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Huge anticipation has preceeded the release of George Lucas' modern-day fairy tale, Star Wars: Episode One, The Phantom Menace, which opened in Los Angeles a week before Australia, with a gross of USD$28,542,349, the largest single day gross in the history of movies. Should you heed the US critics who say the film doesn't live up to the hype, or judge it for yourself? Lucas has created a whole world - several - into which he introduces the younger versions of characters we met in the first Star Wars trilogy. Is his vision as fantastic and are his storytelling skills as consummate still?

In Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, Lucas takes us back to the beginning, in which Darth Vader is a hopeful nine-year-old boy named Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi is a determined young Jedi knight. This first chapter, which is rich in art, design, costumes, architecture and technology, follows Anakin's journey as he pursues his dreams and confronts his fears in the midst of a galaxy in turmoil.


Anakin Skywalker
Anakin Skywalker (played by Jake Lloyd) showed an early talent for the Force as a slave boy on the backwater desert planet of Tatooine. Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn trained him to use his powers for good. But the Dark Side beckoned Anakin irresistibly, and he eventually became the twisted and evil Darth Vader. At the end of his life, Vader was redeemed by the faith of his son Luke, who had himself become a Jedi Knight.

Queen Amidala
As queen of the planet Naboo, 14-year-old Queen Amidala (played by Natalie Portman) engages in a desperate battle--aided by Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn—to save her planet from the dangerous Trade Federation. She carries enormous responsibility--more than she knows, since she is destined to marry Anakin Skywalker and bear twin children, Luke and Leia Skywalker, all of whom will play pivotal roles in the rise and fall of the Empire.

Qui-Gon Jinn
venerable Jedi Master and a respected teacher in the ways of the Force. He trains Obi-Wan Kenobi and discovers and mentors Anakin Skywalker, thereby earning himself an integral role in the rise and fall of the evil Empire, as well as--well, the future of the galaxy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi
As a young man, Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) trained the talented boy Anakin Skywalker to wield the power of the Force. Decades later, after Anakin had turned to the Dark Side and remade himself as Darth Vader, an older and wiser Kenobi influenced young Luke Skywalker, Vader's son, to take up a lightsaber and join the Rebellion.

Darth Maul
With red flame tattoos covering his face, black-hooded garments, and tiny horns poking out of his skull, it's not too hard to tell that Darth Maul is evil incarnate. A Dark Lord of the Sith, Maul is apprenticed to Darth Sidious and takes orders via holograph, including the order to destroy Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. His weapons of choice are a double-bladed light saber and an ocean of ferocity.

Jar Jar Binks
Jar Jar Binks is a Gungan, a species of intelligent amphibious creature inhabiting the swamps of the planet Naboo. After Qui-Gon Jinn saves his life, the lanky amphibian becomes Jinn's faithful sidekick. Although Jar Jar seems clumsy and dim at times, he bravely pilots a submarine and wields his battle staff in the fight against greedy traders and the evil Phantom Menace.

Darth Sideous
The Phantom Menace himself, Darth Sidious secretly controls the Trade Federation invasion of peaceful Naboo. He is an evil Dark Lord of the Sith, corrupt to the core.

Senator Palpatine
Senator Palpatine of Naboo (played by Ian McDiarmid) has an evil hidden agenda. His attempts to manipulate galactic politics in his quest for power will ultimately lead him to the dark side of the Force.

Battle Droids
Under the command of the greedy Trade Federation, battle droids are the ultimate in lean, mean fighting machines. Sleek, robotic, and armed with blasters, these droids also carry out their war maneuvers using battle tanks and STAPs (which resemble no-frills jet-skis). And unlike living soldiers, they require no food, no drink, and no sleep.

C3P0 & R2D2
The plucky, dome-headed R2-D2 and his protocol-anxious pal C-3PO help discover young Anakin Skywalker's powerful Force talent. The boy's skill at building and repairing droids brings him to the attention of Jedi Qui Gon Jinn.

The venerable Yoda--tiny, green-skinned, and pointy-eared--is one of the oldest and wisest members of the Jedi Council. His mastery of the Force is legendary. After the evil Empire orders all remaining Jedi eliminated, Yoda goes into hiding on the swamp planet Dagobah, where he will later train young Luke Skywalker for the epic battle with Darth Vader. At the time of Episode I, Yoda is 868 years old.

Mace Windu
Senior Jedi Council member Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is one of the 12 beings whose wisdom and mastery of the Force allow them to govern the Jedi Knights and lead them in the fight against the Dark Side. In Episode I, Windu and fellow Jedi Master Yoda direct Qui Gon Jinn and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi to follow Queen Amidala of Naboo in a quest to uncover the Phantom Menace.

Sebulba is a dug, from the planet Malastare. Strapped into jet-powered podracers, Sebulba and young Anakin Skywalker zoom across the sand in a heart-stopping contest.

The Nemoidian Trade Federation
Neimoidians are raised from birth to be greedy and manipulative, so it's no surprise that the Neimoidian Trade Federation is known for its self-serving procedural maneuvers—notably blocking all shipping to Naboo via a fleet of deadly battleships. The federation is behind the biggest commercial corporations in the galaxy. Rune Haako, its settlement officer, is as ruthless and conniving as any Neimoidian comes. Nute Gunray is another deceitful federation bigwig, who directs the secret army corps from the bridge of the federation flagship.

The Jedi Council
A utopic governing body, the Jedi High Council convenes in complete trust and balance, free of ego, jealousy, and greed. Members of the council include Yaddle, a 477-year-old female of Yoda's species; Oppo Rancisis, a shaggy-haired serpentine; Even Piell, whose scarred eye recalls his victory against Iridonian terrorists; the psychic Adi Gallia; and Saesee Tinn, an Iktotchi pilot, whose telepathy and extreme focus at high speeds add a unique perspective to the council.

Boss Nass
Leader of the amphibious Gungan, the rotund Boss Nass helps Queen Amidala fight the Neimoidian Trade Federation.

Watto, a pudgy, winged member of the Toydarian race, owns the slave Shmi Skywalker and her son Anakin. Watto is a gambler and a junk dealer in Mos Espa, the rough-and-tumble Tatooine frontier town.

Published May 28, 1999

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