“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”–Jedi Master Yoda
As we get ready for the continuation of the Star Wars saga with this December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, let’s look back at the previous six films of this iconic film series. Putting opinions aside, the first six Star Wars films will now forever be known as the ones that Star Wars creator George Lucas directly worked on. They bear the mark of what he intended for the overall story and for better or worse reflect his vision for the Star Wars saga. For the first retrospective of the entire star spanning saga, we begin not with the very first Star Wars film made but with the first chronological film in the saga: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The setting for Episode I as are the rest of the films is long ago in a distant galaxy. Large parts of it are ruled by the Galactic Republic. Consisting of thousands of worlds, the Republic’s relative peace for generations is at risk because of one of its members: the Trade Federation. In the film’s opening crawl, the Trade Federation is up in arms with the Republic over taxes on trade routes of the outer worlds. Their idea to resolve this issue is to place a blockade on the planet Naboo.
The Republic’s ruling chancellor dispatches two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan MaGregor), to negotiate with Nute Gunray (Silas Carson), the Viceroy of the Federation. at his flagship orbiting Naboo. Not long after they arrive , the mystical warriors are attacked by the Federation’s droid soldiers who have orders to kill the Jedi. The relative ease to which the Jedi take out the mechanical troops is our first taste as to the true height of the Jedi’s powers. During the battle, the Jedi learn that the Federation are about to land troops on Naboo, so they hitch a ride on one of the invading ships and arrive on the planet to warn the inhabitants. Along the way, Qui-Gon saves a strange and goofy alien native, an amphibious Gungan called Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). The floppy eared alien decides to tag along with the Jedi because of a life debt owed to them as they make their way to the Naboo capital.
Once the trio reach the capital, the Jedi manage to rescue the planet’s ruling queen, Padme Amdilla (Natalie Portman), and her royal entourage, who were being held hostage by the Trade Federation’s droid army. They were captured by Gunray because he wanted to force the queen to sign a treaty legalizing the occupation of Naboo. After easily dispatching the cannon-fodder droid army in the city, the Jedi and the others board a spaceship and break the orbital blockade.
The queen wants to go to Coruscant, the capital world of the Republic, to plea for intervention. But although the ship is able to jump into hyperspace during the escape it was damaged. This forces them to set down for repairs in a nearby world: Tatooine, a desert planet that is outside the Republic’s domain.
On the backwater world, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Jar Jar leave for one of Tatooine’s towns Mos Espa to get spare parts for their ship. Joining them at the behest of the queen is one of her handmaidens, who is actually Padme herself pretending to be a commoner.
They meet a coarse junk dealer called Watoo (voiced by Andy Secombe) who has the engine parts they need, but they’re unable to pay for them. During the visit to Watoo’s business, they meet his young human slave, Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who befriends them and offers shelter in his mother’s home from a coming sandstorm. Qui-Gon immediately senses that the Force is strong in Anakin and takes a fast interest in the boy.
For those who have been living under a rock since 1977 the Force is a metaphysical power in the Star Wars universe that is wielded by the Jedi and their opponents the Sith. According to Star Wars lore it’s a form of energy that flows through all life forms and those who are adept at using it can perform superhuman acts like telekinesis, controlling weak minds and so on.
Qui-Gon wants to recruit the young slave and train him as a Jedi, but first he has to win the boy’s freedom. To accomplish this, he convinces Watoo to enter Anakin in a dangerous pod race where racers speed through the desert climes of Tatooine in cobbled together engine parts and makeshift carriages. If Anakin wins he’s to be freed as part of the conditions of a bet the Qui-Gon and Watoo placed with each other. Additionally, if Anakin wins, Qui-Gon will be able to get the parts needed for the queen’s ship so they can leave for Coruscant.
Unbeknownst to the group is that the Jedi are being tracked by Darth Maul (Ray Park) a devilish Sith apprentice and his superior Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid). Throughout the film, Sidious has been manipulating and controlling the Trade Federation for his own mysterious reasons and is the mastermind behind the Naboo invasion. More importantly, Sidious wants to renew the ancient feud his order has against the Jedi.
While the heroes busy themselves with leaving Tatooine, reaching Coruscant and finding a way to end the Federation occupation, sinister forces are aligning against the Jedi and the Republic. Soon, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan will confront the deadly Sith as they attempt to free Naboo, and it’s an encounter which will have lasting ramifications throughout the galaxy.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was probably the most eagerly awaited film in history. For sixteen years, fans had to endure a drought of Star Wars films after Return of the Jedi (ROTJ) came out in 1983 and there was doubt if there would ever be another Star Wars film. After ROTJ, George Lucas was burned out, plus the limitations of effects technology hampered his ability to bring forth his visions in additional films.
However, Lucas changed his mind after some time. He saw in the early ’90s that Star Wars was still popular thanks to the success of spinoff books and comic books. More importantly, he was impressed with the effects technology, specifically the emerging CG effect featured in films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park. At last, he felt that he could bring his true unhindered vision to film thanks to the new CG technology.
Lucas had been fascinated with the backstory to the Star Wars saga and Darth Vader’s origin, which he wrote as a fifteen-page outline back when he was developing the very first film in the ’70s. Hence, the reason why his followup to the original trilogy would be prequels.