'Star Wars: The Phantom Menace' returns to theaters for its 25th anniversary today

Check your midichlorian counts, gas up your fastest podracers and prepare for the triumphant theatrical return of "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" beginning on May 3, 2024 in celebration of the polarizing prequel's big 25th anniversary bash.

Written and directed by mastermind George Lucas, "The Phantom Menace" arrived on the big screen on May 19, 1999 with unrivaled hype and a storm of media attention. It was the first journey back to the galaxy far, far away since the conclusion of the original trilogy with 1983’s "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" sixteen years earlier.

This initial episode entry, in what came to be known as the prequel trilogy, presented characters new an old in the form of Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), the evil Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), the horned Dathomirian Darth Maul (Ray Park), Jedi Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), and the goofy lop-eared Gungan called Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best).

Here's the official re-release synopsis:

"Experience the heroic action and unforgettable adventures of 'Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.' See the first fateful steps in the journey of Anakin Skywalker. Stranded on the desert planet Tatooine after rescuing young Queen Amidala from the impending invasion of Naboo, Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn discover nine-year-old Anakin, who is unusually strong in the Force. 

Anakin wins a thrilling podrace and with it his freedom as he leaves his home to be trained as a Jedi. The heroes return to Naboo where Anakin and the Queen face massive invasion forces while the two Jedi contend with a deadly foe named Darth Maul. Only then do they realize the invasion is merely the first step in a sinister scheme by the re-emergent forces of darkness known as the Sith." 

Artist Matt Ferguson's 25th anniversary poster for "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" (Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Whether this installment in the "Star Wars" saga is your favorite of all time or one that still feels disjointed and disappointing, there's no denying the dynamic surge of adrenalin felt during the Tatooine podracing sequence and the sonic power of composer John Williams' operatic score, especially his "Duel of the Fates" track for the electrifying Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul lightsaber battle.

As an added bonus, fans will also gain an extended look at "Star Wars: The Acolyte," coming to Disney+ June 4, 2024, following the 25th anniversary film presentation.

"Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" races back into theaters starting May 3, 2024.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.