Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the Congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict....
That was the opening crawl of Star Wars: Episode I the Phantom Menace by George Lucas. Episode I had originally been Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope until Lucas’ realisation that there was too much backstory. Instead, he took his main story and made that the Original Trilogy. The expository context leading into it became the Prequel Trilogy, which began with Star Wars: Episode I the Phantom Menace.
In order to lead into the Original Trilogy, Lucas chose to tell the story through the perspective of Anakin Skywalker, here a boy podracer destined to bring balance to the force. He is, as Qui-Gon Jinn explains, “the Chosen One”. In doing so, the saga was no longer the story of Luke Skywalker’s ascension to heroism, but Anakin Skywalker’s journey toward the dark side, power and ultimate redemption.
The screenwriting began 1st November 1994 from a fifteen-page outline written in 1976 as backstory. Changes made were Anakin’s age, which decreased from twelve to nine, requiring extra scenes for Anakin to learn how the ship worked, as well as R2-D2 helping him learn. Also changed was the title, which was originally The Beginning. “The Phantom Menace” refers to Palpatine hiding his true intentions behind a public servant – the triggering event of the saga. His deception leads to the Trade Federation War, the Jedi expedition on Tatooine and the discovery of Anakin, all happening during the rise of the Sith, which carried over into the next episode. This dualistic theme is present throughout – Padme Amidala is a queen posing as a servant, Palpatine manipulating both the Galactic Republic and Sith Order, and Obi-Wan Kenobi consistently clashes with Qui-Gon Jinn. But these three central characters – Anakin, Kenobi and Palpatine – are themselves linked by the need for something, be it a mother, master or apprentice. The sage was begun by this first episode: the dualism set the tone and the need for something set the story. Star Wars, here, at its beginning, was defined by what it had already been – a story of a literal and spiritual war perpetuated by the need for something. Nothing is simple, everyone is complex.
Writing the script was much more enjoyable this time around because I wasn’t constrained by anything. You can’t write one of these movies without knowing how you’re going to accomplish it. With CG at my disposal, I knew I could do whatever I wanted.
May the Fourth be with you. See you next year.