Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out 18 years ago. And if you cast your mind back to that time of peace and simplicity, you may remember a great many people raising their voices in joy at the prospect of seeing a new Star Wars movie, only to be suddenly silenced when the film was released. It immediately came off as the type of film that could only come from a creative genius who didn’t have people around him who were able to tell him that half his ideas were terrible. Despite initial financial success, the film dealt with accusations of racism, crippling critical reception, and has since become a pop culture joke.
The film’s cutting-edge CGI graphics were the movie’s only redeeming quality and they haven’t held up since 2004. With all the negativity surrounding the movie, it’s hard to believe that anyone involved in it could move on to bigger and better work, and some of them haven’t. While Star Wars franchise players like Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, and the late Kenny Baker were more or less guaranteed comfortable futures, here’s what the rest of the cast has been up to since being in the narratively first Star Wars film.
15. EWAN MCGREGOR
If the condemnable Star Wars prequels got anything right, it was casting Ewan McGregor as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. Already a seasoned and well-known actor thanks to his lauded performances in films like Emma, Velvet Goldmine and Trainspotting, McGregor brought a cool and measured element to the movie that perfectly channeled Alec Guinness from the original Star Wars.
After Phantom Menace, he returned as Kenobi for the sequels while winning a Golden Globe award for his performance in Moulin Rouge! at the same time. While maintaining a film career, McGregor branched out into theater with well received starring performances in Guys and Dolls and Othello. Though his subsequent movie work has ranged from iconic in Black Hawk Down to regrettable in Mordecai, he has maintained an edge of whimsy and much of his filmography is geared towards younger audiences, a trend that seemingly originates with Phantom Menace.
14. LIAM NEESON
It seems bizarre to think that there was a time when the world’s favorite growling Irishman never wanted to be an action star. Known for his performances in Schindler’s List, Les Miserables and Michael Collins, Neeson always saw himself as a dramatic actor, even turning down the role of James Bond in Goldeneye to maintain his professional reputation. He reportedly only took the part of Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn on the advice of a former coworker after they met up at a bar in Belfast.
Neeson brought a commanding presence to the role and his death scene was the emotional highpoint of the film. Following Star Wars, Neeson has seemingly been more open to playing a wide variety of roles. While still playing serious parts in Kinsey and The Grey, he’s also taken part in action films like Batman Begins, Clash of the Titans and of course the Taken movies.
13. NATALIE PORTMAN
Though she’s a big star today, casting Natalie Portman was a risk in 1999. She was still in high school, about to start her Harvard education and her last film was three years prior in Tim Burton’s flop Mars Attacks!. Though she clearly had talent to carry her own weight on screen, it was still disconnecting to see an awkward teenager try to measure up with her veteran costars.
As Queen Padme Amidala, Portman seemed to grasp the fundamentals of her part, but only grew into it fully in the sequels. Outside of Star Wars, she graduated college and received critical praise for projects like Anywhere But Here, Salon, V for Vendetta and Closer, for which she earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod. Though she did some theater work, her passion remained in films and her talent was rewarded with an Academy Award for Black Swan in 2010.
12. IAN MCDIARMID
Ian McDiarmid’s involvement in The Phantom Menace was considered a godsend by fans. The Tony Award-winning actor was one of only three who carried over from the original Star Wars films in the same role. First appearing in 1980’s Empire Strikes Back, McDiarmid played the villainous Emperor Palpatine, reimagined for Phantom as a subversive politician with ulterior motives. The polarity of his roles let McDiarmid have fun onscreen, hamming up each frame with a scene-stealing delight that fans thoroughly enjoyed, particularly in the sequels.
Though he has appeared in films since, his roles have been limited to small and supporting parts. On stage however, McDiarmid is a respected Shakespearean actor and director who has worked in London, Dublin and Chicago. He’s also branched out into television in recent years, with recurring roles on City of Vice, 37 Days and Utopia. Look for him in Britannia, coming in October of 2017.
11. PERNILLA AUGUST
Though most English speakers know her best as Shmi Skywalker, mother to the greatest evil icon in cinema history, Pernilla August is actually a renowned Swedish actress known for her lauded work with Scandinavian auteur Ingmar Bergman. Phantom was her first and last major English role and came at a point in her life where her career was slowing down. Even her brief death scene in the sequel was lackluster and overshadowed by horrible writing.
Her stage and film roles became smaller after Phantom and, while she’s still working today, it’s clear that barring a spectacular comeback, she won’t be in any huge blockbusters. She’s even tried branching out into directorial positions. Her most recent work was as a recurring character in season three of the Danish television drama Arvingerne.
10. HUGH QUARSHIE
It’s a safe bet that nobody, even fans of Phantom Menace, remembers Captain Panaka, Queen Amidala’s head of security. In all fairness, Hugh Quarshie probably forgot that he played the role. He’d already been acting extensively for 20 years at that point, including a role in the cult classic Highlander, and didn’t slow down after his minor role in a franchise movie. He was supposed to return for the sequels, but dropped out over a money dispute with George Lucas.
Not long after Phantom, Quarshie landed the role of Ric Griffin on the BBC shows Holby City and Casualty, a role he’s still playing over 16 years later. While working on his long-running shows, Quarshie has found time for work on Doctor Who, Jason and the Argonauts and White Heat. Outside of his work, Quarshie is a noted woman’s rights activist and has three children with wife Annika Sundstrom.
9. SAMUEL L. JACKSON
C’mon, you know who he is and what he’s done. Perhaps the most recognizable actor in the world today, Samuel L. Jackson had the then-minor role of Jedi Master Mace Windu in Phantom Menace. Though the role was expanded in the sequel and allowed for some legitimately impressive action sequences, many recognized that Jackson seemed stiff and limited. The personality of the stoic warrior monk didn’t allow him to embrace the larger-than-life acting style he was known for.
Fortunately, Star Wars was not the end for Jackson. In fact, despite the limitations of the role, Jackson elevated its importance with his sheer screen presence. He would go on to play even more iconic roles with nuanced and entertaining performances that people are enjoying to this day and will for years to come. Jackson’s legacy has long since been established and even a blip like Phantom Menace can’t stain it.
8. ANDY SECOMBE
From the idiotic Gungans with Jamaican accents to the cowardly and Orientalized leaders of the Trade Federation, Phantom Menace had more stereotypes than one would expect from a Star Wars movie. But perhaps the worst offender was the slaveowner Watto, equipped with a large nose, a miserly personality and a thick, raspy Jewish accent provided by Andy Secombe.
Secombe, a former child actor on several BBC sketch shows, found himself locked into the role and left acting for a time, only returning to voice Watto in the sequel and a few other Star Wars projects. In his time away, Secombe penned several fantasy and science-fiction novels. He returned to acting in 2005 but didn’t land a notable role until 2015 when he lent his voice to a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show.
7. KEIRA KNIGHTLEY
Yes, Keira Knightley was in Phantom Menace. Remember the decoy subplot that nobody cared about because it was never fully explained? Yeah, she was the decoy. Phantom was one of her earlier roles and it was quickly forgotten after her success in films like Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean and Love Actually only a few years later, all of which served to propel her into pop culture stardom. Her film work has earned her multiple award nods.
She’s also gotten married, started a family, won several court cases against various harassers, and is an active charity worker for a number of causes. In 2015, she fulfilled a lifelong dream by debuting on Broadway in Therese Raquin to critical applause. Despite her success, she is not immune to criticism and came under fire for her roles in Begin Again, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Collateral Beauty.
6. LEWIS MACLEOD
One of the biggest complaints about Phantom Menace was that about half way through it, the movie becomes an ’80s sports movie, with an underdog child protagonist, a race with everything on the line, and an arrogant antagonist to bully the hero. In Phantom, it was Anakin, pod racing, and Sebulba respectively. The voice of Sebulba was provided by Lewis Macleod, who at the time was an up-and-coming British voice actor.
Using Star Wars as a launching point, Macleod landed several gigs voicing prominent characters in Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings video games. These video game voiceovers transitioned into cartoon work, where Macleod’s vocal range and gift for impressions came in handy. He’s had recurring roles on Postman Pat, Nina and the Neurons and The Amazing World of Gumball. His minor role in the Star Wars movie was only the beginning of his success.
5. RAY PARK
One of the coolest things that Phantom Menace added to the Star Wars universe was Darth Maul and his double-sided lightsaber. The reveal of the new weapon and the subsequent fight over John Williams’s “Duel of the Fates” score was one of the film’s highlights. Ray Park, the man who played Maul, is equally as cool, although for different reasons.
Park is a famed Hollywood stuntman and martial artist who, following Phantom, played Toad in X-Men, Snake-Eyes in the G.I. Joe movies, Edgar on the TV show Heroes, and even Chuck Norris in The Legend of Bruce Lee. Clearly Park moved on to better projects, but never forgot the film that propelled him to stardom. His tribute to the movie was a cameo in the 2009 comedy film Fanboys, where he played a security officer at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch whose catchphrase is “Time for you to get mauled.”
4. TERENCE STAMP
Terence Stamp was already a household name before his small role in Phantom. His role in Term of Trial put him opposite acting legend Laurence Olivier, his part in The Collector was a masterclass in subtlety, and his performances as General Zod in the first two Superman movies are downright iconic. His 60-odd year career was already starting to slow down in 1999, but following Phantom it slowed to a snail’s pace.
His next notable role was in the Eddie Murphy vehicle Haunted Mansion which flopped. Fortunately, he’s since regained some credibility through his voiceover work in the Elder Scrolls and Halo video games and the Superman TV show Smallville. In 2011, he made his return to blockbusters with The Adjustment Bureau and Big Eyes. He’s also made a name for himself as a writer, cook and documentarian.
3. AHMED BEST
Ahmed Best probably thought he’d gotten his big break when he was cast in a highly-anticipated Star Wars movie. Then they slapped a traffic cone on his head, digitized his face, and told him to speak with a high-pitched Jamaican accent. Thus, Jar Jar Binks, perhaps the most hated character in fiction, was born. Playing the loathsome role was one of the biggest hindrances to a promising career we can think of.
Best’s filmography shows he’s had other work since Phantom, but routinely comes back to Jar Jar, if for no other reason than no other actor would be crazy enough to associate themselves with the role. In a 2016 interview, Best discussed the effect the criticism of Jar Jar had on him, revealing how the origin of the Gungan’s hated voice came from reading bedtime stories to his younger family members. Nowadays, he works as a media manager, musician and radio host.
2. GEORGE LUCAS
One of Hollywood’s visionaries, George Lucas was hailed as a genius writer and producer for his creation of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. When it came time to make the long awaited Star Wars prequels, Lucas was made sole director, in charge of all creative cinematic decisions. Over the course of two hours, the world learned that Lucas’s brilliance was partly thanks to others who were able to temper his explosive creativity and obsession with exposition.
After Phantom’s poor reception, he made selective changes in the sequels before attempting to reboot some of his other projects with limited success. In 2012, he sold his company, Lucasfilm, and all associated rights to Disney, becoming the conglomerate’s largest shareholder. Though he still serves as a consultant and producer, he is mostly retired now and works primarily as a philanthropist.
1. JAKE LLOYD
Out of the entire cast of Phantom Menace, nobody was more affected than Jake Lloyd, the child actor burdened with playing a young version of one of the most famous characters in modern history. As Anakin Skywalker, Lloyd was no better or worse than any child actor, though Lucas’s clunky writing certainly didn’t help. Despite everyone from Mark Hamill to Ron Howard coming to his defense, Lloyd was bullied so ruthlessly for his performance that he retired from acting prematurely.
In 2015, in the midst of an attempted comeback as a documentarian, Lloyd was arrested for reckless driving after leading a high-speed police chase in South Carolina. His arrest unveiled that he was living with a severe mental illness and he was later transferred to a psychiatric facility after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Best of luck to Jake and his family, hopefully treatment will help him manage his illness.
Do you think The Phantom Menace gets a bad rap? Let us know in the comments section!
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