Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
* What: The latest episode in the series
* Who: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Nathalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Jake Lloyd, Anthony Daniels, Ray Park, Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed
* Directed by: George Lucas
"Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning."
In a nutshell: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace represents the first piece of the Star Wars puzzle, providing the early story of the Empire and of Darth Vader. Vader was not always quite so beastly. He began life as Anakin Skywalker, a small boy very similar to Luke in Episode IV. Anakin is talent-spotted by Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn, who begins to train him for his Jedi 11-plus. But whereas Luke opted for the good guys, Anakin grew up, as everybody knows, to be the Emperor's enforcer, the black-masked figure who became the bogeyman for a generation.
The bigger picture: The precursor of the Empire, the Trade Federation, is eyeing the peaceful, prosperous planet of Naboo. Two Sith lords, the genuinely scary Darth Maul and his senior partner Darth Sidious, are at the forefront of the Federation's foreign policy. "Always two there are," comments Yoda inscrutably, "No more, no less. A master and an apprentice." The Siths are desperate to start mixing it with the Jedi and they don their war paint early. "At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi," whispers Darth Maul, "at last we will have revenge."
Naboo's advisors capitulate, but the planet's young ruler, Queen Amidala (Nathalie Portman), is determined not to be pushed around. Although she has limited experience, she is brave and resourceful - a worthy ancestor for Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia in the original movies.
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) travel to Naboo to try to stop the Trade Federation's drive for lebensraum. McGregor is an unassuming Obi-wan, matching the speech patterns of Alec Guinness uncannily. His Star Wars debut did have one blemish, however. During the battle sequences, McGregor was found to be making lightsabre sounds as he duelled with Darth Maul. They were later edited out.
The pod race is probably the best action sequence of all the four films. There are some tremendous stunts, back chat and dirty tricks with fantastic machines that make the vehicles in Mad Max look like Blue Peter. To top that, there's a terrific baddie, the jowl-flapping Sebulba, who nearly edges out little Anakin with a far cooler machine and bad-mouths him all the way. The race action is relayed by two commentators, who sit in the top deck of the stand and yell in English and Huttese - the pair are played by comedians Greg Proops and Scott Capurro.