How the Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace video game influenced Star Wars gaming ever since

The National retrospectively reviews the game from 1999, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month as the film returns to the big screen

Star Wars episode 1 – The Phantom Menace celebrates its 25th anniversary. Photo: 20th Century Home Entertainment
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The Star Wars franchise is ubiquitous today, as it has been ever since Disney bought the beloved intellectual property from George Lucas and has since churned out five films and five television shows, not to mention a slew of novels, comic books, video games and merchandise.

Back in the late 1990s, however, things were different. At that point, the last major film had been released more than a decade earlier. Fans were ecstatic to return to a galaxy far, far away, with Lucas writing and directing a prequel trilogy, beginning with Episode 1 – A Phantom Menace which released on May 16, 1999. The film, however, was a disappointment, receiving lukewarm reactions from a fandom who expected more focus on pure action and less on complex political machinations.

The film did have two memorable scenes, though – the pod race with young Anakin Skywalker and the lightsabre duel at the end of the film when Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi took on the evil sith lord Darth Maul.

Being a new Star Wars film, everything from toys to clothes were produced and sold to promote the film. While video games were still an emerging space when the original trilogy released in the late 1970s and early 1980s, numerous games were made about them.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Consoles: PC, PlayStation
Rating: 2/5

But with the prequel trilogy, gaming had come a long way and the technology enabled the experience to be much more immersive and exciting. So, for the first film, gamers received a video game adaptation of The Phantom Menace that put them in the shoes of the Jedi Obi-Wan.

While the game may be have been equally as flawed as the film, it did end up establishing certain ideas that have been explored in the games in the years hence.

Wield a lightsabre, vanquish the enemy

Initially developed for PC and ported to the first PlayStation, the game carried the same name as the film, and even had the promotional poster as its cover. This made it clear to buyers what they were to expect from the game: a direct journey through the events of the film.

The game begins exactly as the film does, with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon being ambushed as they fight their way out against killer droids. Right from the offset, the game thrills as it asks players to use the lightsabre to defend and attack.

What is most distinct between the film and the game is not the work itself, but the audience consuming it. For most children and young adults in 1999, this game and the film it adapts were their first introduction to the Star Wars franchise. By then, the original trilogy might have seemed too dated for the emerging millennial generation. The prequel trilogy allowed a new way in, letting them experience something fresh, with new concepts for their imaginations.

And kids knew what they wanted to do when watching the film: become a Jedi and wield a lightsabre. This was the game’s major selling point, and it did it well considering it was a tie-in game. For context, most video games made as a tie-in with a film were not expected to be good even by their fans, as they usually existed as a promotional tool rather than a standalone work of art.

But it’s not just duel, the game moves through the events of the film but almost simplifies it for younger audiences to understand and grasp. Not necessarily dumbing it down per se, rather making the politics of taxes and trade routes more digestible.

The promise of better games

Alas, while the game might have been entertaining, it didn’t do enough to warrant positive feedback at the time of release. But reviewers could still see areas of potential.

What The Phantom Menace game did well is lightsabre battles, and made it absolutely necessary for lightsabre-focused games to become a regularity, which is exactly what happened for the next 25 years.

And the standard and quality of these games continued to improve. By 2005, the game tie-in for the third film, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, gave fans a much more refined lightsabre-wielding experience.

There is also the Knights of the Old Republic series of games which are still a favourite among fans for having dynamic and brutal lightsabre battles.

More recently, Jedi: Fallen Order and Jedi: Survivor have brought lightsabre gameplay to its cutting edge, giving players the chance to go on incredible adventures in the Star Wars universe and taking on the toughest of enemies.


The tide has begun to shift on The Phantom Menace since its release in 1999. As the generation of children who grew up in the 90s became the main forces in a fanbase once dominated by the children of the 70s, the film has been re-evaluated and now openly loved in many circles.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the game. After being added to the PlayStation Plus’s library of classic games this year, it’s clear just how much the Star Wars games have improved over the years, to put it nicely.

The controls are archaic and not nimble at all, and the graphics are blocky, ugly at times. The camera looks down on the characters from a bizarre angle rather than following them from behind.

However, the game does a good job in following the events of the film, putting the player at the centre of the action. Another positive is the voice acting for the game, which breathes life into the characters and adds enjoyment through quips and witty remarks.

Ultimately, playing The Phantom Menace game today is an exercise in nostalgia, hoping that you can remember the fun had when playing in 1999 rather than viewing it through today’s advanced gaming goggles.

Updated: May 10, 2024, 6:02 PM
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Consoles: PC, PlayStation
Rating: 2/5