If fans were making a list of the most influential Star Wars properties, the list could go in a number of different directions, though for most it would at least start with A New Hope. The subsequent two films are probably high on the list (if not two and three respectively) and from there is can spider out into video games, animated shows, and much more. I doubt many would actually start with The Phantom Menace, but that’s the one Leslye Headland credits for having the most profound effect on her career in creating stories. And one that will play a part in her upcoming series.
In a recent interview with The Wrap, Star Wars: The Acolyte creator and showrunner Headland talked at length about her style, vision, and influences when it came to this particular franchise. In it she discussed just how profound an effect The Phantom Menace had on her when it hit theaters in 1999. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone talk so eloquently about this film in any context and it was almost refreshing. Here’s part of what Headland had to say about how the movie began shaping her career and reinforced her love of Star Wars.
“I was 18 when Phantom Menace came out and I was a very, very big Star Wars fan. I remain a big Star Wars fan, but at that particular time… it just kind of all coincided at a time where I was discovering who I was sexually, I was discovering who I was artistically, I was kind of realizing what I wanted to do with my life. And then this big, huge movie event, cultural event happened that was The Phantom Menace.”
This is obviously a very personal account from Headland about her experience seeing Star Wars: Episode I – A Phantom Menace for the first time. The film was often derided for how it told this story of Anakin Skywalker’s origins, for a number of different reasons that we won’t get into here. But it did have an effect on Headland who was coming of age around her future in the industry at the time. She went on to elaborate around some of the specific things that caught her eye in the movie, and could actually affect the story she ends up telling in the Star Wars universe.
And I know there were varying reactions to it. And certainly there were a lot of people that had grown up with the original trilogy who were disappointed by it. But I actually was very intrigued by why George Lucas had started us at that particular point. I kind of wondered, but what happened to lead up to this?…And why are the Jedi like this? When they are in power, why are they acting this way and how is it that they’re not having the reaction that you would think they would to Anakin’s presence and what Qui-Gon Jinn is saying about how passionately he feels about training him and bringing him into the fold. It’s like, even the discovery of Darth Maul is kind of met with this like, ‘Hm, interesting’ kind of feeling. So I just think for me, my brain has always buzzed around that area and wondered what’s going on here — or what has been going on here.
Again, through a different lens, this is a different way than I believe most have looked and analyzed Star Wars, especially at the moment. While some of the character choices and origin pieces around midichlorians were more than a little out of nowhere and confusing, there is another set of intrigue happening around a higher level that could have slipped if lost in the mire of some of the movie’s problems. Specifically, the hierarchy and attitudes of the Jedi at the time being much different than what we’d experienced in the larger Star Wars universe.
And Headland has talked about how this movie left a mark on her and one can read into how it will shape her next project. It’s already been reported that Star Wars: The Acolyte will have a heavily political story, leaning on that aspect at the core of the narrative. Considering that Headland saw this “first” movie as being much more about the relationship between the Jedi and the Republic than say what Jar Jar Binks was up to, she’ll be bringing that part of the universe much more to the forefront.
Star Wars: The Acolyte is set to take place about 200 years before the events of The Phantom Menace. The series will occur during the last days of the High Republic and if the title is any indication, we are likely following the story of a Sith in training. The flick is set to have a female lead, with the studio casting a person of color for the role. Judging by how Headland viewed Phantom, she could spend the series setting the stage for how the Jedi/ Sith relationship shaped over the coming centuries and ended up with the world we saw in Episode I.
Currently, there’s no set timeline on Star Wars: The Acolyte, but we could see it released late in 2022.