George Lucas Knew Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Focusing On A Young Vader Was A Risk

Anakin in Episode I

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Star Wars is one of the most popular movie franchises of all time, with entire generations of moviegoers brought up on the galaxy far, far away. George Lucas forever change the film industry with the original trilogy, especially regarding the visual effects and cinematography necessary to capture the beloved space opera. Lucas eventually returned to the director's chair with the prequels, starting with 1999's The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately Episode I was met with a mixed reaction, although the filmmaker knew he was taking a risk by focusing on such a young version of Anakin aka Darth Vader.

The many Star Wars fans out there were thrilled to return to the galaxy with The Phantom Menace, although some aspects of that infamous prequel didn't sit right with the fandom. Chief among them was the character of Anakin Skywalker, who went from villain to a somewhat annoying young kid living on Tatooine. A past interview of George Lucas proved that he knew the fandom might react this way, saying:

I knew if I’d made Anakin 15 instead of nine, then it would have been more marketable … If I’d made the Queen 18 instead of 14, then it would have been more marketable. But that isn’t the story. It is important that he be young, that he be at an age where leaving his mother is more of a drama than it would have been at 15. So you just have to do what’s right for the movie, not what’s right for the market.

Touche. While George Lucas understood that moviegoing audiences would likely respond better if Star Wars: The Phantom Menace focused on older versions of Anakin and Padme, that's not the story he wanted to tell. Mostly because it would have made young Vader's separation from his mother Shmi (Pernilla August) less emotional.

George Lucas' comments to Empire help to peel back the visionary filmmaker's thought process behind his work on The Phantom Menace. The first prequel continues to get a ton of flack from the fandom, because the movie is decidedly more child-friendly than the other thanks to Jake Lloyd's Anakin Skywalker and the infamous inclusion of Jar Jar Binks. But Lucas had a very specific story in mind for his beloved space opera, including a nine year-old version of the franchise's main villain.

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While George Lucas was steadfast in his beliefs about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the public's reaction to both Jake Lloyd and Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best was less than kind. Both actors were the subject of extreme backlash, with Lloyd retiring from acting as a result. And while the next two prequels featured an older version of Anakin who was struggling with the Dark Side, Episode I continues to the butt of many jokes.

Hearing how passionate George Lucas was about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace shows how methodically the filmmaker approached the prequel trilogy. As such, it's somewhat surprising that the nine-film Skywalker Saga ended with a new trilogy of movies that Lucas was not involved in. J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson helmed the most recent installments in the property, which played out quite differently than its creator originally planned.

It should be interesting to see how the Star Wars franchise continues to grow on the big screen now that The Rise of Skywalker ended the main story. Any future movie installments will be unconnected from the Skywalker Saga, which should give filmmakers the freedom to craft a new story. But until then, the galaxy will continue to grow thanks to live-action shows on Disney+.

The Mandalorian is currently in the midst of Season 2 over on Disney+. Be sure to check out our 2020 release list to plan your next movie experience.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.