Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying 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....
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum
Written by George Lucas
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 production as a film director after a 22-year hiatus following the original Star Wars film, and only his fourth overall.
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 (started on June 26, 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 Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi. The film's premiere was accompanied by considerable hype, extensive media coverage and great anticipation, due to the large cultural following its predecessors had created. 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 during its initial run in theaters, making it the Star Wars film with the highest gross-income (unadjusted for inflation). A 3D reissue was released in February 2012, which has earned an additional $102.7 million at the box office, bringing the film's overall worldwide total to over $1 billion, returning the film to the top ten highest grossing films of all time.
The film was followed by two additional sequels: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones in 2002, and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005.
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 Knights, 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, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious orders the Viceroy 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 (voiced by 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.
The leader of Naboo, 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, a handmaiden, to journey along with them. There, they meet a slave child named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a 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 (voiced by 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 (played by Ray Park and voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), who was dispatched to capture the Queen.
Having escaped the attack, the Jedi escort the Queen to the Republic's capital planet of Coruscant so she can plead her people's case to the Galactic Senate. Qui-Gon asks the Jedi Council to train Anakin as a Jedi, but is rejected. Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine of Naboo convinces the Queen to make 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 the real Queen Amidala, the other "Queen" (Keira Knightley) 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, the Queen tries to capture Gunray in Theed, Anakin pilots a vacant starfighter and joins the fight against the Federation droid control ship in space and destroys the ship, deactivating the droid army down on Naboo. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon encounter Darth Maul once more and engage him in a lightsaber fight. Maul mortally wounds Qui-Gon, but is defeated by Obi-Wan; Qui-Gon's dying request is for Obi-Wan to train Anakin. Palpatine is elected as the new Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, 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 as Obi-Wan's apprentice. However, the Jedi are still mystified by the recent reemergence of the Sith, and even at Qui-Gon's funeral they're left to wonder if Darth Maul was a Sith master or merely a master's apprentice. At a festive ceremony, Padmé presents a gift of appreciation and friendship to the Gungans. During a Post-credit scene a blank screen is shown with Darth Vader's iconic breathing, reminding the viewers of the fate of young Anakin Skywalker.
Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn:
A Jedi Master and mentor to Obi-Wan. When he discovers Anakin, he insists that the boy be trained as a Jedi, despite the protests of the council. Lucas
originally envisioned an American actor in the role, but cast Neeson, who is Irish, because he considered Neeson to have great skills and presence, describing him as 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 young Jedi Padawan apprentice. He
holds Qui-Gon in high regard, but questions his motives at times. McGregor
prepared for the role by watching Alec Guinness, who portrayed the elderly
Obi-Wan, in both the original Star Wars trilogy and Guinness' early work.
Natalie Portman as Queen Padmé Amidala: The young queen of Naboo at 14 years
of age, Amidala hopes to protect her planet from a blockade brought on by the
Trade Federation. Over 200 actresses were auditioned for the role, with
production notes stating that "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 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." The actress was unfamiliar
with Star Wars prior to being cast, but was enthused over being cast as the
Queen of Naboo, a character she expected to become a role model: "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
Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker a nine year old who dreams to became a Jedi
like Kenobi and Jinn.
Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Darth Sidious: The 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.
Ahmed Best as the voice of Jar Jar Binks: A clumsy Gungan, exiled from his
home but taken in by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. He accompanies them throughout the
film. Best was hired after Gurland saw him on a Stomp performance in San
Francisco, and originally was just going to provide motion capturing, but
after offering to also voice the character, was accepted. He wandered in the
set in a foam-and-latex suit and headpiece to provide reference for the
actors, with his filmed performance later replaced by the computer-generated
character. Best frequently improvised movements to make Jar Jar as clumsy
and comedic as possible.
Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker: Anakin's mother. She is concerned for her
son's future, and lets him leave with the Jedi. August, a veteran of Swedish
cinema, was chosen after auditioning with Liam Neeson, although she was afraid
of not being chosen due to her accent.
Ray Park as Darth Maul: A Zabrak Sith apprentice to Darth Sidious who uses a
double-bladed lightsaber. A martial arts champion with experience in
gymnastics and swordfighting, Park was originally only a member of the stunt
crew, and stunt coordinator Nick Gillard filmed Park to demonstrate how he
envisioned 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", leading it to be dubbed over. He was voiced by Peter
Anthony Daniels voices C-3PO: A protocol droid built by Anakin, he lacks a
metal covering in this film, which R2-D2 refers to as being "naked". A
puppeteer – dressed in a color close to the one seen in the background,
similar to the Japanese puppet theater Bunraku, so he could be erased during
post-production – manipulated a skeletal C-3PO figure attached to his front,
while Daniels read his lines off-camera.
Kenny Baker as R2-D2: An astromech droid, notable for saving Queen Amidala's
ship when all other droids fail. Before the production of The Phantom Menace
started, fans campaigned on the Internet to retain Baker as R2, to which Lucas
replied that the actor would remain. Baker is used for scenes where R2 bends
forwards and backwards and wobble from side to side, while actual robots and a
digital replica are used otherwise (see Effects, below).
Silas Carson as Nute Gunray: The Viceroy of the Trade Federation who leads
the invasion of Naboo and tries to force Queen Amidala to sign a treaty to
legitimize the occupation. Carson also portrays three minor characters: Jedi
Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, Trade Federation Senator Lott Dod, and an ill-fated pilot
(which was the role Carson originally auditioned for). Carson got the role
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. The Thai accent used by the
character was chosen after Lucas and McCallum listened to various languages to
pick how the Neimodians would speak.
Hugh Quarshie as Captain Panaka: Queen Amidala's chief of security at Theed
Palace. Quarshie accepted the part for considering it "a good career move" and
a production that would be fun to make.
Andy Secombe voices Watto: A junk dealer on Tatooine who owns Anakin and his
mother as slaves. With a design that was an amalgalm of various rejected
ideas, Watto's expressions were based on video footage of Secombe doing the
voice acting, photos of animation supervisor Rob Coleman imitating the
character, and modeler Steve Alpin saying Watto's lines to the mirror.
Lewis MacLeod voices Sebulba: An aggressive, scheming Podracer and rival of
Anakin. Sebulba's design was described by Lucas as "a spider crossed with an
orangutan crossed with a sloth", with a camel-like face, and clothing
inspired by medieval armor.
Frank Oz as the voice of 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, with Oz controlling the mouth and other parts controlled by
the puppeteers using remote controls. A computer-generated Yoda is featured
in two distant shots and Warwick Davis portrays him in the scene in which
Obi-Wan becomes a Jedi Knight.
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu: A member of the Jedi Council who also
opposes the idea of training Anakin. After Jackson expressed interest in
appearing in a Star Wars film, he was approached by cast director Robin
Gurland to play Windu.
Terence Stamp as Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum: The current Chancellor 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".
Brian Blessed voices Boss Nass: The leader of the Gungan tribe who allies
with the Naboo and defeats the Trade Federation. Blessed originally auditioned
for Sio Bibble, the Governor of Naboo, for which he was considered "too
loud". Blessed described Nass as a "reluctant hero", and a fun role to
Greg Proops and Scott Capurro voice Fode and Beed, the two headed announcer
of the Boonta's Eve Race. The actors were filmed wearing make-up and blue
bodysuits, so their heads would be joined in a computer-generated body. The
visual effects crew did not like the original results, and ended up crafting
Fode and Beed as an entirely computer generated alien.
Keira Knightley as Sabé: Queen Amidala's body double and decoy. The role was
originally going to be filled by a stand-in, until casting director Robin
Gurland came across Knightley, who bore a striking resemblance to Natalie
Portman. Knightley's role was kept quiet by The Phantom Menace's marketing
department in order to heighten the surprise of there being a decoy Queen when
the film was released. The Queen's costumes were specifically designed to hide
any height and shape differences between Knightley and Portman, so much so
that Portman's mother could not distinguish between the two on set.