Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
"Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was the most disappointing thing since my son. I mean, how much more could you possibly mess up the entire backstory to Star Wars? And while my son eventually hanged himself in the bathroom of the gas station, the unfortunate reality of the Star Wars prequels is that they'll be around. Forever. They will never go away. It can never be undone."— Mr. Plinkett
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is a 1999 American epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm, distributed by 20th Century Fox and starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, and Frank Oz. It is the fourth film in the Star Wars film series, the first film of the prequel trilogy, and the first chronological chapter of the "Skywalker Saga". Set 32 years before the original trilogy, during the era of the Galactic Republic, the plot follows Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as they try to protect Queen Padmé Amidala of Naboo in hopes of securing a peaceful end to an interplanetary trade dispute with a scummy organization known as the Trade Federation. Joined by Anakin Skywalker—a young slave with unusually strong natural powers of the Force—they simultaneously contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.
Following the release of Return of the Jedi, Lucas was unmotivated to return to the franchise and continue the story beyond Return of the Jedi, though the backstory he created on Anakin sparked interest in him to develop a prequel trilogy. After he determined that computer-generated imagery (CGI) had advanced to the level he wanted for the prequel trilogy's visual effects, Lucas began writing The Phantom Menace in 1993 and production began in 1994. Filming started on June 26, 1997, at locations including Leavesden Film Studios and the Tunisian desert and ended on September 30. The film was Lucas's first directorial effort after a 22-year hiatus following the original Star Wars in 1977.
The Phantom Menace was released in theaters on May 19, 1999, almost 16 years after the premiere of Return of the Jedi. The film's premiere was extensively covered by media and was greatly anticipated because of the large cultural following the Star Wars saga had cultivated. Upon its release, The Phantom Menace received mixed reviews. While the visual effects, action sequences, musical score, and some performances (particularly Neeson's) were praised, criticism was largely focused on the screenplay, pacing, and characters, most notably Jar Jar Binks. Despite the mixed reception, The Phantom Menace was a box office success and broke numerous box office records during its debut. It grossed more than $924.3 million worldwide during its initial theatrical run, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1999, the second-highest-grossing film worldwide and in North America (behind Titanic), and the highest-grossing Star Wars film at the time. A 3D reissue, which earned an additional $102.7 million and brought the film's overall worldwide takings to over $1 billion, was released in February 2012. Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) followed The Phantom Menace, rounding out the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
In the year 32 BBY (thirty two years before the events of A New Hope), the Trade Federation, led by Viceroy Nute Gunray, has issued a blockade against the planet of Naboo in a trade dispute. Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his young Padawan apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to protect Queen Amidala and settle the conflict. Meanwhile, a nine-year-old boy named Anakin Skywalker and his mother Shmi are slaves on the desert planet of Tatooine.
While writing the original Star Wars film, Lucas decided the story was too vast to be covered in one film. He introduced a wider story arc that could be told in sequels if it became successful. He negotiated a contract that allowed him to make two sequels, and over time created an elaborate backstory to aid his writing process. While writing the second film, The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas considered directions in which to take the story. In the original trilogy, Darth Vader was revealed to have been Anakin Skywalker, a once-powerful Jedi Knight, and a traitor to the Jedi Order. With this backstory in place, Lucas decided that the movies would work best as a trilogy. In the trilogy's final episode, Return of the Jedi, Vader is redeemed through an act of sacrifice for Luke.
Throughout the 1980s, Lucas said he had no desire to return to Star Wars and had canceled his sequel trilogy by the time of Return of the Jedi. However, because Lucas had developed most of the backstory, the idea of prequels continued to fascinate him. 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. Lucas saw that there was still a large audience for his idea of a prequel trilogy, and with the development of special effects generated with computer-generated imagery (CGI), Lucas considered returning to his saga and directing the film. In 1993, it was announced in Variety and other sources that he would be making the prequels. Lucas began outlining the story; Anakin Skywalker rather than Obi-Wan Kenobi would be the protagonist, and the series would be a tragedy examining Darth Vader's origins. A relic of the original outline was that Anakin would, like his son, grow up on Tatooine. Lucas also began to change the prequels' timeline relative to the original series; instead of filling in the tangential history, they would form the beginning of a long story that started with Anakin's childhood and ended with his death. This was the final step toward turning the franchise into a saga.
Lucas began writing the Star Wars prequel trilogy on November 1, 1994. The screenplay of Star Wars was adapted from Lucas' 15-page outline that was written in 1976, which he designed to help him keep track of the characters' backstories and events that occurred before the original trilogy. Anakin was first written as a twelve-year-old, but Lucas reduced his age to nine because he felt that the lower age would better fit the plot point of Anakin being affected by his mother's separation from him. Eventually, Anakin's younger age led Lucas to rewrite his participation in the movie's major scenes. The film's working title was The Beginning, with the title not being changed to The Phantom Menace until shortly before the film's completion. Lucas later revealed that the Phantom Menace title was a reference to Palpatine hiding his true identity as an evil Sith Lord behind the facade of a well-intentioned public servant.
The larger budget and possibilities opened up by the use of digital effects made Lucas "think about a much grander, more epic scale "which is what I wanted Star Wars to be". The story ended with five simultaneous, ongoing plots, one leading to another. The central plot is Palpatine's intent to become Chancellor, which leads to the Trade Federation's attack on Naboo, the Jedi being sent there, Anakin being met along the way, and the rise of the Sith Lords. As with the original trilogy, Lucas intended The Phantom Menace to illustrate several themes throughout the narrative. Duality is a frequent theme; Amidala is a queen who passes as a handmaiden, and Palpatine plays on both sides of the war, among others. "Balance" is frequently suggested; Anakin is supposed "the one" chosen to bring balance to the Force—Lucas said, "Anakin needed to have a mother, Obi-Wan needed a Master, Darth Sidious needed an apprentice" as without interaction and dialogue, "you wouldn't have drama".
In November 2015, Ron Howard confirmed that he, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg were approached by Lucas to direct The Phantom Menace. All three approached directors told Lucas that he should direct the film, as they each found the project "too daunting."
Pre-production and design
Before Lucas had started writing, his producing partner Rick McCallum was preparing for the film. McCallum stated that his experience with ‘’The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’’ led to many of his decisions on The Phantom Menace, such as long-term deals with actors and soundstages, the employment of recent graduates with no film experience, and the creation of sets and landscapes with digital technology. In April 1994, McCallum started searching for artists in art, architecture, and design schools, and in mid-year, he began location scouting with production designer Gavin Bocquet. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) art director Doug Chiang impressed McCallum the most and was hired as the design director.
Within three to four months of Lucas beginning the writing process, Chiang and his design team started a two-year process of reviewing thousands of designs for the film. Chiang stated that Lucas intended Episode I to be stylistically different from the other Star Wars films; it would be "richer and more like a period piece, since it was the history leading up to A New Hope." The story takes place on three planets, some with varied environments such as the human and Gungan cities of Naboo and three buildings in Coruscant. With the exception of Gungan city, which had an art nouveau-inspired visual, these locations would be given distinctive looks with some basis in the real world. The concept drawings of Ralph McQuarrie for the original trilogy served as the basis for Mos Espa—which was also inspired by old Tunisian hotels and buildings and had touches such as a marketplace to differentiate it from A New Hope's Mos Eisley—and Coruscant, in particular a metropolis design that became the basis for the Senate. Bocquet would later develop the work of Chiang's team and design the interiors, translating the concepts into construction blueprints with environments and architectural styles that had some basis in reality "to give the audience something to key into." Some elements were directly inspired by the original trilogy; Lucas described the battle droids as predecessors to the stormtroopers. Chiang uses that orientation to base the droids on the Imperial soldiers, only in the same style of stylized and elongated features seen in tribal African art.
Terryl Whitlatch, who had a background on zoology and anatomy, was in charge of creature design. Many of the aliens are hybrids, combining features of real animals. At times, entire food chains were developed, even though only a small percentage of them would appear in the film. Whitlatch also designed detailed skeletons for the major characters and facial muscles on Jar Jar Binks as a reference for ILM's animators. Each creature would reflect its environment; those on Naboo were more beautiful because the planet is "lush and more animal-friendly", Tatooine has rough-looking creatures "with weather-beaten leathery skin to protect them from the harsh desert elements", and Coruscant has bipedal, human-looking aliens.
The film made extensive use of the new technique of digital pre-visualization, using computers to essentially create 3-D animated storyboards. This was done for dozens of scenes in the film but was first and primarily used in the pod race sequence. Animatic supervisor David Dozoretz, also an ILM alum, worked on this sequence for nearly three years, and at one point had a 25-minute version of the race, although the film only included a 9-minute version.
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 thought 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 wrote a sequence that lasted around 60 seconds and intended to be around five or six sequences per fight. Lucas later referred to the Jedi as "negotiators" rather than high-casualty soldiers. The preference of hand-to-hand combat was intended to give a spiritual and intellectual role to the Jedi. Because Gillard thought that the stunt jumps with the actors and stuntmen dangling from wires did not look realistic, air rams were used to propel them into the air instead.
Lucas decided to make elaborate costumes because the film's society was more sophisticated than the one depicted in the original trilogy. Designer Trisha Biggar and her team created over 1,000 costumes that were inspired by various cultures. Biggar worked closely with concept designer Iain McCaig to create a color palette for the inhabitants of each world: Tatooine followed A New Hope with sun-bleached sand colors, Coruscant had grays, browns, and blacks, and Naboo had green and gold for humans while Gungans wore "a leathery look, like their skin". The Jedi costumes followed the tradition from the original film; Obi-Wan's costume was inspired by the costume that was worn by Guinness. Lucas said he and Biggar would look at the conceptual art to "translat[e] all of these designs into cloth and fabric and materials that would actually work and not look silly". Biggar also consulted Gillard to ensure that the costumes would accommodate action scenes and consulted the creature department to find which fabrics "wouldn't wear too heavily" on the alien skins. A huge wardrobe department was set up at Leavesden Film Studios to create over 250 costumes for the main actors and 5,000 for the background ones.
Nute Gunray's Thai accent was chosen after Lucas and McCallum listened to various languages to decide how the Neimoidians would speak. The character design of Watto was an amalgam of rejected ideas; his expressions were based on video footage of Secombe's voice acting, photographs of animation supervisor Rob Coleman imitating the character, and modeler Steve Alpin saying Watto's lines to a mirror. Lucas described Sebulba's design as "a spider crossed with an orangutan crossed with a sloth", with a camel-like face, and clothing inspired by medieval armor.
After Samuel L. Jackson expressed interest in appearing in a Star Wars film, he was approached by casting director Robin Gurland to play Windu. Tupac Shakur was also considered for the role of Mace Windu. Ray Park, a martial arts champion with experience in gymnastics and sword fighting, was originally a member of the stunt crew. Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard filmed Park to demonstrate his conception of the lightsaber battles. Lucas and McCallum were so impressed with the test tape that they gave Park the role of Maul. His voice was considered "too squeaky" and was dubbed over in post-production by Peter Serafinowicz. Keira Knightley's parents tried to convince her not to audition, but the teenage actress still sought a role since she was a Star Wars fan. The casting was influenced by Knightley's remarkable similarity to Natalie Portman, with the actress admitting their mothers could not tell each other apart. Knightley was reported to have "cried every single day" due FI finding the wardrobe uncomfortable.
Over 3,000 actors auditioned for the role of Anakin Skywalker including Cameron Finley, Justin Berfield and Michael Angarano before Jake Lloyd was finalised. Vinette Robinson auditioned for the role of Padmé Amidala. Benicio del Toro was originally cast as Darth Maul but later left the project when the character’s lines were cut. Michael Jackson expressed interest in playing Jar Jar Binks but he wanted to do it in prosthetic make-ups while George Lucas wanted to do it in CGI. Joseph Fiennes auditioned for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi and nearly landed the part until George Lucas's young daughter rejected him upon meeting him during the second level of auditioning.
Silas Carson was cast as Nute Gunray 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. Hugh Quarshie considered the part of Panaka as "a good career move" and a production that would be fun to make. Brian Blessed originally auditioned for the role of Sio Bibble, the Governor of Naboo, for which he was considered "too loud". Casting director Robin Gurland approached him to play Nass because it was a "bigger than life" character with "a kind of bravado". Blessed described Nass as a "reluctant hero". Sofia Coppola, daughter of Lucas' long-time friend and creative partner Francis Ford Coppola, considers Lucas as "like an uncle to me". As she prepared the script for her directorial debut The Virgin Suicides, Coppola heard Lucas would make a new Star Wars film and asked him if she could accompany him during filming. Lucas offered Coppola a role in the royal entourage, which she accepted because it "seemed like a good vantage point to watch without getting in the way".
Filming began on June 26, 1997, and ended on September 30 of that year, primarily taking place at Leavesden Film Studios in England. Leavesden was leased for a two and a half year period so the production company could leave the sets intact and return after principal photography had been completed. The forest scenes on Naboo were filmed at Cassiobury Park in Watford, Hertfordshire. Pick-ups were shot between August 1998 and February 1999 after Lucas screened a rough cut of the film for friends and colleagues in May 1998. Most of the action and stunts were filmed by Roger Christian's second unit, which worked alongside the main unit instead of afterwards because of the high number of shots to be completed daily.
The Tunisian desert was again used for the Tatooine scenes; Mos Espa was built outside the city of Tozeur. On the night following the third day of shooting in Tozeur, an unexpected sandstorm destroyed many of the sets and props. The production was quickly rescheduled to allow for repairs and was able to leave Tunisia on the date originally planned. The Italian Caserta Palace was used as the interior of the Theed City Naboo Palace; it was used as a location for four days after it had been closed to visitors. Scenes with explosions were filmed on replica sets in Leavesden.
A binder with the film's storyboards served as a reference for live-action filming, shots that would be filmed in front of a chroma key blue screen, and shots that would be composed using CGI. The sets were often built with the parts that would be required on screen; often they were built only up to the heights of the actors. Chroma key was extensively used for digital set extensions, backgrounds, or scenes that required cinematographer David Tattersall to seek powerful lamps to light the sets and visual effects supervisor John Knoll to develop software that would remove the blue reflection from shiny floors. Knoll, who remained on set through most of the production, worked closely with Tattersall to ensure that the shots were suitable to add effects later. The cameras were fitted with data capture models to provide technical data for the CGI artists.
The Phantom Menace was the final Star Wars film to be shot on 35mm film until Episode VII (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Some scenes, mostly of elements filmed by the special effects team, were shot on high definition, digital video tapes to test the performance of digital recordings, which Lucas and McCallum considered the next logical step because of the amount of digitizing—an expensive process compared to recording directly on digital media—for the compositing of computer-generated effects. All future films would be shot using Sony CineAlta high-definition video cameras. Greg Proops and Scott Capurro were filmed wearing makeup and blue bodysuits so their heads could be joined in a computer-generated body. The visual effects crew did not like the original results and crafted Fode and Beed as an entirely computer generated alien.
Editing took two years; Paul Martin Smith started the process in England and focused on dialogue-heavy scenes. Ben Burtt—who was also the film's sound editor—was responsible for action sequences under Lucas' supervision. Non-linear editing systems played a large part in translating Lucas' vision; he constantly tweaked, revised, and reworked shots and scenes. The final sound mix was added in March 1999, and the following month, the film was completed after the delivery of the remaining visual effects shots.
"Writing the script was much more enjoyable this time around because I wasn't constrained by anything. You can't write one of these movies without knowing how you're going to accomplish it. With CG at my disposal, I knew I could do whatever I wanted." — George Lucas
The film saw a breakthrough in computer-generated effects. About 1,950 of the shots in The Phantom Menace have visual effects. The scene in which toxic gas is released on the Jedi is the only sequence with no digital alteration. The work was so extensive that three visual effects supervisors divided the workload among themselves—John Knoll supervised the on-set production and the podrace and space battle sequences, Dennis Muren supervised the underwater sequence and the ground battle, and Scott Squires, alongside teams assigned for miniature effects and character animation, worked on the lightsaber effects.
Until the film's production, many special effects in the film industry were achieved using miniature models, matte paintings, and on-set visual effects—although other films had made extensive use of CGI. Knoll previewed 3,500 storyboards for the film; Lucas accompanied him to explain factors of the shots that would be practical and those that would be created through visual effects. Knoll later said that on hearing the explanations of the storyboards, he did not know how to accomplish what he had seen. The result was a mixture of original techniques and the newest digital techniques to make it difficult for the viewer to guess which technique was being used. Knoll and his visual effects team wrote new computer software, including cloth simulators to allow a realistic depiction of the digital characters' clothing, to create certain shots. 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 actors 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 to complete the conversation. Lucas also used CGI to correct the physical presence of actors in certain scenes. Practical models were used when their visuals helped with miniature sceneries for backgrounds, set extensions, and model vehicles that would be scanned to create the digital models or filmed to represent spaceships and podraces.
Lucas, who had previously confronted problems with the props used to depict R2-D2, allowed ILM and the production's British special effects department to create their own versions of 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 moving 440 pounds (200 kg), enabling it to run and be mostly used in stage sets, and the British studio produced a pneumatic R2-D2 that could shift from two to three legs and was mostly used in Tunisia because its motor drive system allowed it to drive over sand.
Lucas originally planned to create many of the aliens with computer graphics, but those that would be more cost-effectively realized with masks and animatronics were created by Nick Dudman's creature effects team. These included the Neimoidians, background characters in Mos Espa, the Jedi Council, and the Galactic Senate. Dudman's team was told where the creatures would be required six months before principal photography begun, and they rushed the production. The Neimodian suits, which were originally intended as digital characters, were delivered one day before they would be required on set. Dudman traveled to Skywalker Ranch to see the original creatures that could be reused, and read the script for a breakdown of scenes with practical creatures, leaving only the more outlandish designs to be created using CGI.
To research for the podrace vehicles, the visual effects crew visited a jet aircraft junkyard outside Phoenix, Arizona and scavenged four Boeing 747 engines. Life-sized replicas of the engines were built and sent to Tunisia to provide reference in the film. Except for Jake Lloyd inside a hydraulically controlled cockpit and a few practical podracer models, the entire podracing scene—which the effects crew designed to be as "out of this world" as possible—is computer-generated.
- It (along with Attack of the Clones) lacks the charm of the original trilogy and doesn't do what made the previous trilogy so special.
- It introduces an alien character Jar Jar Binks, who is widely (and infamously) hated by fans for being a grating and infantile comic relief character, which is further aggravated by the majority of his screentime being shared with the aloof Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan (and, more sporadically, the remaining stilted cast of humans), further indicating his inclusion to be a desperate attempt to hold the attention of a younger audience.
- In fact, Jar Jar was so hated that there is a recurring in-joke in the Star Wars fandom about Jar Jar being a Sith Lord and the true main antagonist of the prequels. George Lucas has considered this idea, but he cut it off during the production of the sequel.
- Several characters were criticized for coming across as racist caricatures, with Jar Jar coming across as a racist caricature of Afro-Caribbeans, as he is portrayed as having long, droopy ears reminiscent of dreadlocks and speaks with what many perceived as a Caribbean patois reminiscent of Jamaican Creole, while being portrayed as a clown-like character. Ahmed Best, actor of Jar Jar Binks, had to point out that the former case was unintentional.
- The Neimoidians were also criticized for coming across as racist caricatures of Asians, as they are portrayed as being corrupt and greedy whilst speaking with East Asian accents.
- Nute Gunray's accent is actually Thai.
- Watto has also been interpreted by many as a Jewish stereotype, as he has a large trunk-like nose, beady eyes, speaks in a gravelly voice, and is portrayed as greedy and covetous, thus attracting some controversy.
- According to actor Andy Secombe, the character was intended to be based on an Italian salesman.
- The Neimoidians were also criticized for coming across as racist caricatures of Asians, as they are portrayed as being corrupt and greedy whilst speaking with East Asian accents.
- Wooden acting throughout, with the CGI characters being more expressive than the live actors.
- While Jake Lloyd's performance as Anakin Skywalker can be excused, due to him being a child at the time, Lucas' decision to rest a movie on the ability of a ten-year-old to be a credible future Darth Vader was not a very good idea and completely ruined what A New Hope had depicted Anakin to be.
- Weak special effects that are a pretty big downgrade from the original trilogy, such as the Yoda puppet (particularly against the CGI backdrop of Coruscant) in pre-2011 releases being a notable example. The film is also criticized for its overuse of CGI, which looks very dated, even for 1999 standards, especially compared to the sequel trilogy films.
- The visuals themselves are also excessively cluttered much of the time, and thus it is hard to keep focus on the main characters or their actions.
- The entire plot of the film is incredibly confusing and contrived.
- There are some plot holes. For example:
- It is repeatedly stated that there is a prophecy of "one who will bring balance to the Force", but nobody in the film even clues the audience in on what this actually means. It is meant to foreshadow the fall of the Emperor in the original trilogy, but this prophecy is never mentioned by Obi-Wan, Vader or the Emperor in the original trilogy itself.
- It is also not stated what problem the Trade Federation blockading Naboo is supposed to be causing, since at no point does anyone mention the planet needing anything it does not already have.
- The pacifist queen of a peaceful planet without a standing army for some reason keeps... several loaded guns in the armrest of her throne.
- It is very unclear as to who the protagonist or antagonist is in this film.
- In addition, several of the key characters in this film have little-to-no introduction: for example, it is never clear outside of external source material as to who or what Darth Maul is.
- Qui-Gon Jinn constantly abuses Force abilities to get his own way and has a completely contradictory moral code. For example, he is perfectly happy to try to mind trick Watto into accepting useless money, but not to simply steal the spaceship part he needs.
- For no apparent reason, the massive blockade around Naboo suddenly becomes one ship at the end of the film.
- Anakin is revealed to have built C-3PO, which makes very little sense in context, since his mother would have no use for a protocol droid, and it is not clear as to why he would make a robot that looks exactly like a mass-produced model.
- Qui-Gon Jinn is also established to be the master of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which contradicts The Empire Strikes Back, in which it is mentioned that Yoda is Obi-Wan's master. One might bring up the younglings in the following two films, but in Empire, Yoda is framed as Obi-Wan's actual master.
- The ending has four sequences with different tones running side-by-side (the thrilling battle at the palace, the dramatic battle in the power room, the comical scenes of the Gungans fighting the droids, and the not-serious-enough battle in space), which feels choppy.
- It lazily rehashes a few plot points from A New Hope. For example:
- A main character with the surname "Skywalker" living in a harsh desert planet and getting involved in a war.
- A Sith killing the wise mentor of a Force-sensitive protagonist.
- A space station being the subject of a space battle, and being destroyed by the good guys.
- Laughable and clunky dialogue, particularly Anakin's declaration that spinning is a good trick.
- Much of what Palpatine does in the film undermines his actual goals for no obvious reason, which the refusal of the film to grant him further necessary screentime accentuates.
- Much of the film is taken up by tedious, overly long expository scenes involving space politics relating to, as revealingly worded by the opening crawl, the "taxation of trade routes in outlying systems."
- Many scenes, such as the pod-racing scene, seem to have been designed mostly around creating opportunities for merchandising or making video games, with the pod-racing sequence standing out in particular. While the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi were obviously designed to sell toys; in The Phantom Menace, almost the entire film seems to exist for this purpose.
- Speaking of which, the pod-racing scene brings the plot to a screeching halt.
- Brian Blessed is not well cast as Boss Nass, a character with an absurd speech quirk that requires him to laboriously sound out his lines, robbing them of the boisterous tone Blessed is known for.
- Mediocre costume designs for some of the characters, with several of Queen Amidala's outfits looking ridiculous.
- While the plot element of Amidala swapping places with her handmaiden Sabé is executed quite well, thanks to Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley doing too good a job of copying each other's mannerisms, it ends up serving no real purpose to the plot. Amidala could have just told Qui-Gon up-front that she was disguising herself as a commoner in order to accompany him to Mos Espa, and it would not have changed anything.
- The droid army is so utterly ineffectual that there is no sense they are actually a threat.
- While the fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul is visually spectacular, there are some issues with the fight choreography.
- The lightsaber combat in this film is very floaty and feels like the characters are having a dance-off rather than actually trying to kill/fight each other.
- The fight between those three is also rather pointless since the goals of the characters do not in any way relate to anything else that is going on.
- The deus ex machina ending has Anakin more or less accidentally blow up the droid control ship (after two Jedi brought him to a war zone for no apparent reason), which instantly disables the entire droid army which had just defeated the Gungans.
- The movie also undermines the concept of the Jedi's powers because of the "midi-chlorians", which meant that anyone who wields a huge number of these microscopic organisms are Force-sensitive.
- The final scene feels tacked-on and unnecessary. It involves a big ceremony with Queen Amidala presenting Boss Nass with a plasma ball as a symbol of peace between their people, even though the people were never actually at war with one another (the Gungans were just vaguely distrustful of the Naboo, who, in turn, never seemed to have paid the Gungans much attention). The only reason this scene appears to be in the movie is because A New Hope similarly ended with a ceremony.
- It is meant to be the first episode of the Skywalker Saga with a young Anakin Skywalker, but it doesn't do a good job at setting the story and the later events that would follow in later parts of the sage, since some events that are depicted to happen according to this film turn out differently in the original trilogy thanks to coming out 16 years after Return of the Jedi and the entire original trilogy for that matter, and it does a horrible job at being a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy thanks to the poor writing and questionable story decisions, thus causing several plot holes and inconsistencies to happen in the Skywalker Saga itself as a whole.
- Anakin is periodically nicknamed Annie, which is weird because Annie is normally a feminine name (which is officially called “Ani”)
- This film had some potential to be a good prequel, but since it got mixed reviews and due to the story being executed very poorly, it started the downfall of the Star Wars film franchise.
- Some of the pacing isn't very good.
- Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson, and Ewan McGregor give great performances.
- When talking about this film, we could never forget the amazing battle scenes, especially Darth Maul's two-on-one fight with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, which is considered by many to be the best of the franchise.
- While it did not really achieve anything as far as the plot was concerned, the pod-racing sequence was well-shot, exciting, and the video games it was clearly designed to sell were, for once, actually fairly good.
- Despite nothing to do with the plot, it is fun to watch.
- John Williams, as always, delivers an excellent score, especially "Duel of the Fates" which is a fantastic theme for a battle scene, and they even used that for Revenge of the Sith.
- The cinematography is still fantastic, just like the original trilogy.
- Neat visuals, with some very detailed backgrounds and interesting designs for weapons and vehicles, though the aforementioned visuals are dated in comparison to modern films.
- Some interesting characters in Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Darth Maul and particularly Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), who is the highlight of all three prequels. Darth Maul, rather like Boba Fett before him, proved interesting enough to fans, despite a near-total lack of characterization, that he returned in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series, Rebels (in which he finally meets his death at the hands of the elder Obi-Wan), and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
- Darth Vader's origin story is an interesting concept, despite its poor execution.
- Some of the characters are likable, like Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
- The very final part of the ending credits scene has a big foreshadow reveal with "The Imperial March" theme slowly plays, including Darth Vader's breathing, which shockingly hints that Anakin Skywalker's future as Darth Vader, which increases through the prequel trilogy.
- The callback of his podracing when Anakin manages to destroy the main station.
- "NOW THIS IS PODRACING!"
- As mentioned above BQ#18, the voice of The battle droids themselves is very deeply menacing and sounds like a killer machine, despite pointless threats. Sadly, they change their voice and characterization when the release of Revenge of the Sith and the 2D and 3D version of Clone Wars goes on. (Depending on the point of view)
The film's premiere was extensively covered by media and was greatly anticipated because of the large cultural following the Star Wars saga had cultivated. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace received mixed reviews from critics and fans of the series upon its release, however. While the visuals, action sequences, themes, John Williams' musical score, and some of the performances (notably Neeson and McGregor) were praised, the screenplay, pacing, characterization, and the respective performances of Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks and Lloyd as Anakin as well as the character Jar Jar Binks were criticized.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 53% based on 230 reviews, with an average rating of 5.94/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Burdened by exposition and populated with stock characters, The Phantom Menace gets the Star Wars prequels off to a bumpy – albeit visually dazzling – start." Metacritic gives a score of 51/100 indicating "mixed or average reviews", while the film has a 6.5/10 rating on IMDb. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
Conversely, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking" and said, "Lucas tells a good story." Ebert also wrote that, "If some of the characters are less than compelling, perhaps that's inevitable" because it is the opening film in the new trilogy. He concluded his review by saying that rather than Star Trek films, filmmakers could "[g]ive me transparent underwater cities and vast hollow senatorial spheres any day".
Once the prequel trilogy was finished, the trilogy and especially The Phantom Menace used to position itself as one of the trilogies or movies, it was the most deficient and disappointing in history, which increased after the great premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One, however, following poor executive decisions by Disney brought on by the poor or polarized reception of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Rise of Skywalker, as well as the many issues involved in the production of Solo: A Star Story Wars, sabotage to the production of the film itself, and problems with the respective casts, many fans as well as moviegoers have re-evaluated the film in a more positive way, at the same time many considered its story more striking than New Hope or Return of the Jedi and the general public have stated that it was underrated by the media, however the film, despite the new reception, many fans consider it to be a middle ground, stating that it was better than the new Disney trilogy, but was still one of the weakest in the Saga.
The Phantom Menace is often "Mostly in the first place" in the list of the most disappointing movies in history and the movies that angered fans, however, after the arrival of the 2000s and 2010s when the cinema of Superheroes began its boom, the Phantom Menace has lost the position of the film that most disappointed and infuriated fans by the chaotic as well as controversial premieres of Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, or, X-Men: origins of Wolverine.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for seven Razzies and won one for "Worst Supporting Actor" for Ahmed Best, losing the rest to Wild Wild West, The World Is Not Enough and Big Daddy.
Despite the Razzie nominations, the film was also nominated for three Oscars, but all lost to The Matrix.
- Several then-unknown actors, such as Keira Knightley, Dominic West and Richard Armitage, appear in the film.
- This was the last Star Wars movie to be released in the 20th century (We do NOT mean 20th Century Fox, we mean the era that started in 1901 and ended in 2000).
- This was the only Star Wars movie to be released in the 1990's decade.
- Ahmed Best, actor of character Jar Jar Binks, would later claim he contemplated suicide after how heavily he was criticized by several Star Wars fans, while Jake Lloyd retired from acting in 2001 due to being bullied in school by young Star Wars fans.
- On June 17, 2015, Lloyd was arrested for reckless driving and driving without a license in Colleton County, South Carolina. In April 2016, he was moved to a psychiatric ward after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
- E.T. from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial briefly appears in the film.
- The concept of midi-chlorians was, surprisingly, planned all the way back in 1977.
- In February 2012, the film was re-released in theaters in 3D. Episodes II-VI were also originally going to get 3D re-releases, but they were cancelled after Lucasfilm's acquisition by Disney so that production efforts could be focused on the sequel trilogy.
- The Phantom Menace was released eighteen days after the first three episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants were released Help Wanted, Reef Blower and Tea at the Treedome.
- George Lucas intro to Splinter of the Mind's Eye 1994 reissue
- "Special Featurette", All I Need Is An Idea (2001), DVD
- Return of the Jedi ( page 15–32)
- Thousands of Things DVD Special Featurette, 
- Prime of the Jedi DVD Special Featurette, 
- Costumes DVD Special Featurette, 
- "The Beginning" Making Episode I Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace DVD documentary, 
- It's Like War Now DVD Special Featurette, 
- Visual Effects DVD Special Featurette, 
- Bad Droid Karma DVD Special Featurette,