13 Reasons Why The Phantom Menace is a Great Star Wars Movie
While The Phantom Menace was one of the hottest movies of 1999, people and even fans have soured on Episode I over the years, mostly blaming Jar Jar Binks for their dislike of the movie. But I believe the film will stand the test of time and will continue to be rewatched over and over again. My children loved watching it while growing up and I believe future generations will discover it as they grow up and watch it with fresh eyes and enjoy it too. Us old timers will pass on and young kids will continue to fall in love with The Phantom Menace as the years roll on.
As this year is the 20th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I decided to write down a few things, 13 of them in fact, that I like about The Phantom Menace. This movie lays a lot of groundwork for the Star Wars Skywalker Saga and introduces characters, organizations, and the Force that we will revisit over and over again throughout the course of the next 10 films.
One of the best things about The Phantom Menace (and the Prequel Trilogy as a whole), is that we get to see the Jedi in action! Although labeled as “keepers of the peace”, they sure spend a lot of time using their lightsabers. But we get to see them wield lightsabers and use their Force powers to overcome their enemies and reach their objectives. One of the first scenes in the film is Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in action against the Trade Federation battle droids. They are proficient with their lightsabers and use the Force to their advantage.
We get to see the Jedi Council with Yoda, Mace, and others. We see how they govern, make decisions, and dispense advice. There are a lot of intriguing aliens on the Jedi Council, it’s definitely a different perspective than all human leadership.
We even get to see a little of the Jedi Padawan testing as Yoda and Mace Windu test Anakin to see if he can use the Force with some type of mastery. We also get mention of the Jedi Trials and confirmation that they exist, but still no other information on what they are or when they would take place.
We see the Jedi Temple where they live and train. We are also introduced to a distinction of skill levels with the Jedi, with levels of Jedi Master,Jedi Knight, and Padawan Learner. The Jedi Temple is a large building with presumably a lot of Jedi living there. We learn that Jedi normally start out young, with Yoda’s statement that nine year old Anakin is too old. (It is later fleshed out in the The Clone Wars animated series that Force sensitive children are identified within the first year or two of their lives and are taken to the Jedi Temple for training.) In this film we only see the Jedi Council room and the Jedi Masters that make up the Council, as well as a side balcony that Qui-Got and Obi-Wan have a conversation on for a minute or two.
One of the first groups we are introduced to is the Trade Federation. They have a lot of power and are involved in the Senate and apparently can help make Galactic policy. They are lead by the alien race, the Neimodians, and have a battle droid army that they use without thought to control planets and systems to get what they want.
The mythological Jedi are keepers of the peace with laser swords and have a mastery of the Force. They can act outside of the law and have their own agendas. They are not beholden to the Galactic Senate.
We get our first look at the grandeur of the Republic Senate and just how many planets and organizations are represented in the Republic. We see Wookiee’s, Neimodian’s, humans, Rodians, and even ET’s! Due to the massive amount of representatives in the Senate, there is a lot of corruption and bureaucracy that must be overcome in every decision that is made.
We are introduced to the Sith, the enemies of the Jedi, and the doctrine of the Rule of Two. As Yoda states, Always two there are, no more no less, A Master and an apprentice. We get to watch Darth Sidious, the master, and his apprentice, Darth Maul, try to outmaneuver and best the Senate and the Jedi throughout this film.
An interesting dynamic is presented throughout this film, the concept of symbiosis and balance. We see it with the Jedi and Sith and also with the Naboo governments- the Gungans and the humans. One of the overarching stories of the film is how the Naboo were separate and throughout the film are brought together and work together to defeat the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo. The Gungans and the Naboo humans thought poorly of each other before this and after the invasion came together to create a Peace that benefitted both societies.
We get to see different planets that appear in Episode I that we also visit throughout this Prequel trilogy of Episode I, II, and III..
Naboo the home planet of Queen Amidala and Senator Palpatine. It is a lush, paradisical planet. We also see the metropolitan planet of Coruscant which is the metropolitan center of the galaxy, where the Senate and other major organizations have their headquarters. While the idea of this planet was conceived of by George Lucas in drafts of Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t until the Thrawn Trilogy of books in the 1990’s written by Timothy Zahn, that the planet was named Coruscant. This name and planet first debuted in the 1997 Special Edition of The Return of the Jedi and then more fully explored in The Phantom Menace and the Prequel trilogy.
We get to visit the desert planet of Tatooine, which while some claim that it is the furthest point from the bright center of the Universe, it ends up playing a central role in the Star Wars Saga.
The Force is Introduced
We see various uses as well as different powers of The Force that are used by the Jedi, and the Sith. As Qui-Gon Jinn teaches his padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, we are also taught of the different uses of the Force. We are introduced to the concept of midichlorians, a vergence of the Force, and the Prophesy of the Chosen One. We learn that there are not only a Dark Side and Light Side of the Force, but also a Living Force and a Cosmic Force ( that is later explored in The Clone Wars).
These concepts are mentioned throughout the Star Wars Saga, but unfortunately never fully explained. We do see how The Force is used by the Jedi and Sith throughout the Saga, things such as using the The Force to push things, pull things towards you, jump higher, run faster, use the Force to help someone relax or fall asleep, and to use the Force to mentally trick someone to do what you wish them to do.
Darth Sidious’ Machinations
One of the greatest villains of all time, maybe only surpassed by his future apprentice, Darth Vader. But truly, Sidious creates a conflict and seizes control of the biggest, most powerful organization in the galaxy - The Senate. He plays one side against the other so well, that the Jedi, Senate, and others don’t know what has happened until it’s over. Darth Sidious IS The Phantom Menace.
Trade Federation and their Droid Army
The Trade Federation are the bad guys, but are they really? They just want to get paid for their services. But I do find it interesting that they have a droid army prepped and ready to go. This army is solely theirs and they command it. It would stand to reason that there have been trade disputes on other planets in the past, and this is why they have an army. This allows them to protect their organization and their interests. Also it’s possible that trade disputes may be common as the Senate doesn’t seem to think much of Naboo’s conflict and are willing to let things play out despite the invasion of Naboo by the Trade Federation.
R2 and C3PO Meet for the First Time
While you wouldn’t guess it in this film, R2-D2 and C-3PO, are major players in the Star Wars Saga and this is the film where they meet for the first time. There is some foreshadowing while they are together, so if you pay attention you’ll see it play out later on in the Saga.
The ultimate Sith Lord and a fan favorite. We are introduced to Darth Maul and his abilities about halfway through the film as he confronts Qui-Gon Jinn on Tatooine. The Jedi are able to escape and we, the audience, are left wanting more, and we definitely get more at the end of the film. Darth Maul epitomizes everything we would imagine an ultimate warrior to be. He’s quick, agile, ruthless, ferocious, and has amazing lightsaber skills. Whatever your opinion of The Phantom Menace, I would bet that you thoroughly enjoyed it when Darth Maul was on screen. Watch The Clone Wars for more info on Darth Maul and where he came from - and more.
Anakin and Padme Meet and Have Their First Adventure
Anakin is nine years old and Padme is twelve years old when they first meet. If you look at the numbers, it is definitely weird. However, we all know once we hit adulthood, age difference isn’t that big of a deal. The Phantom Menace is a good time period for these two to establish a friendship that can be rekindled later on in life (which we see in the next film Attack of the Clones). Anakin is infatuated with Padme, as she’s a beautiful Queen from another world, which fascinates him. This leads him to drop the ultimate pickup line in Star Wars, “Are you an angel?”
Anakin invites Padme, Qui-Gon, and Jar Jar to his home to meet his mother. Anakin and Padme form a connection as he shows her around his room and they talk.
Unfortunately for Anakin, Padme just sees him as this cute little boy, which he is at this point.
We get to see Anakin help Padme get off Tatooine by winning the podrace and he accompanies her and the Jedi to Coruscant. He gives her the japoor snippet as something to remember her by as they share a sweet moment on the Naboo starship on their way to Coruscant. They further cement their relationship when upon returning to Naboo, Anakin is involved in the Battle of Naboo and plays a key role in freeing the Naboo from the Trade Federation. He is hailed as a hero and Padme is impressed with this cute little boy from Tatooine who is to be trained as a Jedi.
The podrace is one of the most exciting events of the film and is something we don’t really see in Star Wars again. Anakin enters the podrace to try and help his new friends get the hyperdrive part they need for their starship. He is one of the best pilots in the outer rim, thanks to his Force sensitivity, and as a result he has been able to challenge the best podracers in the past. We get to see Anakin put these piloting skills on full display as he overcomes several challenging situations to eventually defeat his rival Sebulba and win the Boonta Eve podrace.
Aside from the dramatic story, we get to see some amazing visuals and sound design as they podrace through the landscape of Tatooine. We are exposed to Jawa’s, Tusken Raider’s and we even get to see Beggar’s Canyon.
Anakin and His Mother Say Goodbye
As Anakin gets ready to leave Tatooine and accompany the Jedi to Coruscant so he can train to be a Jedi himself, upon parting his mother, Shmi Skywalker, tells Anakin to be brave and don’t look back. This is one the most emotional moments of The Phantom Menace and a moment that drives the rest of the Prequel trilogy. As Anakin leaves his mother, he isn’t sure if it’s the right thing, but he wants to do it. This emotional attachment to his mother is a hard thing for him to let go, and he never really does let go.
Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi Meet for the First Time
A momentous meeting that impacts the rest of the galaxy. Anakin is a 9 year old boy and Obi-Wan is just a Jedi Padawan learning the ways of the Force and the Jedi. Anakin is excited to meet another, younger Jedi, while Obi-Wan sees him as another Jar Jar Binks - another pet project of Qui Gon Jinn. They don’t interact much in the film as Qui Gon takes him under his wing and tries to teach Anakin as they move through the story. At the end of the film, Obi-Wan feels a loyalty to Qui-Gon and his dying words to “train the boy” as he is “the Chosen One”.
The Final Battle
The film culminates in the climactic Battle of Naboo where we get two separate ground battles, a space battle, and a 2 on 1 lightsaber duel! There’s a lot going on in the last part of this film. Queen Amidala and the Jedi come up with a plan to overthrow the Trade Federation by creating a diversion on the plains of Naboo with an army of Gungans, which draws out the battle droid army from the city of Theed. Once this happens, pilots sneak into the hangar and take off to attack the droid control ship above the planet. If they can destroy the control ship, this will power down and neutralize the droids.
During this covert operation, Darth Maul appears to stop them. The Jedi separate from the main group for a 2 on 1 lightsaber duel. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are literally pushed to the brink as they struggle to defeat the Sith Lord, Darth Maul. Qui-Gon is mortally wounded in the fight, but Ob-Wan is able to defeat Darth Maul.
Queen Amidala and her group continue on battling droids through the halls of the palace to eventually capture the Viceroy of the Trade Federation and claim victory.
Jar Jar Binks
Yes, Jar Jar Binks. He’s comedic relief for a movie for kids starring a 9 year old protagonist. I first saw Star Wars in theaters at age 4 maybe 5 years old. Star Wars movies have always had a juvenile, comedic element to them. Jar Jar Binks is that for this movie. Kids think he’s funny, and as I get older - so do I. Not sure what that means...
The Phantom Menace soundtrack by John Williams is exquisite and one of the best of the Star Wars Saga. The Duel of the Fates track is on par with The Imperial March and other great Star Wars music. John Williams shines even more with the music in this film. As Star Wars music fans, we also get treated to the only Ultimate Soundtrack release in the whole Saga. The Ultimate Soundtrack is like listening to the music from the film from the beginning to end credits.
The Phantom Menace in 3-D
In February 2012, The Phantom Menace was released in theaters once again but in 3-D. The film was only in theaters for about a couple of months, but it was fun to revisit the film in the new format and experience in a new way