When Star Wars returned to the big screen in 1999 after a 16-year absence, it answered many questions and raised even more. But what did the events of The Phantom Menace mean for the story of the saga as a whole?
Episode I was the fourth released film in the series and took place several decades before the events of the original trilogy that started it all. As such, fans expecting to see stormtroopers and rebels having it out were in for a surprise. They experienced a very different galaxy with no Empire and no Luke Skywalker. However, The Phantom Menace contains essential knowledge for setting up how the events of the Galactic Civil War unfolded and in understanding the motivations of some of the key characters of those events.
The movie is over 20 years old now, so we’ll assume readers are familiar with the events of the film. The consequences of its happenings, however, can remain elusive. It is, after all, the most isolated of any one film in a Star Wars trilogy if judged by the time between the other entries. Films in each of the trilogies often take place a few short years apart from each other, but The Phantom Menace takes place a huge 10 years before its sequel Attack of the Clones, which for reference, is also 32 years before the original Star Wars.
As such, the events of the film very much take on a historical context. Particularly those surrounding the Battle of Naboo and the ascension of Senator Palpatine to the high office of Supreme Chancellor.
Palpatine, who is of course Darth Sidious, has become the political leader of the galaxy by the end of the film. Fans who are in the know would of course already be aware that actor Ian McDiarmid had played the man since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and therefore know what the significance of this means. For newer fans, they are observing the gradual rise of the Emperor to his throne of galactic domination.
The galactic importance of The Phantom Menace
On a more grounded level is the journey of Anakin Skywalker, which begins with this film. Anakin was first directly named in Episode VI when the ghost of Ben Kenobi tells Luke that what Vader said was true and that he and Luke’s father were indeed the same man “from a certain point of view.”
Instead of the terrifying cyborg in black that is ingrained in the very fabric of film, we see that young Anakin started life as a slave on the same desert world that Luke would be raised on. It is here in Episode I that his journey to greatness begins and his instruction in the Force as a Padawan starts under the tutelage of a youthful Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Kenobi is perhaps Episode I’s most recognizable human face that is remembered from the original trilogy. Here he is a young man, still a Padawan learner. After the sudden death of his master Qui-Gon Jinn, he is then given stewardship of the boy who would one day define galactic history… so no pressure…
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