Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

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Anakin Skywalker, a young slave strong with the Force, is discovered on Tatooine. Meanwhile, the evil Sith have returned, enacting their plot for revenge against the Jedi.

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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Star Wars: Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Phantom Menace

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Star Wars : Episode I The Phantom Menace

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This article details a subject that is considered canon.

Star Wars : Episode I The Phantom Menace is a 1999 film written and directed by George Lucas , produced by Rick McCallum and starring Liam Neeson , Ewan McGregor , Natalie Portman , Jake Lloyd , and Ian McDiarmid . It is the first chapter of the Star Wars prequel trilogy , the fourth theatrical Star Wars release overall, and chronologically the first film in the Star Wars saga .

The Phantom Menace was released in theaters on May 19 , 1999, becoming the first Star Wars film since Star Wars : Episode VI Return of the Jedi , which was released sixteen years earlier. The release was accompanied by extensive media coverage and great fan anticipation. Despite mixed reviews from critics and fans, the film grossed $924.3 million worldwide, making it the second-highest-grossing Star Wars film when unadjusted for inflation. It was re-released on Blu-ray in September 2011 , and was re-released in theaters in 3D on February 10 , 2012 .

The film was the catalyst for fifteen years of Star Wars storytelling that would primarily take place around the time of the prequel storyline. The success of the film allowed for the next two chapters of the prequel trilogy, as well as the Star Wars: The Clone Wars film and television series .

  • 1 Opening crawl
  • 2 Plot summary
  • 3 Development
  • 4.1.1 Soundtrack
  • 4.1.2 Novelization
  • 4.2 Home video
  • 4.3 3D re-release
  • 5 Reception
  • 6 Deleted scenes
  • 7.1 Minature Construction and Photography Unit
  • 7.2 Special Effects Pyrotechnics Crew
  • 7.3 Second Unit
  • 7.4 Tunisia Shoot
  • 7.5 Italy Shoot
  • 8 Appearances
  • 10 Notes and references
  • 11 External links

Opening crawl [ ]

Plot summary [ ].


Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan prepare to fight their way out of the Trade Federation flagship.

Thirty-two years before the events of Star Wars : Episode IV A New Hope (thirteen years before the formation of the Galactic Empire), there is a trade dispute between the Trade Federation and the outlying systems of the Galactic Republic , which has led to a blockade of the Mid-Rim planet of Naboo . Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum , leader of the Galactic Senate , has secretly dispatched two Jedi , Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan , Obi-Wan Kenobi , to serve as "the ambassadors" to the Federation flagship , in order to meet with Viceroy Nute Gunray and resolve the dispute. Unknown to them, the Trade Federation is in league with the mysterious Darth Sidious , Dark Lord of the Sith , who secretly orders Gunray to invade Naboo and kill the two Jedi upon their arrival. When Gunray asked if that would be legal, Sidious says that he would ensure that it was.

The Viceroy locks the Jedi in the meeting room and attempts to kill them with poison gas while having their ship, the Radiant VII , destroyed in the hangar, but they escape. After battling through squads of battle droids, Jinn and Kenobi make their way to the command deck where Gunray is located, shielding himself behind blast doors . The Jedi are forced to flee upon the arrival of two Destroyer Droids and stow away aboard two separate Federation landing craft leaving for the surface of Naboo to begin the invasion.

Back in the command deck, Queen Amidala contacts Gunray to express her disapproval of their blockade, with Gunray explaining that they wouldn't have done it without the approval of the Senate. When she asks about the ambassadors sent by the Chancellor, Gunray claims that they have received no such ambassadors, leaving Amidala startled and suspicious. Gunray ends communications with her and informs his aide that they should disable all communications on the planet.

Meanwhile, Amidala is conversing with Senator Sheev Palpatine regarding the recent attempt at negotiations and how Gunray claimed that they did not receive any ambassadors. Surprised, Palpatine states that he had assurances from the Chancellor that his ambassadors did arrive. However, Palpatine is unable to finish his sentence as his hologram flickers out. Naboo Governor Sio Bibble suspects that an interruption of communications is a sign that an invasion from the Trade Federation is imminent.

TPM Cast

The Jedi liberate the queen and her guards from the battle-droid invasion.

On the planet's surface, Qui-Gon saves native outcast Jar Jar Binks from being crushed by a Trade Federation MTT . Kenobi appears, pursued by STAPs , which are destroyed by Qui-Gon. Jar Jar Binks shows the two Jedi the way to an underwater Gungan settlement, Otoh Gunga . Meanwhile, the Trade Federation occupies Theed , the capital city of Naboo, and captures Queen Amidala along with the rest of the government. In Otoh Gunga, the Jedi meet the Gungan leader, Boss Nass , and ask him to help the people of Naboo, but Nass refuses due to hate of the people of Naboo and sends them off in a bongo submarine . They are attacked by an opee sea killer and a colo claw fish but both fish are eaten by a sando aqua monster . The Jedi, with Binks in tow, arrive in Theed and rescue Queen Amidala. They depart for Coruscant , the Galactic Republic's capital planet, to ask for help from the Senate. As they attempt to run the blockade, the queen's starship is damaged by Federation battleships , but an astromech droid named R2-D2 manages to repair it and they narrowly escape.

Due to the damage to the ship's hyperdrive sustained in the attack, the Jedi decide to land on the nearby planet Tatooine for repairs. While searching for a new hyperdrive generator, they befriend young Anakin Skywalker , a slave boy, whose master is Watto , a Toydarian junk dealer. Watto has the required parts in stock, but Qui-Gon is unable to purchase them, as Republic credits are worthless on Tatooine.

Anakin Pod

Anakin races ahead of Sebulba during the Boonta Eve Podrace.

Anakin is gifted with piloting and mechanical abilities, and has built an almost-complete droid named C-3PO . Qui-Gon senses a strong presence of the Force in Anakin, and feels that he may be the Chosen One —the one who will fulfil a prophecy by bringing balance to the Force. By entering Anakin into a podrace , Qui-Gon orchestrates a gamble with Watto's chance cube in which " fate " decided that the boy (alone, since Qui-Gon was unable to include the youth's mother in the bargain) will be released from slavery while also acquiring the parts needed for their ship. The night before the race, Qui-Gon does a blood test on Anakin and discovers that the boy's midi-chlorian reading is off the chart.

Anakin wins the race (defeating his rival, Sebulba ) and joins the team as they prepare to leave for Coruscant, where Qui-Gon plans to seek permission from the Jedi High Council to train Anakin to be a Jedi. Meanwhile, Darth Sidious sends his apprentice, Darth Maul , to kill the two Jedi and capture the queen. Maul appears just as the group is leaving the planet, and duels with Qui-Gon. The fight is cut short when Qui-Gon escapes his black-robed assailant by jumping on board the Naboo Royal Starship as it takes off.


Amidala and Palpatine plead before the Senate to intervene with Naboo's crisis.

On Coruscant, Qui-Gon informs the Jedi Council of the mysterious attacker he encountered on Tatooine, coming to the conclusion that his attacker is a Sith , the latter being a religious order who were followers of the dark side of the Force and thought to have been extinct for over a millennium, much to the shock of the Jedi Council. Qui-Gon also informs the Council about Anakin, hoping that he can be trained as a Jedi. After testing the boy and deliberating with one another, the Council refuses, deeming him too old for training according to the Jedi Code . They are also concerned that they sense much fear in the boy, and that he has a clouded future.

Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine meets with Queen Amidala to warn of corruption in the Senate and advises that she may have to call for a Vote of No Confidence in Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum. When their petition to the Senate is refused, Amidala sees no alternative but to do just that. Palpatine is among the candidates to become the new Supreme Chancellor. The queen later announces to Palpatine that she will return to their home planet to repel the invasion of her people by herself. She is frustrated by the Senate's deliberation and lack of action, and feels that even if Palpatine is elected Chancellor, it will be too late. The Jedi Council sends the two Jedi to accompany the queen back to Naboo, hoping to shed light on any Sith involvement.

Nass on Sacred Place

Boss Nass at the Gungan Sacred Place

Amidala, back on Naboo, attempts to locate the Gungans at Otoh Gunga, but Jar-Jar, after searching the city, informs them that it has been abandoned. He then leads them to the Gungan Sacred Place , where he is certain the Gungans will be . The Gungans are initially distrustful, until the "handmaiden" Padmé reveals herself as the true queen and humbly begs for their help. She negotiates with Boss Nass to form an alliance and unite their peoples in battle against the Trade Federation. Captain Panaka and several other security forces were also dispatched to rescue anyone imprisoned in the Trade Federation's prison camps, although they were only able to successfully extract a handful.

Next, Amidala informs Qui-Gon and Nass of her battle strategy: with the Grand Gungan Army acting as a distraction to the bulk of the main Trade Federation forces, the Naboo resistance led by herself, Captain Panaka and the Jedi will infiltrate Theed via a secret entrance located inside one of the waterfalls. Nute Gunray, hearing reports of the Grand Army's assembly, informs Darth Sidious; Sidious orders Gunray to wipe out both the Gungans and the Naboo as the Trade Federation prepares for battle.

Captain Roos Tarpals orders the Gungan Grand Army to activate their shield , which protects them from ranged attack. OOM-9 has his tanks fire first, but seeing them fail to penetrate the powerful shield, orders them to cease fire. Daultay Dofine gives the command to activate the battle droids. These droids march through the shield and open fire on the Grand Army, soon destroying the shield generator. As the tanks cause heavy casualties among the Gungans, defeat for the alliance seems imminent.

However, victory comes when young Anakin Skywalker accidentally takes control of an N-1 starfighter and goes on to destroy the Federation's Droid Control Ship from the inside, killing Daultay Dofine and rendering the droid army useless. Meanwhile, Amidala and her force fight their way back into the royal palace and capture Nute Gunray.


Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fight Darth Maul during the Battle of Naboo.

At the same time, in a Theed hangar bay , Darth Maul engages in combat with the two Jedi, using his double-bladed lightsaber . The battle moves from the hangar, across a series of catwalks, to the Theed Generator Complex. During the fight, Obi-Wan is separated from his master by being kicked off of a catwalk. He grabs the edge of another catwalk below and jumps back up to where Qui-Gon and Maul continue to fight. By this time, Qui-Gon and Maul have become separated by a force field in the entrance to the Generator Room. Obi-Wan catches up to them, but is divided from his master by four force fields. When the force fields deactivate, Jinn and Maul continue their battle while Kenobi remains divided from the battle by one force field when they all reactivate.

After a lengthy duel, Maul suddenly stuns Qui-Gon by hitting him on the chin with his lightsaber handle, then rams his blade straight into Qui-Gon's torso, mortally wounding him. Devastated and angered, Obi-Wan redoubles his assault upon Maul and chops the Sith's lightsaber in half, but Maul eventually overpowers and nearly kills Kenobi by Force pushing him over the edge of a seemingly bottomless reactor shaft. Obi-Wan saves himself from falling when he manages to grab onto a pipe protruding from the wall of the shaft. Maul kicks the Jedi's lightsaber into the pit and prepares to finish him off. After Obi-Wan calms himself, he uses the Force to leap out of the shaft and over Maul's head while summoning his fallen master's lightsaber to his hand. He lands behind the surprised Maul and cuts him in half; Maul's upper and lower body fall into the shaft.

Obi-Wan reaches Qui-Gon moments before he dies, as Qui-Gon instructs Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi, reiterating that Anakin is the Chosen One. Obi-Wan gives his word that he will. Qui-Gon dies, leading to Obi-Wan to grieve for his deceased master. The newly elected Chancellor Palpatine arrives to congratulate Queen Amidala on her victory, as Nute Gunray is sent to stand trial for his crimes.

Naboo celebration

The Gungans and the Naboo celebrate their victory.

Later, in a room in the queen's palace, Yoda confers upon Obi-Wan the rank of Jedi Knight. Kenobi argues with Yoda about his promise to Qui-Gon regarding Anakin's training. Yoda is convinced it is dangerous to train the boy, but tells Kenobi the Jedi Council has allowed Skywalker to become Kenobi's apprentice. Later that evening, in a temple in Theed, Qui-Gon's body is cremated , and Mace Windu and Yoda agree that the Sith are definitely to blame for the tragedy. As there are only ever two Sith at any given time (a Master and an apprentice), both Masters believe that one must still remain.

The Naboo and Gungans organize a great victory celebration on the streets of Theed, in front on the palace. Obi-Wan and Anakin are present, the younger now wearing formal Jedi attire, and in his hair is a special braid : the mark of a Jedi Padawan. The film ends with Queen Amidala presenting a gift of appreciation and friendship to Boss Nass and the Gungan people.

Development [ ]

Along the lines of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles , all three prequel films were originally intended to be written and shot as one large production, and released back to back. [4] The first draft of the script was begun November 1994 . [5]

The role of director was offered to Steven Spielberg , Ron Howard , and Robert Zemeckis. According to Howard, Lucas didn't necessarily want to direct Episode I. He further commented that all three directors turned down the position as the film was Lucas's "baby." [6] The budget of Menace was estimated $115 million. Shooting took place from June 26 to September 30 , 1997 . As with Star Wars : Episode IV A New Hope , Episode I's main exterior filming locations were in Tunisia . The podrace was filmed in a canyon near Sidi Bouhlel and Oung Jmel . A set was built near Oung Jmel to represent Mos Espa on Tatooine. The Slave Quarters Row were filmed in ksour's near Tataouine and Ksar Medenine . Small parts were filmed in Royal Caserta Palace in Italy and Whippendell Woods in the United Kingdom , but Hever Castle was later cut. Studio work was mainly done at Leavesden Studios in the United Kingdom. [7]

Unlike the latter two films in the series which were shot on digital video , most of this film was shot in 35 mm, with a few scenes shot in digital video. [5]

This episode was also the first of the saga to be referred to primarily by its number ( Episode One ) by media and fans, in contrast to the original trilogy the public already knew. [ source? ]

Release [ ]


One of the most popular marketing posters for the film

The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars film in 16 years. As a result, there was almost unprecedented interest amongst both fans and the wider public in the revival of the franchise. The film 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. Few film studios released films during the same week as the release of The Phantom Menace ; among the more courageous were DreamWorks and Universal Studios , with the releases of The Love Letter and Notting Hill respectively. The Love Letter was a box-office flop, whereas Notting Hill fared rather well and followed The Phantom Menace closely in second place. [8] Challenger, Grey & Christmas of Chicago, a work-issues consulting firm, estimated that 2.2 million full-time employees did not appear for work to attend the film, resulting in $293 million in lost productivity. The Wall Street Journal reported that such a large number of workers announced plans to view premiere screenings that many companies shut down on the premiere day. [9] Many fans began waiting outside cinema theaters as early as a month in advance of ticket sales. [10]

More theatre lines appeared when it was announced that cinemas were not allowed to sell tickets in advance until two weeks into the release. This was done out of fear that family theatre-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. [11] However, after meetings with the National Association of Theatre Owners , Lucasfilm agreed to allow advance ticket sales on May 12 , 1999 , provided that there be a 12-ticket limit per customer. [12] 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. [13] Daily Variety reported that theatre owners received strict instructions from Lucasfilm that the film could only play in the cinema's largest auditorium 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. [14] Servers at the film's official website became gridlocked soon after the release of the first teaser trailer , [15] and many fans of the series paid full admission to see Meet Joe Black 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 . [16] 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 . [17] 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. [18]

Despite worries about whether the film would be finished in time, two weeks prior to its debut Lucasfilm pushed the release date up from May 21 to May 19 of 1999. 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. [19] Eleven charity premieres were staged across the United States on May 16 , 1999; proceeds from the Los Angeles event were given to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation with corporate packages available for $5,000–$25,000. [20] 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 Centre in Washington D.C. A statement said that tickets were sold at $500 apiece and that certain sections were set aside for disadvantaged children. [21]

Merchandise [ ]

Soundtrack [ ].

Two separate soundtracks were released for The Phantom Menace . One, a traditional soundtrack, contained seventeen tracks of selections from the score. The second, an Ultimate Collector's Edition Soundtrack, compiled the score as it was presented in the film (with several minor alterations) in sixty-eight tracks.

Major musical themes and leitmotifs were introduced in the film, including the droid march , " Duel of the Fates ," Qui-Gon's Theme , " The Adventures of Jar Jar ," Darth Maul's Motif , Anakin's Theme , Shmi's motif , " The Flag Parade ," " Escape from Naboo ," and the " Symponik Nabooalla ."

During the credits at the end of the film, young Anakin's theme is heard playing, but during the last moments of the film, this theme morphs into the first few notes of the Darth Vader theme during the Imperial March , and, as the last logos of THX are scrolling by, three rasping breaths from Vader's respirator can be heard, referencing Anakin's eventual change into Darth Vader.

Novelization [ ]

A novelization of the movie was written by Terry Brooks . It includes three entire chapters of material created by Brooks and unique to the novel. The first two chapters of the book concern Anakin's next-to-last podrace and its aftermath, while a later chapter describes an encounter between Anakin and a wounded Tusken Raider in the desert.

Brooks met with Lucas before writing the book and received his approval and guidance, including information about developments to come in Episodes II and III. This can be seen in such passages as the Tusken Raider scene, which ironically foreshadows the death of Anakin's mother in Episode II, and the passage leading up to Anakin's fight with the Rodian child Greedo , indicating that Anakin's anger derives from his anguish at Padmé's impending departure (foreshadowing the plot of Episode III).

The novelization is especially well known for a passage describing the history of the Sith, including Darth Bane . According to Terry Brooks' memoir, Sometimes the Magic Works , Lucas spent an hour on the telephone with him discussing the history of the Jedi and the Sith. Therefore, the information on this subject provided in Brooks' novelization might derive from Lucas himself. The novelization is also the first mention of the Stark Hyperspace War .

Brooks devotes an entire chapter of Sometimes the Magic Works to the writing of the Episode I novelization, which he claims to have been an extremely happy and fulfilling experience.

Home video [ ]


The Phantom Menace on DVD

The film was first released on VHS on April 4, 2000. There was a normal fullscreen release, and a widescreen collector's box set . The widescreen VHS contains an exclusive documentary titled "Filmmaking Has Turned A Corner." In addition the collector's set contains an excerpted version of The Art of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and a set of film cells from a scene in the film.

Star Wars : Episode I The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars film to be officially released on DVD . This two-disc DVD was released on October 16, 2001.

The DVD features a commentary track by 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. The Duel of the Fates music video featuring John Williams was included on 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.

The DVD became the fastest-selling DVD ever in the US, after 2.2 million copies were sold in its first week after release. [22] However, some reviewers criticized the DVD for the excessive use of edge enhancement that degraded the DVD's picture quality. [23]

At the DVD press conference for Revenge of the Sith , prequel trilogy animation director Rob Coleman confirmed that the animation department at Lucasfilm had replaced the Yoda puppet from the original version of the film with a digital Yoda. This was done to better match up the look of the Yoda from The Phantom Menace with that of the other two films of the prequel trilogy, as well as with the Yoda from the original trilogy. This change has been, for the most part, welcomed by fans, in contrast to the original puppet Yoda as seen in The Phantom Menace .

A preview of these changes can be viewed on the Revenge of the Sith DVD that was released on November 1, 2005. The clip is included as part of "The Chosen One" featurette. However, when Coleman announced the change, he didn't specify when the revised version of The Phantom Menace would be released. [24]

The Phantom Menace was re-released along with Episodes II–VI on Blu-ray in September 2011 . [25] For this release, the film went through a restoration process which restored the picture to its full frame (offering around 8% more picture than its DVD release). The Blu-ray release was also marked by the replacement of the puppet for the CGI model of Yoda used in Star Wars : Episode III Revenge of the Sith , as well as a few corrections of visual effects and technical errors.

On April 7 , 2015 , the Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, and Lucasfilm jointly announced the digital releases of the six released Star Wars films. As Lucasfilm had retained digital distribution rights to Episodes I thru III and V thru VI, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released The Phantom Menace for digital download on April 10 , 2015. [26]

Despite the Walt Disney Company's 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd. and the release rights to all future Star Wars films, Fox was to retain original distribution rights to Star Wars : Episode IV A New Hope , which they co-produced and co-financed, in perpetuity in all media worldwide. Fox was also to retain theatrical, nontheatrical, and home video rights worldwide for the franchise's five subsequent films, which Lucasfilm produced and financed independently, through May 2020 , at which time ownership was to transfer to Disney. This complex relationship between Fox and Disney, particularly in regards to Fox's perpetual rights to Episode IV, was to create an obstacle for any future boxed set comprising all nine films. [27] On December 14 , 2017 , The Walt Disney Company announced that it was acquiring most of Fox's parent company, 21st Century Fox , including the film studio and all distribution rights to A New Hope . [28] On March 20 , 2019 , the deal was officially completed. [29] On April 12 , 2019, a Blu-ray box set containing the nine main instalments of the Star Wars saga remastered in 4K was reportedly announced to be in development for a 2020 release. [30]

3D re-release [ ]

Episode I 3D poster

Official poster for The Phantom Menace 3D release

On September 28 , 2010 , StarWars.com and Lucasfilm announced that the entire Star Wars saga would be converted to stereoscopic 3D and re-released in theaters and IMAX 3D, beginning with Episode I . John Knoll and Industrial Light & Magic are supervising the conversion. [31] The stereo conversion process has been in the works for several years, however, with George Lucas showing tests of the Episode II speeder chase scene and a reel from Episode IV in 3D during 2005's ShoWest in Las Vegas, and the speeder chase scene was demoed again by Texas Instruments as an emerging technology at SIGGRAPH 2007 in San Diego.

Episode I's 3D release date, as announced by Lucasfilm on March 3 , 2011 , was February 10 , 2012 . [32]

On January 28 , 2013 , Lucasfilm announced that the 3D releases of Star Wars : Episode II Attack of the Clones and Star Wars : Episode III Revenge of the Sith were postponed. [33]

Reception [ ]

Critical and fan reaction ranged from high praise to outright derision. The much-hyped special effects, while generally viewed as groundbreaking in their sheer scope, were perhaps less impressive than anticipated simply because of high expectations. This attitude was confirmed with the rival film, The Matrix , winning the visual effects Academy Award for that year over The Phantom Menace . It was the first time a Star Wars film lost in that Oscar competition category. Many critics heavily criticized the acting of Natalie Portman and especially Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker. Some aspects of the scripting and direction were also criticized. Extra venom was directed at the character of Jar Jar Binks , who was regarded by some fans as purely a merchandising opportunity rather than a serious character in the film. Fan reaction was mixed too, with some fans praising the film while others having a negative opinion of it.

However, despite some of the negative criticisms leveled at the film, many others gave praise to The Phantom Menace . William Arnold, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer , commented that the massive of hype of the film may have caused much of the negative reaction to the film, saying "it built expectations that can't possibly be matched and scuttled element of storytelling surprise." He also felt "it's well made and entertaining" and believed it was much better than similar box-office fare released around that time period, such as The Mummy and The Matrix . [35] David Cornelius of efilmcritic.com remarked that the better moments of the film "don't merely balance out the weaker ones- they topple them." [36] Roger Ebert gave the film three and half out of four stars, calling it "an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking," and stating that "Lucas tells a good story." Ebert comments that it was perfectly fine for the characters to be a bit less compelling, seeing that they were just being introduced, and stating to "give me transparent underwater cities and vast hollow senatorial spheres any day." [37] Mark Dinning labels The Phantom Menace "A great work from a great director, and a blockbuster of quite the most swashbuckling kind." Many fans and critics also agree that the lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, 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 Star Wars saga. [38]

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards —Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects; however, it lost to The Matrix in all three categories. The film won Best Motion Picture at the People's Choice Awards. It was also nominated for the Saturn Awards on the categories of Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director (George Lucas), Best Actor (Liam Neeson), Best Supporting Actor (Ewan McGregor), Best Young Actor (Jake Lloyd), Best Young Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Supporting Actress (Pernilla August), Best Screenplay (George Lucas), Best Music (John Williams), Best Special Effects and Best Makeup. It won on the categories of Best Costume Design (Trisha Biggar) and Best Special Effects. [39]

Deleted scenes [ ]

  • The Waterfall Sequence —As Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Jar Jar arrive in the waterways of Theed, in the bongo, they surface just in front of a huge waterfall and have to vacate the vehicle in a hurry.
  • Dawn Before the Podrace —Anakin gets up early to prepare the pod for the race and has a brief chat with Padmé.
  • Complete Podrace Grid Sequence —This scene shows more of the participating racers and creatures in the crowd, later added on DVD.
  • Extended Podrace Lap Two —This lap shows some more of Sebulba's "creative interpretation of the rules" and further proof of just how special Anakin is, later added on DVD.
  • Anakin's Scuffle With Greedo —This was due to follow the podrace, to show Anakin's potential for aggression, but George Lucas cut it because he wanted Anakin to be shown as a genuinely good character who turns evil later in adulthood.
  • Farewell to Jira —This occurs as Qui-Gon and Anakin are leaving Mos Espa and Anakin stops briefly to say goodbye to Jira. One of Darth Maul's probe droids follows them for some time until Qui-Gon finally notices and destroys it before passing by the Dusty Duck .
  • The Air Taxi Sequence —The taxi ride shows us about ten more seconds of Coruscant, later added on DVD.

The Waterfall Sequence

Credits [ ]

Appearances [ ].

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Canon events

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Organizations and titles

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"All Films Are Personal": An Oral History of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace

{:title=>"Interviews", :url=>"https://www.starwars.com/news/category/interviews"} {:title=>"Behind the Scenes", :url=>"https://www.starwars.com/news/category/behind-the-scenes"}

"all films are personal": an oral history of star wars : episode i the phantom menace.

Dan Brooks

George Lucas, Doug Chiang, John Knoll, and more creators of the first film in the prequel trilogy look back 20 years later.

Star Wars : Episode I The Phantom Menace arrived on May 19, 1999, to a degree of anticipation and hype rarely seen before, or since, for a movie. There was good cause. It was the first new film in the  Star Wars  saga since 1983’s Return of the Jedi , and the kickoff of the prequel trilogy, which promised to tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side and became Darth Vader, while the Emperor rose to power. George Lucas himself wrote the script and was back directing for the first time since 1977’s Star Wars , and the movie became a giant leap forward in digital effects -- including a record number of effects shots and a major CG character in Jar Jar Binks. “All of the Star Wars  movies, in one way or another, are about me and my take on the world,” Lucas tells StarWars.com. That might be especially true for The Phantom Menace , a colorful mashup of Kurosawa, political intrigue and history, racing, and family. As The Phantom Menace celebrates its 20 th anniversary this month, StarWars.com spoke with several of its greatest architects to tell the story of how it came to be, and to reflect on it today.

George Lucas with Natalie Portman on the set of The Phantom Menace.

Every Saga Has a Beginning

Following the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, George Lucas’s commitments to Star Wars , at least in film, were complete. In the intervening years -- dubbed “The Dark Times” by fans -- Star Wars was largely absent from the public consciousness. Lucas, for his part, spent the time raising his family and somewhat quietly shepherding the evolution of digital effects with Industrial Light & Magic, resulting in innovations like the liquid-metal T-1000 of Terminator 2 (1991) and the mind-blowingly lifelike dinosaurs of Jurassic Park (1993).

Finally, on November 1, 1994, Lucas sat down to write Episode I.

George Lucas, The Phantom Menace writer and director, Star Wars creator: Well, my decision to make Episode I was more or less driven by technology. The first three Star Wars films were designed very, very carefully to be done cheaply. We didn’t go to any big cities, we didn’t have a lot of costumes, we didn’t have a lot of extras. We didn’t have a lot of the things that cost money on a movie like that. So it was really driven by what I could afford. You have to remember, the first film was made for 13 million dollars. Today, that same film costs 300 million dollars. Even in those days, 2001 cost like 25 million dollars. And I think we had more special effects than that did.

With Episode I, I didn’t want to tell a limited story. I had to go into the politics and the bigger issues of the Republic and that sort of thing. I had to go into bigger issues. And in order to do that, I had to come up with a way of doing it, and that’s what digital technology brought me. I had Yoda but he couldn’t fight. I had cities, but I couldn’t build models that big. I had lots and lots of costumes, but I couldn’t afford to make them. So there were a lot of issues that were just practical -- Episode I wasn’t doable for a long time, so I waited until we had the technology to do it.

John Knoll, The Phantom Menace visual effects supervisor: George had mentioned it in one of the company meetings. Back in the mid-‘90s, annually, we’d have a big company meeting, and George would usually address us and sort of tell us what he was thinking. From the time I started there, every year somebody would ask, “Are you ever going to go back and make more Star Wars movies?”

I remember around ’94 or so, in one of the company meetings he said, “Yeah, actually, I think I am. I’m looking at writing stories now.” There was a lot of excitement about that.

Jean Bolte, The Phantom Menace Viewpaint supervisor: We all just sort of clutched our seats. We knew that this was going to be one of the most important projects that we would ever be involved in. Ever. It was the most highly-anticipated thing I can think of. So that was an incredible day.

Doug Chiang, The Phantom Menace design director: I came to ILM in February 1989. That’s when I realized that, because I didn’t go to art school, it was really starting to hurt me. That’s when I decided to set a goal: every day for one year I was going to do a piece, work at home every night, with the target that by the end of the week I’ll finish either a hero production painting or a hero concept. I was going to do that for a full year to end up with at least 52 hero pieces to revamp my portfolio.

It worked out really well; the homework I was doing at that time, I was just experimenting with different styles, learning different techniques, pushing the boundaries of my skills. In some ways it was my own art school. I put together my own program. I deliberately gave myself assignments that were uncomfortable to me, and that’s where I learned the most.

My style evolved out of that. Coincidentally, that style was very similar to what Ralph [McQuarrie, legendary concept artist] was doing when he was working with George. What I mean by that is, during that year I was combining old and new, doing different things, adding different cultures, just mixing things up, changing scales. I also loved nature and technology, so I starting to combine those to create something fresh.

So by the end of that year I had a new portfolio, and around that time was when George announced that he was going to make the new films. By that time, I was promoted to creative director at ILM after two years. I thought I would be first in line. I was head of the art department at ILM, this is George’s company, George just announced he was going to make the new movies. Here’s my chance. The irony was that George actually wanted to get fresh talent. He deliberately wanted to look outside the company first. He wanted to cast the talent net worldwide.

So we all submitted our portfolios, and just waited and got in line.

After I submitted, there was a period where I just waited, and then I got a call from [ The Phantom Menace producer] Rick McCallum saying, “George really liked your portfolio and would like to meet you.” It blew my mind, because at that time I was just thinking, “I just want to be an artist. I just want to be part of the team.” When I realized that George was actually going to hire me to head up the [Episode I] art department, after the initial shock of that, I was like, “Wow! Can I really do this?”

And the reason he did that was, he saw in my portfolio similarities to his approach to designing Star Wars . And that was mixing genres, combining old and new, all the things that I was doing kind of instinctively on my own. That was the really fortuitous nature of what I was doing. That year of homework really paid off for me because George recognized that, and that’s why I got the job to head up the art department.

Ben Burtt, The Phantom Menace sound designer and co-editor: George called me up to his office and he said he had a sequence that he wanted to try to develop as a videomatic, and this was a year or so before filming. It was the podrace. One of the things that I had specialized in as I was editing for him on The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones was fashioning up action sequences out of stock footage or animation or little models that we would work with ourselves on sticks or planes, and cutting together an action sequence such that it was like a living storyboard. It’s common practice nowadays to do it and there are people who specialize in it. But at that time, I was just left to invent something based on what he was talking about.

And I would pull shots from these various videos and sources, and then piece together a version of the podrace. I probably got a one- or two-page document which described essentially who was in the race and what the outcome was supposed to be. So that was what I started on. I cut together the stock footage. I needed shots of the racers in the pods, so I started by shooting my son Benny just sitting in a big laundry bucket, and blowing a [leaf] blower on his hair, and putting him in front of a screen, like a front-projection screen so it looks like he was zooming along. I took one or two of his friends and I put alien masks on them, just rubber masks, Halloween sort of aliens, and made them into other podracers. Therefore, I had action of them in the cockpit, looking over their shoulders, driving, and so on. I could intercut this with all this other race footage I had lifted from other sources.

I don’t remember the exact timetable, but I came up with maybe a 25-minute long race [ Laughs ] and it had just about every possible interesting crash and thing I could imagine in it. I would show it to [George] at different points; I’d had some sketchy sound in it so there was some kind of sound for the racers. Then he would add to it. As always, he would give feedback, he would react to the parts of it he liked, and he’d want further development of one idea or another.

We essentially wanted to try all different kinds of gags, how many different ways cars could pass each other, how many different interesting combinations of situations Anakin can get into so that he can cleverly get out of it, and that sort of thing. We just played with this for a long time, months, as an exercise. He wanted to be prepared for shooting with a version of the race that could be shown to everybody in production so he could get an idea of the speed at which things would operate, the kind of angles we wanted.

Trisha Biggar, The Phantom Menace costume designer: It was a great, fantastic thing to be involved in and to be asked to be involved in, particularly when everyone was aware that there were so many people waiting to see what would end up on the screen.

Rob Coleman, The Phantom Menace animation director: I started at ILM in October of ’93. I was the ninth animator at ILM. There were six animators on Jurassic . Then they hired Kyle Balda, who’s [now] actually been directing those Minions films for Illumination. Number eight was David Andrews, and number nine was me. The entire CG department was probably around 45, 50 people total.

My strategy was to work on the smaller films. I was afraid that I was gonna be lost on the bigger films. I wanted to make a mark there. I recognized this as an incredible opportunity. The first uncredited film I worked on, I only did one shot, was Flinstones . Then I worked on things like Star Trek: Generations , Disclosure, Maverick , I did some tests for things like Small Soldiers . I was just a regular animator on Dragonheart , and then James Strauss, who was the animation director, incredibly talented guy, got sick, and they asked me to move up and supervise the animators. So I did do that on Dragonheart , which then got me an opportunity to be the animation supervisor on the first Men in Black .

George wasn’t around in those days. He was taking care of his young kids. But unbeknownst to me, he’d seen the work that we’d done on Dragonheart and then on Men in Black . And I got a call from [then ILM general manager] Jim Morris saying, “George Lucas wants to meet you. We’re considering to put you forward to be the animation director on Episode I. And you need to fly over for a 10-day interview with George in London.” I’m like, “Oh, God.” [ Laughs ]

Ten days. Two weeks.

Jim Morris has just been an amazing person for me in my life. Great mentor. He’s president of Pixar nowadays, but back then he was running ILM. He coached me on how to talk to George, which was basically to listen and don’t say anything, and then when he asks you a direct question, then you answer him.

This is sort of my nature, and trying to be as well-prepared as possible. I had found a book on early interviews of George Lucas. I think it was published by the [University of Mississippi press]. They were like early Rolling Stone interviews from like, his time doing THX [ 1138 ] and American Graffiti . These were all pre- Star Wars films. And in it, I found out that George, for a while, had wanted to be an animator and he was also a big fan of the National Film Board of Canada. Well, I had worked at the NFB. So when it came time, and I’m going to say it was probably day two or day three, to be honest -- I was told to sit behind him in a folding chair and wait for an opportunity, and that he would talk to me when he had time. [ Laughs ] So he turned to me at one point and said, [ in George Lucas voice ] “So what’s your story?” I said, “Oh, I’m here from ILM, Jim Morris had asked me to come over and spend some time with you, and I’m an animation supervisor.” He’s like, “Yeah, and what did you do before?” I said, “Well, I started off working at the National Film Board of Canada.” And his eyes went wide, and he was like, “ What? ” I said, “Yeah, I’m from Canada, and I studied animation with the National Film Board of Canada animators,” which was totally true -- at Concordia University, Montreal. He said, “Here, move your chair up here.” So then we started talking about the NFB and the filmmakers that he admired and I admired.

I think that was just probably the perfect segue into it. I was a fan of Star Wars , but I was not a fanboy. Back then, ILM was super-strict. You were not to be a fanboy, you were not to ask him for his autograph or anything. And I didn’t. I was fine, I wasn’t freaking out to be sitting beside him. I just talked to him, and over the days we chatted more about my approach on how I’d do the work.

It was Rick McCallum who took me aside at the end of the two weeks, walked me outside one of the sound stages, and said, “Okay, you got the job.” [ Laughs ] I was like, “Oh, my God.” Then … Then I started to freak out. Because it’s whatever that proverb is, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” Well, suddenly, I had this thing, and then the pressure of it started to really hit me.

Ahmed Best, Jar Jar Binks actor: I was doing a show called Stomp in San Francisco when Robin Gurland, who cast Phantom Menace , came to the show. After the show, I got a phone call that said Robin wanted me to come to the Ranch and audition for Star Wars . At the time I was just like, “Huh?” I didn’t know if there was any Star Wars going on. Everybody kept it really hush-hush, nobody was really talking about it. It was just like a rumor at the time. It was like, “I heard there’s going to be another one.” And there was no way I thought I would ever have a shot at being in it. It just kind of came to me. So I was like, “All right. [ Laughs ] I’ll audition.”

So I went up to Skywalker [Ranch] one afternoon when I was supposed to be rehearsing. I was in Robin’s little office in the basement of the main house, and she didn’t tell me what I was auditioning for. She just gave me a bunch of different scenarios to go through, improvising different scenarios. I did that, and then she said, “Thank you,” and then two weeks later I get a call to come back, this time for ILM and George. I did that. I came back for my callback, and it was like a callback/screen test. I still didn’t know who the character was or what he looked like, but that’s when the mo-cap happened. I was put in the mo-cap suit, I started moving in the suit, and that was the first time George directed me. I still didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t know what motion-capture was. But nobody knew what motion-capture was. This was the first kind of motion-capture-actor test ever. George wanted this to be done but nobody knew it could be. Everybody was really stepping up to the challenge at the time, and I think the one missing piece was how they were going to do it and make Jar Jar feel like a real character, and that he was in this room with all the actors. And they were just like, “Well, let’s get an actor.” That’s when I came in. I did the mo-cap test, and then George said, “Thank you,” and walked out of the room. I was just like, “Okay, that was fun. If this was all there is, at least I had some fun.”

Then, another two weeks go by. I’m getting ready to go to South America with Stomp , and I get this phone call that says, “We want you to be in this new Star Wars movie.” I was 23. I was a child. [ Laughs ]

George Lucas: You know, all films are personal. Unless you get hired to do something and you just do it. But anything you write, and direct, and have control over is personal. So everything I’ve done has been very personal. You don’t just do movies out of boredom; you do them because you want to do them.

And in that particular case, one of the main driving aspects of the film was the backstory. In doing the first three  Star Wars , I had to create a backstory about where everybody came from, what they did, and everything that had happened. When I finished  Return of the Jedi , there were a lot of stories that weren’t used. I was basically trying to fill in the gaps with pieces that I had to make a full story.

The original idea for  Star Wars  was one movie about the tragedy of Darth Vader. But as the story grew, it ended up being three movies and the backstory was never explained. I decided that it would be important to finish it off and do the backstory because things that I thought would be self-evident about the story, the audience didn’t get. Over the 10 years after Return of the Jedi , I realized people misunderstood a lot -- such as where Anakin came from. So it was a way of finishing the whole thing off.

Episode I marked George Lucas’s return to directing -- his first such effort since the original Star Wars in 1977.

George Lucas: Actually, I was looking forward to it because, finally, I was going to get to do something that a lot of the frustration had been taken out of. A lot of the frustration in making movies was technical. Once we went digital, it was so much easier. I could focus on the story and other things.

Ben Burtt: I go way back to Episode IV. Back in ’77 when that film came out, and it was a gigantic and pleasant surprise for everybody, nobody was planning for it to be a blockbuster. We just hoped it would be accepted by the niche audience that goes to see fantasy and Ray Harryhausen movies. I remember at the time George saying that we’re going to redo it someday and fix all the problems. I thought, that’s just kinda crazy! [ Laughs ] You just came out with this incredibly exciting, successful movie that everybody embraced, isn’t it time to move on?

Years later, of course, he kept his vow and we did the Special Editions. That led into the new sets of trilogies. It was an exciting time, actually. Really it was, for me. I looked forward to it when he, as I said, he called me up and talked about this podrace. Basically what he was saying is that we’re doing another movie and he’s inviting me to be part of it.

The story for Episode I , dubbed “The Beginning” in early drafts and through production, would center around Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Queen Amidala, and their accidental discovery of a young slave named Anakin Skywalker. Meanwhile, a seemingly trivial planetary blockade would be the launching point of a secret Sith Lord’s plan to gain control of the Republic.

George Lucas: It’s all based on backstories that I’d written setting up what the Jedi were, setting up what the Sith were, setting up what the Empire was, setting up what the Republic was, and how it all fit together. I spent a lot of time in developing those elements, and what each planet did, and why they did it the way they did. So I had all this material. A lot of the story elements were givens. Early on, it was that Anakin had been more or less created by the midi-chlorians, and that the midi-chlorians had a very powerful relationship to the Whills [from the first draft of Star Wars ], and the power of the Whills, and all that. I never really got a chance to explain the Whills part.

So a lot of the story of the prequels, I’d done already. And now I was just having to put it into a script and fill it in, kind of sew up some of the gaps that were in there. I’d already established that all Jedi had a mentor, with Obi-Wan and Luke, and the fact that that was a bigger issue -- that’s the way the Jedi actually worked. But it was also the way that the Sith worked. There’s always the Sith Lord and then the apprentice.

Everybody said, “Oh, well, there was a war between the Jedi and the Sith.” Well, that never happened. That’s just made up by fans or somebody. What really happened is, the Sith ruled the universe for a while, 2,000 years ago. Each Sith has an apprentice, but the problem was, each Sith Lord got to be powerful. And the Sith Lords would try to kill each other because they all wanted to be the most powerful. So in the end they killed each other off, and there wasn’t anything left. So the idea is that when you have a Sith Lord, and he has an apprentice, the apprentice is always trying to recruit somebody to join him -- because he’s not strong enough, usually -- so that he can kill his master.

That’s why I call it a Rule of Two -- there’s only two Sith Lords. There can’t be any more because they kill each other. They’re not smart enough to realize that if they do that, they’re going to wipe themselves out. Which is exactly what they did.

In The Phantom Menace , Palpatine was the one Sith Lord that was left standing. And he went through a few apprentices before he was betrayed. And that really has to do with certain talent and genes that allow you to be better at what you’re doing than other people.

People have a tendency to confuse it -- everybody has the Force. Everybody. You have the good side and you have the bad side. And as Yoda says, if you choose the bad side, it’s easy because you don’t have to do anything. Maybe kill a few people, cheat, lie, steal. Lord it over everybody. But the good side is hard because you have to be compassionate. You have to give of yourself. Whereas the dark side is selfish.

But anyway, there’s a whole matrix of backstory that has never really come out. It’s really just history that I gathered up along the way. So it seemed natural that when I had the technology to actually make the film – for example, I could finally have Yoda be the warrior he was meant to be -- then I would move forward to thinking about how I could make that a movie. Because I had all the backstory, I had basically the three scripts. Or at least the material that was in the three scripts. Then it’s just a matter of doing the details.

The larger story of the prequels -- Palpatine’s ascension to Emperor -- is grounded in history.

George Lucas: The inspiration for Star Wars , one of the very first ideas, was when Richard Nixon tried to change the Constitution so that he could run for a third term. We all knew he was a crook, he was a bad guy, he did terrible things and we sort of chugged along with it. It wasn’t until the impeachment, and really even later than that, that we understood how completely corrupt he was.

But that was the idea, which was, “How does a democracy crumble? How does it die?” When it doesn’t die with a revolution -- it does in some cases -- but not in the world of the ideal democracy, which we thought we had at that time, how does that happen? Would the people vote for it? And yes, they do vote for it, that’s the whole point. There’s an outside threat, and that threat allows the tyrant to take over. And the populace gives up the democratic powers and this guy is suddenly running the show. You end up with the Empire.

That’s what happened with Palpatine, ultimately. Everybody thought he was a nice guy. But he wasn’t. He was a politician and he was ambitious, and he was a Sith Lord, but he didn’t talk about it. And he was plotting to take over the Republic. He wasn’t just a bad guy that ran around killing people.

George Lucas and Jake Lloyd on the set of The Phantom Menace.

The thing about Anakin is, Anakin started out as a nice kid. He was kind, and sweet, and lovely, and he was then trained as a Jedi. But the Jedi can’t be selfish. They can love but they can’t love people to the point of possession. You can’t really possess somebody, because people are free. It’s possession that causes a lot of trouble, and that causes people to kill people, and causes people to be bad. Ultimately it has to do with being unwilling to give things up.

The whole basis here is if you’re selfish, if you’re a Sith Lord, you’re greedy. You’re constantly trying to get something. And you’re constantly in fear of not getting it, or, when you get it, you’re in constant fear of losing it. And it’s that fear that takes you to the dark side. It’s that fear of losing what you have or want.

Sometimes it’s ambition, but sometimes, like in the case of Anakin, it was fear of losing his wife. He knew she was going to die. He didn’t quite know how, so he was able to make a pact with a devil that if he could learn how to keep people from dying, he would help the Emperor. And he became a Sith Lord. Once he started saying, “Well, we could take over the galaxy, I could take over from the Emperor, I could have ultimate power,” Padmé saw right through him immediately. She said, “You’re not the person I married. You’re a greedy person.” So that’s ultimately how he fell and he went to the dark side.

And then Luke had the chance to do the same thing. He didn’t do it.

Phantom Menace concept painting of Jedi and droidekas.

Galactic Design

Officially head of the art department, Doug Chiang was in for a surprise when George Lucas briefed him on his ideas regarding the overall look of the prequels.

Doug Chiang: It was terrifying because I’d assumed when I was hired that I was going to do more of the classic designs. I had no idea where George was going to go in terms of design aesthetics. And so that’s why it horrified me, because I’d been doing homework, studying [original Star Wars concept artists] Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, so that I could do original trilogy designs. And during one of the first meetings, George said, “You know, forget about what you think Star Wars design is. We’re going to start over. We’re basically going back 30 years to lay the foundation for all of that to explain why designs in the original trilogy look the way they do.” And that completely floored me because I wasn’t sure what George meant. I didn’t know stylistically what he wanted to do. It scared me because literally I felt like I’d prepared for the wrong test.

George Lucas: World building is the hard part. There’s so much of it and you have to go down to the smallest detail, the smallest knife and fork and spoon and cup. Besides the people and technology, it’s always the biggest problem, and it’s mostly a problem because it’s time consuming. Even on those original three movies, I had quite a number of designers: Ralph [McQuarrie] and Joe [Johnston], and later on we had probably seven or eight designers. Even then, working full time for two and a half years, you still can’t cover all the territory.

But I did it on the first three Star Wars movies. Each Star Wars movie had three different societies. Three different cultures, three different worlds. And those three worlds were the basis of everything. And then at the same time, those three worlds and those three movies couldn’t be outrageous in terms of the environment because we didn’t have digital technology. We used deserts, and then we used forests. It was hard to find that many different environments to be able to build around. That was one of the problems of going on to the next three, which was I had to come up with worlds, fashion, and craft that were very different. That’s part of the “Where am I, what’s going on, what is this,” part of making a story, which is it’s unique, it’s weird, it’s different. And it’s interesting, it holds your interest.

If you do what a lot of people do, it just becomes generic. It’s just the same old thing. One person I can point to who is great at world building is Jim Cameron.  Avatar  was brilliant. It’s hard to design worlds and come up with stories and have them operate around it. You have to know the rules on everything. If you don’t play by the rules, then it becomes just a mishmash. If you come up with something new, you have to say what all the rules are about it.

Doug Chiang: The good thing is, that during the whole process, I realized that part of why Star Wars design is so timeless is because George anchors it in a real historical timeline. And when I realized what he was doing with that, we established the timeline for all designs with our design history in the US. It made complete sense then, so that we were going to design the prequels from 1920s and ‘30s aesthetics, where it’s more handcrafted. And then as you segue more toward the original trilogy, design would become more like the manufactured era of the 1970s.

George Lucas: You know, I was in school in ’62, and we had Ford Edsels. So in ’72, there weren’t any left. It was all different. Everything was different. Well, not everything, but all of the design in terms of technology improves.

When you jump 20 years later, to [Episodes] IV, V, and VI, the Empire has taken over, so the technology goes downhill. The Empire has good technology, but what some are forgetting, or don’t know, is that the X-wings and most of the Rebellion’s ships were all sort of junkers. They picked those up at various garage sales from armies that didn’t want them anymore. Rebels, in IV, V, and VI, didn’t have the money. They just had to pick up whatever junkers they could get anywhere because they were rebels. That kind of detail gets lost.

There’s movement in their evolution. You are where you are, and it’s not the same place. You’re not going back to the same movie.

Trisha Biggar: George always said it wasn’t a futuristic film. It was sort of almost like a historical film. So we did a lot of research into all sorts of cultures, peoples, sculptures, woodcrafts, paintings, textiles, anything. Influences could come from anywhere and they did.

Doug Chiang drawing during Episode I.

Doug Chiang: George surprised me on many levels. One, I didn’t realize how much of an artist he is as far as in artistic vision. His tastes are exquisite in terms of fine art. And the main thing that I really appreciate is, I admired him as a filmmaker and storyteller for sure, but I didn’t know he could get in there and be very critical with design. I thought that was my job, that I was going to present a design and I was going to sell it to George, and he would approve it. That’s basically why I was hired. And it was the other way around! I actually learned so much about design from George because he could critique a design, and he could tell me why it doesn’t work.

It was a fascinating thing for me because sometimes I can get very obsessive about tiny details, things that don’t really matter. And George cut through all of that. One of the most impressive things is that he could do that very quickly at many levels. He had a way of looking at a whole bunch of different images and then really pulling out, very quickly, the handful that he liked. I was always impressed at how he could do that.

I remember asking him once, finally, why and how. His answer was very simple. It was because he could understand those designs very quickly. From a sort of graphic logo silhouette point of view, he could read what that is and he could understand it. And his whole point was, when these designs show up in a movie -- and this is where my three-second rule came about -- the audience is not going to have you there to explain it. They have to understand it quickly. If they don’t, it kind of completely removes you from the moviegoing experience.

That transformed how I approached design because it applies not only to film, it applies to all kinds of other designs as well. Now, when I design, I think of it like, “How do you distill it down to the bare essence?” Because that’s what George wants. He wants to understand it clearly. He wants to make it so that it’s almost like a logo of what the design is, and that’s why if you look at a lot of the original trilogy designs, they’re very simple graphics. A kid could draw them. And that’s the main point, that they have to be that simple so that, even with a little doodle, you’ll understand what it is.

Now with a solid grip on the design approach for The Phantom Menace , Doug Chiang and his team got to work.

Doug Chiang: There were no scripts when I started work. It was basically just ideas, and he would just throw out things. For instance, the podracer, he said, “I want a new kind of race, and basically take two engines, tether it together, and add a cockpit.” I had no idea what the context was, I didn’t know at that time whether it was going to play a big part in the movie or not.

So a lot of it was just fragments of ideas. I love the process of working with George. As he was writing, we were in there drawing and designing. Sometimes what I drew would inform what he would write, and vice versa. Every week it would change. Sometimes I could spark something with an idea for him, and he would suggest, “Okay, let’s pursue this.” The next week I would show him something new, and I could tell that he thought about it and modified it a little bit in terms of how it fit. And he would push me in a new direction.

It grew very organically that way. I didn’t get the script until, wow, about a year afterwards. At that time, George, I think, deliberately wanted myself and [principal creature designer] Terryl Whitlatch during that first year to just kind of explore. Because he just wanted food for thought. A lot of times I didn’t know exactly what the planets were going to be, how much of a role. I just went in and just designed it.

Jean Bolte: I went up to the Ranch, and I saw Doug Chiang’s artwork -- his storyboards and artwork, there were just rooms with it all on the walls, one wall after another going through and every piece of it was so beautiful.

We take it for granted now, but when you look at something where you see a character who is not possibly going to be a human character, riding an animal that you can’t create in a model shop, in a world that you’ve never imagined before… Seeing that repeatedly, on every single piece of art, and going from such extremes, just so many different worlds that had to be created from nothing -- we had never, ever experienced anything like that. I remember thinking, “I just have to go lie down.” Not only from the sense of how big this thing was, but also, there’s something about when you see that much of Doug Chiang’s work in one place -- it’s an overused word, but it’s awe-inspiring. You really feel that you want to do justice to something that looked that beautiful.

Iain McCaig, The Phantom Menace concept artist: I remember going up to see Doug and Terryl [Whitlatch], and when I walked in, you know, they had been working on it for about a year. So the walls were wallpapered in beautiful creatures and spaceships and machines and environments, and I just thought, “Well, shoot. What am I going to do?” And then I noticed nobody was drawing people. So I said, “Oh, can I do those? Do you mind?” So just because that’s what I draw, and wasn’t what they drew, I got all the main characters. And because I don’t draw them naked all the time, I got all the costumes, too.

Here, Doug Chiang, Iain McCaig, and costume designer Trisha Biggar discuss some of the film’s most iconic designs.

Anakin Skywalker's podracer

Anakin’s Podracer

Doug Chiang: Anakin’s podracer was really fun. The podracer was one of the first things that I really jumped onto as a design. I liked car racing, I liked the idea of technology, I liked the idea of where he was going with this mess of engines. Initially when I started, I thought way too logically, because I thought, “There’s no way anybody could fly two untethered engines. That’s impossible.” Then I realized that was the whole point and why George wanted that. When he equated it to a horse and chariot, then it made complete sense. The horses are the engines.

An early concept sketch of the podracer.

And in designing Anakin’s, that was really fun because I chased that for so long. I was trying to put too much logic into it at that time. I wanted it to make sense. “If these are engines, how would they really mechanically work? How would they tie to the cockpit? Where would the fuel tank be?” George just kept saying, “No, no, no.” None of the designs that I was presenting to him worked.

I finally decided to do research and went to the maintenance bay at the San Francisco [International] Airport. Seeing these giant engines stripped of their cowling, hanging in these spaces, I was just awestruck. It was just amazing. That’s when I realized you don’t have to do much; you just take these raw engines and put it out in the desert. It completely worked because it was exactly George’s design philosophy. We were taking something very ordinary and putting it into a new context and creating something new from that.

Once that idea stuck, it was a matter of coming up with different configurations of these engines. That became a real challenge because it was going to be a very kinetic race. George was very keen on making sure that each of the podracers were easy to distinguish and identify.

Anakin Skywalker podracer concept painting

So for Anakin’s, we wanted to come with an identity that made him stand out. Originally, George wanted Anakin’s to be very generic. He had the cheapest version. He just found an engine, he had a very simple cockpit. It would be the most plain and the most ordinary so he would be distinctly an underdog. Later on George decided that maybe Anakin should have an even smaller engine. That was really nice because then, definitely, it made Anakin an underdog.

I thought, okay, George had described that Anakin was an amazing pilot and that’s how he wins the race. I thought, “How can I visually show that he’s an amazing pilot in a small engine package?” That’s when I decided to give engine flaps so you could actually see Anakin flying and maneuvering around things. That all started to tie together really well in a package of what ended up to be Anakin’s podracer.

The final piece that kind of sealed the deal for the design was that, originally, Anakin’s cockpit was very simple. George decided he wanted it to have a little bit more personality. He asked us to reference the Birdcage Maserati, the 1963 Birdcage. That’s a beautiful car. It looked really great. The idea then was to take the essence, the spirit of that design with the big fairings, and just lop off the underside of it and turn that into a cockpit.

It worked out really well, because that, in combination with the two engines and the flaps, makes for a very iconic design.

Battle droids prepare to attack in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Battle Droid

Doug Chiang: The battle droid was actually the very first drawing that I drew. I think that was my first failure because I took what I heard from George too literally when he described that he wanted a robotic stormtrooper. I drew that -- a guy in a costume, but made it look robotic. It was my first big lesson where I was designing something completely out of thin air, just making it up trying to fit the design brief.

Doug Chiang's original battle droid concept for The Phantom Menace.

That’s when I realized I should really use research, one of George’s lessons. I found this one photo book on African sculptures and that inspired me to lean toward them, because those sculptures have this wonderful way of stylizing the human form. It was very elegant and almost looked mechanical. I loved the proportions, and that’s where the elongated head came from. When I started to lean toward that, using African sculptures as a foundation for the droid designs, it started to come together.

Slowly, over time, I started to think -- the droids, I wanted them to be distinctly scary. I wanted them to be almost like living skeletons. Originally, they were very thin. Some of my first initial instincts were, I thought, maybe they shouldn’t even make any noise. They should be completely mute. They’re just walking skeletons. That was my first idea; I was taking it too seriously. But that helped inform how I designed. All those things can kind of make for something, because there’s a logic behind the shape language that’s in there.

Naboo N-1 starfighter

Naboo N-1 Starfighter

Doug Chiang: The N-1 is one of my favorites. That was a big risk for me because I knew that Naboo had a lot of water and, for some crazy reason, I thought, “Okay, maybe their ships should have an aquatic feel.” That’s why there is a boat-like hull bottom. I was originally thinking that the N-1 would actually land on water, and that’s why it has that. That’s why it doesn’t have landing gear.

But I loved the idea of a really sleek boat form. At that time, I knew George was a racing fan, and he loved F1 cars, and he also liked F1 boats. And the F1 boats were really striking in the sense that they had those lines already. I thought, “Okay, what if we took the look of F1 boats and turned it into a spaceship?” And that’s where the design of the N-1 started to evolve.

Naboo N-1 starfighter concept art

So I felt very strongly that I had to make it have the flavor of elegance that George wanted, but also make it functionally practical as well. I took the two pontoons of the F1 boats and turned them into jet engines. I deliberately gave the engines a really long spike, to mirror the tail spike, to give it that real streamlined, fishlike quality. It was a matter of massaging all those details to come up with something.

And that one, I honestly wasn’t sure that it would work, because it was kind of a risky design to begin with. But at the end, it fit all the requirements. It was iconic, it was simple to read, you could tell what it was, and it was fresh. I was very happy that George actually liked it and actually wanted to push it even further by making it a bold color.

Darth Maul on Theed in The Phantom Menace.

Darth Maul  

Iain McCaig: I had a Darth Maul and a Queen Amidala. Darth Maul was the beast and she was the beauty. It was not a love story, so they didn’t get together in this one, but they were both very strong characters, they were both innocent and young, in some ways. So I really couldn’t have designed one without the other. The scarier and gnarlier that Maul got, the more exotic and powerful she got. So they went hand-in-hand for all four years that I was there.

Darth Maul was really, really hard, because all I had as a precedent was Darth Vader. I think, maybe for two years, I was trying to out-helmet Darth Vader, and I almost had a nervous breakdown doing that because you can’t. You absolutely cannot! It’s a perfect design -- you know, skull and a Nazi helmet, it does not get better than that. So finally I decided, “All right, well, heck, take that darn helmet off. Let’s see what’s underneath.”

That’s when I started playing around with the face. I thought there should be some sort of connection with the face underneath and the machinery of the helmet, so I started putting things on the face. Patterns and things, which I intended originally to be circuit boards, or I would carve the face up and let it be light from inside the head that would connect with whatever it was. Just crazy stuff.

For my designs, I never just generically design a person and try to impose a design on it. The design comes from the personality. So I would get everyone in the art department to pose for me, and you just stare at them and say, “What kind of Sith Lord would you be?”

Gavin [Bocquet], the production designer, said, “Don’t make me look fat.” [ Laughs ] So I put a headdress that covered his chin and then I put a Rorschach pattern on his face, and George seemed to respond to that really well.

Early Darth Maul concept art.

And then, and this is several years into it, the script shows up. And Darth Maul is described as “a vision from your worst nightmare.” That was all I needed, because that’s a very clear direction, and I know my worst nightmares.

I drew my worst nightmare, which was that face that’s peering in the window at you late at night, and it’s barely alive. Like a cross between a ghost and a serial killer staring in at you, and it’s raining, and the rain is distorting the face. So I drew that, a stylized version of it, red ribbons instead of rain, and put it in a folder, and at the meeting passed it over to George. George opened it up and went, “Oh, my God,” slammed it shut, handed it back, and said, “Give me your second worst nightmare.”

Darth Maul concept art.

I tried to figure out what I’d done wrong in my thinking, because you don’t want less, ever. I started thinking, “ Star Wars is not real life. It’s mythology.” So I looked for my first best mythological nightmare, and that’s easy, because that’s clowns. I was scared to death of Bozo the Clown as a kid. So I made my big scary clown, and I’d run out of faces to draw, so I used mine. I drew myself into a clown. The patterns became very stylized patterns of the muscles underneath the skin that give expression to the face.

I think that wonderful performance from Ray [Park], put into that makeup, with Nick Dudman’s awesome misunderstanding of my drawing -- because I had given him black feathers, and he thought they were horns -- is what created Darth Maul.

Queen Amidala in her throne room gown

Queen Amidala’s Throne Room Gown

Iain McCaig: First of all, we were only going to have one costume, and I just kept drawing all these costumes. George finally came up and said, “Well, why don’t we do this. We’ll have her change costumes every time we see her.” And then later, “Oh, my God, I’m making a costume drama!” He was shocked himself to realize that.

I remember the only through line I had from the previous films for Padmé was that her mom had that wacky cinnamon-roll hairstyle, which ended up not being so wacky, now that I know it’s from the Hopi Indians, and with a bamboo figure of eight it’s made in a very specific way that they didn’t know when they made the Princess Leia ones, and that’s why it came out looking like cinnamon rolls.

I thought, “Okay, well, if this is her mom, maybe her mom’s hair was even crazier .” Right? And that just made a mark on Princess Leia. Of course, I didn’t know that she wouldn’t have remembered her mom. But that was my through line.

Queen Amidala throne gown sketch

Every time I would start with Natalie Portman, because I had seen her in The Professional . I counted the years from that to this and realized she was exactly the right age for the queen, and I just kept drawing and drawing and drawing her because I loved her face. George came up to me at one point and said, “Do you know this girl?” And I said, “No, sir, but she’s your queen.” And lo and behold, she was cast shortly after! The one and only time I actually got a casting choice put through. But that face is so strong and so beautiful and so innocent and so powerful, it can support any amount of crazy stuff going on around it. So I would dig through history and different cultures, and I would look for crazy hairstyles that I could jump off of. I think there was a fan one that comes from ancient Egypt, there were all kinds of crazy things.

This one, I do remember there was a very powerful upside-down heart shape, and I needed something powerful at the bottom. This design happened right as the idea of “Space Nouveau” took hold. I remember we were searching for that through line for an earlier Star Wars , and I thought, “Well, yeah, it’s handmade, it’s artist-made, so it must be a kind of Space Nouveau.” [Art] Nouveau, as we all know, is inspired by nature and plant forms, and stuff. I used to lie down on the grass at Skywalker Ranch, and draw all the vegetation and come back and turn it into Star Wars costumes. So fresh off of that epiphany, I was doing this costume, and I thought, “Oh, my God, she should have plant forms!” So I put all these seed pods down at the bottom of her costume and colored them up, left them bright for some reason. When George was looking at it, he goes, “Iain, what are those?” You think on your feet, and I went, “Oh, they’re lights, George!” He said, “Oh. Won’t that be kind of heavy, down there at the bottom of the dress?” “Oh, no, they’re very light lights, George!” I quickly called ILM and went, “Help! There are these lights down at the bottom and they’ve gotta be really light and I don’t know how to do this!” Bless their heart, they made one.

Queen Amidala throne room gown detail

Trisha Biggar: The throne room [gown] was probably the most complex of the Episode I costumes for the queen. It looks quite simple in terms of shape; in terms of construction it was quite a complex dress to make. It started off being built onto a frame with sort of a canvas undergarment. The whole thing was almost like an upside-down ice cream cone in shape, with lots of panels being reinforced with a thing called crinoline steel, which kept the shape quite rigid. Originally, I was making the dress in velvet. I changed from that and used a red silk. I think it was between 20 and 30 panels, and it took about two months to make. It was quite a long process, because it had to be really precise. There were hanging panels, and the collar -- there was a Chinese Imperial feel. The other big influence was Art Nouveau, and you can mix influences. It was a favorite of mine.

Now there would be lots of different ways to light it, but then there were less. So it had a great big battery, but you can’t see that, so that was good. [ Laughs ]

The Gungans and battle droids prepare to fight in The Phantom Menace.

"Well, This is the Future"

Once in production, The Phantom Menace would lean heavily on digital effects and technology, with more visual effects shots than any film in ILM's history.

John Knoll: I think the first time I really got exposed to what was ahead of us -- I suppose the first thing was we read the script. There were, I think, three or four of us: myself, [visual effects supervisor] Dennis Muren, I forget who else was there. I think there were three or four of us, went out to the Ranch. There was one copy of the script [ Laughs ] and so basically what it is, we sat together in a room, and somebody started and would hand off the page that they had just read to the next person in the line. I don’t know, I was third in line or something, and I would get the pages and read them and hand them on.

It was pretty overwhelming. I had a million questions because you’re reading it written on a page, you can imagine a lot of different ways that that could be executed. That could be a full set, the alien character that’s being discussed, I haven’t seen a design yet so I don’t know whether that’s just a guy in a suit or what. Initially reading through the script it seemed like it was a pretty big and ambitious thing.

Sometime later we had -- and there’s video of this, I think it’s on the making-of video -- we saw the storyboards. George had the art department draw up storyboards for the whole movie. It was 3,600 storyboards, something like that. George walked us through all the storyboards. It wasn’t just telling us what was going on and this is this and that, he was also kind of mixing in what he was thinking about [for] shooting methodology. He had a number of colored highlighters, he had a magenta, a blue, and yellow highlighters, and as he was going down, things that he was going to shoot in front of a blue screen he’d scribble blue where he’d imagine the blue screen would be, and I think yellow was for live-action, and magenta was for CG characters like Jar Jar or battle droids or whatever. He sort of went through that, he went, “Yeah, it’s going to be this,” sort of telling us what was happening in all the frames.

I was used to a situation where almost every show we did there was something that we were doing that was new, that we’d have to develop new tools or new techniques to do, but it’s like almost every storyboard was something that we hadn’t done before or didn’t have tools that could do. I was taking notes the whole time, making note of all the things we were going to have to do in R&D, or new things that would have to be developed to handle doing dense scenes with thousands of characters in them, or robust cloth simulations, or rigid body dynamics. There was a pretty long list of things.

I walked out of that meeting with my head spinning, because it was not only massive in terms of sheer shot number, but in terms of all the new tech that has to be developed to get it done.

Rob Coleman: I remember going back to California and building the team up, and doing the early animations, and as time went on, I started really suffering in terms of insomnia and stress and freaking out, and I knew the world was waiting for this film. After a couple of months, three months, I actually drove up to Skywalker Ranch to resign the job to George. So I booked the time in to see him, and I went in there and I started fumbling and saying all this stuff through three hours of sleep, or whatever I had. He’s like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Well, just, the world is waiting for this, and the pressure of this, and I’m not sure if I can perform, and…” He goes, “Hey, hey, hey, wait. You’re working for one person. You gotta make one person happy. That’s me, and I’m happy. I think the animation you guys are doing is great.” I said, “Y-you do?” He said, “Yeah. It’s great. It’s my problem to worry about the world, and I’m not even worried about them. We’re making these films for me. You’re making me happy, so you can relax, and you can go back down to ILM and everything will be fine.” I was the happiest guy driving back down Lucas Valley Road. I was like, “Oh, my God!” From that point on, I was fine. I slept like a baby, I was able to do it, I was able to focus on it.

George Lucas: You don’t really start something unless you think you’re right, and think that you’re on the right track and what you’re doing is going to be great. It never occurs to you that it’s not going to work. Otherwise you wouldn’t do it. That’s what keeps people from doing things. So I didn’t worry about that part.

I knew that the process of making a film was very difficult, and most of it was grounded in nineteenth century technology -- or older than that, actually. And it had just reached its limits and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. That was especially true in visual effects. And it was through visual effects that I began to realize we had the power and the knowledge to develop something that really would make a big difference. I started that whole process. I wanted to raise my kids, so I retired, but I spent my time building up the company and at the same time developing this digital technology.

Rob Coleman: As reference, I think there were around 200 [effects] shots in Men in Black , and there were 2,000 shots in Phantom Menace .

John Knoll: I’ll give you an example of some of the things we had to develop. I think prior to Episode I, the most complicated CG animation we had ever done was on Mars Attacks! , years before. We had one or two shots that had like 16 or 18 Martians in it, and they all had the little spacesuits and the helmets and their props and all of that. But that nearly brought the whole system down to its knees because having that many rigged characters in a scene at once just was more than the systems could handle at the time.

I was regularly seeing shots where there were 50 battle droids, or a big battle scene where there are two characters fighting in the foreground, but the background had hundreds or thousands of characters back there. This is a whole order of magnitude of higher complexity than we dealt with, so we’re going to need to have systems for managing that level of complexity.

And then a few years before, I think it was maybe ’95, we had done Spawn . There was a number of shots where Spawn’s cape does something magical, and we’d done cloth simulations for that that didn’t look super realistic, and it was fine for the movie because it was kind of stylized. The cape was almost a character in itself. We didn’t have a particularly good or usable cloth simulation system. But looking at the designs of the characters, they’re all wearing clothing. Jar Jar has clothing, and Boss Nass has clothing, and Watto has clothing, and we’re going to have to do digital doubles of the Jedi to do some of stunty things that we can’t shoot for real, and they need to have their cloaks and all of that. We’re going to need to have a good cloth simulation package in there. And we said, all right, we’re going to have to develop that.

And then we had -- there were lots of shots of Jedi cutting through battle droids, so the pieces of the battle droid clatter down onto the ground and that’s hard to animate completely from scratch, and there were so many shots, that, all right, we can’t fake it through that. We need to have a rigid body dynamic system.

These were the things I’d been seeing at SIGGRAPH and technical papers about how to do those believable physical collisions, and we’re going to need a robust rigid body simulation system that’s integrated into our pipeline.

It was just a lot of that kind of stuff. All these things that I knew were technically possible; we didn’t have any tools that did that.

Rob Coleman: Part of my problem was, for months , there was no crowd system, which meant there was no Gungan battle. No ability for my team to animate hundreds of characters back then. It just didn’t exist. I remember there was one line in the script that said something along the lines of “The Gungan army walks out to battle.” That was six months of work -- that one sentence. You were like, “Holy [expletive], how do we do that? ” And that was one sentence out of a 100-page script.

Ultimately, it was a matter of acquiring the right tools to accomplish what George Lucas was asking, using the latest versions of software already available, or developing new techniques.

Rob Coleman: We had a database with all the different Gungan walks, runs, throws, falls, fights. We had little vignettes. We’d have Gungans and battle droids, upwards of five of them together in a little cluster, and we’d animate that. And then we could put that cluster into any shot, and we could rotate it, and it wouldn’t look the same to the camera. So we could create a finite number of those and then we could place them, and we’d actually get a fair amount of movement into the shot. We’d just be able to use it over and over again, and we’d put some hero work in the foreground, and the audience would never know.  

Jean Bolte: Back then they called it Viewpaint, it was the first software that was developed to paint onto computer graphic models. I was the Viewpaint supervisor. Most people know this, but Viewpaint was a huge leap forward in Jurassic Park . Dennis [Muren] has always acknowledged that. As I have stated publicly, I don’t want to make it sound like I think my job was the most important contribution to computer graphics, but it was a very important one.

The work that we were able to do, because we could paint onto the models, transformed the look of everything. Up until then we’d had The Abyss water tentacle, we had the mercury man in T2 , very simple, very rudimentary, you know, the shading on things didn’t allow for very much believability, really. What we were able to do with the paint software, even in the very early, early stages there on Jurassic -- I didn’t work on Jurassic , but I was having a good look at it. They were able to contribute a bump surface and a paint surface to give things the scale pattern, the aging, obviously the color, the different qualities of specularity. And in addition to that, for anything that was hard surface, there’s the aging that comes into making something rusty or dented or scratched.

And when you have that, suddenly a thing has a story. It has a history. In addition to it having the believability, you can introduce the backstory as to, why did it get dented here? Why are the scales roughed up in this area? What kind of creature is this thing? Is it dry? Does it hunt? Is it an apex predator? Is it moist? All of that stuff is the story. So even if you’re making a creature that has never been seen before, you can kind of establish what its niche is in nature, and then contribute all of that to the look of it. The dinosaurs in Jurassic , that was a huge breakthrough to be able to see that.

So the software being very rudimentary still functioned and continued to update. Every project there were things that were written into the software and in our technique and approach that allowed us to get more and more realism.

The Phantom Menace featured several completely digital characters. Jar Jar Binks, played through motion-capture by Ahmed Best, would be the most high-profile, a supporting character that shared screen time with our heroes. Initially, the idea was for Best to perform in a suit and have Jar Jar’s neck and head created digitally, but this proved more costly and labor-intensive than just using a full CG model. Watto, the junk dealer, and Sebulba, Anakin’s rival podracer, were two other completely CG characters that played prominent roles.

Ahmed Best: George wanted a character that was part-Goofy, but very physically aware. He really moved me toward what eventually became the walk. He wanted me to move slower, longer. Jar Jar was taller than I am, so he really wanted Jar Jar’s head to move in a specific way, so that forced me to try to come up with a physicality so that Jar Jar could move in a way that would work once animated. But a lot of it was just a collaboration of movement, me giving George options, and him saying, “Yeah, more like that.” The voice was the same thing. It was just me giving George options, and he was like, “Yeah, do that one. Do that voice.”

George Lucas: I was tired of putting masks on people. I was much more interested in having them be all-digital so you could do more things with them. More freedom.

Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet Jar Jar Binks.

Ahmed Best: Jar Jar’s character, the movement and the motivation, was really based off of Buster Keaton. George really honed into that aesthetic when it came to me.

Jean Bolte: Casper had a speaking character, Dragonheart , that was a speaking character, but there was something about Jar Jar being a character in this film that was a huge step further. I mean, he had to work in so much of the film in so many different environments. He had to sit there and interact as if he was somebody George had cast and put into a suit.

Ahmed Best: It was great. I loved it. It never really felt like I was this other thing. It felt like we were all actors in the movie working together. This whole idea of me being in the movie or not being in the movie never occurred to all of us while we were shooting. It was never a separate thing and, subsequently, that’s what mo-cap has become now. It’s become actors in the movie, doing the motion, and then animation later building the realized, fantastical look of the character. But the actors are an integral part of the filmmaking and an integral part of the collaboration. And that kind of started with Phantom Menace .

Rob Coleman: I believed in my crew, and I believed that I’d understood what George was looking for from a performance point of view.

Rob Coleman and Ahmed Best on the mo-cap stage for The Phantom Menace.

Ahmed Best: After principal [photography], I spent probably another year and a half, maybe two years, going back and forth between ILM and New York working out some of the kinks.

That final battle scene with all the Gungans and the droids and the battle tanks, that was me, George, Rob [Coleman], John [Knoll], everybody at ILM, up in San Francisco figuring it out. It was just us in a room, there was nobody else there. I was doing all the motion that Jar Jar did in the final battle scene. George really wanted that to feel like not only just a live-action battle, but he wanted it to have the same physical comedy as a Buster Keaton movie. We worked really hard on that final battle scene.

Jean Bolte: One of the things about this film is that this is what George wanted. He wanted them to have a similar kind of quality to the animatronic characters who also were not necessarily always 100 percent believable. But they had a charm to them, they had a life in them. That was more important than anything. I think Jar Jar has this quality.

Ahmed Best: For me, it was just such a joy to be as creative as I wanted to be because I knew I had so much room. And George was really generous with the amount of room he gave me to bring Jar Jar to life.

Doug Chiang: Watto was completely out of nowhere, and that scared me, because the genesis of Watto was that I did an early trader baron portrait that George really liked. The story of that character changed eventually, but he liked that. One day he came in and said, “Remember that portrait of the trader baron? Take that portrait, let’s put on a body, and add the feet, and add bat wings.” And that was the brief!

Watto concept art

It scared me because it didn’t make any sense, and I thought it was going to be a complete cartoony character that people are going to laugh at. I remember we spent weeks and weeks designing it, trying to make it very real, and George kept saying the same thing. And then literally one day I said, “Okay, I’m going to take George exactly at his word, and draw exactly that.” And it worked.

One of my big appreciations for George is that he can push us quite a bit. I learned to trust him that he knows what he wants, and he will then stop us if we’ve gone too far. And right now Watto is one of my favorite characters.

Rob Coleman: The amazing thing about The Phantom Menace , I think, certainly for the ILM animators, is we were moving from putting creatures in scenes to actually being actors in the movie. This is what I was trying to get across to them. The notion of getting up and acting things out. Talking about what’s happening internally inside a character’s head. Do they believe in what they’re saying? What do they want from the scene? Everything you would talk to an actor about I was trying to teach these animators.

Jean Bolte of ILM uses Viewpaint to paint digital Sebulba.

Jean Bolte: The main characters, Sebulba, Watto, and Jar Jar, were things that I had painted. Those were great. I mean, Jar Jar, obviously, was an important character. I remember that Doug Chiang [paid] very, very close attention to him. After there was artwork from Doug, and the model, then I would do the texture paint on it, and then Doug Chiang would take a frame render and paint on it. The next morning I’d come in, I’d see what he had done, have a meeting with him, I would incorporate those changes into Jar Jar. That process went on every day for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Rob Coleman: I remember showing [a test of Watto] to George, and he was so excited that he showed him to Frank [Oz], who was doing the actual rubber puppet of Yoda on that first one. And then Frank said to George, “Well, this is the future.” And George was just beaming.

The centerpiece action sequence of the film is the podrace, a fast, furious race between Anakin Skywalker and a smattering of strange aliens, through a course that includes a stadium, caves, rocky terrain, and the occasional Tusken Raider sniper.

John Knoll: I had been playing around with a desktop tool that did two-dimensional physics simulations. It was called Interactive Physics. You could draw 2D shapes and you could have gravity and drag, and you could attach springs or chains to them and let them collide, and kind of do what they do.

Seeing the designs for the podracers, they’re supposed to be suspended on repulsors, like Luke’s speeder, where they just sort of hover, and if you disturb them they have a kind of springy action to them. So they’re supposed to be just kind of hovering there, and then the cables go back to the cockpit. I just kept thinking that they should be, as they’re driving along, bouncing and springing and kind of look like they’re being held up by springs.

Anakin and Sebulba clash in the podrace.

I used this Interactive Physics program to build a top down version of a podracer in 2D, where I had two engines and chains that went back to a cockpit. Then I attached thrusts to the engines, and I hooked them together by a spring network. I would jostle them a little bit and they would have this nice secondary springy motion that you would never have the time and patience to animate believably. I just really liked the look of it.

I talked to Habib Zargarpour, my friend that was doing all that [computer animation software] Maya beta testing, and I said I want to try setting something up like this in 3D where we make up a frame and we suspend the pods from springs that attach to the frame. Basically, what we’re going to animate is, we’re going to animate the frame, we’re going to jostle it around, and when we animate the pods we’re basically just animating this frame. The pods are just going to hang from that, and when we move the frame, they’ll kind of bounce around and we’ll get all this really nice secondary motion.

So that’s how the animation system worked, we weren’t actually animating the pods directly. We’re animating this frame that was holding them up.

That was, I think, the first time that we’d done vehicle animation that was all being driven by rigid bodies and dynamic simulation system.

Jean Bolte: I remember the first time I saw the podrace come together on the screen, and I was like, “This is it. This is amazing and it’s a beautiful collaboration.” The model makers and the computer graphics department come before me in the [process]. It’s first artwork, then the model makers get busy, the CG model department gets busy modeling, then it’s passed off to paint. Often it goes back to model and back to paint and back to model.

John Knoll: Yeah, it’s a mixture. Doug and the group had designed this racecourse that had all these very distinctly different-looking regions. It was all pretty deliberate because George wanted you -- if you saw two racers in one particular terrain -- to immediately understand where you were in the racetrack. “Oh, that’s the area right past the stadium,” or “There’s the arches,” or “That’s the area where they get into this narrow canyon.” So if you kind of understood what that racetrack is like, then you cut to this character and you kind of know, “Oh, he’s like 10 seconds behind Anakin because he’s still in the crater field,” and that kind of thing.

We had all these different terrains we had to create, and some of them were more closed in than others. A couple of them, like Beggar’s Canyon, and there was another sort of cave, this stalactite cave, I figured were closed in enough that we could do in miniature.

Podrace arena miniature

The podrace stadium was another one where I really felt like we’d get a lot of benefit out of building a miniature of that. Partly I was kinda looking back at how people had done things in the past, and the Ben-Hur stadium from the chariot race, that always really impressed me. Those were done in miniature and they just looked amazing. We’ll build a miniature of that arena, and we’ll shoot all the elements outdoors, and we’ll get that really nice, realistic daytime look.

And then there were other terrains where it was just wide open and we were going at 600 miles an hour, and it seemed like the only way to do it was this CG projection technique. It was a whole mixture of whatever technique would work.

Ben Burtt: I followed through with the podrace from day one to however we ended it. [ Laughs ] Even in the earliest stages of temporary assemblies of the race I showed George, I always was starting to put sound in. I, of course, had a library to start with of aircraft, and some automobile, cars, and things that had high-speed racing-type sounds that I could manipulate. I would sketch those in a temporary way.

As we went along and the podrace developed, I would go out and record new vehicles, as would [sound designer] Matt Wood and a few others. We’d send them out to races to get drag strips, cars, we did some -- everything from antique biplanes with wires humming on them to running an electric toothbrush up and down a harp string. It wasn’t just restricted to aircraft or anything. We did a lot of cars, a lot of aircraft of different types, and then manipulated other sound effects.

George Lucas: The podrace was the direct result of my lifelong fascination with racing. I thought it would be fun to build really intense race vehicles that were as much sort of chariots as they were anything else, like two horses and a chariot. I took that idea, and plot-wise, it was necessary to get them off the planet. Obviously, you could come up with a million different ways, but I have a tendency to always go toward the racetrack. It was very dynamic. And it’s fun. I love it.

The digital revolution of which The Phantom Menace was part did not stop with effects; it played a big part in the editing of the film and the entire delivery method. Still, the movie was ultimately made utilizing techniques both new and traditional.

George Lucas: I’m not sure where my embrace of technology comes from. All art is technology. Film, or the movies, were the highest point of technology in the art world. You just had to learn a lot, and there’s a lot of technical things to deal with. So that wasn’t the issue as much as it was the fact that I didn’t mind change. And I didn’t mind change because I actually physically worked in it. I worked as an editor, I worked as a cameraman, and I know how difficult it was just working in the medium where you have little splices of film, you can’t find them, when you go to look for something you have to go through reels and reels of film. It takes a long time and it’s very frustrating on lots of levels. Just the whole idea that back in the Kodak days, you’d shoot the film, and then you have to send it in to the drugstore to get it processed, and then bring it back to see what you have, is slow and frustrating. And the whole thing was built on that, whereas if you do it electronically, digitally, you can see what you’re doing as you’re doing it. So you know exactly what you’re doing.

Ben Burtt: Phantom Menace was shot on film. It was the last of the ones shot on film, but it gets transferred to a digital form, then we’re cutting on Avid editing machines. Once you’ve got the image in the digital realm, rather than a physical piece of film, of course then it opens up the door to the amenities of working digitally. You can cut and paste images, and you can duplicate them, and you can flip flop and enlarge them and shrink them, doing all kinds of stuff with a lot of fluidity that you would never have if you were working on a physical film.

George loved that world of manipulation after the fact. You learned working for George that no shot as the camera saw it was final. [ Laughs ] It could be thought of as just an element for further development.

Jean Bolte paints a Sebulba maquette.

Jean Bolte: When Jurassic came out, the company offered to train those of us who were interested in making the switch -- they referred to it as “making a switch to computer graphics.” I had no intention whatsoever of making a switch [from the model shop]. What I always wanted to do was to train on this, in the new technology, learn as much as I could about it, but also keep the door open in the model shop. I had to fight kind of hard to make that work. But I think I was fairly successful because during Episode I, I was still able to go back to the model shop and paint maquettes, sort of keep both doors open. I loved that.

John Knoll: To be perfectly frank, I was getting a lot of pressure from George and Rick to do less with miniatures and more with digital techniques. And what George told me, this was, I think, during Episode II or III, he was pushing back on me wanting to do so much with miniatures. He said, “Listen, the future is in computer graphics with these digital techniques, and you’re using miniatures as a crutch. You’re going to have to get better at doing this computer graphics work and expand the palette of things you’re going to be able to do that way. And the way you’re going to get good at it is doing it, so I’m going to kick the crutch out from under you and it’s for your own good. Don’t build so many miniatures. Do this stuff more with digital techniques because you need to be doing that.”

Even though my preference would have been to keep doing what I was doing on Episode I. I look back on a lot of the miniature work we did on Episode I and I think it still looks amazing.

Like Theed city, I think a lot of those shots are completely convincing. You’d never know. And I think the podrace stadium looks pretty good, and the podrace hangar looks really good. And there’s a lot of extensions that I don’t think people even know are extensions that are in the Nemoidian ship, of the corridors and the bridge and all of that. You’d never know.  

George Lucas looks back on some of the film’s key scenes.  

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn take on battle droids in The Phantom Menace.

The opening sequence, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn take on battle droids aboard the Trade Federation ship.

George Lucas: The thing is, in IV, V, and VI, you didn’t really get to see real Jedi in action. To me, that was something that a lot of people would want to see. And of course, the other part is, where are the Jedi at this point? What are they? We’ve never seen one, really, except for Obi-Wan.

The idea was to establish Jedi as what they were, which is sort of peacekeepers who moved through the galaxy to settle disputes. They aren’t policemen, they aren’t soldiers; they’re mafia dons. They come in and sit down with the two different sides and say, “Okay, now we’re going to settle this.”

A lot of people say, “What good is a lightsaber against a tank?” The Jedi weren’t meant to fight wars. That’s the big issue in the prequels. They got drafted into service, which is exactly what Palpatine wanted.

Filming the dinner scene at Anakin's home in The Phantom Menace.

Qui-Gon, Padmé, and Jar Jar come to Anakin’s home and talk around the dinner table; Anakin reveals that he had a dream in which he grows up to become a Jedi and returns to free all the slaves, while Jar Jar snags some fruit with his tongue, and Qui-Gon reveals the real reason they’re on Tatooine.

George Lucas: It’s interesting. It was a hard scene to shoot. Dinner scenes are always the hardest to shoot because of screen direction. It gets complicated. But it was fun, I enjoyed it. It’s a little bit of a domestic scene. There’s a lot of domestic scenes in Star Wars actually, people don’t realize, like the scene with Luke saying he’s going off to the academy, or with Obi-Wan in his home. There’s a number of those.

I liked the idea of having a scene that is not driven by "the phantom menace." It’s driven by family issues and things that they want to do, and about their character. I don’t get to include too many of those because of everything else required in a film like this.

Jar Jar flicking his tongue came into being because he’s a salamander. He does eat flies with his tongue. So the idea of putting that in the scene just seemed like a humorous moment. It’s similar to moments we had for Threepio and the Ewoks, and some of the other more humorous characters.  

Filming the Qui-Gon Jinn / Obi-Wan Kenobi / Darth Maul duel.

The final duel between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul.

George Lucas: I wanted to come up with an apprentice for the Emperor who was striking and tough. We hadn’t seen a Sith Lord before, except for Vader, of course. I wanted to convey the idea that Jedi are all very powerful, but they’re also vulnerable -- which is why I wanted to kill Qui-Gon. That is to say, “Hey, these guys aren’t Superman.” These guys are people who are vulnerable, just like every other person.

We needed to establish that, but at the same time, we wanted the ultimate sword fight, because they were all very good. It sort of predisposes the sword fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan later on. There’s real purpose to it. You have to establish the rules and then stick with them. The scene illustrates just how Jedi and Sith fight and use lightsabers.

I had the fight continually move locations so that we had some room to do it on various sets, and that was really a callback to the Douglas Fairbanks / Errol Flynn movies, where you have a really long, intense sword fight.

Phantom Menace teaser poster.

Unexpected Reaction

Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace was released on May 19, 1999. While it shattered box office records, the reception was mixed-turned-hostile, especially when it came to Jar Jar Binks. The backlash hit those behind the scenes.

Doug Chiang: I was just shocked at the level of dislike that it garnered. I thought it was unfair. I don’t think they understood it properly, and like anything new, like in all these films, we were pushing the boundaries on so many different levels in terms of execution, in terms of character, in terms of technique and looks, that sometimes we don’t always meet the bar that we want to.

And, of course, obviously I’m thinking of it from a filmmaker’s point of view, whereas the audience shouldn’t even worry about that. Ultimately, they’re judging it by what they’re seeing. For us, it was hard because I felt that some of those issues might have been addressed if we could have finished it a little bit better, lit it a little bit better, or whatever.

But at the end, it was hard. You put so much of your heart and soul into something like that, and then to have it not as well-received, it always kind of stings a little bit. But in some ways, I could also put it into perspective. I’m sure George took it harder. For me, I could always fall back on, "I was doing my job, I was just trying to do my best of what it is." If people don’t quite understand that, it’s okay. It’s not like I’m putting my heart and soul out there for everybody to see.

For someone like George, who, this is his story and his creation, that might be a different thing. It was hard.

George Lucas: I always had faith, to be very honest with you. When it came out, we got blasted out of the water and then the movie had this patina around it of failure and stupidity and whatever. The films were designed for 12-year-olds. I said that right from the very, very beginning and the very first interviews I did for A New Hope . It’s just that they were so popular with everybody, that everybody forgot that.

Then when I came back to do Phantom Menace , it was 20 years later. So if you were 10 years old when you saw A New Hope , you would be 30 years old when you saw Phantom Menace . So you weren’t a kid anymore. I think you were kind of embarrassed, and what you thought was a really fantastic movie for a 12-year-old wasn’t that great for a grownup. I think that was the main cause of the fall of Episodes I, II, and III. Believe me, it took a beating.

Ahmed Best: Here is Star Wars , back again after 20 years. George had accomplished things that had never been done in movies before, and I was a part of that. All of a sudden, instead of talking about the groundbreaking things that were happening in The Phantom Menace , everybody was talking about racism and how I, a black man from New York City with very pro-black parents, was contributing to the racial insensitivity and blindness of a Hollywood paradigm. And I was thrown for a loop. I had no idea what was going on. Then that idea just picked up steam and kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger the more people started talking about it.

Rob Coleman: It started to get really clear that certainly the critics, this is before audiences even got to see it, had a huge problem with [Jar Jar]. And I remember flying back with George from New York to Oakland, and I was bummed because we’d worked so hard on that character and the backlash was pretty instant and severe. He could see I was upset, and he called me back to where he was sitting. He said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “Well, they hate the character.” And he said, “They don’t hate the character. Did you read any review where they said he didn’t look real or he didn’t feel like he was in the scene?” I said, “Well, no…” He said, “They treated him like he was a real actor. You should be incredibly proud. They have not said, ‘This is badly animated.’ You guys held up your end of the bargain.”

Ahmed Best: There was an army of people who brought Jar Jar to life. Coleman and Knoll and George were just in charge of thousands of designers and programmers, guys making the software, creating the code. I felt like it all hinged on my performance, and my performance failed and I let everybody down.

John Knoll: It was disappointing to see so many people react negatively to something we had worked really long and hard on. I’m still proud of the accomplishment. It was one of the more exciting and challenging things I’ve had the pleasure to work on.

Jean Bolte: I actually felt terrible that Ahmed Best suffered so much. I remember when he came out to [ILM headquarters] Kerner and I met him, showed him around, and I said, “We’re really interested in having your interpretation of this character. You’re going to bring a lot to this, the personality is something that we have not experienced that yet. And that’s going to be your part in it.”

And he was this kid in his twenties, who did that beautiful Stomp , that show that he was involved in, which we all got to see. George let us see a special [performance] of that -- yeah, that was during a company meeting. There was a big theater up there in San Rafael, and the company meeting turned out to be a little bit of conversation and then we got to see Stomp . Ahmed was in that thing, and I was just like, “This is so cool!” It was just wonderful.

So here he was, this kid I think had hoped that this was going to be something that transformed his life in a really great way. Who wouldn’t think that? It’s an opportunity to work on a Star Wars movie.

Ahmed Best: I fell into a really deep depression. For me, I saw Phantom Menace as the beginning of this new style of filmmaking and I could be at the front of that line.

George Lucas: The main thing they obviously got upset about was Jar Jar. But they got upset at Jar Jar because he was there for the kids. When I did A New Hope , everybody felt the same way about Threepio. They hated him. They thought he was too childish and the jokes were bad. They said the same thing. It’s just that the initial wave of Star Wars sort of overwhelmed the criticism of Threepio. We even played on that in Empire , making fun of him and acknowledging the fact that he was annoying. And then in the third one we did the same thing with Ewoks. People just went berserk. They said it was horrible, it ruined the movie, and how can you watch this, and all that kind of stuff.

So I was used to that sort of thing, but for some reason, the criticism through the internet became more alive. And the news media began to listen to the fans. Obviously, when a fan, or a group, or a blog says something terrible, they take it seriously, and suddenly that became the reality. It was very hard to turn back from that.

The fact is that Phantom Menace is actually about some different kinds of things, and the story is a little more complex.

I knew it would mean a lot to kids. I kept defending it by saying, this is for 12-year-olds and kids are going to love Jar Jar.

Ahmed Best: As soon as the movie came out and all of that started coming down, [George] called me and we talked about it. Ironically, he said, “Twenty years from now, this is all gonna go away. Nobody is going to remember or think about it this way.” And he was right. He was right.

Phantom Menace poster.

A New Beginning

Twenty years later, The Phantom Menace and the prequels at large may have finally found their time. Children who loved the film in 1999 have grown up. Anecdotally, Episode I remains as popular as ever with kids; prequel-related books and comics are maybe more prevalent than at any time since 1999, and the recent Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan Master & Apprentice novel landed on the New York Times Bestseller List; at Star Wars Celebration Chicago in April, a 20 th anniversary panel drew thousands and many, many ovations -- the loudest of which was for Ahmed Best. Here, the creators of The Phantom Menace reflect on the movie and its wider acceptance today.

George Lucas: I love the [ Star Wars ] movies. And I love Episode I very much because it fills in a lot of the holes. I really wanted to do that.

John Knoll: Well, I think [its new popularity] is good to see, because I think George took a lot of the criticism pretty hard. It was sort of painful for me to see how vicious people were about it and how personally George took that. I think the films didn’t deserve quite as much hate as they got. It pained me to see how hard George took that stuff.

Ben Burtt: I said to my family back at the time of Phantom Menace and the other prequels, “Look, if people had these expectations, just wait until all this passes. The next generation that comes along is going to look at them very differently.”

That’s true now. My grandchildren, they’re all the right age for Star Wars , they’re two to 15, and they love it! I don’t get any critiques from them. They’ll watch any one of them. I think that time softens a lot of that. There’s a lot of expectation involved in your reaction to a movie.

Ahmed Best: It was definitely the children -- I had to start looking at Jar Jar through their eyes, and that’s what made me smile again. Now those kids are in their 20s and 30s. They have a different perspective on The Phantom Menace . The Phantom Menace , for them, is their Star Wars . [Episodes] IV, V, and VI, that’s their parents’ Star Wars , and VII, VIII, and IX, that’s their kids’ Star Wars . But the prequels, that’s theirs, and they defend the prequels. So I see the same thing. I see the resurgence of The Phantom Menace and the prequels, and they’re getting the attention that I think we wanted them to get 20 years ago. And the same thing with Jar Jar.

Rob Coleman: It warms my heart, because I was so incredibly proud, obviously, to have been a key member of the creative team, to bring those films to life. I put everything of myself into that work and worked incredibly hard to get George’s vision onto the screen.

Doug Chiang: It validates a lot of what we were doing. It actually warms my heart because I love to see that. And I knew from several years ago that that generation was growing up, because I would get a lot of emails and contact saying that, you know, that was their favorite film.

It was always hard for me to look at it objectively because I grew up with the original trilogy, and I’m with that generation, but of course I had a big hand in the prequel trilogy. So, I feel tied to both. And I could understand and appreciate both. And I’m just very thankful that people can now see it as a whole, that each of these films and stories are made for a very specific generation. It covers many generations and it’s not just for one targeted group.

So for me to hear all of that now is actually very rewarding, because I knew we were doing something very special. We were pushing boundaries for sure, and that’s totally what Star Wars is. You’re taking risks. I’m just very thrilled that it’s coming together in this way. I think the best thing for me is seeing the content, the Episode I content, being played out, like in the Battlefront video games, where you can see the designs and the worlds that we created come to life in a bigger way.

And that really validates it for me because they’re worlds that I want to visit again. I really want to go back there and enjoy it. I’m just glad that people are starting to appreciate that, because I felt that instinctually, and I couldn’t really share it openly until just recently. It is kind of hard -- when you create something, you want everybody to love it. Of course, you can’t please everybody. [ Laughs ]

Jean Bolte: To go to Star Wars Celebration, and see and hear the fans so interested in what our contribution had been…. It really did completely change my point of view about having the privilege of having had something to do with these films.

John Knoll: I think [the Star Wars Celebration panel] was great, especially the warm reaction there was to Ahmed. I know he took it hard, all the vicious comments that people had about Jar Jar. That’s not his fault, he didn’t write that character. He’s an actor who did a really good job and worked hard to do that job well. To see the really warm reaction of the crowd made me feel -- it was heartwarming.

Ahmed Best: To be very honest, I was very afraid to go to Celebration. Every time I’m in a Star Wars setting, I spend most of my time defending our work and defending Jar Jar. And I just don’t want to do that anymore. So I was very reluctant to come to Celebration because of that, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the case at all. I just felt nothing but love and respect and admiration for the work we did. I couldn’t have been more proud and I couldn’t have been happier. I wish George was there because I think we’re at a time right now where we have to stand in that work. We have to say, “We did it,” and step into that in a very proud way, because it stands the test of time.

George Lucas is a futurist. That guy can see 20, 30, 50 years into the future. As an artist and as a creator and as an innovator, he’s done things that no one else has done, no one else has even thought of. I know the fan backlash of 20 years ago was loud, but that’s really all it was. It was just loud. And now we have to be louder in our pride for this thing, because we have an army behind us of people who love those movies.

Rob Coleman: [George] said something along the lines of, “I could put you at a card table at any mall in America and kids would be lining up to get your autograph.” I was like, “Oh, George.” He said, “They’re going to put Jar Jar on your tombstone.” I was like, “No, they’re not!”

And he’s right. Twenty years on, I still get people that are much younger than me, coming up to me and saying, “Jar Jar is my favorite character.”

Trisha Biggar: I still get letters from people, which is fantastic. You think, it’s 20 years later and it’s amazing that people still want to write and say how much they love the films. I got a letter yesterday, in fact. It’s brilliant, it’s absolutely brilliant.

Doug Chiang: It’s pretty amazing. I would say it really started my whole career. Even though I was 30 at that time, it defined who I am as an artist, it defined my work ethic, it defined my style. I owe a lot to those seven years that I worked with George working on Episodes I and II. Looking back now, it’s nothing but fond memories. It’s amazing. Even though I say sometimes that it was a heartache and it was really hard, and I didn’t enjoy it, I did. I was living my dream.

John Knoll: I still feel like I owe George a lot to have been given that opportunity. On those three films, I feel like I got a whole career’s worth of experience packed into eight years. George never constricted his thinking to what he knew for sure the tools were capable of; his attitude was, “Yeah, well, I’m writing what I want to see, so you guys will figure it out.” I loved that he would constantly throw those challenges out with the confidence [that] you guys will figure it out. That was great.

[ Laughs ] I remember saying, “If I survive Episode I, nothing’s ever going to faze me again. If I can do that, I can do anything.” It really kind of was that way; then I wasn’t at all ever worried or intimidated about big shows. “Yeah, we got a process for doing it, we’ll figure it out.” I really developed a lot of confidence in the process of how we break these things down and how we manage big projects.

Iain McCaig: I love it. I love that film. I love Episode I, I love everything about it.

Ahmed Best: I look back at the work that we’ve done and I’m nothing more than proud. We did groundbreaking, innovative work. As far as innovation goes in movies since, they’ve taken what we’ve done and expanded on it, the Avatars and The Lord of the Rings . But Phantom Menace innovated that stuff. It works because we did it.

George Lucas: I still enjoy watching it. I haven’t shown it to my daughter yet; she’s five, but I’ll probably show it to her in the next year or so. And I have a grandson who also has got all the stuff. He’s the Star Wars guy. He wants to know how old Luke was when he was fighting Vader, how old was Anakin in the first film. He relates to who they are and what they are.

I think he obviously relates a lot more to Phantom Menace than the other films because the hero is his age. He’s four, going on five, so he’s decided that Anakin is five. You can make that leap. He wanted a hero who is the same age as himself.

Special thanks to Lynne Hale, Mickey Capoferri, and Kelly Knox. This would not have been possible without you.

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves  Star Wars , ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter  @dan_brooks  where he rants about all these things.

Site tags: #StarWarsBlog

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

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