Preparing for The Rise of Skywalker – Part I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a 1999 mythic science fiction/fantasy film directed by George Lucas. It stars, among others, Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd. 

The Phantom Menace is the opening chapters of the story of young Anakin Skywalker, and his first steps on a journey that will lead to tragedy and redemption. It spends a considerable amount of time on much needed world building, and it gives us a view of the Star Wars galaxy on a grander scale than what we’re used to from the original trilogy. 

George Lucas, being a student of the monomyth, and the “hero’s journey”, as described by author Joseph Campbell in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, has masterfully employed these narrative techniques in The Phantom Menace. 

I often say that each of the various Star Wars films in the Skywalker saga (that being Episodes I through IX) has a theme that can be described in a single word. For the Phantom Menace, that word is “innocence”, and it is easy to see why. We meet Anakin Skywalker, a young boy from the desert world Tatooine, who seems to be, in some way, blessed by the Force, and called the “Chosen One” by other Jedi. 

The first steps on the hero’s journey (The Phantom Menace, 1999)

However, we as an audience, know that Anakin’s path will be different, and more tragic, as he is destined to be Darth Vader, the main antagonist of the original trilogy. 

But in The Phantom Menace, we meet Anakin before his fall. Of course, there are subtle hints and warnings, but despite the misgivings of some of the less enthusiastic Jedi, Anakin starts his way down Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”. And this movie is about the firsts steps of that journey. Having read Joseph Campbell, I could almost see the initial stages of the hero’s journey being ticked off on a list as the film progressed. 

The Phantom Menace is a beautiful film, and I remember being awestruck by the special effects, world building and action set pieces back in 1999 when I first watched this in the cinema. Being a science fiction and fantasy enthusiast, I really enjoy The Phantom Menace’s homages to 1950s science fiction Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. There are scenes in this movie that has become iconic in cinema, like the Duel of Fates and the Pod Race. 

One of the most epic duels in cinematic history (The Phantom Menace, 1999)

Of course, some parts of the film, especially the CGI (top of the line back in 1999) haven’t aged that well, but consider for a moment that this movie recently had it’s 20 year anniversary. Then compare it to other movies from 20 years ago. 

When it comes to the acting in The Phantom Menace (and the Star Wars prequels in general), people do have mixed feelings. I tend to enjoy the theatrical style of acting in these movies, as I think they fit excellently with the 50s inspiration and the mythic story telling Lucas is going for. A more natural acting style would, in my opinion, not fit very well with the narrative tone of the film.

The Phantom Menace did get alot of flak from many hard core fans when it first came out. I’ve always loved it, and it is very nice to see that the opinions of the film is steadily growing more positive, especially in the past few years. Fandom, fan psychology and nostalgia is funny that way.

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