Study Guide

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Cast

  • Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson)

    Here's the #1 shocker of The Phantom Menace: although it stars Liam Neeson, Liam Neeson isn't seeking revenge on anyone. No one stole his daughter. No one is harming his family.

    Yup: Liam "Vengeance" Neeson is a peaceful Jedi knight of the Old Republic. And that means keeping a zen-like calm at all times. This is as weird as seeing Seth Rogan play a grizzled mafia don, or Daniel Day Lewis play a campy comedic sidekick.

    But back to the show:

    As a respected and trusted Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn is sent by Chancellor Valorum to serve as an ambassador to negotiate an end to the Trade Federation's blockade of the planet Naboo. Yawn? Not so much. This event leads Qui-Gon to take the lead in an adventure that will uncover a mysterious dark force lurking in the galaxy. (Dum dum dumm.)

    He's an interesting character in that he takes the DNA of two archetypes—the young protagonist and the wise old mentor—and splices them together. In this way, he proves a hybrid of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi from A New Hope—he's both the protagonist of the adventure and the one training the next generation to take up the cause.

    Top Billing

    Qui-Gon isn't, say, a restless youth from a village recently burned down by marauding evildoers, so it isn't immediately obvious that he's the protagonist.

    He has very little at stake during the first act, since it isn't his home planet being invaded. And although he helps Queen Amidala and her court, it has more to do with the Code of the Jedi requiring it and—let's be honest—because he needs a ship to get off Naboo.

    But he's the protagonist of this adventure all the same: he's the character we root for and the one we hope will succeed in the end. As the story progresses, the stakes get higher for him. He finds Anakin Skywalker and believes him to be the chosen one, a Jedi predicted by prophecy that would bring balance to the Force. And after confronting Darth Maul, Qui-Gon realizes the Sith have returned to the galaxy.

    Both give Qui-Gon something to fight for. We want him to root out the Sith, defeat them, and bring peace to the galaxy. We also want him to train Anakin so the boy can grow to meet the better half of his destiny.

    But even though Qui-Gon is the protagonist, he isn't invincible, lacking a shiny set of plot armor. During his second duel with Darth Maul, Qui-Gon is slain, and although Obi-Wan manages to defeat the Sith, it's too late for the older Jedi:

    QUI-GON: [Muttering] No, it—it's too late.

    OBI-WAN: No.

    QUI-GON: Obi-Wan. Promise—Promise me you'll train the boy.

    OBI-WAN: Yes, Master.

    QUI-GON: He is the chosen one. He will bring balance. Train him.

    As the next generation of heroes, Obi-Wan takes up his master's causes, but this being prequel territory, we know neither will ultimately succeed: lil' Anakin is destined to become Mr. Darth Vader himself.

    With Darth Maul dead, the Sith lord Darth Sidious is able to slink into hiding, and we know that Anakin is doomed to become Darth Vader. Despite knowing the inevitable, we still root for Qui-Gon and his causes… no matter how many times we watch the film. (We always cry when he dies, too.)

    He Will Find You

    And he will teach you. In addition to protagonist duties, Qui-Gon also serves as the film's mentor archetype. Even his appearance clues us in to his teacher role— his beard and long hair are shout-outs to the old master trope (Gandalf, anyone?), and his fashion sense is similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi's from A New Hope—even if old Obi-Wan kept his top trim.

    Qui-Gon taking on the Obi-Wan role is a little ironic here because he proves that he's an inferior Obi-Wan… than Obi-Wan. He's just not as Force-savvy. We see this from the first interactions between the two:

    OBI-WAN: I have a bad feeling about this.

    QUI-GON: I don't sense anything.

    OBI-WAN: It's not about the mission, Master. It's something… elsewhere, elusive.

    QUI-GON: Don't center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.

    OBI-WAN: But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.

    QUI-GON: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.

    OBI-WAN: Yes, Master.

    Even on a mission to serve as ambassadors, Qui-Gon uses the opportunity to teach his young Padawan about the Force—specifically his philosophy of the Force.

    Long Live the Living Force

    Qui-Gon believes in a "living Force." This means focusing on the moment and trusting the Force to guide you rather than overthinking or worrying about proper action. (Yeah. This sounds like a really nice mindfulness exercise if you want to, say, decompress from your commute… but it ain't a great way to ward of the Sith.)

    But taking the "living Force" route isn't always useless. Qui-Gon trusts the Force to guide them through the Naboo planet core in lieu of his useless navigator. He also believes in Anakin's podracing plan… despite it having more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg machine.

    Qui-Gon takes on a second, unofficial apprentice, Anakin Skywalker. We see him begin to teach Anakin before the podrace when Qui-Gon tells the boy, "Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think. Use your instincts."

    Although different words, the lesson is the same as the one he taught Obi-Wan: believe in the living Force and let it guide you through intuition, not reason.

    The Jedi knight attempts to take Anakin as his Padawan, but the Jedi council refuses, saying he's too old at the ripe age of ten or twelve. Despite this, Qui-Gon teaches the boy unofficially:

    QUI-GON: I'm not allowed to train you, so I want you to watch me and be mindful. Always remember: Your focus determines your reality."

    And this brings us to—

    Rebel with a Cause

    Qui-Gon is wise and courageous, but he also has a defiant streak in him. In this way, his character plays against the mentor role—we typically associate rebellion with youthful characters rather than venerable moldy oldies.

    This Jedi knight is particularly defiant against authority. When Panaka initially asks Qui-Gon to take Padmé into Mos Espa, Qui-Gon calmly responds, "No more commands from Her Highness today, Captain," as though saying no to elected royalty is commonplace.

    This is further shown when Padmé tells him the queen would not approve of his plan, and Qui-Gon says, "The queen doesn't need to know." This hints that Qui-Gon knew Padmé was the queen the whole time. Just look at that smile when Padmé reveals herself to Boss Nass; Qui-Gon was in the know, y'all.

    But his dislike of authority is most obvious when it comes to the Jedi Council. The way Mace Windu discusses matters with Qui-Gon—eyes rolling, exasperated voice—suggests his defiance is an ongoing issue, and Obi-Wan flat-out says Qui-Gon would be a Jedi master if he could only learn to get along.

    But Qui-Gon's defiance is most prevalent in the following scene:

    MACE WINDU: No. He will not be trained.

    QUI-GON: No?

    MACE WINDU: He is too old.

    QUI-GON: He is the chosen one. You must see it.

    YODA: Mmm. Clouded the boy's future is.

    QUI-GON: I will train him then. I take Anakin as my Padawan learner.

    YODA: An apprentice you have, Qui-Gon. Impossible to take on a second.

    MACE WINDU: The code forbids it.

    Qui-Gon doesn't give two hoots for the code or for the authority of the Jedi Masters. Just like with Padmé, he will do what he thinks is right and necessary… regardless of the decisions or reasoning of others.

    And this turns out to be a truly terrible stance to take.

    Star Wars: The Next Generation

    Despite not appearing in any other Star Wars film, Qui-Gon's influence on the saga can be felt through his students, Obi-Wan and Anakin.

    Obi-Wan inherits some of Qui-Gon's defiance—as evident by his request to train Anakin—but he mostly embodies Qui-Gon's sage-like qualities. This is especially prevalent in the original trilogy when Obi-Wan repackages and repurposes many of Qui-Gon's lessons for Luke Skywalker.

    He tells Luke to "let go of his conscious self and act on instinct" during their training session on the Millennium Falcon and even drops Qui-Gon's "truth from a certain point of view" line on him in Return of the Jedi.

    Anakin, on the other hand, exhibits Qui-Gon's more rebellious qualities. He's often frustrated with Obi-Wan's teachings and the decisions made by the Jedi Council. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin marries Padmé despite the code forbidding it… because he believes it's the right thing to do (read: he lurves her) and that the code is incorrect.

    In the end, Qui-Gon's goal of bringing balance to the Force is achieved… though it takes yet another generation in the form of Luke Skywalker to achieve that goal. Or does it? The newer episodes muddy even that point…

  • Padmé (Natalie Portman)

    Sure, she wears the disguise of a lowly handmaiden and lets her doppelganger Keira Knightley masquerade in her finery. But there's no mistaking Queen Padmé for being exactly what she is: dang royalty.

    Queen Padmé Amidala is the Naboo head of state and was elected queen mere months before the Trade Federation's invasion of her planet. Now, if you just read that sentence and thought, "Wait! You don't elect queens; that's a societal leadership role based on familial relations," then let us inform you that in the Star Wars universe queens are elected because, um… reasons.

    Padmé is brave and strong-willed and cares immensely about her people's safety—all positive qualities to have in a leader. But as we'll see, she's also young, and her inexperience will ultimately lead the galaxy down a dark path.

    Kids today, eh Grandpa?

    The Princess of Another Castle

    Padmé begins the story as a classic damsel in distress. Joining the ranks of Princess Peach, Mary Jane, and a legion of Bond girls, her kidnapping spurns the heroes into action and gets the story moving.

    In this way, she provides The Phantom Menace its Princess Leia parallel. Like her daughter-to-be, Padmé is kidnapped because the villains want something from her. In A New Hope, Darth Vader wants the plans for the Death Star. In The Phantom Menace, Viceroy Gunray wants Padmé to sign a treaty to make his invasion legal.

    Both distressed damsels show their grit by not giving into the demands of their captors, even when what they care about most is threatened. For Leia, it was the destruction of Alderaan; for Padmé, it's the killing of her people and the death of her culture.

    Finally, both women are eventually rescued by Jedi Knights—okay, Leia only gets a Jedi-in-training. But rather than swoon over such a harrowing ordeal, once freed, both women take the fight to their enemies.

    Yas, Queen

    Padmé and her court are freed, and she shifts roles from damsel in distress to woman of action much sooner than Leia. After escaping Tatooine, Padmé shifts her focus to helping her people.

    She initially tries to go the political route—which we'll go into more detail about in a minute. When politicking fails, she shifts gears and takes command of the situation. As she tells Palpatine:

    "I will sign no treaty, Senator. My fate will be no different than that of our people."

    Both Qui-Gon and Panaka are unsure how to win the war against the Trade Federation, so this one is all on Padmé's shoulders. And she rises to the occasion like a boss.

    Padmé travels to Naboo, gathers scattered Naboo resisters to her cause, and even brokers a peace with the Gungans. She then goes full-on General Amidala and devises a battle plan for retaking the planet.

    Rather than stay in the backlines, Padmé leads the assault on the Naboo palace, putting herself at risk alongside those who would risk their lives for her. In the end, Padmé captures the viceroy, clinching an important objective in her victory… and showing once and for all that you do not mess with the Queen.

    Deceived Debutante

    If you've ever wondered why high-schoolers aren't elected President, then Padmé will answer that question. While she's got a lot going for her in the kindness and bravery departments, she is also pretty naïve and innocent about the darker aspects of the universe.

    We get a glimpse of Padmé's innocence when she visits Mos Espa disguised as a handmaiden. She admits to Anakin that she doesn't understand the place or its customs. She is even more startled to discover that something as vile as slavery still exists in the universe:

    PADMÉ: I can't believe there's still slavery in the galaxy. The Republic's antislavery laws—

    SHMI: The Republic doesn't exist out here. We must survive on our own.

    To her credit, she's eager to learn and expand her knowledge of the universe, as evident by her accompanying Qui-Gon in the first place. Unfortunately, she is unable to shed her naïveté before Senator Palpatine finds a use for it:

    PALPATINE: If I may say so, Your Majesty, the chancellor has little real power. He is mired by baseless accusations of corruption. The bureaucrats are in charge now.

    PADMÉ: What options have we?

    PALPATINE: Our best choice would be to push for the election of a stronger supreme chancellor, one who could control the bureaucrats and give us justice. You could call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum.

    PADMÉ: He has been our strongest supporter.

    PALPATINE: Our only other choice would be to submit a plea to the courts.

    PADMÉ: The courts take even longer to decide things than the Senate. Our people are dying, Senator. We must do something quickly to stop the Federation.

    Young, inexperienced, and in a hurry, Padmé can't see that Palpatine is planting the seeds of doubt to directly benefit himself. During the senate session that follows, Palpatine whispers in her ear about corruption, and Padmé calls for the vote of no confidence in Valorum, Palpatine's own words flowing from her mouth.

    Even after Palpatine is nominated for Supreme Chancellor and it's evident he can't help her people in an expedient manner, Padmé still doesn't realize she has been duped by the dude.

    Her innocent mistake doesn't harm her current predicament, but it's the first in a series of events that will lead to some horrible, horrible results. But that's another discussion for another film.

  • Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd)

    Darth Vader is the ruthless right-hand man of a tyrant and travels the galaxy dispensing merciless punishment on those who would fight for freedom and democracy. Even siding with Darth Vader is no guarantee of your safety—disappointing him will probably get you choked to death.

    But every fear-mongering secret police officer must start somewhere, and Darth Vader sees his beginning as a 10-year-old blonde kid who really enjoys shouting things like, "Now this is podracing!"

    Yeah… hardly an image to strike terror in the hearts of millions.

    Skywalker Zero

    The purpose of the prequel trilogy is to show how Anakin Skywalker fell from grace to become Darth Vader… but Anakin isn't the protagonist in this particular film.

    Instead, The Phantom Menace is all about setting up Anakin's origin story, so he can take the lead in the films to follow.

    Little Ani's origin story, in fact, directly parallels Luke Skywalker's. In the original Star Wars: A New Hope film, Luke wants to escape the drudgery of Tatooine life and seek adventure in the universe, planning to use his flying skills to join the academy and become an ace fighter pilot.

    Luke helps some off-world droids and an old Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi agrees to train him in the ways of the Force. After experiencing the loss of his only known family, Luke accepts Obi-Wan's offer: "I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father."

    Anakin's origin story follows a similar path, and in him we see a mirrored image of his son-to-be:

    PADMÉ: You're a funny little boy. How do you know so much?

    ANAKIN: I listen to all the traders and star pilots who come through here. I'm a pilot, you know, and someday I'm gonna fly away from this place.

    PADMÉ: You're a pilot?

    ANAKIN: Mm-hmm. All my life.

    The difference is that Anakin is a slave while Luke is a restless, frustrated teen. But in both cases, we see a desire to escape the hand life dealt them on Tatooine and seek adventure in the larger galaxy.

    We also see that both are kind people who are willing to help others without thought of reward. In A New Hope, Luke plans to rescue Princess Leia from her execution because it is simply the right thing to do. (Han Solo took a little more convincing and the promise of a money to get his heroic butt in gear.)

    Likewise, Anakin agrees to race in the Boonta Eve podrace to win Qui-Gon and Padmé the money they need to repair their ship. He doesn't ask for a cut of the prize money or ask Qui-Gon to steal him away from Watto in exchange. As Qui-Gon tells Anakin's mother, Shmi:

    "You should be very proud of your son. He gives without any thought of reward."

    Finally, both Skywalkers use their mad piloting skills to defeat the enemy and rescue their friends. Luke Skywalker flies an X-Wing during the Death Star assault and destroys the moon-sized space station. Anakin flies a Naboo Fighter and destroys the droid control station during the Battle for Naboo. As if the similarities weren't obvious enough, both are assisted by R2-D2 during the dogfight.

    (R2: the real hero of Star Wars, or the only hero of Star Wars?)

    The origins for Anakin and Luke are important given the Star Wars saga as a whole. Both come from similar backgrounds and both face similar trials in their path to become Jedi knights. But their paths lead them to very different fates: Luke learns to conquer his fear, but Anakin remains a slave to his.

    Fear and Loathing in Mos Espa

    As Obi-Wan Kenobi tells us in A New Hope, "Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force." Anakin doesn't don a teensy Darth Vader suit in The Phantom Menace—even for a movie featuring Jar Jar Binks that would be too silly—but we do see the beginnings of his descent into darkness even at this early age.

    Thanks to Qui-Gon betting—and, let's face it, cheating Watto—the Jedi is able to win Anakin's contract and immediately sets the boy free. Qui-Gon agrees to take Anakin to Coruscant and train him in the ways of the Jedi.

    But there's a catch. Qui-Gon was unable to win Shmi's freedom, meaning Anakin must leave his mother behind:

    ANAKIN: You're coming with us, aren't you, Mom?

    SHMI: Son, my place is here. My future is here. It is time for you to let go.

    ANAKIN: I don't want things to change.

    SHMI: But you can't stop the change any more than you can stop the suns from setting. Oh, I love you.

    Here, we learn that Anakin's afraid of change because change brings inevitable loss, and he doesn't want to lose those he loves. Again, we see a parallel in Luke: in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda warns that the future will show "old friends long gone," and the thought of losing Han and Leia pushes Luke to prematurely confront Vader at Cloud City.

    On Coruscant, Yoda and the other members of the Jedi Council test Anakin and recognize this fear in him. As they tell the boy:

    KI-ADI-MUNDI: Your thoughts dwell on your mother.

    ANAKIN: I miss her.

    YODA: Mmm. Afraid to lose her, I think, mmm?

    ANAKIN: What has that got to do with anything?

    YODA: Everything. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.

    Yoda's argument is that fear leads one to act fearfully, which likely includes anger… which we know leads to the dark side of the Force. Although we don't see Anakin turn to the dark side in this film, his Achilles' heel has been firmly established.

    Anakin's fear of loss will lead him to battle against change, and, as Shmi said, this is impossible, even for the most powerful of Jedi. Unable to prevent change, Anakin will grow frustrated, his frustration will manifest itself as anger, and his anger will evolve into hate. After that, all he'll need is a red lightsaber to be a full-fledged Sith.

    And this is exactly what plays out in the other two films of the prequels. But that's a discussion for later.

    Hallowed by thy Midi-Chlorians

    Anakin's birth draws parallels to the story of the birth of Jesus in the Bible. As Shmi explains:

    "There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can't explain what happened."

    In Catholic theology, Jesus being born of a virgin meant that he was free of original sin, a concept called the Immaculate Conception.

    The Phantom Menace isn't trying to go too deep with the comparisons, mind you. Anakin wasn't conceived by a god but by tiny microscopic organisms called midi-chlorians. His fatherless parentage also isn't meant to say he's free of sin.

    But the film is drawing connections between Anakin and Jesus—not to mention other religious figures said to have been born of virgins, such as the Egyptian god Horus. The purpose is to suggest a spiritual importance in Anakin's birth. Qui-Gon believes Anakin was born of the midi-chlorians to signify he is the one of prophecy, who will bring balance to the Force.

    And it's actually possible to read this prophecy as coming true in the Star Wars saga. When Anakin destroys the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, he also kills himself as Darth Vader. This act rids the universe of the Sith and leaves Luke as the only Jedi in the universe, effectively hitting a reset button on the Force in the universe.

    Until, of course, The Force Awakens came along…

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor)

    When The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, Star Wars fans hadn't seen ol' Obi-Wan Kenobi for sixteen years. And then he'd been dead for a while… not that he'd let a little something like death get in the way of delivering life lessons to his latest student, Luke Skywalker.

    In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan is alive and well, but the master has become the student… as well as revealing a shocking fact: young Obi Wan was a hottie with a body. As such (a student, not a cutie-pie) his journey in The Phantom Menace is a coming-of-age story, and we witness his growth from cocky youth to more sensible Jedi knight.

    So Was I If You'll Remember

    When Luke Skywalker first meets Yoda, the wise Jedi says of the boy, "All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing! […] You are reckless." To which Obi-Wan calmly replies:

    "So was I if you'll remember."

    When we are introduced to Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, we see exactly what he meant by that:

    OBI-WAN: I have a bad feeling about this.

    QUI-GON: I don't sense anything.

    OBI-WAN: It's not about the mission, Master. It's something… elsewhere, elusive.

    QUI-GON: Don't center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.

    OBI-WAN: But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.

    QUI-GON: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.

    We learn two things from this exchange. First: a tad contradictory in his teachings Yoda is, hmm? And second: Obi-Wan is no longer the master but the youth in need of lessons. Like Luke, he's looking to the future while his mind should be on the present task of negotiating an end to the blockade.

    For most of the film, Obi-Wan follows Qui-Gon and learns from him and his example. We see another lesson for Obi-Wan when they visit the Gungan City to secure transportation to the Naboo capital. When Boss Nass agrees to give them a bonga, Obi-Wan is all set to leave, but Qui-Gon stops to consider Jar Jar:

    JAR JAR: Deysa setten yousa up. Goen through da planet core? Bad bombin'. Mmm… any help here would be hot.

    OBI-WAN: Master, we're short on time.

    QUI-GON: We'll need a navigator to get us through the planet's core. This Gungan may be of help.

    Obi-Wan's ready to leave Jar Jar to his fate, but Qui-Gon believes in a living Force that controls the fate of the universe for good, not coincidences. Obi-Wan will learn the lesson again on Tatooine when he snidely remarks, "Why do I sense we've picked up another pathetic life-form?" and Qui-Gon informs him he is picking up Anakin, the boy who rescued them from Tatooine. Massive guilt slam.

    While it's not entirely obvious in The Phantom Menace, we see Obi-Wan take these lessons to heart in the later films. In A New Hope, the old master doesn't send R2-D2 away claiming he never owned a droid. He invites Luke and the droids into his home and sees what path the Force has in store for him.

    Later in the film, Obi-Wan disagrees with Qui-Gon about Anakin:

    OBI-WAN: It's not disrespect, Master. It's the truth.

    QUI-GON: From your point of view.

    OBI-WAN: The boy is dangerous. They all sense it. Why can't you?

    QUI-GON: His fate is uncertain. He's not dangerous.

    Again, we see Obi-Wan learning from Qui-Gon's lessons. He later apologizes to his master for disagreeing with him about Anakin, and in Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan lays the "truth from a certain point of view" lesson on Luke.

    Mentor Achievement Unlocked

    During the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul, Qui-Gon is killed by the Sith. Angered (bad Jedi), Obi-Wan engages his enemy and is able to overcome him, killing Darth Maul after a furious fight.

    Hearing his master's dying wishes, Obi-Wan agrees to take Anakin as his apprentice. This is the moment that Obi-Wan grows from student to Jedi knight and from youth to adult. Later, Yoda confirms this when he says:

    "Confer on you the level of Jedi Knight the council does. But agree with your taking this boy as your Padawan learner I do not."

    Obi-Wan has faced his enemy and didn't give into his hate despite Qui-Gon being slain. He has also taken on an apprentice, and Obi-Wan's role in the saga from here on out will be as a teacher to the Skywalkers, both Anakin and Luke.

  • Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best)

    Oof. Welcome to Problematictown, Population: Jar Jar Binks. (And the rest of the Gungans. And Watto.)

    But we'll save the reasons that people cringe when they see Jar Jar for the end. First: what is Jar Jar Binks (besides a dead ringer for an aquatic donkey).

    Jar Jar Binks is a Gungan, a race of aquatic beings living on the planet Naboo. He's clumsy, not all that bright, and has a penchant for getting himself into trouble. When we first meet him, he's already been banished from his home for being clumsy, or, as he puts it:

    "Mesa caused mabbe one, two-y little bitty axadentes, huh? Yud-say boom da gasser, den crashin der boss's heyblibber, den banished."

    (We've all been there, guy.)

    In terms of story, Jar Jar is really only there to advance the plot. He shows Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan where the Gungan underwater city is and later takes Padmé to the Gungan sacred place. So why does the movie insist on giving him so much screen time? (Other than the fact that George Lucas spent millions on all the tech to get his CGI right, of course.)

    Like C-3P0 before him, Jar Jar's main purpose is to lighten the mood as comic relief. The Phantom Menace is a fun adventure, but it also deals with loss, murder, slavery, political corruption, and the militaristic occupation of a sovereign nation. Sounds entertaining for all ages, right?

    Jar Jar's clumsy antics lighten the mood in his scenes, giving the audience a change of tone from the more serious stuff. Consider the following scene:

    ANAKIN: Hey, Jar Jar. Keep away from those energy binders. If your hand gets caught in the beam, it's gonna go numb for hours.

    JAR JAR: Sorry. Okay. [Yelps as head gets caught in the beam.] [Muffled.] My tongue is fat. My tongue—wrench.

    In the scenes before this one, Qui-Gon decides to put the fate of the Naboo in the hands of a ten-year-old boy, who's going to put his life at risk to win the money he needs. He's also learned that Anakin's birth was under unusual circumstances, and Shmi has begged Qui-Gon to take her son away from a life of slavery. Heavy stuff.

    Jar Jar's antics hit a tonal reset button on the mood, balancing the dramatic with the comical and ensuring the film never dwells too long on its less child-friendly elements.

    The Gungan also takes scenes that would be harrowing in non-movie life, such as the battle between the Gungans and the droid army, and establishes that this isn't real life. Because let's be honest: in real life, natural selection would have sent Jar Jar to the evolutionary discard pile by now.

    Th-Th-Th-That's All Folks!

    As C-3P0 tells R2-D2, "You know, I find that Jar Jar creature to be a little… odd." And it's kind of surreal that the comic relief of the previous films is openly perplexed about the comic relief of this film.

    And 3P0 has every right to be confused, as the type of comedy employed by Jar Jar is very unique for Star Wars. The Gungan's comedic bits come from the Looney Tunes-stylebook of comedy, adding a cartoon element that is lacking in the other films.

    Consider the battle scene between the Gungan and droid army. Jar Jar accidentally gets his foot caught in a droid and uses it to shoot the other droids attacking him. Explosions flip him through the air to land comically between the legs on a tank's cannon. Then he fumbles with a booma before dropping it in the perfect place to destroy the tank. It could only be more Chuck Jones if the tanks had been made by the Acme Corporation.

    This cartoony effect is accentuated by Jar Jar's tendency to overexaggerate, well, everything. The way he walks is loose and limber. Aside from one somber scene with Amidala, where they discuss the fate of their people, his reactions to any event are over the top. And his voice is, well, just listen:

    "Ohh, maxi big, da Force. Well dat smells stickowiff."

    A Caricature? Or Just Another Alien?

    Jar Jar has ultimately proven a controversial character in Star Wars history. Some people think his inclusion as the comic relief did its job fine. Other fans—let's be honest, most fans—thought his type of humor didn't belong in a Star Wars film. (Source)

    But that's only the tip of the anti-Jar Jar iceberg (and that iceberg is big enough to sink an intergalactic Titanic).

    The big beef that people had with Jar Jar is that he's a little too close to an ugly racial stereotype for comfort. His skin may be orange, but people said that his accent sounds distinctly Jamaican. (Source)

    And not only that, but his character—that of a goofy sidekick—made people think back to the insanely racist African American caricatures that plagued film and TV in the early part of the 20th century:

    "There was something about [Jar Jar's] demeanor that suggested blackness and that suggested, more specifically, stereotypical blackness," says Michael Dyson, professor of African-American studies at Columbia University. […]

    The issue has even been raised in newspaper reviews. From The Globe and Mail: "Jar Jar has a loose-jointed amble of a black drag queen." The Wall Street Journal called the character, "a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit." (Fetchit was the actor who critics say personified negative black stereotypes in the 1920s and '30s.) (Source)

    George Lucas disagreed, saying:

    "How in the world you could take an orange amphibian and say that he's a Jamaican? It's completely absurd. Believe me, Jar Jar was not drawn from a Jamaican, from any stretch of the imagination." (Source)

    But the comparison stood. Search "Jar Jar Binks" today and you'll find articles such as "Meesa-understood: The Tragedy of Jar Jar Binks," and "Why Has Jar Jar Binks Been Banished From the Star Wars Universe?"

    But you'll also find fan theories on how Jar Jar is actually a Sith Lord, and the biggest antagonist to hit the galaxy far, far away since Palpatine himself. We'll let you uncover those on your own steam, though.

  • Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid)

    Let's get the "spoiler" out of the way right now: Darth Sidious and Senator Palpatine are the same person. While that's not technically revealed until Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars fans knew the two were the same because of the character's inclusion in Return of the Jediwhich, while the sixth chronologically, was theatrically released sixteen years before The Phantom Menace.

    So while the film plays coy, it knows that you know it knows, you know?

    So that's who Palpatine is. But, more important to our discussion here, what is the character's purpose in The Phantom Menace?

    And the answer is that he's the antagonist, the character who is in direct conflict with our protagonist. It might seem as though Viceroy Gunray or Darth Maul would serve this role, as they come into contact with the heroes, but it is Palpatine who is pulling the strings. Neither Gunray nor Maul make any decisions… and are ultimately pieces in Palpatine's galaxy-sized chess game.

    Palpatine is also an antagonist in the classic bad guy sense. He has no redeemable qualities and graduated from Villain U. with a Ph.D. in Maliciousness. At one point, he tells Viceroy Gunray, "Wipe [the Gungans] out. All of them." And you know you have a bad guy on your hands when the genocide of an entire species is an acceptable strategy.

    But What's Puzzling You?

    Confusion is the nature of Palpatine's game. This character keeps his cards close to the chest, so it can be difficult to discern what exactly he wants. Does he really want the treaty signed, or is he playing Gunray? Was his original goal to become Supreme Chancellor, or did he just see an opportunity and think, "Eh, why the heck not?"

    Darth Maul mentions that he and his master "will have revenge" against the Jedi, but in this film it's not even clear Palpatine wants revenge. Revenge could just be an idea he feeds his apprentice to get him pumped up for a lightsaber duel.

    Based on The Phantom Menace alone, we can't really say what Palpatine's motives and goals are except for one very important fact: he has power and he wants more power.

    He wants the power to make his will law, the power to shape society in his image, and the power to kill those whom he considers an inconvenience. Unwilling to wait and see if he gets some power for his birthday, Palpatine's plan is to take it now.

    The Devil Went Down to Naboo

    We see this lust for power—and how this puts him in opposition to our heroes—whether the character goes by Palpatine or Sidious. As Palpatine, he displays these characteristics when counseling Padmé:

    PALPATINE: If I may say so, Your Majesty, the chancellor has little real power. He is mired by baseless accusations of corruption. The bureaucrats are in charge now.

    PADMÉ: What options have we?

    PALPATINE: Our best choice would be to push for the election of a stronger supreme chancellor, one who could control the bureaucrats and give us justice. You could call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum.

    PADMÉ: He has been our strongest supporter.

    He's just toying with the young queen, sowing the seeds of doubt that he'll reap later when Padmé calls for a vote of no confidence in Valorum. After he receives the nomination, he confidently proclaims, "I will be chancellor" and you just know he's won.

    Palpatine effectively uses the crisis of Naboo to further his own ends and secures the most powerful seat in the Galactic Senate.

    As Sidious, we see how he uses his power to further his own ends:

    SIDIOUS: This turn of events is unfortunate. We must accelerate our plans. Begin landing your troops.

    GUNRAY: My lord, is that legal?

    SIDIOUS: I will make it legal.

    GUNRAY: And the Jedi?

    SIDIOUS: The chancellor should never have brought them into this. Kill them immediately.

    This misuse of power puts him in conflict with our heroes… and not just because he wants them dead. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan are both powerful characters, but they use that power to assist others, not for personal gain. Both help Queen Amidala and the people of Naboo despite having no personal interest until much later when Darth Maul makes an appearance.

    As we see here, Sidious uses his power to twist the legal system to do what he dang well please. And as we saw above, he uses Queen Amidala and her cause to further his own agenda to achieve power.

    While his ultimate goal may remain elusive until the sequels, Palpatine provides us enough clues to know that, whatever happens in the future, he'll be looking out for #1.

  • Darth Maul (Ray Park)

    Darth Maul is a villain, plain and simple, and every aspect of this guy's character shouts "guy you don't want to owe money to."

    Let's start with the name. The word "maul" means to be injured by way of a thorough beating. It's what lions do to poor little antelopes. It's not pleasant sounding and is a far more intimidating name than, say, Darth Giggles or Darth Tenderheart.

    Then there's his appearance. We know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover… but just look at this guy. He dresses all in black, and his face sports horns paired with demonic markings of black and red, making him look like the offspring of Satan and a rabid Atlanta Falcons fan.

    Darth Maul is also the strong silent type. He has three lines of dialogue in the entire film, but those few words key us in to how malicious he is:

    "At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge."

    It's only his second line in the film and he's already talking about revenge. Even Iago had more to say before getting into his "I hate the Moor" spiel.

    Unfortunately for the Jedi, Maul has the skillz to back up his revenge talk. He is able to hold his own against both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in a lightsaber duel. When fighting Qui-Gon alone, he slays the Jedi right in front of Obi-Wan. He almost kills Obi-Wan, too, but Obi-Wan manages to outsmart and kill Darth Maul instead.

    And, true to his silent nature, Darth Maul takes his secrets with him to the grave.

  • Nute Gunray (Silas Carson)

    Nute Gunray is the Viceroy of the Trade Federation and the leader of the droid army occupying Naboo. He shares antagonist duties with Darth Sidious: he stands in direct conflict with the story's heroes and is the one who must be defeated to bring the conflict to resolution.

    Yep, sounds like an antagonist to us.

    His motivations also recruit him for Team Villain. His invasion of Naboo stems from pure greed: he doesn't want to pay space taxes—although, to be fair, for all we know those import dues can be killer high. This is the opposite of the heroes' motivations, which originate from a desire to help others.

    While these characteristics certainly make him an antagonist, he isn't the antagonist. That title goes to Darth Sidious. Instead, the weak-willed Gunray is more of a tool Sidious is using in a much larger conflict. Consider the first scene between the two:

    SIDIOUS: This turn of events is unfortunate. We must accelerate our plans. Begin landing your troops.

    GUNRAY: My lord, is that legal?

    SIDIOUS: I will make it legal.

    GURAY: And the Jedi?

    SIDIOUS: The chancellor should never have brought them into this. Kill them immediately.

    Clearly Sidious is the one wearing the, erm, robes in this relationship. Gunray is just along for the ride, and doesn't make any decisions on his own. This is typical in all of their conversations: Gunray provides Sidious with an update to the situation, Sidious tells Gunray what to do, and Gunray does it.

    The viceroy clearly has misgivings as the situation progresses and escalates well beyond his comfort zone:

    GUNRAY: This is getting out of hand. Now there are two [Sith lords].

    HAAKO: We should not have made this bargain.

    But ol' Nute seems to think things will break his way right until the end. He never realizes that Darth Sidious is using him as a patsy, someone to draw attention away from the Sith's true goals and the greater conflict brewing beneath the Naboo invasion.

    And judging by him siding with Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, he won't be figuring it out anytime soon. Not the brightest Viceroy in the electorate, is he?

    Oh, and one more thing: Lucas has come under fire for portraying Gunray in a way that people have likened to an Asian stereotype. Their accents confuse the "r" and "l" sounds in English, and they wear suspiciously Asiatic headdresses. (Source)

  • Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August)

    Shmi is Anakin's mommy, and one of Watto's slaves. She represents the prototypical kind mother character. She loves her son and raises him to be a caring, giving person. She probably bakes a mean Tatooine-style apple pie, too.

    We can tell that she's a maternal goddess when we first meet her. Anakin brings home a Jedi, Jar Jar, and a queen disguised as a handmaiden, and she welcomes them into her home for dinner. (Yes, even annoying Jar Jar.)

    Shmi further demonstrates her willingness to put the needs of others before her own when she lets Anakin race to win Qui-Gon the money to repair his ship. While she hates watching her son race—who wouldn't? it's crazy dangerous—she relents, saying:

    "There is no other way. I may not like it, but he can help you. He was meant to help you."

    Shmi's final and most daunting act of kindness comes after Anakin wins his freedom. Obviously she doesn't want to lose her son, but she's willing to let him go so that Anakin can have a better life far away from Tatooine. In this way she contrasts with Uncle Owen from A New Hope, who thought he could keep Luke safe by keeping him on Tatooine.

    Anakin is also worried about losing his mother, but Shmi tells him:

    "But you can't stop the change any more than you can stop the suns from setting."

    It's her final lesson to Anakin: change brings unavoidable loss that you have to accept in order to live a good, happy life. It's a lesson she lives by example at that moment.

    Unfortunately, as we'll see in the later prequels, Anakin doesn't take the lesson to heart and his struggle to halt change, and therefore loss… directly leads to him becoming Darth Vader.

    Shmi Full of Grace

    In terms of the saga's mythology, Shmi plays a minor but important role in the Star Wars universe. Once Qui-Gon realizes Anakin is Force sensitive, he asks Shmi about the boy's father. She responds,

    "There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can't explain what happened."

    This draws parallels to the story of the Virgin Mary. In Catholic theology, Mary being a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus is important because it meant that her son was free of original sin. This is referred to as the Immaculate Conception.

    Shmi being the Virgin Mary of the Star Wars universe signifies the importance of Anakin's birth. For Qui-Gon, it is proof that Anakin is the one foretold in prophecy that will bring balance to the Force.

  • Yoda (Frank Oz)

    Oh, Yoda. After Return of the Jedi, we thought we'd never see you again, yet here you are: so wise, so tiny and green, and so backwards in your syntax. How we missed you.

    Considering we last saw Yoda dying in a swamp hut, we've clearly got some catching up to do with the Jedi, and that's the role Yoda and his fellow Jedi play in The Phantom Menace. Whereas before we only had brief snippets of backstory, now we can see what the Jedi were like before the rise of the Empire (and their near extermination at the hands of the Emperor's cronies).

    Yoda sits on the ruling body of the Jedi, called the Jedi Council. The council consists of the Jedi Masters, and they make all the decisions for the Jedi Order. They decide which Jedi Knights perform what peacekeeping tasks, who can be promoted up the ranks, and which wannabe Padawans get their training lightsaber.

    The Jedi Council shows us what Obi-Wan meant in A New Hope when he said the Jedi were the guardians of peace in the Old Republic. Valorum requests their services for ambassadors in the blockade negotiations, and they use their resources to protect the galaxy from potential dangers, such as the resurgence of the Sith.

    They also foreshadow Anakin's fate of becoming Darth Vader. Yoda sense "much fear in [him]" and portends "grave danger" in his training. Despite these misgivings, they agree to let Anakin train as a Jedi.

    Wow, hindsight's 20/20.

  • Watto (Andy Secombe)

    Watto is a parts dealer in Mos Espa on Tatooine. His character is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but through careful analysis, it's possible to determine what makes this guy tick.

    Oh, wait. Nope: this guy is an open book.

    The first time we meet him, Watto tells us everything we need to know about his character: "I'm a Toydarian. Mind tricks don't work on me. Only money."

    Yes, love of money is the root of all Watto. His greed is an obstacle for Qui-Gon, as the Jedi needs a Nubian hyperdrive that only Watto can provide. Worse, Qui-Gon has nothing Watto values to trade with. Republican credits are no good at the Outer Rim, and the Nubians have nothing of trade value.

    So Qui-Gon strikes a deal with the Toydarian. He and Watto will sponsor Anakin in the Boonta Eve podrace and the terms of the deal ensure that whether Anakin wins or loses Watto will profit.

    Sounds great, right? But while greed is Watto's dominant character trait, it is also his major character flaw. Not happy with winning a lot when he can win even more, Watto bets heavily on Anakin's opponent, Sebulba. Playing off Watto's greed, Qui-Gon decides he wants a piece of that action:

    QUI-GON I'll take that bet.

    WATTO: You what?

    QUI-GON: I'll wager my new racing pod against, say, the boy and his mother.

    WATTO: No pod is worth two slaves, not by a long shot.

    QUI-GON: The boy, then.

    When Anakin wins the race, Watto must pay out and admits to Qui-Gon that he "lost everything." Yeesh, how much did he place on Sebulba? Ever the greedy one, Watto tries to back out of the bet, claiming Qui-Gon swindled him, but the Jedi threatens to take it up with the Hutts. But even Watto isn't willing to take that bet. He gives Qui-Gon the parts he needs and releases Anakin into his care.

    A Pound of Watto Flesh

    But a discussion of Watto wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Jabba the Hutt-sized elephant in the room: the fact that Watto is another one of The Phantom Menace's problematic characters.

    Many people have cited Watto's greed-fueled machinating and his big, hooked nose as being reminiscent of anti-Semitic propaganda. (Source)

    Remember Shylock from The Merchant of Venice? That (Jewish) guy was so miserly he famously said:

    My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!
    Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats! (2.8.15-16)

    That line hammers home the fact that Shylock cares more about money than, well, pretty much anything about as succinctly as Watto's claim that "Mind tricks don't work on me. Only money."

    What do you think? Is Watto just a generically evil slave trader, or does he seem a little too Shylock-y for comfort?

  • R2-D2 and C-3P0 (Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels)

    The Phantom Menace marks the fourth appearance of R2-D2 and C-3P0, the only characters to have appeared in every Star Wars film to date. (And yes, we're counting Star Wars: The Clone Wars 2008 theatrical release.)

    Since this film is the first chronologically, R2-D2 and C-3P0's appearances serve as origin stories for the characters and to set up their place in the prequel trilogy.

    When we first meet R2, he's serving the Queen aboard her Nubian Cruiser and saves the ship by reconnecting the shield generator. For the remainder of the film, the droid serves Amidala. He even joins Anakin in the Naboo Fighter to assist the young pilot in the battle against the droid control station, paralleling his role helping Luke during the Death Star assault years later.

    In The Phantom Menace, we learn that Anakin Skywalker built C-3P0 to help his mom around the house. Yep, Darth Vader built a robot for his mommy as a present. Kind of takes the menace out of the character, doesn't it?

    This also means Anakin is responsible for C-3P0's Jeeves-like personality. Either way, C-3P0 assists Anakin in preparing the pod for the race and remains on Tatooine with Shmi Skywalker.

    Although neither character serves much purpose in the film, they do have a few moments where they slip into their former roles as the film's comic relief:

    C-3P0: Oh, hello. I don't believe we have been introduced.

    R2-D2: [Excited Beeping.]

    C-3P0: R2-D2. A pleasure to meet you. I am C-3P0, human-cyborg relations.

    R2-D2: [Chirping, Beeping]

    C-3P0: I beg your pardon, but what do you mean, "naked"?

    R2-D2: [Chirping]

    C-3P0: My parts are showing? My goodness! Oh!

    Although it's technically their first meeting, it's a familiar formula to Star Wars fans. In double act fashion, R2-D2 sets up the joke with his chirps and beeps, and C-3P0 plays the straight man while delivering the punch line. Classic stuff.

  • Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie)

    Captain Panaka is the leader of the Naboo security forces. He is characterized by his unheeding loyalty to Queen Amidala and his realistic take on any situation.

    When providing the Queen counsel, he tells it to her like it is. When the possibility of a Trade Federation invasion becomes likely, Panaka doesn't sugarcoat it to spare Amidala's feelings or out of a sense of unrealistic patriotism. He straight up tells her,

    "Our security volunteers will be no match against a battle-hardened Federation army."

    Later in the film, when Amidala has decided to return to Naboo to fight, Panaka again provides a voice of reason: "There are too few of us, Your Highness. We have no army."

    Despite his misgivings, Panaka remains loyal and follows orders. When Amidala announces her plan to share the fate of her people, Panaka doesn't balk at the command to ready the ship. He just readies the ship.

    He also personally joins Padmé on the mission to siege the castle and capture Viceroy Gunray. As a reward for his service, Panaka gets to personally hand over Viceroy Gunray to the Galactic Senate and quips, "I think you can kiss your trade franchises good-bye."

    Sure, he's no John McClane in the quip department, but maybe he just needs practice.

  • Boss Nass (Brian Blessed)

    Boss Nass is the leader of the Gungans. He's the head honcho, the big man on campus, the, um, late-career Marlon Brando of his people.

    (Well, now we're just imagining what it would be like if Marlon Brando had played Boss Nass. That would have been awesome.)

    Anyway, at the film's outset, Boss Nass doesn't care about the Naboo. He thinks the humans "tink day brains so big" and look down on the Gungans. Obi-Wan tries to warn him that the droid army will take control of the Gungans after occupying the rest of the planet.

    As he says:

    "You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other."

    But Boss Nass, full of scorn and dislike, shrugs away the warning. This scene also shows us how weak-minded the Gungan leader is as Qui-Gon effortlessly uses his Jedi mind trick on the guy. Seriously, Qui-Gon isn't even trying.

    But Obi-Wan's prediction is accurate. The droid army does rout the Gungans from their underwater home. When the Naboo come to form an alliance to fight back, Boss Nass is initially distrusting, but then Padmé genuflects before him and begs his assistance.

    Seeing he was wrong about the Naboo, Nass proclaims:

    "Yousa no tinken yousa great den da Gungas? Me-e-esa like dis! Maybe wesa bein friends."

    While he may not be intelligent, Boss Nass does prove he can be wise enough to realize his mistakes, and his peace with the Naboo proves necessary for the defeat of Trade Federation and the end of the Invasion of Naboo.

    Once more, though: no discussion of Boss Nass would be complete without voicing the complaints about racism in The Phantom Menace:

    "Jar Jar's, uh, people, happen to be ruled by a fat, jolly buffoon reminiscent of old stereotypes of African chieftains who boil missionaries in big pots." (Source)

    And once more: what do you think? Is Boss Nass an offensive caricature? Are Jar Jar and Watto?

  • Minor Characters ()

    Sebulba

    Sebulba is a famous podracer on Tatooine. He's famous because he always wins; he always wins because he cheats. This isn't Konami Code-type cheating either. Sebulba is a brutal crook who sabotages the other racers' pods to violent results.

    In terms of story, he provides the Ivan Drago to Anakin's Rocky, the Johnny Lawrence to his Daniel-san, and the Shooter McGavin to his Happy Gilmore. Point is: he's the dirty, cheating opponent Anakin must beat to win the day. True to the sports film formula, Anakin manages to beat Sebulba by playing fair, and Sebulba's cheating ultimately loses him the race.

    Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum

    Valorum serves as the Galactic Republic's Supreme Chancellor, the Star Wars universe's head of state. He supports Queen Amidala and tries to bring the Trade Federation's blockade to a peaceful resolution through negotiations. First, he sends Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan as ambassadors, and when that fails, he brings Amidala to state her allegations to the Senate itself.

    It doesn't end well for him though. Despite his power, he plays by the political rules and can't juke Senator Palpatine's behind-the-scenes scheming. After Padmé calls for a vote of no confidence in his leadership, Valorum is impeached and his successor proves to be none other than Palpatine.

    Sabé

    Boy, Queen Amidala sure looks a lot like Keira Knightly, doesn't she? That's because the "queen" we see for most of the film isn't Queen Amidala but her bodyguard Sabé—who just happens to be played by Keira Knightly.

    Sabé is a loyal companion to Padmé. By switching places with her, Sabé willingly makes herself the target of Viceroy Gunray's plots in lieu of her liege.

    Her willingness to put herself in danger to protect her queen is most evident at the film's conclusion. When Gunray finally captures Padmé, Sabé appears dressed as the queen. Believing Padmé to be a diversion, Gunray sends his bodyguard droids to hunt down Sabé. This gives Padmé the opportunity to capture Gunray and bring an end to the occupation of Naboo.

    Fode and Beed

    Fode and Beed are (is?) the two-headed announcers of the Tatooine pod races. Fode is the one who speaks in Basic—the Star Wars galaxy's equivalent of English—and Beed is the one who speaks in Huttese. Yep, the Hutts are apparently so rich and powerful that they own their own language.

    Ric Olié

    Ric Olié is the starship pilot of Queen Amidala's Naboo cruiser. Yeah, we were surprised to find he had a name, too. He must be excellent at his job, because he runs the Trade Federation's blockade twice.