Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode I) was the first Star Wars film made after Return of the Jedi to go to theaters (Ewok Adventures!) and is the first, chronologically, of the serial saga. This film (and the Prequel Trilogy as a whole) challenged several people’s view of various parts of the Original Trilogy.
Keep in mind that this is a late 90s, early 200s film – it was released in 1999, but films from that time range have several things in common – and we see the affects of that on the writing, special effects, and actors. The special effects did help get the film nominated for several awards in the face of its many critics. The biggest thing to recognize is the Prequel Trilogy is not necessarily aimed at existing Star Wars fans, but instead geared towards gathering new fans from the “young people” of the turn of the millennium. The Phantom Menace is official cannon, and as much as people may not like certain aspects of it – it is Star Wars “truth”.
There are many similarities, intentionally, between The Phantom Menace (TPM) and A New Hope (ANH), and references/inclusions of aspects of each of the three Original Trilogy films.
So, the Trade Federation placed and blockade around which planet? Naboo?! Why Naboo?!? Sheev Palpatine. Senator Palpatine becomes Chancellor Palpatine, and eventually Emperor Palpatine – all while also being Darth Sidious (a secret Sith? THE phantom menace?)! Naboo is his homeworld; he is familiar with the people, politics, and terrain of that system. He knows Naboo is important enough that actions against it by the Trade Federation would cause contention in the Senate, but unimportant and “out of the way” enough that there would not be a swift or large-scale response. This event allowed him to test the Droid Army and provided the situation needed to accelerate his promotion within the Galactic Senate (which he disband in ANH).
This is not about criticising the film, but I must admit I have no explanation for (other than showing off special effects), and do not like, the Jedi super-speed event.
There is a popular fan theory going around about Jar Jar Binks being a secret Sith Lord. I do not think this is the case, for multiple reasons:
1. Not only is that is not evidenced in any Star Wars movies, episodes of The Clone Wars, or other canon media, pretty much the opposite is stated outright – he’s a goof, but a “good guy”.
2. The Rule of Two – Darth Sidous already had Darth Maul. What about the Sith Inquisitors? They are not apprentices, they are force sensitive spec ops soldiers – an oversimplification, but I’m trying to stay on point here!
3. There is a specific scene during the ground battle with the Droid Army where the Gungans are retreating and Jar Jar accidentally releases a bunch of large boomas into the droids, that event and the ones following it read like something that is both important to the story and comedic relief (a not-uncommon plot device), not Sith mastermindery (that should be a word).
We get to meet R2-D2! He is old! R2-D2 and the other droids who looked a lot like him (even another blue one) were property of the Naboo government.
We see that Anakin is an emotional, idealist, passionate child filled with good intentions, hope, and fear. He hates slavery, has a dream that he became a jedi and returned to free the slaves; not quite how his return to Tatooine goes… But back to TPM, Anakin is willing to help people without thought of reward and is excited at the prospect of spending time with Padme and the Jedi. Anakin is also a talented mechanic and engineer. C-3PO is a “standard” model even though he was custom built by Anakin at a young age, because Anakin used spare parts from existing models.
Immediately Qui-Gon Jinn is aware that there is something special (in a Force kinda way) about Anakin. Shmi Skywalker let’s Qui-Gon know that Anakin is the result of a “fatherless” birth; further pointing towards his prophetic role.
We are introduced to Midi-Chlorians, a scientific explanation of the Force. Anakin has a biological predisposition to heightened Force abilities. Many people did not like this aspect of the franchise, and many people came to terms with Midi-Chlorians via the Darth Plagueis novel, but regardless of the feelings on the subject Midi-Chlorians are Star Wars fact.
One question I had since I first saw the film, if this is only about thirty (30) years before A new Hope, why are the ships and weapons so different, and even seem more advanced? Well, there are two answers to that:
1. The boring answer is that our technology has improved and we can make CG things that look “cooler” than before.
2. We are now in the Galactic Republic, where systems were not oppressed like they were under the Empire, and are systems that are “more civilized”, so they have access to more and better things than we saw in much of the Original Trilogy (except for Tatooine, which really isn’t that different between the two films).
Jabba the Hutt! He’s around, tying the first film to the “last” film (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was the last film of the series at that time, and believed to be the last film in the series permanently). He, and other Hutts, also makes some appearances in The Clone Wars (TCW) animated series and written works.
My favorite part of the podrace is the Podrace arcade game that was released after this movie!
Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum is introduced by Senator Palpatine to Queen Amidala by way of letting her know that the Senate would not be of help to her, while the accusations of corruption were unfounded (admittedly by Palpatine himself) the chancellor’s power had been replaced by bureaucracy and policy.
The Jedi Temple is built on top of a Sith monument. This is an important fact covered in the books that is not addressed in the movies. This leads to the clouded vision the Jedi Council suffers from, and may be the better explanation of why anakin was cold during his testing (not his fear as Yoda believed).
THE PROPHECY! I’m doing a separate post about that.
Qui-Gon Jinn has had some disagreements with the Jedi Council; Obi-Wan is willing to follow in those footsteps, though he pleads with Master Jinn to “play ball” he tells Yoda that he (Kenobi) will train Anakin with or without approval. This does play a role in Anakin’s attitude, he is “third generation” if-you-will rebellious Jedi Knight.
The space battle with young Anakin and R2 destroying the droid control ship is very analogous to the space battle in episode four. We see that piloting, and affinity for mechanics, and “luck” (affecting the odds with the force) runs in the family!
Who is the phantom menace?
1. It’s not Jar Jar, drop it.
2. Darth Maul? This was my initial reaction, but during the funeral pyre for Qui-Gon Yoda and Mace Windu are discussing this new threat, implying it couldn’t be the guy Obi-Wan (thought he) had killed.
3. Darth Sidious is the generally accepted answer, though any Star Wars fan knew instantly that Senator Palpatine was to become Emperor Palpatine (great casting!). Was he really a phantom? Well, for the Jedi Council and for the Republic yes, as a Dark Lord he was not recognized as being Palpatine.
4. Anakin Skywalker. I like this idea. What is the phantom menace is the kid in the center of the movie poster, on the cover of the dvd case, and the primary character of the Prequel Trilogy? He is the unforeseen downfall of the Jedi and their Order…