Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a 1999 science fiction fantasy film written and directed by George Lucas. It was the fourth film to be released in the Star Wars saga, and the first in terms of internal chronology. Among fans, the title is commonly abbreviated as "TPM".[1]

Two Jedi Knights are assigned as ambassadors to a trade dispute that is threatening the planet Naboo. When the situation turns violent, the Jedi, along with Padmé Amidala, the planet's queen, flee Naboo in an attempt to reach the capital world Coruscant in the hope of finding a peaceful end to the dispute. Along the way, the ship must stop for repairs on the planet Tatooine. It is there that the Jedi encounter Anakin Skywalker, a young slave boy who is unusually strong in the Force. When the group returns to Naboo, they realize that the situation is much worse than they thought—the evil Sith have returned. The release of the film on May 19, 1999 came almost 16 years after the previous film in the series, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The release was accompanied by extensive media coverage and great anticipation. Despite mixed reviews by critics, it grossed US$924.3 million worldwide.

The release of the film on May 19, 1999 came almost 16 years after the previous film in the series, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The release was accompanied by extensive media coverage and great anticipation. Despite mixed reviews by critics, it grossed US$924.3 million worldwide.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The opening crawl reveals that the Trade Federation has blockaded the planet of Naboo in hope of resolving a galactic trade dispute. Chancellor Valorum of the Galactic Republic secretly sends two Jedi Knights — Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan learner Obi-Wan Kenobi — to meet with the Trade Federation to settle the crisis. Unknown to them, the Trade Federation is in league with the mysterious Sith Lord Darth Sidious, who orders them to invade Naboo and kill the two Jedi. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape and flee to the surface of Naboo, where they meet local Gungan outcast Jar Jar Binks. As Jar Jar brings them to an underwater Gungan settlement, the Trade Federation captures Naboo's leader, Queen Amidala. Through a Jedi mind trick, Qui-Gon secures a submarine, which Obi-Wan, Jar Jar, and he use to reach the capital of Naboo and rescue Queen Amidala and her escort. Afterwards, they all depart for Coruscant, the Galactic Republic’s capital planet, to seek help from the Senate.

During the escape, the ship is attacked by the Federation blockade, forcing R2-D2, one of the ship's droids, to fix the shields. The attack damages the ship's hyperdrive, forcing the party to land on the desert planet of Tatooine for repairs. While searching for needed parts, Qui-Gon and a handmaiden named Padmé befriend young Anakin Skywalker, a nine-year-old human slave gifted in piloting and mechanics. Qui-Gon senses a strong presence of the Force in Anakin, and feels that he may be the Chosen One—an individual the Jedi believe will fulfill a prophecy by bringing balance to the Force. At Anakin's insistence, Qui-Gon enters Anakin into the Boonta Eve Podrace in a bid with Anakin's master, Watto, to gain the needed parts as well as Anakin's freedom. Anakin eludes several obstacles — including rival racer Sebulba — to win the race, gaining his freedom and bankrupting Watto. After hesitation, Anakin leaves his mother and his droid (C-3PO) behind on Tatooine to go with the Jedi. As the group prepares to depart, they are attacked by the Sith apprentice Darth Maul, who battles Qui-Gon until the heroes escape. On Coruscant, Qui-Gon informs the Jedi Council of the mysterious, well-trained attacker. The Council becomes concerned that this may indicate the reappearance of the Sith, a religious order who followed the dark side of the Force. Qui-Gon informs the Council about Anakin, hoping that he can be trained as a Jedi. After testing the boy, the Council refuses, worried that he is too old for training and that the fear and anger that he harbors will cloud his future. Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine of Naboo persuades Amidala to call a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum. The vote removes Valorum from power and leads to Palpatine's nomination for the position, which Amidala considers too late to work. To stop the Federation invasion by herself, the Queen decides to return to Naboo with her security team, the two Jedi, R2-D2, Anakin and Jar Jar.

On Naboo, Padmé reveals herself as Queen Amidala and forms an alliance with the Gungans for the battle against the Trade Federation. The Gungans march into battle to divert the Federation army away from the capital, allowing the others to infiltrate the palace and capture the Viceroy. Once inside the palace hangar, the Jedi free several Naboo pilots, who regain their starfighters and assault the Federation droid ship. As they make their way to the throne room, the infiltration team is confronted by Darth Maul. Qui-Gon and Obi Wan fight Maul, while the others take an alternate route. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan duel with the Sith Lord amongst the catwalks of a massive power-generating reactor core. Obi-Wan is briefly delayed, separating him from Qui-Gon and Maul. Meanwhile, Queen Amidala and her forces fight their way into the palace and capture Nute Gunray. Anakin—inadvertently joining the dogfight in space—destroys the droid-control ship's reactor with proton torpedoes, which deactivates the droid army in the midst of taking Gungan prisoners. In the reactor core, Qui-Gon reengages Darth Maul singlehandedly, but is slain. Obi-Wan catches up and attacks Maul until he is forced over the edge of a deep ventilation shaft. While clinging to the ledge, Obi-Wan uses the Force to make a tremendous vertical leap, flipping over Maul while simultaneously recovering Qui-Gon's lightsaber and slicing the Sith Lord in half. With his final breath, Qui-Gon instructs Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi.

In the aftermath, the newly elected Chancellor Palpatine congratulates Queen Amidala on her victory. Meanwhile, the Jedi Council promotes Obi-Wan to the level of Jedi Knight, and Yoda reluctantly accepts Obi-Wan's request to train Anakin as his padawan. During Qui-Gon's funeral, Mace Windu and Yoda agree that Qui-Gon was killed by the Sith. However, because there are always two Sith at any given time (a master and an apprentice), they believe that another Sith still exists, although which one is uncertain. A large celebration is held on Naboo to celebrate the world's liberation and the newborn alliance between the Naboo and the Gungans.

Spoilers end here.


  • 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.
  • Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Qui-Gon's young Jedi apprentice. He holds Qui-Gon in high regard, but questions his motives at times.
  • Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala. The young queen of Naboo, Amidala hopes to protect her planet from a blockade brought on by the Trade Federation.
  • Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker. A nine-year-old slave boy from Tatooine. He is discovered to have a higher midicholorian count than any Jedi, and is therefore exceptionally gifted in the Force.
  • Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine. The Senator of Naboo, who grows concerned about Naboo's blockade and defends his position in the Senate.
  • Ahmed Best as 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.
  • Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker. Anakin's mother. She is concerned for her son's future, and must let her son leave with the Jedi.
  • Kenny Baker as R2-D2. An astromech droid, notable for saving Queen Amidala's ship when all other droids fail.
  • Ray Park as Darth Maul. A Zabrak Sith apprentice to Darth Sidious who uses a double-bladed lightsaber. His voice was provided by Peter Serafinowicz.
  • Andy Secombe as Watto. A junk dealer on Tatooine who owns Anakin and his mother as slaves.
  • Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. A protocol droid built by Anakin, he lacks a metal covering in this film, which R2-D2 refers to as being "naked".
  • Frank Oz as Yoda. The leader of the Jedi Council, who is apprehensive about allowing Anakin to be trained.
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. A member of the Jedi Council who also opposes the idea of training Anakin.
  • Terence Stamp as Finis Valorum. The current Supreme Chancellor who commissions Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to negotiate with the Trade Federation Viceroy.

More than 3000 young actors auditioned for the role of Anakin Skywalker through North America, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada. They included child actors Michael Angarano, Justin Berfield and Haley Joel Osment.[2] The field narrowed to three actors, all of whom were interviewed by Lucas and then screentested with Natalie Portman.[3]


George Lucas began writing the new Star Wars trilogy on November 1, 1994.[4] The screenplay for The Phantom Menace was adapted from Lucas' 15-page outline that was written in 1976. The early outline was originally designed to help Lucas track the character backstories and what events had taken place before the original trilogy.[4] While the working title for the film was The Beginning,[4] Lucas later revealed the true title to be The Phantom Menace; a title which, in contrast to the more self-explanatory titles of the other films, is ambiguous.

Within three to four months of Lucas beginning the writing process, Doug Chiang and his design team started a two-year process of reviewing thousands of designs for the film.[5] Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard was recruited to create a new Jedi fighting style for the new trilogy. Gillard referred to the lightsaber battles as akin to a chess game "with every move being a check." Because of their short-range weapons, Gillard theorized that the Jedi would have had to develop a fighting style that merged every swordfighting style, such as kendo and samurai, with other swinging techniques, such as tennis and tree-chopping. While training Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, Gillard would write a sequence to be an estimated 60 seconds in length, meant to be among five to six sequences per fight.[6] Lucas later referred to Jedi as being "negotiators", rather than high-casualty soldiers. The preference of hand-to-hand combat was implemented to give a more spiritual and intellectual role to the Jedi.[6]

Filming began June 26, 1997 and ended on September 30, 1997, primarily taking place at Leavesden Studios in England, with additional location shooting in the Tunisian desert for the Tatooine scenes and the Italian palace Palazzo Reale, Caserta for the Theed City Naboo Palace interior. The city of Mos Espa was built in the desert outside Tozeur. The night following the third day of shooting in Tozeur, an unexpected sandstorm destroyed many sets and props. With a quick rescheduling to allow for repairs, production was able to leave Tunisia the exact day it had originally planned to.[7] Nine R2-D2 models were created; seven could run in the sand or on the stage, one was for Kenny Baker to be dropped into, and one was a "pneumatic" R2 that was able to shift from two to three legs. During filming in Tunisia and on sets to replicate the environment, the standard model was prone to skidding off in strange directions and having its motors lock up from the sand. Having confronted similar problems before, Lucas allowed two companies, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and the production's British special effects department, to create their own versions of the perfect R2-D2. The finished product needed to navigate deep sand, light sand and door jambs. ILM's R2-D2 featured two wheelchair motors capable of pushing 440 pounds (or 198 kilograms) of weight. The British effects company produced a new foot and motor drive system, allowing R2 to drive over sand. The ILM version was primarily used on stage sets, whereas the British version was used in Tunisia.[8]

Up until the production of The Phantom Menace, many special effects in the film industry were achieved by the use of miniature models, matte paintings, and on-set visual effects, although other films had made extensive use of computer-generated imagery. Visual effects supervisor John Knoll previewed 3,500 storyboards for the film, with Lucas accompanying him to explain what factors of the shots would be practical and what would be created through visual effects. Knoll later recounted that on hearing the explanations of the storyboards, he was unaware of any way to accomplish what he had seen. The result was to mix original techniques with the newest digital techniques to make it difficult for the viewer to guess which technique was being used. New computer software was written by Knoll and his visual effects team to create certain shots of in the film. 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 actor 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, completing the conversation.[9]

The budget of The Phantom Menace was US$115 million, which, after adjusting for inflation, makes it the most expensive film in the prequel trilogy.

(citation needed) Whereas the other two films in the trilogy were shot on digital video, all but two scenes of this film was shot on 35 mm film.


The Phantom Menace received enormous media-created hype, which made Lucasfilm's $20 million advertising campaign, with the distinctive artwork of Star Wars series artist Drew Struzan gracing the movie poster and other advertising, seem modest and almost unnecessary because of the unprecedented interest amongst both fans and the wider community in the franchises return. Few film studios released films in the same week as the release of The Phantom Menace, among the more couragous were DreamWorks and Universal Studios releasing The Love Letter and Notting Hill, respectively. The Love Letter resulted in a box-office flop, whereas Notting Hill faired rather well and followed The Phantom Menace closely in second place.[10] Challenger, Gray & Christmas of Chicago, a work-issues consulting firm, estimated that 2.2 million full-time employees did not appear for work to see the film, resulting in $293 million in lost productivity. The Wall Street Journal reported that such a larger number of workers announced plans to view premiere screenings that many companies shut down on the premiere day.[11] Many fans began waiting outside cinema theaters as early as a month in advance of ticket sales.[12]

More theater lines appeared when it was announced that the film cinemas were not allowed to sell tickets in advance until two weeks into the release. This was done out of fear that family theater-goers would either be unable to receive tickets or would be forced to pay higher prices. Tickets were instead to be sold on a traditional first-come-first-serve basis.[13] However, after meetings with the National Association of Theater Owners, Lucasfilm agreed to allow advance ticket sales to be allowed on May 12, 1999 provided that there be a 12 ticket limit per one customer.[14] As a result however, some advance tickets were sold by "scalpers" as high as $100 apiece, which a distribution chief called "horrible", stating it was exactly what they wanted to avoid.[15] Daily Variety reported that theater owners received strict instructions from Lucasfilm that the film could only play in the cinema's largest auditiorium for the first 8–12 weeks; no honor passes were allowed for the first eight weeks, and they were obligated to send their payments to distributor 20th Century Fox within seven days.[16]

Servers at the film's official website became gridlocked soon after the release of the first teaser trailer,[17] and many fans of the series paid full admission to see The Waterboy only to leave after the trailer had run. The same tradition followed months later when the theatrical trailer was featured in front of Wing Commander.[18] The theatrical trailer caused even more notable media-hype, because it not only premiered in theaters, but screened at the ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas, and was aired on television on Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood.[19] An unusual marketing scheme was pursued across the United Kingdom, where the teaser trailer was released on December 2, 1998 and then pulled from theaters six weeks later.[20]

{{:wikiavideo:Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) - Open-ended Trailer (e12127)/thumb=1&width=300px&align=right}}

Despite worries about whether the film would be finished in time, two weeks prior to its debut Lucasfilm Ltd. pushed the release date up from May 21, 1999 to May 19. The date marked the 22-year anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars film. At the ShoWest Convention, Lucas stated that the change was to give the fans a "head start" by allowing them to view it over the week and allowing families the chance to view on the weekends. In a nod toward his future with digital technology, Lucas stated that the film would be released on four digital projectors on June 18, 1999.[21] Eleven charity premieres were staged across the United States on May 16, 1999; receivings from the Los Angeles event were given to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation with corporate packages available for $5,000-$25,000.[22] Other charity premieres included the Dallas premiere for Children's Medical Center, the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at the Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, the Big Brother/Sister Assn. of the Philadelphia premiere, and the Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. A statement said that tickets were sold at $500 apiece and that certain sections were set aside for disadvantaged children.[23]


The Phantom Menace received mixed reviews with critics praising the action sequences, the visual effects and special effects and the score. The film has a score of 53% based on 228 reviews with an average score of 5.94/10 on Rotten Tomatoes.[24] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three and a half stars, praising its visual effects and calling it "exhilarating".[25] Some aspects of the scripting were criticized. Much criticism was directed at the character of Jar Jar Binks, who was regarded by many members of the older fan community as a purely merchandising opportunity rather than a serious character in the film.[26] The introduction of midi-chlorians (microscopic organisms that allow communication with the Force) in the film has been controversial. Those against it have seen it as a concept that negates the numinous quality of the Force.[27] On the other hand, many fans and critics agree that the epic fight scene between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul—showcasing astounding choreography and Ray Park's martial arts skills—is a high point, and one of the best lightsaber duels in the entire Star Wars saga.[28]

After the release of the film, there was controversy over whether several alien characters reflected racial stereotypes, notably: the oafish, slow-witted Jar-Jar Binks had long droopy ears reminiscent of dreadlocks and spoke with what many perceived as a Caribbean patois (particularly Jamaican Creole);[29] the greedy and corrupt Neimodians of the Trade Federation spoke with Asian accents; and the unprincipled desert trader Watto fit the caricature of the Semitic peoples. Lucas has categorically denied all of these implications.[30]

The Phantom Menace was 1999's most successful movie, earning more than $431 million in North America and $493 million elsewhere, The worldwide total was some $924 million, making it the second-highest grossing film of all time after its first release. The Phantom Menace ranks 5th on the all-time domestic and all-time worldwide box-office lists and 19th on the all-time domestic list when adjusted for inflation.[31]

Despite failing to live up to immensely high expectations, The Phantom Menace accumulated box office records. Its opening-day earnings were more than $28 million, which was, at the time, the largest single-day gross for a single movie, although it failed to break the opening weekend record, then held by The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was not until the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released that these numbers were greatly superseded.[32] The Phantom Menace went on to pass the $100 million mark in a record five days, breaking the record set by Lost World by 24 hours (the current record has since been reduced to just two days, by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest). Maintaining its rapid income, it reached the $200 million mark in just 13 days, easily beating the previous record held by Independence Day by 7 1/2 days. The film took only 28 days to earn $300 million, beating Titanic's record by a 16-day margin. However, the film never generated a large number of repeat viewers to continue on to all-time top status.[32]

The film was nominated for several academy awards: Ben Burtt and Tom Bellfort received the nomination for Best Sound Effects. John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, and Rob Coleman received the nomination for Best Visual Effects. Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, and John Midgley received the nomination for Best Sound. The Matrix captivated Academy Award voters, and became the first film to beat a Star Wars film for the visual effects Academy Award. In contrast, the film received several Golden Raspberry, or Razzie, nominations. These included Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor (Jake Lloyd), Worst Supporting Actress (Sofia Coppola), Worst Screen Couple (Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman), and won the Worst Supporting Actor category with Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best.[33]

Historical and cultural allusions

Like previous Star Wars films, The Phantom Menace makes several references to both historical events and films that George Lucas viewed in his youth. The Star Wars movies typically mix several selected concepts from different mythologies and religions together.[34]


The horns and tattoos of Darth Maul drew upon depictions of the Devil in Christian mythology.

Although Jedi Knights practice Zen and martial arts, they are also inspired by Samurai warriors. The name "Qui-Gon" paraphrases the term Qigong, which refers to a Chinese discipline involving meditation and martial arts. The words qi and chi are essentially the same term, referring to the energy thought to flow through all living things from the Tao; the Tao is also a description for the Force. These elements derive primarily from Eastern, Southern, and Native American religions and myths.[34]

There are many Christian and biblical references in the film, such as the appearance of Darth Maul. Maul's design draws heavily from traditional depictions of the Judeo-Christian Devil, complete with red skin and horns.[34] The Star Wars film cycle features a similar religious narrative involving Anakin, a messiah born of a virgin who is tempted to join the Sith—his sworn enemy— in order to save the life of Padmé, his secret wife. This action seemingly prevents him from fulfilling his duty as the "The Chosen One"— the individual prophecized to destroy the Sith. The inspiration behind the story of the "virgin birth" parallels a concept developed by Joseph Campbell and his work on The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the same work that heavily influenced Lucas in his writing of the original Star Wars trilogy.[34]

A possible allusion to World War II occurs during the Tatooine scenes of the film. Obi-Wan receives a radio broadcast from Naboo pleading for help. He warns the Queen and Captain Panaka not to reply to this message, never realizing that the Queen is an imposter. However, someone on the ship breaks radio silence, enabling Darth Maul to trace it. The person who sends this transmission is not seen nor heard, and is never revealed. This may be a direct reference to the highly elaborate and secretive radio interception and decryption services employed by both England and Germany during the North Africa campaign and elsewhere.[35]

While Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress was a source of inspiration for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, The Phantom Menace's middle section on Tatooine—with its series of non-violent bargaining and twists of chance—demonstrates the strongest correspondence to Japanese film in the saga. Queen Amidala's escape from an invading enemy and her posing as a handmaiden while visiting the lower classes on Tatooine also echo Kurosawa's film; the handmaiden is part of the film's emphasis on social consciousness.[36]

References to the original trilogy

The films of the prequel trilogy feature events, dialogue and brief references that echo the original trilogy. Lucas has referred to the Star Wars saga as a poem that rhymes.[37] The most well-known of these references is the phrase "I have a bad feeling about this." The phrase is stated by at least one character in each movie. It is one of the first lines in the film and is chronologically the first line spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the films.

The Phantom Menace's references are directed more towards A New Hope than any other film in the series. One such reference is born through the title itself; The Phantom Menace follows the same three-word formula seen previously only in A New Hope. Another example is located in the film itself; Nute Gunray can be seen shouting the line "Close the blast doors!", which resembles "Open the blast doors!", a line used by an Imperial stormtrooper in A New Hope. Additionally, both Anakin in The Phantom Menace, and his son Luke in A New Hope, manage to destroy an enemy battle station against overwhelming odds.


The soundtrack for the film was released by Sony Classical on May 4, 1999. As with previous Star Wars installments, the music was composed and conducted by John Williams. He began recording the score with the London Voices and London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios on February 10, 1999. A two-disk "Ultimate Edition" was released on November 14, 2000. The set features almost the entire score as it is heard in the film. While the original soundtrack released featured only 17 tracks, the Ultimate Edition featured 68 tracks. The original soundtrack condensed the number of tracks by allowing multiple songs to play per most tracks.

The popular track "Duel of the Fates" is one of the few chorus pieces in Star Wars music. The chorus was introduced to give a religious, temple-like feel to the epic lightsaber duel. The theme was later put to a music video that is available on the DVD.[38]

DVD release

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released on DVD in 2001. It was the first Star Wars film to be officially released on DVD. The DVD version of the film had certain scenes and other elements edited and inserted by George Lucas, making it slightly different from its theatrical release while retaining an identical plot. Some scenes were modified, and some that were unfinished by the date of release were added to the film.

The DVD features a commentary track by writer-director George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, editor Ben Burtt, animation director Rob Coleman, and visual effects supervisors John Knoll, Dennis Muren, and Scott Squires. It includes seven deleted scenes completed specifically for the DVD, and The Beginning: Making Episode I, an hour-long documentary film drawn from more than 600 hours of footage, including an insider's look at Lucasfilm and ILM during the production. The viewer can access a multi-angle storyboard-to-animatic-to-film segment featuring the submarine and podrace lap 1 sequences. The DVD includes two documentary sources, five featurettes exploring the storyline, design, costumes, visual effects, and fight sequences in the film, and an award-winning twelve-part web documentary series chronicling the production. A Duel of the Fates music video featuring John Williams was produced for the DVD, as well. The final special features included are a never-before-seen production photo gallery with a special caption feature, theatrical posters and print campaigns from around the world, a theatrical teaser and launch trailers, seven TV spots, Star Wars: Starfighter - The Making of a Game featurette from LucasArts, and a DVD-ROM weblink to exclusive Star Wars content.

Star Wars Episodes

Prequel Trilogy:
I: The Phantom Menace | II: Attack of the Clones | III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Original Trilogy
IV: A New Hope | V: The Empire Strikes Back | VI: Return of the Jedi


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