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, as well as the first film in the saga in terms of story chronology. The Phantom Menace was also Lucas’ first product as a film director after 22 years, and only his fourth overall with the Star Wars films.
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. The film also features a young Anakin Skywalker before he became a Jedi, introduced as a young slave boy who seems to be unusually strong with nascent powers of The Force, and 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 18th 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. A 3D re-release has been confirmed, with a release date of February 10, 2012.
The Galactic Republic is in a period of decline. In response to a taxation on trade routes, the Trade Federation organizes a blockade of battleships around the planet of Naboo. Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum (Terrence Stamp) dispatches two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to negotiate with Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray (Silas Carson), in hopes of resolving the issue. However, Darth Sidious orders the army to kill the Jedi and invade Naboo with an army of battle droids. The two Jedi escape the attempt on their lives by stowing aboard landing craft and escaping to Naboo. There, Qui-Gon saves Gungan outcast Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) from being crushed by a Federation tank. Indebted to the Jedi, Jar Jar leads them to the underwater Gungan city of Otoh Gunga; there, 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 (Natalie Portman) 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 Tatooine, a nearby desert planet, for repairs. Qui-Gon ventures into the settlement of Mos Espa with Jar Jar and the astromech droid R2-D2 to a junk shop to purchase a new hyperdrive generator. The queen allows Padmé, supposedly a handmaid, to journey along with them. There, they meet a slave child named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), an interesting pilot and engineer who has created his own protocol droid, C-3PO. After spending time with Anakin, Qui-Gon senses a strong presence of the Force within the boy, and suspects he may be the “Chosen One” of Jedi prophecy who will bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon makes a bet with Anakin’s owner, Watto (Andy Secombe), to enter him in a podracing tournament; 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 Shmi (Pernilla August) behind, as Qui-Gon was unable to arrange for her release. They are attacked by Darth Sidious’ apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park), who was dispatched to capture the Queen.
Having escaped the attack, the Jedi escort the Queen to the Republic capital planet of Coruscant so she can plead her people’s case to Chancellor Valorum. Qui-Gon offers the Jedi Council to train Anakin as a Jedi, but is rejected. Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine of Naboo convinces the Queen to a motion of no confidence in Valorum in attempt to vote for a stronger Chancellor who will help end the conflict. She pushes such a vote, but grows frustrated with the lack of action by the Galactic Senate, ultimately deciding to return to Naboo with the Jedi.
Back on Naboo, Padmé reveals herself to be Queen Amidala, the other “Queen” having been a decoy. Padmé convinces the Gungans to form an alliance against the Trade Federation. While Jar Jar leads his people in a battle against the droid army and the Queen comes in to capture Gunray in Theed, Anakin pilots a vacant starfighter and joins the fight against the Federation droid control ship in space, and—using the Force—destroys the ship, deactivating the droid army. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon encounter Darth Maul once more and engage him in a lightsaber duel. Maul mortally wounds Qui-Gon, but is killed by Obi-Wan; Qui-Gon’s dying request is for Obi-Wan to train Anakin. 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 accepts Anakin to become Obi-Wan’s apprentice. At a festive ceremony, Padmé presents a gift of appreciation and friendship to the Gungans.
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First Published: Jan 17, 2012 – Last Updated: Mar 16, 2013