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.In protest for rising taxes, the Trade Federation blockade the small, peaceful planet of Naboo to make their demands known. The Galactic Senate sends the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as ambassadors to negotiate the end of the blockade. The Trade Federation invade Naboo and the Jedi are forced to protect the Queen, Amidala, and assist her to gain support to protect her people. On the way to the Galactic Capital, they encounter a young boy named Anakin who is extremely talented in the force, and the Jedi do battle with Darth Maul, the apprentice of the Sith Lord who is manipulating the Trade Federation's actions for his own means.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 from the start as the introduction of a three-movie structure, though this film (and the other prequels, to a lesser extent) 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 the Holy Roman Empire (at least technically, the electors inevitably picked the head of House Habsburg), 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.
The Artifact: The design of the battle droids was based on an early conceptual design for the Neimoidians, which was scrapped because it was difficult to create. In-universe the droids are made to look like Neimoidian skeletons (since their skulls elongate after death), though this was latter retconned as a rumor spread by the Neimoidians.
Artificial Gill: The rebreathers used by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to swim down to the Gungan city.
As You Know: "Our blockade is perfectly legal, and we would be happy to receive ambassadors..."
Backstory: This movie only exists to set up all the backstory for the following five movies.
Bilingual Bonus: While Anakin is piloting his starfighter to join the fight at the Droid Control Ship, Artoo beeps at him. The text that shows up on the console screen reads to the effect of "Anakin turn the ship around right now."
Big "NO!": Obi-Wan witnessing Darth Maul land a killing strike on Qui-Gon.
Bittersweet Ending: Trade Federation has been defeated, Naboo regains freedom, but Qui-Gon is dead and Palpatine/Darth Sidious became a Chancellor.
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. note 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.
Crippling the Competition: Champion podracer Sebulba "accidentally" bumps another podracer, messing it up and making it unable to race.
Damage Control: After Trade Federation battleships shoot out the shield generators on the royal cruiser, R2-D2 and several other astromechs are called out to fix it. R2 gets it done but all the other droids are blown away in the process.
Actually played with, as the one that they think is a decoy is actually the real queen.
Decoy Protagonist/The Hero Dies: One of the rare instances where both is true. Qui-Gon Jinn is the main character of the film and dies near the end, with prequels and the original trilogy to go.
Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Played with in the Podrace; while Podracing is a Blood Sport done at breakneck speeds, Sebulba is more than willing to take time to handicap other racers (i.e. smashing Mawhonic's pod into a cliff wall, incinerating Clegg Holdfast's pod with a flamethrower, throwing a piece of junk into Mars Guo's engine to cause it to jam and explode). Unlike most examples, it dosen't particularly slow him down or cost him a lead; until he tries to pull it on Anakin, which, thanks to their pods becoming intertwined when Sebulba tries to ram him, gives Anakin a chance to boost ahead, thus tearing apart Sebulba's engine cables, triggering a humiliating chain-reaction destruction of his racer.
Doing in the Wizard : Midichlorians. Even if it's just making The Force genetic, which the originals already implied by making family origin important, it's still considered taking much of the mysticism out.
Don't Look Back: Anakin's mother gives him the strength to leave Tatooine by telling him not to look back at her.
Early Installment Weirdness: This is the only prequel shot on film rather than digital video. Also, a sizeable portion of it was shot on location and with real sets rather than extensive Chroma Key like the other two prequels. As a result the film has more of a visual continuity with the original trilogy (especially the Special Editions) than with the subsequent films, which almost look like cartoons by comparison.
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.
According to either the film's novel, Watto was using weighted dice and Qui-Gon knew it. No wonder he didn't mind cheating a cheater.
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.
If you hadn't watched the original trilogy, 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.
Foreboding Fleeing Flock: The Trade Federation's invasion panics the animals of Naboo, who all race to get away, heedless of the Jedi trying to keep from getting trampled, or the Gungan who just stands there like an idiot.
"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...
Heroism Equals Job Qualification: Jar Jar Binks goes straight from being banished to being a general after helping the Nabooan humans and the Gungans get along. And then soon after the droid threat is gone he becomes a senator.
"I Can't Look" Gesture: As Anakin is preparing to start the podrace, Jar-Jar says it's going to be nasty and that he's not watching before covering his eyes.
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.
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.
Naval Blockade: By the Trade Federation around Naboo, which kicks off the action.
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 peoples (Naboo humans and Gungans) 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 dash 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.
More to the point, they knew that Anakin's mother was still a slave, and if they'd just taken half an hour to go and rescue her after the events of the movie, it would've saved everyone a lot of trouble in the long run.
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, not unlike Cloud City.
Naboo: idyllic paradise, or a labor union's worst nightmare.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Palpatine suggests these rule the Republic with Chancellor Valorum as their puppet, and is the reason that rather than doing anything about the Naboo situation, the Senate has merely had meetings - and why Amidala says the page quote.
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 figure. 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 would give her a good and happy life (sure enough, when he does sell her off before the sequel, her new master promptly freed and then married her). 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.
Pinball Protagonist: Anakin is obviously a crucial character in the film due to his impossibly high midichlorian count (and thus incredible force wielding potential), but aside from racing and winning the pod race, he has no real control over what's going on around him, due to him being a tagalong kid. He ultimately thwarts the Trade Federations' invasion by blowing up their control ship, but even that was a lucky accident.
Prevent The War: Chancellor Valorum sent Qui-Gon and Obi Wan to try and stop the situation on Naboo from escalating.
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.
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.
Recruited From The Gutter: This is how Anarkin Skywalker became a Jedi; the second act is basically devoted to freeing him from slavery so he can be trained as one.
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.
Road Apples: Jar Jar Binks steps in poop and says "icky-icky goo".
Robot Antennae: B1 battle droids have antennae of this time on their backpacks. They're controlled by a large space station in orbit, so they need it to receive signals.
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.
Running The Blockade: The Jedi and the Queen escape Naboo through the Trade Federation blockade aboard the Queen's royal cruiser.
Sacrificial Lion: Qui-Gon Jinn. Probably to make sure audience attitude towards Darth Maul was "somebody kill that bastard!" in time for his Karmic Death.
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.
The podrace scene does also owe a lot to the racing car sequence from Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (a fact that made all Norwegian viewers go "huh", as every Norwegian alive have seen that move at least five times).
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.
The Neimoidians are named after Leonard Nimoy. Even more amusingly, they were called Shatnerians in the earliest drafts of the script.
Show, Don't Tell: Padmé says "My people are suffering," and Sio Bibble says "The death toll is catastrophic," but we don't really see the impact that the Trade Federation invasion had on Naboo.
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.
Small Role, Big Impact: Darth Maul, technically, only has about 10 minutes of screen time and even fewer lines of dialogue. But the sheer importance of his role can be seen in the posters, as one possible interpretation of "The Phantom Menace" is that it is referring to him (other options are Palpatine/Sidious and Anakin).
Space Jews: Watto for his miserliness and business-before-all-else attitude. He also has a large nose, and sometimes wore a hat similar to a Hasidic kapelyush hat.
Spanner in the Works: Arguably, Qui-Gon was this to Palpatine's plans. He successfully saved Queen Amidala from the Trade Federation as well as brought along Jar Jar which allowed Amidala to liberate her world without support from the Republic. Unfortunately, it failed to truly stop said plans as he improvised and those two factors eventually put him in power anyway.
Spit Take: Jar Jar does this in regards to how much a Gorgnote 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.
Spoiled By The Merchandise: The soundtrack to Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace was released before the movie itself came out. Anybody who picked it up got treated to tracks called "Qui-Gon's Noble End" and "The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral." Oops.
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.