Everyone on the planet seemed excited about The Phantom Menace in 1999. The origin story of Darth Vader was set to begin, and fans were worked into a frenzy in anticipation. And then, the film happened, and has since been known as easily the worst Star Wars film ever made. Boring, confusing, and uninteresting from start to finish, George Lucas’ new film was a harbinger of things to come…
Here are 17 things to know about the disastrous Phantom Menace.
1. During the first week of the first trailer’s release, many theaters reported up to 75% of their audiences paying full price for a movie, then walking out after the Star Wars: Episode I trailer was shown.
2. Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala) missed the premiere party in New York because she had to go home to study for her high school final exams.
3. Jake Lloyd, who plays the young Anakin Skywalker, has said that he retired from acting because of the trauma he experienced after playing Anakin Skywalker. According to Lloyd, other children constantly teased him about the role. For example, they would make lightsaber sounds whenever he walked by. Lloyd also said that the situation was made worse because, in his opinion, the film did not meet the fans’ expectations.
4. There is only one shot in the film to which no visual effects were added at all: the shot of the dioxis gas pouring out of the vent in the meeting room. This is part of the problem.
5. Benicio Del Toro was originally set to play Darth Maul. Del Toro left the film after George Lucas took most of Maul’s lines out of the film. Maul only has three lines.
6. A few USC students took the Japanese Laserdisc & made their own edit of the movie. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT cut out all scenes featuring Jar-Jar Binks, but does remove many of his sillier and more distracting moments, and makes many other minor tweaks. It became known as the “Phantom Edit”. George Lucas requested to see a copy, and then Lucasfilm issued a press release reiterating that it is illegal to copy and/or edit a Lucasfilm property.
7. Jar-Jar Binks got his name from George Lucas’s young son.
8. Early treatments of the film originally did not have Qui-Gon Jinn, and simply had Obi-Wan by himself as a Jedi Knight. Qui-Gon was added as Obi-Wan’s master to flow with the generational “Passing the Torch” theme found throughout the whole saga.
9. Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman and Kurt Russell were considered for the part of Qui-Gon Jinn.
10. Sets were built only as high as the tops of the actors’ heads and computer graphics filled in the rest. But Liam Neeson was so tall that he cost the set crew an extra $150,000 in construction.
11. According to Star Wars canon, Obi-Wan’s hanging braid is a Jedi tradition common to all Padawan Learners. When his master feels that he has reached proper maturity, he cuts the braid with his lightsaber, signifying that the student is now a full Jedi Knight.
12. The movie was shipped to theaters as “The Doll House” to thwart piracy attempts.
13. In the original trilogy, lightsaber activations and deactivations happened off-screen most of the time to prevent the “jumps” that would occur when the film was stopped to allow the “activated” lightsaber props to be substituted for the deactivated handles. This no longer poses a problem and every activation/deactivation occurs on-screen.
14. George Lucas made a similar deal as he did in the original Star Wars in 1977. Both Lucas and Fox Studios agreed that he would forego his salary as a director provided he owns the entire negative of the final cut of the film as well as ancillary rights of all toys and commercial tie-ins.
15. In scenes where Padme and Queen Amidala appear together, Natalie Portman is Padme, while Keira Knightley is Sabe, one of the handmaidens disguised as the Queen.
16. Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, was originally slated to be writing the script at one point, as was Carrie Fisher, who was said to be helping out as a script doctor.
17. This was the first Star Wars film to be released on DVD in 2001, a year after its theatrical release.