Topps Star Wars Phantom Menace 25th Anniversary

The Impact of The Phantom Menace

Date: May 17, 2024
Author: Rick Stevenson
Topics: Phantom Menace, Rick Stevenson, Star Wars
Length: 1075 Words
Reading Time: ~6 Minutes

Star Wars had a very distinct look in 1998. It may have been 15 years since the release of the last film in the franchise, 1983’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, but the various novels, comics, and video games that filled the space between trilogies still stayed relatively true to the aesthetic established in the first three movies. The Star Wars universe was dirty, lived in, full of industrial starship interiors and shady bars. Cloud City offered a small peak at what more “sophisticated” corners of the galaxy might look like, though it was still primarily inspired by a then-already-retro sci-fi serial style—one that influenced most of legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s early designs.

The biggest departure from this core style before the prequel trilogy was Tales of the Jedi, a Dark Horse Comics series that showed the early days of the Jedi Order. These stories incorporated many aesthetic touches from “sword and sorcery” pulp fiction, but many of the ship and costume designs still clearly evoked the original trilogy.

Then Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace came out in theaters, and everything changed forever.

With the first film in his Prequel Trilogy, George Lucas and his creative team redefined what Star Wars could look like, showing the high society of the Galactic Core, alien civilizations, and the Jedi Order at its pinnacle. As Star Wars fans the world over celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Phantom Menace, it’s the perfect time to look back at all the ways in which the film revolutionized the visual style of the Star Wars universe

An Era of Peace and Prosperity

Aside from Cloud City, all places shown in the original Star Wars trilogy are either Outer rim planets like Tatooine or uncolonized worlds like Hoth and Yavin IV. The Phantom Menace opened the galaxy up immensely by spending time on both Naboo and Coruscant. While Naboo is technically a Mid Rim planet and not a part of the Galactic Core, it perfectly represents the kind of old-money society that thrives under Republic rule. The capital city of Theed looks unlike any Star Wars location previously seen at the time, with huge, vaulted ceilings and neoclassical pillars adorning the palaces and walled outdoor gardens. 

This whole new look extends to the clothing of the characters as well. Queen Amidala steals the show with her array of colorful dresses and complicated hairdos, but there’s just as much to admire in the fashion choices of her handmaidens or the Naboo Royal Guard. These styles aren’t the industrial space-1970s of the original trilogy, nor are they the sleek Buck Rogers aesthetics of McQuarrie’s original concept art. The ships of Naboo are shiny and chrome, yes, but in a sort of Renaissance-Italy-in-space kind of way, rather than the silvery Jetsons sheen of older sci-fi serials.

Topps welcomed The Phantom Menace in 1999 with a set of Widevision cards — an ideal format to display the new epic scale and scenic vistas. Unlike the sets for the original trilogy, which featured more simple colored borders and retro sci-fi touches like the Empire Strikes Back “Star File” cards, these Widevision cards let George Lucas’ colorful shots take up more space. A red border with the Star Wars logo marked the bottoms, but the images themselves spread wide, showcasing the elegant costumes and bright locales of The Phantom Menace. This series set the stage for later prequel trilogy Topps runs, all of which embraced a more diverse picture of the Star Wars universe.

The Capital of the Galaxy

While much of The Phantom Menace takes place on Naboo, the scenes on Coruscant were just as important for establishing the new frontier of Star Wars aesthetics in 1999. The Galactic Senate isn’t just a government body; it’s a visual symbol of what democracy in the final days of the Republic looks like. The austere exterior of the building, flanked by ancient statues, suggests the grand importance of the government operations conducted within. However, the Senate sessions we see aren’t quite so impressive. The chamber feels more like a void, swallowing up the needs of the people when they’re presented and replacing them with the squabbles of a richly clad, out-of-touch aristocracy. 

Then, of course, there’s the Jedi Temple. Like the Senate and the Naboo Royal Palace, it’s a grand building of titanic scale filled with symbols of an older world. The Phantom Menace finally confirmed how Jedi dressed and spoke in their heyday, adding details like the padawan braid and the ever-iconic council chamber. These details set the stage for every successive portrait of the Old Republic, establishing a fantastical, mythological corner of Star Wars alongside the industrial science fiction of the original trilogy.

Without The Phantom Menace, There Is No Modern Star Wars

It’s hard to list all the ways in which The Phantom Menace influenced every Star Wars project that’s followed. The Gungan city of Otoh Gunga was our first real look at a technologically advanced alien civilization in the movies, and the Trade Federation’s mechanized army showed that droids are good for a lot more than just translating and hacking doors.

In a larger sense, The Phantom Menace recontextualized the original trilogy by showing us clearly what the galaxy looked like in the years preceding the rise of the Empire. It’s a picture of a society so in love with its own traditions and history that it can’t see the rising tide: unrest and corruption festering while the politicians trade barbs in the Senate, and evil rising in the shadows to spin a neglected public to its advantage. 

Since the 1999 widevision series, Topps has revisited this late-renaissance era of Star Wars many times, such as in 2019’s 20th Anniversary Phantom Menace set. Because the other two prequels primarily detail the Republic’s decline, Episode I has stayed visually unique. Fans will always return to get another look at Queen Amidala’s exquisite outfits or the rolling hills surrounding Theed.

More Star Wars Content


Goldin Lands Another Netflix Hit
Jun 21, 2024
The National #6 | Breaking into The Hobby
Jun 20, 2024
Rickwood Field | An American History
Jun 19, 2024
History of Women in Sport’s Trading Cards
Jun 18, 2024
Back to Top