When it comes to Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, there were those who saw the flick, like, 70 times…and then there were the normal people, like you and me, who contributed once, maybe twice to the film’s $431 million box office. But how much of The Phantom Menace did any of us — obsessive or otherwise — really see? Pop quiz: Who are the Ratts Tyerell? Where is the 2001 space pod? And what the hell was Jar Jar talking about?
This is why God — or was it George Lucas? — invented video.
In truth, Star Wars creator Lucas and his special effects team at Industrial Light & Magic crammed more detail into Menace than can be absorbed in a single or even sextuple theatrical viewings. ”When people saw the film, many of them said, ‘I can’t concentrate on all the stuff,”’ says Rob Coleman, Menace’s animation director. ”Now, with the video, they can.” Which could explain why Menace’s April 4 home-video debut sold more than 5 million copies the first two days of its release. Yes, any fan with a VCR can now search for what Coleman calls the movie’s ”Easter eggs,” or nearly invisible details best savored with a pause button. To help with your pausing and scanning and to answer a few other lingering questions about Menace — EW went straight to the source.
Star Wars scrutinizers can be such sticklers. Fans wanted to know why the laser cannons on the Jedi-battling destroyer droids didn’t backfire, as the robots seemed completely enveloped by force fields. Your pause button will reveal that the guns actually extend outside the force field. Yes, even ILM animators, sticklers for detail themselves, can grow wary of such analysis. ”I love this level of detail,” says animation supervisor Paul Griffin. ”But you get to the point where you have to go, ‘I’ve got better things to do,’ you know? Go to the beach with a girl or something.”
Asked why the trade federation’s droid army seemed more Keystone Cops than killer elite, Coleman says Lucas intended for the droids to move a few steps too slow. ”They were the hardest characters for me to wrap my head around, because of that notion,” says Coleman, who once asked Lucas to explain it. ”George said, ‘Haven’t you wondered why the droids weren’t in the last two movies? They weren’t good enough…. That’s why you had the stormtroopers [in the second trilogy].”’ Look for this bit of Lucasonian foreshadowing to be fleshed out in Episode II.
There are stories within stories in Menace, and if you look in the background, you may catch one. Take the Ratts Tyerell, rodent aliens that visit Tatooine to watch the pod race. ”George just latched onto them and loved them and just kept adding them in,” says Coleman. In one scene, a group of Ratts is seen taking a guided tour of the town. In another, a trio of Ratts walk behind Qui-Gon and Watto, and one of them can be seen weeping (Coleman explains that they are the grieving family of a Pod-racer killed in the contest).
Lucas encoded Menace with unexplained detail that baffled even his special effects team. Take Jar Jar’s gibberish reason for his banishment from the underwater city of Otoh Gunga: ”Yud-say boom da gasser, un crash Der Bosses heyblibber.” Translation: ”Da gasser” is a spherical machine that fills those city-encasing bubbles with air. ”Der Bosses heyblibber” was a submarine used by Gungan leader Boss Nass. Basically, Jar Jar got tossed because he crashed a sub into a pump, wrecking part of the city. Lucas doesn’t spell this out in the script, either, so a clueless Coleman had to ask. ”You can never tell whether he’s making it up on the spot,” says Coleman, ”or whether he put all the thought into it years ago.”