Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is a 1999 American epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first prequel to the 1977 movie Star Wars: A New Hope and the first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Frank Oz reprise their roles of C-3PO, R2-D2 and Yoda from the Original Trilogy along with Ian McDiarmid who reprises his role of Emperor Palpatine from the previous Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi (1983). They are joined by Ewan McGregor who plays a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jake Lloyd who plays a young Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) and Liam Neeson, Ahmed Best, Natalie Portman, Ray Park, Samuel L. Jackson and Pernilla August who play new characters.
The film is set 32 years before A New Hope, and follows a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Master Qui-Gon Jinn as they protect Queen Padmé Amidala, in hopes of securing a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute. Joined by Anakin Skywalker - a young slave with unusually strong natural powers of the Force - they simultaneously contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.
Lucas began production of this film after he determined that film special effects had advanced to the level he wanted for the fourth film in the saga. Filming started on June 26, 1997, at locations including Leavesden Film Studios and the Tunisian desert. Its visual effects included extensive use of computer-generated imagery (CGI); many of its characters and settings were completely computerized. The film was Lucas's first directorial effort after a 22-year hiatus following Star Wars in 1977.
The Phantom Menace was released in theaters May 19, 1999, almost 16 years after the premiere of Return of the Jedi. The film's premiere was extensively covered by media and was greatly anticipated because of the large cultural following the Star Wars saga had cultivated. It received mixed reviews; critics praised the visuals, action sequences, score and many of the performances, but criticized the writing, characterization, and actor performances. It grossed more than $924.3 million worldwide during its initial theatrical run, making it the second-highest-grossing film worldwide at the time, behind Titanic. It became the highest-grossing film of 1999 and the highest-grossing Star Wars film (until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015), and is currently the seventeenth-highest-grossing film in North America unadjusted for inflation. A 3D reissue, which has earned an additional $102.7 million at the box office and brought the film's overall worldwide takings to over $1 billion, was released in February 2012. The film was followed by two sequels, Attack of the Clones in 2002 and Revenge of the Sith in 2005.