Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace 23rd anniversary prequel release

After 16 years of hiatus, he returned in 1999 Star Wars with the trilogy prequel. For its 23rd anniversary we remember together Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Star Wars remains one of the most popular film sagas: it began in 1977 with Star Warsor Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hopehas enchanted several generations since the first chapter.

The saga, as we know, does not follow the chronological order of events: in the seventies and eighties the original trilogyin the 1990s and 2000s prequel trilogy and in the 10s of the 2000s the sequel trilogy. All with the addition of single films and TV series, which tell the stories that happened between the various trilogies.

The original trilogy was an instant success: George Lucas revolutionized the concept of science fiction in cinema, creating a space opera, appreciated all over the world. The innovations in history and production (primarily the special effects) made it Star Wars a worldwide phenomenon.

George Lucas on the set of Star Wars with C-3PO
George Lucas on the set of Star Wars with C-3PO
Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor
Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

At first Lucas wanted to tell the story of Anakin Skywalkerbut then dismissed the idea, creating a protagonist with humble origins, aka Luke Skywalker. The trilogy was conceived as self-contained, for budget reasons and because he was afraid that the work would not achieve the desired success.

But the fears of Lucas were unfounded: Star Wars it was a great success all over the world, creating legions of fans. He then resumed some of his scripts, in which he outlined a prequel story, precisely on the character of Anakin.

And so, here we are: May 19, 1999 Star Wars returns to the cinema, after 16 years since Return of the Jedi and 22 years from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (directed by George Lucas), with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

Ray Park in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Ray Park in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

The film is set 32 ​​years before Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and follows the story of the master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi. The two are sent to negotiate with the Trade Federation, but Darth Sidious, Lord of the Sith, orders them to be killed. The two Jedi manage to escape, saving the life of a Jar Jar Binks, inhabitant of the planet Naboo. The trio manages to rescue the queen of Naboo, Padmé, but their spaceship is damaged and they find refuge in Tatooine. Here, they meet the little one Anakin Skywalkerin which Qui-Gon detects a strong presence of the Force.
Little Anakin is considered the Chosen One by Jedi prophecy, the one who will be able to restore balance to the Force.

George Lucas, initially disheartened by the divorce with his wife, he had decided to give up the project linked to the saga of Star Wars. But, towards the nineties, the comics based on the saga regained popularity and Lucas he became convinced that there was still room for his stories.
He centered the whole story on the character of Anakin Skywalkertracing its origins, up to Darth Vader. He worked on the script he had begun years earlier, developing the barely 15 pages he had written. He also changed the title: initially it had to be The Beginningwhich later became The phantom menacewith the obvious reference to the character of Palpatine.

In the late 1990s there was a huge leap forward in the field of visual effects and CGI and this allowed Lucas to make the story even more “spectacular”.
Initially, Lucas proposed directing to Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg And Robert Zemeckisbut after all the rejection of all three, he decided to return to directing his creation.

Watto in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Watto in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

The cast, like that of the seventies, included several stars, such as Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid and of course the little one Jake Lloydin the role of Anakin as a child (then went to Hayden Christensenfor the adult version).

Among the locations used for this first chapter of the prequel trilogy, we find the Tunisian desert for Tatooine, but also some Italian locations: the Royal Palace of Casertain fact, it was used as a set for the interior of the royal palace of Naboo.

The soundtrack, as for the previous chapters, is by John Williamswho signs one of his most important songs for the saga, that is Duel of the Fateswhich serves as the musical backdrop for the combat between Qui-Gon Jin And Darth Maul.

Despite the great expectation of fans, for the return of Star Wars at the cinema, the film somewhat disappointed expectations.

On the one hand, we have some narrative choices that have remained indigestible to most of the audience, such as the endless scenes in the Senate or that of the podrace, but above all the character of Jar Jar Binksdesigned to give a comic streak to the film.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
A scene from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson

Moreover, at the level of the script, The phantom menace it is almost like a long prologue, which says almost nothing about the story that will be presented in the other two chapters.
Not to mention the introduction of the midi-chlorianmicroscopic organisms that mediate the use of force: the narrative device did not please the fans very much, who saw a discrepancy with the concept of Force, given up to that moment.

But one of the biggest controversies was that related to the massive use of special effects and CGI, even in scenes that did not require it. The excessive use makes the film a little too “fake” in some scenes, even comparing it to the original trilogy, despite a huge gap in technological progress. More than anything else, the immense use of digitization makes some scenes too cold and artificial.

Despite the obvious flaws, in recent years (even in comparison to the sequel trilogynot really appreciated by fans), a process of re-evaluating de The phantom menace.

In the film several things are saved, especially in the construction of some characters, such as Darth Maul, Darth Sidious it’s the same Obi-Wan Kenobistill represented in his youthful form (and which we will soon see in a series dedicated to him, coming out on Disney +).

The phantom menace also has the merit of having brought a large slice of the public back to the cinema, ready to see the saga again on the big screen Star Wars.

The film, as mentioned, was not exactly received positively, but it is only the introduction to one prequel trilogy that yes, it caused discussion, but that it represented a new form of cinema in the digital age. And who also introduced one of the most beautiful films of the entire saga, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sithexploring the nature of Anakin Skywalkerof his descent into the dark side and his redemption, already seen in the original trilogy.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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