When “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” first premiered on May 19, 1999, fan anticipation was feverish following 16 years without a new “Star Wars” feature film. Buoyed by a then-very-young Internet, “Star Wars” fans spent the lead-up to “The Phantom Menace” attempting to figure out just what secrets George Lucas had in store for the first prequel. That’s a stark contrast to this week, which finds “The Phantom Menace” being re-released in 3D to a collective shrug amongst even the most die hard “Star Wars” faithful.
In an effort to at least try to illustrate the frenzy that was the original “The Phantom Menace” release, Moviefone scoured some old posts on TheForce.net — one of the few Star Wars fan sites still in existence that was also around in 1999 — and, what turned out to be a great source for unsubstantiated rumors: Entertainment Weekly‘s 1997 set visit. So, with that, here are our favorite documented — and very much false – rumors that hit the Internet before the original release of “The Phantom Menace.”
The film titles that never were.
“Star Wars: The Balance of the Force — as fan scuttlebutt has the working title — won’t actually be ready for release until May 1999.”
“Parts 2 and 3, possibly titled The Rise of the Empire and The Fall of the Jedi, should shoot their live-action portions in one big nine-month chunk at the turn of the century, with releases to follow in 2001 and 2003.”
Get your stinking paws off me, you damned, dirty Sith!”
“So much for the long-standing rumor that Obi-Wan would be played by Kenneth Branagh, or the latest gossip that Charlton Heston would sign on as another Jedi or perhaps even — good Lord — the young Yoda.”
Steven Spielberg will direct Episode II.
“…and on who might step in to direct parts 2 and 3, since Lucas has said he won’t. “George told me that he believes Spielberg is going to do [part 2],” says Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner, 74. “He might do it for the money, because it’ll be a sure thing.”
Lady Kenobi? And the return of Alec Guiness? (From EW’s casting rumors.)
“CLAUDIA RAMIREZ: Will the unknown Mexican-soap actress play Lady Kenobi?
EWAN MCGREGOR: The young Ben Kenobi, who tutors his pal Anakin
HARRY CONNICK JR.: Could the Independence Day pilot become a Jedi?
JAKE LLOYD: Darth Vader-to-be, 8-year-old Anakin Skywalker
SIR ALEC GUINNESS: Did he visit Leavesden? And will he narrate part 3?”
Darth Maul is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s clone!
“Shawn M. Blake recalled that when Timothy Zahn started writing Heir to the Empire, he actually wanted Joruus C’Boath to be a clone of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lucasfilm axed the idea. Was it because he wanted to use the idea in the film? Consider this. Marvel Comics at one time wanted to do a story about a second Death Star, but Lucasfilm axed it. Then, lo and behold, it showed up in Return of the Jedi. Hmmmmm. Schwoozer also noted that Ray Park’s only other credit at the Internet Movie Database was in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation as…get this…”Rayden’s double”. Experience as a double, eh?”
“It will be interesting to learn about the dynamics between the Trade Federation and the Sith. Speaking of Sith, we’ve heard rumors that there may be such a thing as Sith Knights. Sure you’ve got your Jedi Masters (on the Jedi Council) and your Jedi Knights, so why not have your Sith Lords, along with some Sith Knights for good measure.”
Obi Wan Kenobi will fight Qui-Gon Jin!
“Some of you also recall a post we made a while back about Ewan and Liam Neseson dueling. You wondered if that was the scene between Qui-Gon and Maul. Well, actually, while it could be possible, you’ll notice that the Obi-Wan action figure is called “Jedi Duel Obi-Wan”. Is there a scene where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have a sparring match? Possibly. So, the discussion continues.”
Palpatine’s Magic Orb!
“Also some of you might be familiar with the shot of Palpatine’s statue holding that large orb in his hand that was at the end of the ROTJ:SE. It’s a fairly minor thing, but when rumors started to turn up about it being featured in Episode I, many began to speculate about it’s significance. Apparently the orb is in the possession of the Queen and is a symbol of power. We don’t think it has any mystical powers, but probably serves the same function as a scepter. Of course, Palpatine’s possession of it would be symbolic and the tearing down of the statue of him holding the orb would be even more symbolic. Interesting stuff.”
Darth Maul’s flaming head!
One of the earliest rumors we heard about Darth Maul was that, in some scenes, ILM was going to place CG flames around his skull (ala Ghost Rider). We don’t know if they will still do it, if they scrapped the idea, or if it was really ever an idea at all.
Attack of the Frogs!
“We’ve received information indicating that there is a “Frog Attack” during our heroes visit to Mos Espa! Yup, you read right…a plague of sorts. I can’t wait to see this one!”
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter