The Phantom Menace Is Basically Just A High-Budget Remake Of George Lucas's 'More American Graffiti'

Even though George Lucas is best known for creating the Star Wars franchise, he has actually put out an impressive amount of films.

Four years before he released A New Hope in 1977, George Lucas directed a coming-of-age movie called American Graffiti. The film — which follows a group of friends trying to make the most of their final night of summer vacation — captivated audiences, and prompted Lucas to executive produce More American Graffiti just a few years later in 1979. 

It’s no secret that George Lucas remakes his own movies. All the Star Wars films he worked on share the same basic plot structure, and the similarities in George Lucas movies aren't restricted to those that take place in a galaxy far far away. On the contrary, the parallels between The Phantom Menace and More American Graffiti are stunning.

While George Lucas didn’t officially write or direct More American Graffiti (Bill Norton took the hit by accepting those credits) he edited the final screenplay, served as a camera operator for a portion of the shoot, and even sat in on the editing. More American Graffiti, like The Phantom Menace, suffered for being George Lucas’s baby.

The lackadaisical titles are just the beginning of the diminishing returns that are synonymous with Lucas's sequel retreads. Both The Phantom Menace and More American Graffiti attempt to one-up their predecessors by piling on more of everything and ignoring what it was that audiences enjoyed about the original films. 

  • Both Films Show A Society On The Brink Of War

    The action of The Phantom Menace plays out against the backdrop of a full-scale war, sparked by the Trade Federation's decision to erect a blockade around Naboo. Even though Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are attempting to stall the invasion of the planet, it's pretty clear from the start that things are going to get worse before they get better. 

    In More American Graffiti, the Vietnam War looms menacingly behind each vignette. In some, the conflict's effects are silent yet pervasive, while in the stories of Toad and Debbie, the war is an enveloping force. Toad attempts to escape the fighting however he can, while Debbie tries to understand the true purpose of war. 

  • Both Feature A Drag Race For Freedom

    George Lucas is obsessed with racing. His fanaticism is perhaps a product of the years he spent growing up in Modesto, CA, cruising with his friends and racing whatever cars he could get his hands on.

    The protagonists of every Lucas-helmed Star Wars movie are aces behind the wheel (or whatever steering mechanism is present on the Millennium Falcon), as are the main characters of American Graffiti. Once Lucas had made a name for himself, his obsession with racing only become more prominent. 

    The Phantom Menace features an incredibly long podrace scene that mirrors More American Graffiti's longest segment. One of the latter film's central characters, John Milner, attempts to win a drag race that he believes will free him from the slump he's been in since the last night of summer in 1962 (AKA the setting of American Graffiti). This race for freedom is paralleled by Anakin's podrace, as the young Jedi attempts to win freedom from his owner, Watto. 

  • Neither Film Handles The Deaths Of Characters Well

    Both Phantom Menace and More American Graffiti are littered with characters who've already been declared dead in previous films, or who are assumed dead because so much time has passed between films. 

    The end of American Graffiti reveals that John Milner is killed by a drunk driver shortly after the credits roll. Despite the definitiveness of the conclusion, More American Graffiti still attempts to elaborate on what happened after the first film wrapped, and the story plays out like a cruel joke. Who cares if Milner manages to woo the foreign exchange student from Iceland or win the big race? He's already dead. 

    The Phantom Menace details Obi Wan Kenobi's origin story, and while it's interesting to see a character everyone loves grow into himself, the audience is also presented with Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi who is pretty obviously not around at the start of Episode IV. Liam Neeson does his best to give life to a character who is doomed from the start, but after he dies, it's almost like he never existed. 

  • Both Movies Rely Heavily On Special Effects

    Both Movies Rely Heavily On Special Effects
    Video: YouTube

    Fans have been calling George Lucas's reliance on post-production lazy (or just plain bad) since the Star Wars prequels were released. However, it turns out that he's been using editing to cover his tracks since the '70s. The visual hook of More American Graffiti is that each segment has its own unique look. While this is an interesting choice, the visual flourishes end up feeling superfluous and hollow, as they rarely add to the story being told. 

    The use of handheld 16mm footage in the Vietnam scenes, as well as the split-screens cribbed from Woodstock that make up the Haight-Ashbury segments, feel as if they were included to show the audience that this kind of editing was possible. Their existence isn't directly related to the plot, so their inclusion only serves to throw off the pacing of the story. 

    In The Phantom Menace, Lucas commits more fully to the practice of using editing to cover his mistakes. Many of the dialogue-driven scenes were created by cutting together multiple takes, as Lucas was unwilling or unable to produce one quality take while on set. The final product relied so heavily on post-production that, while filming only lasted about three months, it took around three years of post-production to bring the film to completion. 

  • Both Films Are About The End Of An Era

    The Phantom Menace and More American Graffiti both depict eras when the world was fracturing into pieces. In the mid-to-late '60s, the culture of America was shifting, and people were coming to the conclusion that the post-war idealism they'd held onto wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

    The public was becoming increasingly opposed to war, women were entering the workplace, and there was a distinct cultural divide between "the greatest generation" and baby boomers. More American Graffiti attempts to capture this feeling by employing a fractured narrative that jumps between stories. 

    The shift in galactic culture depicted in The Phantom Menace isn't as instantly recognizable, but the film is still about the end of an era. At the story's start, the Jedi are plentiful, but it quickly becomes apparent that their time is coming to an end. This feeling comes to a head with the introduction of Anakin Skywalker, who is destined to bring balance to the Force, and who grows up to be one of the greatest antagonists in the series.  

  • Both Movies Doubles Down On Everything

    With The Phantom Menace, George Lucas decided to tell a plethora of concurrent stories, many of which end up feeling forgettable. In just over two hours, viewers are subjected to Anakin's coming-of-age tale, a detailed history of the galactic conflict that culminated with Naboo being blockaded off, the exploration of an underwater society, and an all-out war between the Gungans and droids. Oh yeah, there's also a little bit in there about Jedi and the Force. Lucas amplified everything from the original trilogy in a way that makes the information unintelligible in a single viewing.  

    While American Graffiti tells four stories over the course of one night, More American Graffiti tells five or six stories (maybe even seven or eight) over the course of four years. Even though the creators tried to keep everything straight for the audience by including a regular stream of contextual notes, that doesn't stop the final product from feeling like a mishmash of stuff from the previous film. Each section seems like a dedication to something from the original film, illustrating how adding "more" to a story doesn't equate to adding something "different."