Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Directed by:- George Lucas
Producer:- Rick McCallum
Written by:- George Lucas
- Liam Neeson
- Ewan McGregor
- Natalie Portman
- Jake Lloyd
- Ian McDiarmid
- Anthony Daniels
- Kenny Baker
- Pernilla August
- Frank Oz
Music by:– John Williams
- May 16, 1999 (Los Angeles)
- May 19, 1999 (United States)
Country:- United States
Budget:- $115 Million
Box office:- $1.027 Billion
The Trade Federation upsets order in the Galactic Republic by blockading the planet Naboo in preparation for a full-scale invasion. The Republic’s leader, Supreme Chancellor Valorum, dispatches Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to negotiate with Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray. Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord, and the Trade Federation’s secret adviser, orders the Viceroy to kill the Jedi, and invade Naboo with an army of battle droids. The Jedi escape and flee to Naboo. During the invasion, Qui-Gon saves a Gungan outcast, Jar Jar Binks, from being run over and killed by a droid transport. Indebted to Qui-Gon, Jar Jar leads the Jedi to an underwater Gungan city. The Jedi unsuccessfully try to persuade the Gungan leader, Boss Nass, into helping the people of Naboo, though they are able to obtain transportation to Theed, the capital city on the surface. They rescue Queen Amidala, the ruler of the Naboo people, and escape the planet on her royal starship en route to the Republic capital planet of Coruscant.
Amidala’s ship is damaged as they pass the Federation blockade and becomes unable to use its hyperdrive, landing for repairs on the desert planet Tatooine. Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, astromech droid R2-D2, and Amidala (in disguise as one of her handmaidens) visit the settlement of Mos Espa to purchase new parts at a junk shop. They meet the shop’s owner, Watto, and his nine-year-old slave, Anakin Skywalker, who is a gifted pilot and engineer, and has created a protocol droid called C-3PO. Qui-Gon senses a strong presence of the Force within Anakin, and is convinced that he is the “chosen one” of Jedi prophecy who will bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon wagers Anakin’s freedom with Watto in a Podrace, which Anakin wins. Anakin joins the group to be trained as a Jedi, leaving his mother Shmi behind. En route to their starship, Qui-Gon encounters Darth Maul, Darth Sidious’s apprentice, who was sent to capture Amidala. A duel ensues, but Qui-Gon quickly disengages and escapes on board the starship.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escort Amidala to Coruscant, so that she can plead her people’s case to Chancellor Valorum and the Galactic Senate. Qui-Gon asks the Jedi Council for permission to train Anakin as a Jedi, but the Council refuses after he is interviewed by Yoda and becomes concerned that Anakin is vulnerable to the dark side. Undaunted, Qui-Gon vows to train Anakin himself. Meanwhile, Naboo’s Senator Palpatine persuades Amidala to make a vote of no confidence in Valorum to elect a more capable chancellor to resolve the crisis on Naboo. Though she is successful in pushing for the vote, Amidala grows frustrated with the corruption in the Senate, and decides to return to Naboo. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are ordered by the Jedi Council to accompany the queen to Naboo, as well as to confirm the return of the Sith, whom they believe to be extinct.
On Naboo, Padmé reveals herself to the Gungans as Queen Amidala, and persuades them into an alliance against the Trade Federation. Jar Jar leads his people in a battle against the droid army while Padmé leads the hunt for Viceroy Gunray in Theed. During a battle in a starship hangar to free Naboo pilots, Anakin takes shelter in a vacant starfighter, and inadvertently triggers its autopilot, joining the battle against the Federation droid control ship in space. Anakin blunders into the hangar of the droid control ship and destroys the ship from within before escaping, deactivating the droid army. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan battle Darth Maul, who mortally wounds Qui-Gon before being bisected by Obi-Wan. As he dies, Qui-Gon requests Obi-Wan to train Anakin. Subsequently, Palpatine is elected as the new Supreme Chancellor, and Gunray is arrested. The Jedi Council promotes Obi-Wan to the rank of Jedi Knight and reluctantly accepts Anakin as Obi-Wan’s apprentice. At a festive ceremony, Padmé presents a gift of appreciation and friendship to the Gungans.
- Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi Knight who discovers Anakin and insists that the boy be trained as a Jedi despite the Jedi Council’s protests. Lucas originally wanted to cast an American actor in the role, but cast Irishman Neeson because he considered that Neeson had great skills and presence. Lucas said Neeson was a “master actor, who the other actors will look up to, who has got the qualities of strength that the character demands”.
- Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon’s Jedi Padawan, who holds his master in high regard but questions his motives at times. McGregor was cast from a shortlist of fifty actors, all of whom had to be compared to pictures of young Alec Guinness, who portrayed the elderly Obi-Wan, to make a believable younger version. McGregor had a vocal coach to help his voice sound closer to Guinness’. He also studied several of Guinness’ performances, from his early work and the Star Wars movies.
- Natalie Portman as Queen Padmé Amidala, the 14-year-old Queen of Naboo, who hopes to protect her planet from a blockade invasion made by the Trade Federation. Over 200 actresses auditioned for the role. The Production notes stated; “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 especially for her performances in Léon: The Professional (1994) and Beautiful Girls (1996), which impressed Lucas. He stated, “I was looking for someone who was young, strong, along the lines of Leia [and] Natalie embodied all those traits and more”. Portman was unfamiliar with Star Wars before being cast, but was enthusiastic about being cast as a character she expected to become a role model. Portman said, “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.”
- Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker, a 9-year-old slave boy and a skilled pilot who dreams of becoming a Jedi. Hundreds of actors were tested before the producers settled on Lloyd who Lucas considered met his requirements of “a good actor, enthusiastic and very energetic”. Producer Rick McCallum said that Lloyd was “smart, mischievous and loves anything mechanical—just like Anakin.”
- Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine / Darth Sidious, a 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 play the part in the prequel films.
- Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker, Anakin’s mother, who is concerned for her son’s future and allows him to leave with the Jedi. August, a veteran of Swedish cinema, was chosen after auditioning with Liam Neeson. She was afraid of being rejected because of her accent.
- Frank Oz voices 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. Oz controlled the puppet’s mouth and other parts were controlled by puppeteers using remote controls. Lucas fitted Yoda’s filming around Oz’s schedule as he finished and promoted In & Out. A computer-generated Yoda is featured in two distant shots. Warwick Davis portrays him in the scene in which Obi-Wan becomes a Jedi Knight. Lucas said he originally wanted to use a full-time digital Yoda, but the attempts did not work well enough. On the Blu-ray release of The Phantom Menace, which was also used for the 3D reissue, a CG Yoda similar to the one from the other prequels is used instead.
- Oliver Ford Davies as Sio Bibble, the governor of Naboo.
- Hugh Quarshie as Captain Panaka, Queen Amidala’s chief of security at Theed Palace.
- Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks, a clumsy Gungan exiled from his home and taken in by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Best was hired after casting director Robin Gurland saw him on a Stomp performance in San Francisco. Best was originally intended to provide motion capture data but his offer to voice the character was accepted. On the set, to provide references for the actors, Best was clothed in a suit made of foam and latex and a headpiece. Best’s filmed performance was later replaced with the computer-generated character. Best frequently improvised movements to make Jar Jar look as clumsy and comedic as possible.
- Anthony Daniels voices C-3PO, a protocol droid built by Anakin. He lacks a metal covering in this film; R2-D2 refers to it as being “naked”. A puppeteer dressed in a color closely matching the background—in a manner similar to the Japanese puppet theater Bunraku—manipulated a skeletal C-3PO figure attached to his front while Daniels read his lines off-camera. The puppeteer was erased from the film during post-production.
- Kenny Baker as R2-D2, an astromech droid that saves Queen Amidala’s ship when other droids fail. Before the film’s production started, fans campaigned on the Internet to retain Baker as R2-D2; Lucas replied that the actor would remain. Baker is used for scenes where R2-D2 bends forwards and backwards and wobbles from side to side. Robots and a digital model were used in other shots.
- Terence Stamp as Supreme Chancellor Valorum, the Chancellor of the Republic who commissions Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to negotiate with the Trade Federation Viceroy. Lucas described the character as a “good man but he’s beleaguered—a bit like [Bill] Clinton“.
The film saw 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 which 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 Neimodians, 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.
As with previous Star Wars films, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace‘s score was composed and conducted by John Williams. He started composing 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 electronic instruments such as synthesizers to enhance the sound and choral pieces to “capture the magical, mystical force that a regular orchestra might not have been able to provide”, and create an atmosphere that was “more mysterious and mystical and less military” than those of the original trilogy. One of the most notable tracks is “Duel of the Fates“, which uses the chorus to give a religious, temple-like feel to the epic lightsaber duel. The track was made into a music video. While composing Anakin’s theme, Williams tried to reflect the innocence of his childhood and to foreshadow his transformation into Darth Vader by using slight suggestions of “The Imperial March” in the melody.
The film’s soundtrack was released by Sony Classical Records on May 4, 1999. This album featured the score, which Williams restructured as a listening experience; it is not presented in film order and omits many notable cues from the film because of the space restriction of the compact disc. 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.
On September 28, 2010, it was announced that all six films in the series would be stereo-converted to 3D. These would be re-released in episode order, beginning with The Phantom Menace, which was released to cinemas in February 10, 2012. Prime Focus Limited did the conversion under close supervision by ILM. However, the 3D re-releases of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith were postponed after Lucasfilm was bought by The Walt Disney Company, which decided to focus on the development of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Lucas stated the 3D re-release was “just a conversion” of the film’s 2011 Blu-ray release and no additional changes were made. Only a change to Anakin’s magnetic wand during the podrace scene—its tip was sharpened to more accurately fit the original 2D photography to the new 3D image—was confirmed.
Despite its mixed critical reception, The Phantom Menace was a 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 for taking more than $28 million in the opening day and fastest to gross $100 million in five days. It grossed $64.8 million in its opening weekend, the second-ever highest at the time. It also became the quickest film to reach the $200 million and $300 million marks, surpassing Independence Day (1996) and Titanic (1997) respectively. The Phantom Menace was 1999’s most successful film, earning $431.1 million in North America and $493.2 million in other territories, taking $924.3 million worldwide. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 84.8 million tickets in the US in its initial theatrical run. At that time, the film was the third highest-grossing film in North America behind Titanic and Star Wars (1977), and the second highest-grossing film worldwide behind Titanic without adjusting for inflation of ticket prices. When adjusted for ticket price inflation, it ranked as the 19th-highest-grossing film domestically, making it the fourth Star Wars film to be in the Inflation-Adjusted Top 20. Outside North America, the film grossed over $10 million in 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).
After its 3D re-release in 2012, the worldwide box office gross exceeded $1 billion. Although in the intervening years, the film had lost some of its rankings in the lists of highest-grossing films, the 3D re-release returned it to the worldwide all-time Top 10 for several months. In North America, its revenues overtook those of the original Star Wars as the saga’s highest-grossing film when not adjusting for inflation of ticket prices, and is the tenth highest-grossing film in North America as of August 2017. In North America, its ranking on the Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation list climbed to 16th place—one place behind Return of the Jedi. The 3D re-release, which premiered in February 2012, earned $43 million—$22.5 million of which was in North America—worldwide. The 3D re-release earned US$102,727,119 worldwide—including $43.5 million in North America—and has increased the film’s overall box office takings to $474.5 million domestically, and $552.5 million in other territories. The film’s earnings exceeded $1 billion worldwide on February 22, 2012, making it the first Star Wars film and the 11th film in history—excluding inflation—to do so.
Awards & Nominations
The Phantom Menace was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Mixing (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, and John Midgley); all of which went to The Matrix. The film won Saturn Awards for Best Costumes and Best Special Effects, the MTV Movie Award for Best Action Scene, and a Young Artist Award for Jake Lloyd’s performance. It was also nominated for—among others—the BAFTAs for Visual Effects and Sound, and the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. The film did however receive seven Golden Raspberry Award (Razzie) nominations for 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 Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best won the Worst Supporting Actor category.
A sequel, Attack of the Clones, was released in 2002. A second sequel, Revenge of the Sith, was released in 2005. The story continues a decade later with Anakin Skywalker now grown to adulthood with the character now played by Hayden Christensen.