It’s been twenty years since Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace first hit theaters. George Lucas dared to tamper with his beloved Star Wars trilogy by going back to the beginning and showing how a doe-eyed slave boy from Tatooine named Anakin Skywalker grew up to become Darth Vader, the most feared and evil tyrant in the galaxy.
The Phantom Menace introduced us to an eight-year-old Anakin, played by Jake Lloyd, before the subsequent second and third chapters in the prequel trilogy gave us a twentysomething Anakin played by Hayden Christensen. Here are 10 of the greatest moments from this not-so-beloved first entry in the Star Wars saga.
10 Qui-Gon And Obi-Wan Fight Off Droidekas
There’s plenty of both good and bad in The Phantom Menace’s opening scene. An example of the “bad” is Obi-Wan’s joke about the length of the negotiations with the Trade Federation, but an example of the “good” is when it dawns on Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon that they’ve been lured into a trap. Not only are they faced with Battle Droids that have been programmed to kill them; they’re faced with so-called “droidekas,” which roll around and have cannons for hands and are surrounded by impenetrable force-fields. The two Jedi fighting off the droidekas was an awesome way to start the movie.
9 “There’s always a bigger fish.”
The Star Wars prequel trilogy is filled with clunkily written wisdom like this. George Lucas himself is the first to admit that he’s not the best writer of dialogue. When Qui-Gon says “there’s always a bigger fish,” he encourages the audience to let go of their ego and any preconceptions about who they’re supposed to be.
There will always be a “bigger fish”–someone who’s better than you, or more talented than you, or better educated than you—so there’s no use comparing yourself to other people. Just be yourself and everything will work out. Qui-Gon was a wise man.
8 E.T.’s Species Galactic Senate Cameo
This is more of an Easter egg than a full-blown “moment,” but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless. During one of the Galactic Senate hearings in The Phantom Menace, the alien species from Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial can be seen occupying a seat. This confirms that both E.T. and the Star Wars saga take place in the same universe.
Somewhere in Star Wars’ vast galaxy is E.T.’s planet. This also means that Earth as we know it exists in Star Wars. This is already implied when the opening title cards announce the setting as “a galaxy far, far away”—as in, far, far away from our own, but still within our own universe—but it’s nice to have it confirmed.
7 Darth Maul Ambushes Qui-Gon On Tatooine
Casting martial arts expert Ray Park to play Darth Maul was a stroke of genius. Maul’s acrobatic moves, paired with his double-bladed lightsaber, made him stand out as a visually interesting and freshly terrifying villain. Maul was totally different than Darth Vader, but still almost as iconic and well-crafted.
The scene in which Maul first draws his lightsaber (only using one of the blades, but still holding the handle on its side like he would if he was using both blades) is riveting. Maul ambushes Qui-Gon on Tatooine and the two battle it out. Qui-Gon wins the fight... for now.
6 Meet the Jedi Council
The design of Coruscant, the city-planet on which the Jedi Council is located, was heavily inspired by the industrial neo-noir visual style of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. When we first arrive on Coruscant in The Phantom Menace, we meet the Jedi Council. Headed by Yoda and his cohort Mace Windu, the Jedi Council is filled with fascinating characters. The Jedi have been spread thin by the time the original trilogy picks up, so it was interesting to see a bunch of Jedi Knights from a bunch of different planets, sitting in a circle and discussing the bright future of their religion.
5 Qui-Gon Meditating
George Lucas expertly played around with suspense in the “Duel of the Fates” sequence, particularly when the laser barriers go up. The barriers appear and disappear every few seconds. Obi-Wan is caught quite far behind Qui-Gon and Darth Maul, who are locked in intense lightsaber combat. When the barriers go up the first time, Qui-Gon and Maul are divided by one of them, and they have to wait for it to go down to continue their fight. As a Sith Lord, Maul paces back and forth, ready to pounce. As a Jedi Knight, however, Qui-Gon kneels down and waits patiently.
4 Yoda Reluctantly Allows Obi-Wan to Train Anakin
As soon as Qui-Gon Jinn brings Anakin Skywalker before the Jedi Council and announces him as “the Chosen One,” Yoda senses darkness in his soul, and, since it’s a prequel and we know where the story is headed—Anakin turning to the Dark Side and devolving the galaxy into a state of civil war—we sense that darkness, too.
But Qui-Gon is adamant to train Anakin. His dying wish to Obi-Wan is that his unprepared Padawan train Anakin to be a Jedi. To fulfill Qui-Gon’s wishes, Yoda reluctantly allows Obi-Wan to do it, unwittingly setting a course for the rise of Darth Vader.
3 “At last, we will have revenge.”
Outside of Darth Vader and the Emperor, the Sith didn’t have much of a presence in the original trilogy, so it was exciting to see them take center stage in the prequels. Initially, Darth Maul was conceived as a masked figure, like Vader, while tattooed faces were considered for members of the Galactic Senate. However, it was later decided that tattoos weren’t the right look for Senators, and that look was given to Maul instead, to differentiate him from Vader. It worked beautifully because Maul stood out from Vader’s legacy and forged a space in the Star Wars history books on his own.
2 The Pod Race
“Now, this is pod racing!” George Lucas significantly expanded the world-building in the Star Wars universe when he made The Phantom Menace. A whole sequence in the middle section of the movie is dedicated to a pod race. It’s a low-rent sporting event that desert scavengers take part in. Anakin has been working on his pod racer for a while, and he has a rivalry with fellow racer Sebulba, who has sabotaged Anakin’s engine, so the stakes are high in the pod racing sequence. Most pod racers fly by at around 700-800 km/h, but Sebulba’s reached 829 km/h, and Anakin’s reached a whopping 941 km/h.
1 Obi-Wan Cuts Darth Maul in Half
Although he didn’t actually kill him, it’s fair to say that Obi-Wan successfully avenged his fallen Master when he leaped out of the bottomless pit he was knocked into and swung his lightsaber blade clean through Darth Maul’s torso. Maul was chopped in half and fell into the pit. He would resurface later, with robotic legs, but he was certainly taken down a peg. Obi-Wan bisecting Maul was a suitable climax for perhaps the most breathtaking lightsaber duel in Star Wars history. Even though Qui-Gon was only around for one movie, he made enough of an impression for this scene to resonate emotionally.