Behind-The-Scenes Stories From ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’
Taking a behind-the-scenes look at The Phantom Menace, it's easy to see what a momentous achievement in filmmaking it was. For its time, The Phantom Menace was an incredibly risky production, and its completion was a technological marvel.
For starters, this film was George Lucas's first time directing a feature since the original Star Wars in 1977. Though he'd worked on several films in the intervening years, he hadn't personally directed a film in over two decades. To come back to a blockbuster of this scale was no easy feat, as the movie used techniques that weren't yet invented when filming began.
Of course, not everyone was won over; some reviewers criticized the final product for emphasizing technical wizardry over a solid narrative. However, story issues aside, the film was a huge endeavor that required the hard work and dedication of many, many cast and crewmembers. Here's what was going on with The Phantom Menace behind the scenes.
The Podrace Set Was Destroyed The Day Before Filming Was Supposed To Start
The day before Lucas and his team would make cinema history filming the Podracing scene, a massive windstorm blew it all away. A crewmember recalled that, in some cases, the podracers had blown over 100 yards away. One of the tents for catering blew so far out into the desert that it was never seen again. Also lost in the destruction: Qui-Gon's beard.
To his credit, after seeing the destruction, Lucas simply said, "Let’s try and shoot something else," then went and did just that. While Lucas got his shots for the day, producer Rick McCallum made a phone call to London and had a plane full of construction supplies show up in a matter of days to rebuild the lost sets.
McGregor And Park Destroyed Many Lightsaber Props Training For Their Final Duel
The training to become a Jedi seems almost as intense offscreen as it is in-universe. Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, and Ray Park all had to become skilled swordfighters to portray their characters realistically. To do so, the three - particularly McGregor and Park - practiced for hours during the day.
David Tattersall, the director of photography for The Phantom Menace, recalls that the duo became so good at fighting, "and so vicious," that the "swords would end up like coat hangers after every scene." They had to have a prop maker on-site who was creating new lightsabers for them constantly, so the moment they broke one, they'd have another waiting. In all, the Jedi went through 300 different blades!
Obi-Wan's Force Leap Was The Result Of Four Men Throwing Him Off Of A Plank Of Wood
In the film, there is a moment after Darth Maul slays Qui-Gon Jin when it seems like Obi-Wan is done for. Kenobi has been knocked off the platform they were fighting on and is holding on for his life. Then, through the power of the Force, he throws himself back up and returns to the fight. It's an incredible display of acrobatics and a significant turning point in the duel.
As shown in the documentary The Beginning: Making Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, the filmmakers initially attempted to have Ewan McGregor bounce off of a trampoline and onto the platform. Unfortunately, the visual wasn't convincing. The team rectified this situation by having four men hold McGregor up on a plank of wood and launch him back onto the platform.
The Sets Had To Be Redesigned Because Liam Neeson Was Too Tall
After Liam Neeson was cast in the role of Qui-Gon Jin, the sets making up the world of Star Wars had to be rebuilt to allow the 6'4" actor to walk through them without ducking.
This alteration wasn't cheap. Reportedly, it cost an extra $150,000.
Ewan McGregor Made Lightsaber Sounds During His Fight Scenes
The sounds of the lightsaber are so well known that it was hard for Ewan McGregor not to make the noises himself as they were filming the scenes. This has been an issue not only for McGregor but also many actors on the sets of a galaxy far, far away. In later installments, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) also was guilty of making his own lightsaber noises.
Blasters also induce actors to make their own sound effects. Carrie Fisher yelled "bang!" during the filming of A New Hope. And, while most of these instances were edited out, in the sequel trilogy, there are shots of Laura Dern forming the word "pew" as she fires her blaster in The Last Jedi.
George Lucas Viewed Jar Jar Binks As 'The Key To The Whole Thing'
While still storyboarding The Phantom Menace, George Lucas told his collaborators that "Jar Jar really is the key to this whole thing." He went on to explain how Jar Jar is the funniest character they've ever tried to put into a Star Wars movie, and either he works or the film fails as a whole.
As it turns out, Lucas was exactly right. Fans of the Star Wars franchise, by and large, didn't like the addition of Jar Jar Binks to the universe. The Hollywood Reporter wrote in its review that Jar Jar was "more suitable for Toys R' Us than the big screen, [and] is particularly egregious and far more irritating than endearing."
The film would go on to receive mostly negative reviews. In the eyes of critics and audiences alike, Jar Jar Binks didn't work, and neither did the film. Lucas seemed to acknowledge the failure, too. Though Binks is also featured in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, his role is greatly reduced.