by Nick Dudman, based on Stuart Freeborn‘s original design, with Oz controlling the mouth and other parts controlled by the puppeteers using remote controls.[9] A computer-generated Yoda is featured in two distant shots and Warwick Davis portrays him in the scene in which Obi-Wan becomes a Jedi Knight.[16]
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu: A member of the Jedi Council who also opposes the idea of training Anakin. After Jackson expressed interest in appearing in a Star Wars film, he was approached by cast director Robin Gurland to play Windu.[8]
  • Terence Stamp as Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum: The current Chancellor who commissions Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to negotiate with the Trade Federation Viceroy.
  • Brian Blessed voices Boss Nass: The leader of the Gungan tribe who allies with the Naboo and defeats the Trade Federation. Blessed originally auditioned for Sio Bibble, the Governor of Naboo,[17] for which he was considered “too loud”.[18] Blessed described Nass as a “reluctant hero”,[18] and a fun role to play.[19]
  • Greg Proops and Scott Capurro voice Fode and Beed, the two headed announcer of the Boonta’s Eve Race. The actors were filmed wearing make-up and blue bodysuits, so their heads would be joined in a computer-generated body. The visual effects crew did not like the original results, and ended up crafting Fode and Beed as an entirely computer generated alien.[20]
  • Keira Knightley as Sabé: Queen Amidala’s body double and decoy. The role was originally going to be filled by a stand-in, until casting director Robin Gurland came across Knightley, who bore a striking resemblance to Natalie Portman. Knightley’s role was kept quiet by The Phantom Menace‘s marketing department in order to heighten the surprise of there being a decoy Queen when the film was released. The Queen’s costumes were specifically designed to hide any height and shape differences between Knightley and Portman, so much so that Portman’s mother could not distinguish between the two on set.[21]

Production

Writing

During the process of writing the original Star Wars, George Lucas reportedly realized that the story he had written was too vast in scope to be covered in one stand-alone film, and thus, the original film was meant to be the introduction to a much wider story arc that could be covered by sequels if the first film turned out to be successful. The original movie eventually evolved, from being the first movie in the sequence, to a film actually belonging to the second trilogy in the saga.[22][23] By the time of the third draft Lucas had negotiated a contract that gave him rights to make two sequels. He had also by that point developed a fairly elaborate back-story to aid his writing process.[24] While writing the first sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas considered different directions in which to take the story. He turned the villain Darth Vader into the father of hero Luke Skywalker, and developed a backstory depicting Vader as having once been Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, a powerful warrior who was swayed to the dark side of the Force.[25] With this new backstory in place, Lucas decided that the series would be a trilogy, renaming the film from “Episode II” to “Episode V”.[26] By the time of the final film of the trilogy, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Vader became a tragic character and was ultimately redeemed. However, Lucas stated that he was “burned out” and would take a break from the series.[27]

After losing much of his fortune in a divorce settlement in 1987, George Lucas had no desire to return to Star Wars, and had unofficially canceled his Sequel Trilogy by the time of Return of the Jedi. But since Lucas had developed most of the backstory, the idea of prequels continued to fascinate him.[28] In the early 1990s, Star Wars saw a resurgence in popularity in the wake of Dark Horse‘s comic line and Timothy Zahn‘s trilogy of novels. Seeing that there was still a large audience for his idea of a prequel trilogy, and with the explosion of CGI technology, George Lucas considered returning to directing.[29] By 1993 it was announced, in Variety among other sources, that he would be making the prequels. He began outlining the story, now indicating that Anakin Skywalker would be the main protagonist rather than Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that the series would be a tragic one examining Anakin’s turn to the dark side. Lucas also began to change how the prequels would exist relative to the originals, from a “filling-in” of history, backstory, existing parallel or tangential to the originals, to the beginning of one long story that started with Anakin’s childhood and ended with his death. This was the final step towards turning the franchise into a “saga”.[30]

George Lucas began writing the new Star Wars trilogy on November 1, 1994.[31] The screenplay for Star Wars was adapted from Lucas’ 15-page outline that was written in 1976. The early outline was originally designed to help Lucas track the character backstories and what events had taken place before the original trilogy.[31] While the working title for the film was The Beginning,[31] Lucas later revealed the true title to be The Phantom Menace; a reference to Palpatine hiding his true identity as an evil Sith Lord behind the facade of a well-intentioned public servant.[32]

Filming

Within three to four months of Lucas beginning the writing process, Doug Chiang and his design team started a two-year process of reviewing thousands of designs for the film.[33] Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard was recruited to create a new Jedi fighting style for the prequel trilogy. Gillard likened the lightsaber battles to a chess game “with every move being a check.” Because of their short-range weapons, Gillard theorized that the Jedi would have had to develop a fighting style that merged every swordfighting style, such as kendo and other kenjutsu styles, with other swinging techniques, such as tennis swings and tree-chopping. While training Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, Gillard would write a sequence to be an estimated 60 seconds long, meant to be among five to six sequences per fight.[34] Lucas later referred to Jedi as being “negotiators”, rather than high-casualty soldiers. The preference of hand-to-hand combat was intended to give a more spiritual and intellectual role to the Jedi.[34] Lucas also decided to make elaborate costumes, considering that the society was more sophisticated than the one depicted in the original trilogy. Designer Trisha Biggar and her team created over one thousand costumes, with inspiration from various cultures around the globe.[35]

Remains of Mos Espa in the Tunisian desert

Filming began on June 26, 1997 and ended on September 30 of that year, primarily taking place at Leavesden Film Studios in England, with additional location shooting in the Tunisian desert for the Tatooine scenes and the Italian Caserta Palace for the Theed City Naboo Palace interior.[36] The city of Mos Espa was built in the desert outside Tozeur. On the night following the third day of shooting in Tozeur, an unexpected sandstorm destroyed many sets and props. With a quick rescheduling to allow for repairs, production was able to leave Tunisia on the exact day originally planned.[37]

The Phantom Menace would be the final Star Wars film to be shot on 35mm film. All future films would be shot using Sony CineAlta high-definition video cameras.

Effects

Up until the production of The Phantom Menace, many special effects in the film industry were achieved by the use of miniature models, matte paintings, and on-set visual effects, although other films had made extensive use of computer-generated imagery (CGI). Visual effects supervisor John Knoll previewed 3,500 storyboards for the film, with Lucas accompanying him to explain what factors of the shots would be practical and what would be created through visual effects. Knoll later recounted that on hearing the explanations of the storyboards, he was unaware of any way to accomplish what he had seen. The result was to mix original techniques with the newest digital techniques to make it difficult for the viewer to guess which technique was being used. New computer software was written by Knoll and his visual effects team to create certain shots in the film. Another goal was to create computer-generated characters that could act seamlessly with live-action actors. While filming scenes with CGI characters, Lucas would block the characters using their corresponding voice actor on-set. The voice actors were then removed and the live-action actors would perform the same scene alone. A CGI character would later be added into the shot, completing the conversation.[38] Lucas also used CGI to correct the physical presence of actors in certain scenes.[14] About 1,950 of the shots have special effects, with the scene where toxic gas is released on the Jedi being the only sequence without any digital alteration.[14]

Having confronted problems with the props used to depict R2-D2 before, Lucas allowed two companies, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and the production’s British special effects department, to create their own versions for the robot. Nine R2-D2 models were created; one was for actor Kenny Baker to be dropped into; seven were built by ILM, and featured two wheelchair motors capable of pushing 440 pounds (198 kilograms) of weight, enabling it to run and being mostly used in stage sets; and the British studio produced a “pneumatic” R2 that was able to shift from two to three legs, and was mostly used in Tunisia, because that R2’s motor drive system allowed it to drive over sand.[39]

To research for the podrace vehicles, the visual effects crew went to a jet junkyard outside Phoenix, and scavenged for Boeing 747 engines.[14] Life-sized replicas of the engines were built, and sent to Tunisia to provide reference in the film. Besides Jake Lloyd inside a hydraulic-controlled cockpit, the entire podracing scene is computer-generated, including the scenario, which the effects crew tried to design as “out of this world” as possible.[36]

Music

As with previous Star Wars installments, the score of The Phantom Menace was composed and conducted by John Williams. He started working in the score in October 1998, and began recording the music with the London Voices and London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios on February 10, 1999. Williams decided to use more electronic instruments such as synthesizers to enhance the sound, and more choral pieces to “capture the magical, mystical force that a regular orchestra might not have been able to provide” and reflect the different atmosphere, “more mysterious and mystical and less military” than the original trilogy.[40] One of the most notable tracks is “Duel of the Fates“, that even received its own music video, which uses the chorus introduced to give a religious, temple-like feel to the epic lightsaber duel.[41] While composing Anakin’s theme, Williams tried to both reflect the innocence of his childhood, and foreshadow his transformation into Darth Vader by putting slight suggestions of The Imperial March into the melody.[40]

The soundtrack for the film was released by Sony Classical Records on May 4, 1999. This album featured the score restructured by the composer as a listening experience, it is therefore not in film order and omits many notable cues from the film due to space restrictions of a compact disc.[42] A two-disc “Ultimate Edition” was released on November 14, 2000. The set features almost the entire score as it is heard in the film, including all of the edits and loops that were made for the sound mix.[43]

Release

The release of the first new Star Wars film in 16 years was accompanied by a considerable amount of hype.[44] Few film studios released films during the same week as the release of The Phantom Menace; among them were DreamWorks and Universal Studios, with the releases of The Love Letter and Notting Hill respectively.[45] The Love Letter resulted in a box-office flop, whereas Notting Hill fared rather well and followed The Phantom Menace closely in second place.[46] Challenger, Gray & Christmas of Chicago, a work-issues consulting firm, estimated that 2.2 million full-time employees did not appear for work to attend the film, resulting in $293 million in lost productivity. According to The Wall Street Journal, so many workers announced plans to view premiere screenings that many companies shut down on the opening day.[47] Queue areas formed outside cinema theaters over a month in advance of ticket sales.[48]

More theater lines appeared when it was announced that cinemas were not allowed to sell tickets in advance until two weeks into the release. This was done out of fear that family theater-goers would be either unable to receive tickets or forced to pay higher prices. Tickets were instead to be sold on a traditional first-come-first-served basis.[49] However, after meetings with the National Association of Theatre Owners, Lucasfilm agreed to allow advance ticket sales on May 12, 1999, provided that there be a twelve-ticket limit per customer.[50] As a result, however, some advance tickets were sold by scalpers as high as $100 apiece, which a distribution chief called “horrible”, stating it was exactly what they wanted to avoid.[51] Daily Variety reported that theater owners received strict instructions from Lucasfilm that the film could only play in the cinema’s largest auditorium for the first 8–12 weeks; no honor passes were allowed for the first eight weeks, and they were obligated to send their payments to distributor 20th Century Fox within seven days.[52]

Despite worries about whether the film would be finished in time, two weeks before its theatrical release Lucasfilm pushed the release date up from May 21, 1999 to May 19, 1999. At the ShoWest Convention, Lucas stated that the change was to give the fans a “head start” by allowing them to view it over the week and allowing families the chance to view it on the weekends. Foreshadowing his future conversion to digital cinematography, Lucas stated that the film would be released on four digital projectors on June 18, 1999.[53] Eleven charity premieres were staged across the United States on May 16, 1999; receipts from the Los Angeles event were donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation with corporate packages available for $5,000–$25,000.[54] Other charity premieres included the Dallas premiere for Children’s Medical Center, the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at the Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, the Big Brother/Sister Association of the Philadelphia premiere, and the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. A statement said that tickets were sold at $500 apiece and that certain sections were set aside for disadvantaged children.[55]

Promotion

Lucasfilm spent $20 million in The Phantom Menace‘s advertising campaign. The company also made licensing deals for promotion with Hasbro, Lego, Tricon Global Restaurants and PepsiCo.[56] Lucasfilm also helped the Star Wars fan club to organize a special event, Star Wars Celebration, which was held in Denver, Colorado between April 30 and May 2, 1999.[57]

The teaser trailer was pre-released on selected screens on November 17, 1998, and there were even reports that people were paying full admission at theaters just to see the trailer.[58] A bootlegged version of the preview was leaked on the internet the same day,[59] and the trailer was released the following morning on the film’s official website, with the servers becoming gridlocked soon after.[60] The theatrical trailer caused even more notable media hype, because it not only premiered in theaters, but screened at the ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas,[61] and was aired on Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.[59]

The teaser poster, featuring Anakin with his shadow forming Darth Vader’s silhouette, was released on November 10, 1998. After Lucas opted for a drawn theatrical poster, Drew Struzan, the artist responsible for the Special Edition posters, was commissioned to illustrate, and the poster was unveiled on March 11, 1999. Lucasfilm dictated that, contractually, Struzan’s illustration was the only art the foreign distributors could use, and other than the text, it could not be modified in any way.[62]

Many tie-in adaptations were released, such as a LucasArts video game for the PlayStation and PC,[63] a pinball machine by Williams,[64] a four-part comic book adaptation by Dark Horse Comics,[65] and a junior novelization by Scholastic.[66] The official novelization of the film was written by Terry Brooks, who met with Lucas before writing the book and received his approval and guidance, including information about impending developments in the following two installments of the series. Brooks also wrote three chapters of unique material.[67]

Home video

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released on VHS on April 4, 2000, in two different versions, a standard pan-and-scan and a Collector’s Edition widescreen. In its first two days of availability, the regular version sold 4.5 million copies and the limited edition, 500,000.[68] Later it became the first Star Wars film to be officially released on DVD, on October 16, 2001. The DVD version of the film had certain scenes and other elements edited and inserted by George Lucas, making it slightly different from its theatrical release while retaining an identical plot. Among the special features are seven deleted scenes completed specifically for the DVD, a commentary track featuring among others Lucas and producer Rick McCallum, and a number of documentaries, including a full-length documentary entitled “The Beginning: Making Episode I”. The Phantom Menace became the fastest selling DVD ever in the US, with 2.2 million copies sold in its first week after release.[69] The DVD version was re-released in a prequel trilogy box set on November 4, 2008.[70] A LaserDisc version of The Phantom Menace was also released in Japan, several months before it was available on DVD in the US.[71] The Star Wars films are scheduled to be released on Blu-ray Disc in 2011.[72] On January 6, 2011, the release was announced for September 2011 in three different editions.[73]

Deleted scenes

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Lucas eliminated some scenes which he felt improve the film, and includes a special documentary featuring George Lucas discussing why they were omitted.[74] These scenes are:[75]

  • “The Waterfall Sequence” in which Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Jar-Jar have to escape their sub before it goes over a waterfall.
  • “Anakin’s Scuffle with Greedo” in which Anakin gets into a fight with a young Greedo, who accuses him of cheating.
  • Various parts of the podrace which starts with the morning of the podrace where Padmé awakens Anakin, and later introduce the racers or the actual race.

3D Re-release

On September 28, 2010, it was announced that all six films in the series will be stereo converted to 3D. The films will re-release in internal-saga order beginning with The Phantom Menace which is scheduled to released on February 10, 2012.[76]

Reaction

Critical reception

The Phantom Menace received mixed reviews from film critics. It received a rating of 62% from Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 5.9/10,[77] making it the lowest rated Star Wars film of the original and prequel trilogy. Some aspects of the scripting were criticized, especially the character of Jar Jar Binks, who was regarded by many members of the older fan community as purely a merchandising opportunity rather than a serious character in the film.[78][79][80] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times described Binks as “a major miscue, a comic-relief character who’s frankly not funny.” [81] In defense of the character, George Lucas stated that the Star Wars films are for children. He also criticized the American media for using fan opinions from the Internet as a reliable source for their news stories,[82] although the Binks character was widely derided by fans and critics alike.[83] In 2002, with the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Ewan McGregor said that in retrospect The Phantom Menace slightly lacked some of the “humor and color” of the forthcoming prequels. He felt as a result of bearing the weight of setting up the entire saga, it seemed “kind of flat.”[84] One critic observed that, “Perhaps the absolute creative freedom director George Lucas enjoyed while dreaming up the flick’s ‘comic’ relief—with no studio execs and not many an independently minded actor involved—is a path to the dark side.” [85]

However, despite the negative criticisms leveled at the film, many others praised The Phantom Menace. Roger Ebert gave it three and a half out of four stars, calling it “an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking,” and stating that “Lucas tells a good story”. Ebert also commented that it was perfectly fine for the characters being a bit less compelling, seeing that they were just being introduced, and stating to “give me transparent underwater cities and vast hollow senatorial spheres any day.”[86] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly complimented Liam Neeson’s performance and the action scenes,[87] and Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today thought the movie did “plenty right”, including the characters of Darth Maul and Watto.[88] David Cornelius of efilmcritic.com remarked that the better moments of the film “don’t merely balance out the weaker ones — they topple them.”[89] Mark Dinning labeled The Phantom Menace “A great work from a great director, and a blockbuster of quite the most swashbuckling kind”. Many fans and critics also agree that the lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul—showcasing astounding choreography and Ray Park’s martial arts skills—is a high point, and one of the best lightsaber duels in the entire Star Wars saga[citation needed].

Nevertheless, The Phantom Menace was rated by Entertainment Weekly as one of “The 25 Worst Sequels Ever Made”.[90] Similarly, Comcast ranked the film as the worst movie sequel of all time.[91] James Berardinelli would later note, “The Phantom Menace was probably the most overhyped motion picture of the last decade (if not longer), and its reputation suffered as a result of its inability to satisfy unreasonable expectations.”[92] William Arnold, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, agreed that the massive hype of the film caused much of the negative reaction, saying “it built expectations that can’t possibly be matched and scuttled element of storytelling surprise”. He also felt “it’s well made and entertaining” and believed it was much better than similar box office fare released around that year, such as The Mummy and The Matrix.[93]

The introduction of midi-chlorians (microscopic organisms that allow communication with the Force) in the film has been controversial among fans. Those against it have seen it as a concept that negates the spiritual quality of the Force. Film historian Daniel Dinello notes, “Anathema to Star Wars fanatics who thought they reduced the Force to a kind of viral infection, midi-chlorians provide a biological interface, the link between physical bodies and spiritual energy.”[94] Religion expert John D. Caputo adds, “In the ‘Gospel according to Lucas’ a world is conjured up in which the intractable oppositions that have tormented religious thinkers for centuries are reconciled. … The gifts that the Jedi masters enjoy have a perfectly plausible scientific basis, even if its ways are mysterious: their bodily cells have a heavier than usual concentration of ‘midi-chlorians.'”[95]

After the release of the film, there was controversy over whether several alien characters reflected racial stereotypes, notably: the oafish, slow-witted Jar Jar Binks had long droopy ears reminiscent of dreadlocks and spoke with what many perceived as a Caribbean patois (particularly Jamaican Creole);[96] the greedy and corrupt Neimoidians of the Trade Federation spoke with East Asian accents; and the unprincipled desert trader Watto has been interpreted as a Fagin-esque Jewish or Italian stereotype. Lucas has categorically denied all of these implications;[78] however, animator Rob Coleman admitted that he viewed footage of Alec Guinness as Fagin in Oliver Twist to inspire his animators in creating Watto.[97] Jar Jar Binks was described by one critic as “Servile and cowardly…a black minstrel-ish stereotype on par with Stepin Fetchit.”[85] Michael Eric Dyson, professor of African-American studies at Georgetown University, observed that the entire Gungan people seem oddly suggestive of a primitive African tribe: “The leader of Jar Jar’s tribe is a fat, bumbling buffoon with a rumbling voice, and he seems to be a caricature of a stereotypical African tribal chieftain.”[83]

Box office performance

Despite its mixed critical reception, The Phantom Menace was a major financial success, breaking many box office records in its debut. It broke The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s records for the largest single-day gross with more than $28 million in the opening day (surpassed in 2001 by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), and fastest to $100 million gross in five days (surpassed in 2002 by Spider-Man).[98] It also became the fastest movie to reach the $200 million and $300 million mark, surpassing Independence Day and Titanic respectively.[99] The Phantom Menace was 1999’s most successful film, earning more than $431 million in North America and $493 million elsewhere.[99] The worldwide total of $924 million makes it the fourteenth highest grossing film of all time, as well as the most financially successful Star Wars film in the saga when not adjusted for inflation of ticket prices.[100] International grosses which exceeded $10 million included Australia ($25.9 million), Brazil ($10.4 million), France and Algeria ($43 million), Germany ($53.9 million), Italy ($12.9 million), Japan ($109.9 million), Mexico ($12 million), Spain ($25 million), and the United Kingdom and Ireland ($81.9 million).[101]

Awards

The Phantom Menace was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound, losing all three to The Matrix.[102] In contrast, the film received several Golden Raspberry, or Razzie, nominations. These included Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor (Jake Lloyd as Anakin), Worst Supporting Actress (Sofia Coppola as Saché), Worst Screen Couple (Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman), and won the Worst Supporting Actor category with Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best.[103] The film won Saturn Awards for Best Costumes and Best Special Effects,[104] the MTV Movie Award for Best Action Scene,[105] and a Young Artist Award for Jake Lloyd’s performance.[106] It was also nominated for, among others, the BAFTAs in Visual Effects and Sound,[107] and the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack.[108] Empire ranked The Phantom Menace 449th in a 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.[109]

Historical and cultural allusions

Like previous Star Wars films, The Phantom Menace makes several references to both historical events and films from George Lucas’ youth. The Star Wars movies typically mix several selected concepts from different mythologies and religions together.[110]

The face of Darth Maul drew upon depictions of the Devil.

The Jedi practice Zen-like mind training and martial arts, as did the ancient Japanese Samurai warriors. The name “Qui-Gon” adapts the term Qigong, which refers to a Chinese discipline involving meditation and the cultivation of an unseen force “Chi” or “Qi” for healing, health and combat. The words ki (Japanese) and Ch’i (Chinese) are translations of the Indian term “Prana“, referring to the energy thought to flow through all living things from the source of all chi (or power) which is “The Way” or “The Tao” in Chinese philosophy. In Taoist philosophy, The Way is understood to have two sides, yin and yang. Unlike Chinese philosophy, where yin and yang are not moral qualities, the ancient Persian philosophy of Zurvanism taught that the dualism of dark and light forces are locked in eternal battle while at the same time being two sides (or evolutes) of the same “Force”, the force of time itself (Zurvan): the prime mover. These elements derive primarily from Eastern and Iranian religions and myths.[110]

There are many Christian and Biblical references in the film, such as the appearance of Darth Maul, whose design draws heavily from traditional depictions of the Christian Devil, complete with red skin and horns.[110] The Star Wars film cycle features a similar religious narrative involving Anakin Skywalker, the “chosen one” conceived of a virgin birth, who is tempted to join the Sith. His fall from grace seemingly prevents him from fulfilling his destiny as the “chosen one”—the individual prophesied to bring balance to the Force. The inspiration behind the story of the “virgin birth” parallels a concept developed by Joseph Campbell and his work on The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the same work that heavily influenced Lucas in his writing of the original Star Wars trilogy.[110]

Japanese film such as Akira Kurosawa‘s The Hidden Fortress was a source of inspiration for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and scholars point out that The Phantom Menace was likewise influenced by Japanese culture. Film historians Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska assert, “The costume and make-up designs … favour a mixture of the gothic and the oriental over anything very futuristic. The gothic is most strongly apparent in Darth Maul’s demonic horns and the red and black make-up mask that borrows from the facial designs found in depictions of Japanese demons.” King and Krzywinska note that “Qui-Gon’s pony tail and Obi-Wan’s position of apprentice further encourage a reading in terms of the Samurai tradition.” Finally, “Amidala, in keeping with her status and character, has a number of highly formal outfits … to go with hair sculpted into a curve that frames make-up of a Japanese cast.”[111]

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Notes

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