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...
After CGI started taking off, in no small part due to the work of his company Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas felt it was a good time to finish the Star Wars saga. He released the original trilogy in theaters as special editions to further test the waters for more Star Wars films. The Phantom Menace then began production after the success of the special editions.The prequels came about from backstory notes Lucas developed on the first film, and further expanded upon before The Empire Strikes Back came out (Hence the retroactive naming scheme using "Episodes"). Unlike the original trilogy, this film was designed as the introduction of a three movie structure, though this film (and the other prequels) is still comparatively self-contained.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: The idea of an elected Queen sounds extremely strange, but, in fact, there are some places that actually did elect monarchy, including medieval Ireland and early modern Poland. There are still elective monarchies, including Malaysia, Cambodia (where the King is elected by other members of the Royal Family), and Wallis-and-Futuna, a French territory in the Pacific Ocean, which is divided into three traditional kingdoms each led by a king elected among the local aristocracy. One more that people often don't think about is the Pope, who at one time ruled the Papal States (read: half of Italy) and now rules over the Vatican City, and is elected from the College of Cardinals. Those who know about this generally are skeptical of the idea of a popularly elected monarch; the examples listed above are elected from small cadres of elites, not the general populace, as is the case with Amidala.
Boy Meets Girl: Anakin meets Padmé who is actually the Queen of Naboo, and his future wife for the first time.
The Cavalry Arrives Late: All those Jedi arrive well after the battle, where they could have helped Obi-Wan defeat Maul more easily, possibly even have saved Qui-Gon.
Cast the Expert: Darth Maul was played by Ray Park, who was a martial arts expert and stunt man, not an actor, although he has had a number of acting roles since then. This is one of the reasons that he had virtually no lines, and what lines he had were dubbed by Peter Serafinowicz.
Combat Pragmatist: When separated from Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon manages to hold his own against Darth Maul's lightsaber strikes. So what does Maul do to get the better of him? He butts Qui-Gon in the face with the hilt of his lightsaber to catch him off guard and then impales him through the chest.
Coming of Age Story: For Anakin and Padme. Anakin Skywalker leaves his home and family to begin his training as a Jedi Knight while Padme Amidala has to prove herself as a successful leader. Done as a mirror of their children Luke and Leia from the original trilogy.
Cowboy Cop: Qui-Gon is the Jedi version of this. He goes with his gut feelings, rather than established procedure. He bends the rules to see justice done. He's been passed over for promotion by the suits on the Jedi Council for his actions, and he's willing to challenge their authority. Oddly, by the time we reach Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker seems more like Qui-Gon (who he's never met) than Kenobi or Yoda (who trained him).
Crapsack World: Tatooine. For one thing, it's stated in the movie that it's ruled by the Hutts (whom according to Panaka are gangsters) and it's clear from the movie that slavery is considered acceptable there, including the use of children as slaves. There's also the podracing, which people also bet various things (including the fate of slaves) on. Even putting aside the nature of its society, there's also the weather; dangerous sandstorms can come up on short notice, which the Tatooine residents apparently predict through aching bones, and that doesn't give them much time to find shelter. *
And yes, Tatooine's a Crapsack World in other installments too, but it's probably taken further in this installment than it is in the other ones.
Since the midichlorians are explicitly described as not generating but translating the force (more akin to something like, say, a Babel Fish), one could make the argument that the wizard is in fact alive and well, and the act of estimating one's strength in the force by the amount of force-feeding bacteria drawn to you is a desperate attempt of a "civilized" republic to explain the unexplainable.
Don't Look Back: Anakin's mother gives him the strength to leave Tatooine by telling him not to look back at her.
Exact Words: "Stay in that cockpit!" from Qui-Gon to Anakin. Never mind that Anakin accidentally activates the Naboo fighter craft in question, subsequently blasts a few Destroyer droids, and ultimately takes out the reactor core of the orbiting Trade Federation control ship...
Fantastic Racism: The Gungans and the Naboo appear to not like each other very much and live segregated from each other in underwater and aboveground cities, respectively. Later on they form an alliance to end the Trade Federation's occupation of their planet.
Final Battle: There are 4 of them (a 3-way lightsaber duel, a massive ground battle, a big space battle and a smaller ground assault). Its been pointed out that the Star Wars movies had an increasing number of final battles per movie. At an early screening for execs and higher-ups the editor pointed out that because there was so much going on the audience's mood was being pulled from comedy to drama to excitement to sadness so much that it was losing its power. Lucas realized that he had gone overboard and that he couldn't fix it in the editing because all four scenes are intertwined, and in the latter two movies he backed down on it significantly.
Fixing The Game: Qui-Gon doesn't qualm to cheat at dice if it serves the greater good.
Foreshadowing: After Mace Windu wonders if it was the Master or the Apprentice who was destroyed, the scene pans towards Palpatine, and an ominous musical cue is heard while the funeral theme is playing in the background, hinting that Palpatine is the other Sith.
There's also the first meeting between Palpatine and Anakin; Palpatine pats the young boy on the back, saying that, "-we will be watching your career with great interest."
The Novelization has some of this in its version of the "Are you an angel?" scene, during which Anakin tells Padmé that he's sure he's going to someday marry her. It's used playfully as a Call Back later when Anakin and Padmé are talking aboard her ship.
For the people who had not yet seen the movies, the soundtrack makes a foreshadowing. When Yoda talks about Anakin at the end of the film stating that the boy's future is clouded, the Imperial March makes a brief yet meaningfull appearance.
Friends Rent Control: Shmi and Anakin live pretty well for slaves on a Third World-level planet. Also, their hovel seems to be Bigger on the Inside. And what's that area where Anakin was building his podracer? Was that, like, a backyard? Possibly justified by their value to Watto as slaves.
To point out just how much Watto valued his slaves: when Anakin left, he refused to sell Shmi to anyone, at any price, unless he was certain she would be treated well by her new owner. Sure enough, the guy who eventually was allowed to buy her didn't waste any time in freeing her and marrying her...
Keystone Army: The droid army malfunctions when the control ship is knocked out.
Similarly, the Gungan army turns and runs as soon as their shield generator is knocked out. Justified, because while the shield was up the only thing that could get through was the Trade Federation's infantry. After the shield is down their heavy firepower could move in.
Kill 'Em All: Darth Sidious orders to Lord Maul and the Federation: "Wipe them out. All of them."
Lethal Klutz: Jar Jar Binks destroys quite a few combat droids accidentally during the final battle for Naboo. In one scene he accidentally unlatches the door to a stash of grenade-like devices, sending them into the enemy ranks; in another, his foot gets caught in one droid, and trying to escape causes the droid's blaster to fire, taking out another droid.
Lighter and Softer: Despite the page quote up top there, children and funny-talking aliens play a large part in the plot. More obviously, the Used Future aesthetic of the original trilogy was done away with in order to help demonstrate that this is the "more civilized age" that Obi-Wan mentioned in A New Hope.
Meaningful Background Event: In a couple scenes while characters are going about their business on Tatooine, you might catch an inconspicuous floating droid hover past in the background - or catch a listen to their signature sound effect - which have a striking resemblance to those we saw belonging to Darth Maul...
Mechanical Monster: the Droidekas. These are not puny little battle droids. Even the Jedi give them a wide berth.
Mook Horror Show: Invoked by the creators with the Trade Federation members hiding from the Jedi which nothing could stop. The DVD commentary specifically states this was an inversion of the typical "humans cowering in fear of the unstoppable alien" dynamic from old horror movies.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: The manner in which the Trade Federation marched into Theed mirrored the Nazis march under the Arc de Triomphe. In addition, the Trade Federation, after occupying Naboo, also held the various indigenous people (Nabooian and Gungan) in camps that were implied to be death camps/concentration camps. In addition, it is implied that Palpatine orchestrated the Naboo blockade invasion to gain more power, similar to how Adolf Hitler had some of his army pose as Polish people and attack their own key buildings so he'd have the excuse to invade Poland. It might also reference Hitler invading his native land of Austria, seeing how Palpatine was the senator of the same planet that he orchestrated the Trade Federation's invasion of. note There's more, here.
New Powers as the Plot Demands: Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon both run at super speed to escape two robots near the start of the film - and never use the power again, not even when it might have been useful during the duel with Darth Maul.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Aside from the trouble Jar-Jar causes in this movie, there is also the time when Qui-Gon made it his dying wish for Obi-Wan to train Anakin. Those familiar enough with the series' overall story would know that this didn't exactly work out all that well.
And Padme following Palpatine's recommendation to call for a vote of no confidence, allowing him to become Chancellor.
Knowing what led to Anakin turning to the Dark Side, the Jedi not accepting him earlier before Obi-Wan essentially threatened to go against the Order to train him himself also qualifies somewhat.
Noodle Incident: The specific reasons for Jar-Jar's exile, besides his obvious clumsiness, are never detailed. We only get to hear the last bit of the story, which apparently involves blowing something up and crashing Boss Nass' heyblibber.
No OSHA Compliance: A Star Wars staple, which probably reaches its highest point in the area where Qui-Gon and Obi Wan fight Maul - A series of catwalks with no railings over bottomless pits.
Naboo: idyllic paradise, or a labor union's worst nightmare.
Funnily enough, the Expanded Universe material sees Sebulba becoming a positively heroic figure as the Empire begins to crack down on podracing and sports in general.
Parental Substitute: Rather sadly, Watto is the closest thing young Anakin has to a father figue. Though he STILL does occasionally discipline him and Shmi like any average slave owner would, from what we get to see he is genuinely fond of the mother and son, treats them well, and was genuinely sad to see Anakin go. On top of all that, he would not sell Shmi until he was certain that her new master was a kind man that give her a good and happy life. Word Of God does state that Watto generally treats his slaves much better than most other masters.
When Qui-Gon comes in, he takes on this role for Anakin.
Power Levels: The infamous "midichlorian count" for measuring Force talent.
Queen Incognito: Padmé acts and is treated like a common handmaiden, it works thanks to Decoy Leader Sabé, and the audience is occasionally left clueless. She gets to explore Tatooine by saying the Queen wanted a loyal handmaiden to tell her about it, the planet being deemed too dangerous for her to explore.
Radio Silence: It's vital that the Queen's shuttle not respond to the distress signals from Naboo to prevent giving away their location. But Darth Maul is somehow able to track them down anyway.
Re Cut: The DVD release included a few additional moments, mostly ideas they had for the podrace. But a fan made recut of this film inspired a slew of fan made cuts of various films, largely toning down Jar Jar's antics and Anakin's "yipee's."
The Blu-Ray also makes changes - most notably trading a much contested puppet Yoda for a digital one similar to the one seen in later prequels.
Refuge in Audacity: Qui Gon Jinn attempted to walk up to several battle droids without any stealth, ask permission to go to Coruscant with several POWs, and then cuts him down when the droid, after briefly acting confused, realized that he should arrest him.
Rule of Symbolism: The virgin birth of Anakin Skywalker, who according to an ancient prophecy is said to bring balance to the Force. He also likes to build things and lived in the desert. The image of Darth Maul resembles the Christian Devil as well.
Sequel Gap: 16 years between this and Jedi's release. The lead actress was two the year the last one came out. Also, if Episode VII comes out in 2015 as planned, it will have been the same number of years since Phantom premiéred.
The podrace is a space-ageChariot Race, complete with giant engines in place of horses, and the whole sequence is a huge reference to Ben Hur.
Some of Jar-Jar's antics are taken almost directly from the films of Buster Keaton
Also as a likely Take That, the leader of the Trade Federation is Nute Gunray after former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as well as a reversal of Ronald Reagan, to get back at Project Star Wars, and the Neimoidian senator is named Lott Dodd after U.S. Senators Trent Lott and Chris Dodd.
Skyscraper City: Large swaths of the planet Coruscant are encrusted with giant skyscrapers... built on top of older skyscrapers... built on top of even older skyscrapers. It's uncertain if the planet even has actual ground anymore. It's said to host one trillion inhabitants. A few of the skyscrapers are the construction droids that build more skyscrapers.
Space Jews: Watto for his miserliness and business-before-all-else attitude.
Spit Take: Jar Jar does this in regards to how much a Gorg*
The amphibian-like creature that Gradra (the shopkeeper) was selling at her booth
was (7 wupiupi). This actually got him into even more trouble as he ended up spitting it into Sebulba's soup, and likewise resulted in Sebulba beating the crap out of Jar Jar in revenge before Anakin broke it up.
Viceroy: As you know, our blockade is perfectly legal.
Theme Music Reveal: Anakin's theme including chords from The Imperial March. A more subtle one is the joyful parade tune played during the film's post-climax celebration. It's Emperor Palpatine's theme from Return of the Jedi, in a major key instead of a minor key, with a children's choir backing it.
Three Successful Generations: Anakin Skywalker has always dreamed of having the freedom to become a Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi is obedient to the Jedi council and makes a stable father figure to Anakin, and Qui-Gon Jinn is insistent that Anakin become a Jedi Knight and fulfill his destiny.