Film poster for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a 1999 film by George Lucas starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Jake Lloyd. Menace is the first in a trilogy of films that function as a prequel to the original classic end trilogy of Star Wars films (1977 - 1983) and, in chronological story order, the first in what will form a six-part saga with the completion of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005.
The film is set in the year 32 BBY. A trade dispute between the planet of Naboo and the Trade Federation leads to a blockade of the planet. Chancellor Finis Valorum of the Republic secretly sends two Jedi knights (Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to resolve the dispute. The Trade Federation is in league with the evil Darth Sidious Dark Lord of the Sith. Sidious orders the Federation to invade Naboo and kill the two Jedi knights. The Jedi escape assassination on the Trade Federation star ship and escape to Naboo. They meet Jar Jar Binks, who helps them reach Theed, the main city of Naboo. The knights rescue Queen Amidala and Governor Sio Bibble from the Trade Federation's droid armies. They leave for Coruscant, the Republic's capital planet, to ask for help from the Senate. Before reaching Coruscant, they are forced to land on the desert planet of Tatooine for repairs. Whilst searching for parts, they befriend Anakin Skywalker, a slave boy, who helps pay for the repairs by winning a pod race at Boonta Eve. Qui-Gon Jinn recognises Anakin's potential to be a powerful Jedi and takes him on the journey to Coruscant. At Coruscant, the queen is disillusioned with the Senate's bureaucracy and stalling and returns to Naboo to repel the invasion herself. There she forms an alliance with her people's former enemies, the indigenous Gungans, against the Trade Federation. During the Battle of Naboo the Gungans and humans are over-matched and are forced to retreat. But Anakin destroys the droid command ship and the Trade Federation is defeated. Tragically, Qui-Gon is killed by Darth Maul. The Jedi Council decide that Anakin should train to become a Jedi knight. He becomes Obi-Wan's apprentice or padawan.
The opening crawl from The Phantom Menace
The 'opening crawl' - the famous segment which begins every Star Wars film for this movie reads:
"Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlaying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.
While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict...."
The budget of Menace was 115 million US dollars. Filming was primarily done at Leavesden Studios in England, with additional location shooting in the Tunisian desert and the Italian palace Palazzo Reale, Caserta.
After an enormous marketing campaign, with the distinctive artwork of Star Wars series artist Drew Struzan gracing the movie poster and other advertising, there was almost unprecedented interest amongst both fans and the wider community in the return of one of the most successful movie series of all time. However, critical and fan reaction ranged from guarded praise to outright derision.
The much-hyped special effects, while generally viewed as groundbreaking in their sheer scope, were perhaps less impressive than anticipated simply because of high expectations. This attitude was confirmed with the rival film, The Matrix, winning the visual effects Academy Award for that year over the Star Wars film. It was the first time a Star Wars film lost in that Oscar competition category. Many critics heavily criticised the direction and the acting of Portman and especially Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker. Some aspects of the scripting were also criticised. Extra venom was directed at the character of Jar-Jar Binks, who was regarded by most of the older fan community as purely a merchandising opportunity rather than a serious character in the film. Fan reaction was mixed, with some fans opposing the critics' views while others agreed with the negative opinions.
Another source of dissatisfaction comes from the decision to explain the Force in terms of hard science, hence the introduction of midi-chlorians. Many fans felt this was unnecessary and ruins an aspect of the saga which sets it apart from other popular SF titles in which religion and spirituality are of little importance or totally absent.
A number of people anonymously re-edited the film and released their edited versions over the Internet. One, known as The Phantom Edit, is regarded as a superior version by many who have seen both.
There is a great deal of speculation as to what the title, "The Phantom Menace", refers to; the titles of the other films seem to generally be self-explanatory. It is usually suggested that the title refers to Darth Sidious or the Sith in general.
When Queen Amidala calls for a vote of no confidence, a group of aliens that can be seen in the Senate resemble the E.T.'s race from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
- StarWars.com's official Episode I site (http://www.starwars.com/episode-i/)
- LucasArts' official Episode I computer game (http://www.lucasarts.com/products/phantommenace/default.htm)
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120915/) at the Internet Movie Database
- Natalie Portman Empire (http://www.natalieempire.com/)