Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is a crucial part of the overarching Star Wars saga for two very specific reasons. The Phantom Menace was the first return to the big screen for Star Wars after a nearly two-decade hiatus, and many were surprised by the direction the first movie of the Star Wars prequel trilogy took. The entire Star Wars prequel trilogy was criticized severely when it was first released, and while this sentiment has changed somewhat in subsequent years, The Phantom Menace is still sometimes dismissed or ignored entirely in certain Star Wars viewing orders. Skipping The Phantom Menace, however, means an important part of Anakin’s character arc is lost.
Critics often claim that the Star Wars prequel trilogy and The Phantom Menace in particular contain a lot of superfluous scenes and characters that have no great bearing on the Skywalker saga as a whole. And yet, despite the distracting presence of characters like Jar Jar Binks, all three prequels – and The Phantom Menace in particular – provide essential depth and color to many of the franchise’s most crucial elements. While the story as a whole could arguably have been more focused, there’s no doubt that within the baggy prequel narrative are hidden gems that make the Star Wars saga, and Anakin’s fall, a more compelling story.
Why Viewers Argue The Phantom Menace Isn’t An Important Part Of Star Wars
The so-called “Machete Order” uses Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith as an extended flashback sequence between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Proponents of this Star Wars viewing order argue that the events of The Phantom Menace have no bearing on the Skywalker saga as a whole, as every question that is raised in the film is solved within it as well. Maul dies and is immediately replaced with Dooku, and Qui-Gon Jinn died and barely impacted Anakin’s training. These arguments, however, ignore the importance of the Duel of the Fates and how it changed the galaxy and Anakin’s life forever.
The large time jump between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones doesn’t help either, as viewers aren’t given the chance to see how Anakin changed between the two films, and how his relationship with Obi-Wan Kenobi developed. Attack of the Clones drops the audience into the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker when it is already well underway. This makes it easy to forget that The Phantom Menace is when the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker was truly set in motion, with Qui-Gon Jinn’s death depriving him of a mentor and establishing the fear of loss that would define his character.
Why The Phantom Menace Is Really A Crucial Part Of The Saga
Despite his role having long been limited to only one movie, Qui-Gon Jinn is one of the most influential figures in the entire Star Wars galaxy. He was the unwitting pawn in Darth Sidious’ game, as his death allowed Sidious’ plan to truly be set in motion. Qui-Gon’s death freed Count Dooku from any last remaining link to the Jedi Order, ensuring the war between the Republic and the Separatists could take place. Qui-Gon’s death also ensured that Anakin Skywalker wouldn’t be given the support he truly needed – not the support of a brother, as Obi-Wan eventually offered, but that of a father, the kind of relationship that only a Jedi like Qui-Gon could have provided for Anakin.
Qui-Gon understood the importance of balance in the Force better than anyone, and he understood that not all those who walk in the light can or should abandon all relationships. Qui-Gon would have understood that Anakin needed love, and a father figure, just as Palpatine also realized. Qui-Gon’s presence as Anakin’s Master would have meant that Palpatine couldn’t have filled that role in Anakin’s life, and as such, Palpatine’s manipulations wouldn’t have had the chance to darken Anakin’s mind and lead him down a villainous path.
The life Anakin could have had, the one where he might have been taken away from Star Wars‘ Jedi Order by Qui-Gon because of the council’s refusal to let him train Anakin vanished the second Qui-Gon died. Anakin could have grown up outside the manipulative world of the Republic’s politics and could have trained without the violence of the Clone War surrounding him. And even if Anakin had still had the chance to fall in love with Padmé, under Qui-Gon’s tutelage, Anakin likely would have been able to cope with his feelings for her in a healthier way without his emotions festering under the weight of repression. Qui-Gon’s death was therefore the catalyst that jumpstarted Anakin’s downfall.
The Prequels Make No Sense Without The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith make much less sense to the viewer when The Phantom Menace is skipped over, especially in relation to Anakin’s character development. Seeing Anakin Skywalker’s childhood, how he grew up as a slave, and understanding the weight of the promise he made to his mother are all crucial to understanding Anakin’s character later as a young adult. Additionally, Anakin being inducted into the Jedi Order at a much older age than the norm contributes to understanding Anakin’s fall to the dark side – especially when considering the Jedi Council’s initial rejection of him as a student.
Anakin’s childhood explains why he had such a hard time letting go of his attachments, both to his mother and his wife, Padmé. It explains why he became so violent when he found out his mother was dead, and why he was willing to risk everything that the Jedi Order and Obi-Wan had given him to marry Padmé in secret. Without knowing Anakin’s childhood, his struggle to find his own balance within the Force would feel out of place. His rash decisions, petulance, jealousy, and anger are harder to justify within the context of the story if it’s unclear where those feelings come from. Merely hearing about Anakin’s tough childhood in passing wouldn’t have been enough.
Though on the surface, it may seem like The Phantom Menace is easily disconnected from the rest of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, its story actually sets up the entirety of Anakin’s tragedy and his fall to the dark side. The Phantom Menace asks viewers to consider whether Darth Vader would ever have existed if not for the events of this first prequel trilogy movie and the opportunities it presented to a sinister villain like Palpatine. Duel of the Fates, and getting to know Anakin as a young child, are of particular importance to understanding the impact that the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace had on the Skywalker saga as a whole.
Next: The Phantom Menace’s First Draft Was Better Than The Final Movie