When George Lucas first began making Star Wars in the mid-70s there were many scenes that he stated he wished he could film, but due to budgetary concerns, as well as the state of visual effects at the time, they had to be nixed. Nearly 20 years later, after seeing the revolutionary computer generated effects being used in contemporary films, he believed he could update his original series with those missing scenes and imagery and began development of the now infamous Star Wars: Special Editions.
Regardless of what you think of the subsequent updates to the Original Trilogy, in 1997 my teenage self was stunned and awed as he watched Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on the silver screen in all their glory.
With all the Star Wars hype surrounding the re-release, and fueled by the newly booming Internet, news quickly surfaced that Lucas was to begin filming a brand new Star Wars film that summer for release in 1999! And with that came the inevitable slew of rumours surrounding this new film.
Here we are almost 20 years later and we're seeing history repeat itself, while The Force Awakens looms in the distance. The rumour mill is churning once again and the Internet is awash with what we may or may not see in J.J. Abrams highly anticipated sequel.
What were some of the stories swirling around The Phanom Menace back in the mid- to late-90s? Here are a few of the biggest rumours I remember cropping up before George Lucas brought us back to a galaxy far, far away.
5. "Obi-Wan Kenobi originally owned the Millennium Falcon"
This seems so outlandish when you look at it now, but back around the mid-90s the idea that a Star Wars film could ever be released without the Millennium Falcon in it was even more unbelievable. It didn't take long before forums and message boards were teeming with talk of who the "Han Solo" character would be in the prequels and who would own and pilot the Millennium Falcon.
Lucas was revealed to have been writing the new Star Wars movie as early as '93, so when inklings started surfacing of what would become Shadows of the Empire - an "interquel" story set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - there was the belief that Dash Rendar, Shadows' protagonist, would play a "Han Solo"-esque character in the prequels and would be the original owner of the Falcon.
Those rumblings were quickly quashed when Shadows of the Empire hit in '96 and featured Dash Rendar in the continuity of the Original Trilogy. So who would own the Falcon then?
Well Obi-wan Kenobi, of course! As unbelievable as it sounds, Star Wars fans were absolutely certain the Solo void would be filled by none other than ol' Ben. The word on the street was that Obi-wan would end up an exceptional pilot and would be the owner of the Millenium Falcon. He would even have a small Ewok sidekick that would accompany him, which would allude to the Solo-Chewbacca combination that would become famous in the subsequent stories.
What actually happened:
Obi-wan was shown to be a poor pilot that couldn't care less about having his own ship. He left all the piloting to his pupil, Anakin. The Millennium Falcon was basically a no-show in the Prequel Trilogy, briefly making an almost unnoticeable cameo in Revenge of the Sith for the hawk-eyed, avid Star Wars nut.
4. "Boba Fett will be featured in the prequel films"
One of the most popular characters in Star Wars history has always been Boba Fett, which seems surprising considering how little screen time he gets in the Original Trilogy. From the very beginning there was a lot of fascination surrounding Fett as fans learned that originally Lucas had planned on having a group of Supertroopers in the film that wore white armour (much like Storm Troopers), but scrapped the idea, colouring the armour and using it for Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back.
I, for one, always felt there was so much intrigue surrounding the character and I always wanted to know more about him. I wasn't alone, as the history of Boba Fett, and concept of Mandalorians - a renowned group of warriors - became the focus of many books, comics, and more in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It seemed like a no-brainer that Boba's character would take some part in the prequels and we'd finally learn more about this provocative character.
There was talk that there would be a slew of Mandalorians in the movie and that there would even be a massive war featuring Mandalorian Supercommandos versus a Clone Army. Also, Boba Fett would turn out to be... a woman!
What actually happened:
We got way more than we bargained for. It turns out that Boba Fett is the cloned son of Jango Fett, a Mandalorian Supercommando turned bounty hunter and the specimen chosen as the basis of a Clone Army created in secret by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. That Clone Army would become what we know in the Original Trilogy as Imperial Storm Troopers.
Interestingly in filming The Phantom Menace a female character was created titled "Babe Fett", and appeared in one scene during the Pod Races for all of a second. That character would take on a mythos all of her own and would eventually become Aurra Sing, who is featured heavily in the Clone Wars cartoon series, and shares a history with none other than Boba Fett himself.
We actually learned little to nothing about Boba Fett in the Prequel Trilogy. That however will be rectified in the upcoming film Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One, which is believed to feature Boba Fett in the time between the Clone Wars and the events of Empire Strikes Back.
Before filming began for The Phantom Menace it became known to fans that Liam Neeson would have a role in the planned Prequel Trilogy. Once photography started, some scenes from Tunisia surfaced that showed an unnamed character, portrayed by Neeson, and Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker.
So who was this mystery character? What was his relation to the boy that would become Darth Vader?
Very quickly the talk began that Neeson would play Anakin's father, and himself another Jedi in the Skywalker clan. What's interesting is that in most of the versions I've read Neeson's character would die, probably in the second film. He would be murdered by the Emperor so that he would not be able to stop Anakin from joining the Dark Side of the Force and becoming a Dark Jedi (the concept of the Sith wasn't around yet). It was believed that Anakin would see his father die at the hands of another Dark Jedi, would take up his father's lightsaber and fell the murderer, beginning his path toward the dark.
What actually happened:
These rumours weren't really that far from the truth. Of course, no one could foresee that Lucas would make Anakin a Christ-like figure created from the Force itself (by midi-chlorians... ugh), so the idea of a father wasn't that off-base.
Neeson would play Qui-gon Jinn, who actually played a father-figure to Anakin, in a way, and was killed by the Emperor's apprentice. Anakin's relationship with Qui-gon isn't really explored, but Anakin does begin his descent into the dark side after his mother, Shmi, is killed by Tusken Raiders and Anakin slaughters her murderers.
2. "Amphibious Storm Troopers will have a massive underwater battle"
Again, before the prequel films hit the big screen, the concept of a Star Wars film that didn't feature Storm Troopers as the expendable army of whatever evil plot was afoot seemed incredible far-fetched. It was assumed, almost universally, that Storm Troopers would be in all of the prequels.
George Lucas said that he had always wanted an underwater battle in the Original Trilogy, but there was no way to make realistic water and water rippling effects at that time. So when the new prequel films were announced, fans immediately began speculating what this underwater battle might be like.
The story that gained the most traction was that a group of Amphibious Storm Troopers and an army from the Republic would do battle on a water planet known as Sedri. The Republic would pilot V-Wings, which were ships that had the ability to submerge underwater, so they could attack the Storm Troopers in their submarines.
What actually happened:
Technically there were no Storm Troopers in any of the Star Wars prequels! In Attack of the Clones, however, we meet the Clone Army, which would become the Storm Troopers of the Original Trilogy, as I mentioned above.
There was an underwater sequence in The Phantom Menace, however! We follow our heroes as they travel underwater to meet the denizens of Naboo's watery depths, the Gungans. Their race is infamous for Jar Jar Binks, the most reviled character in the Star Wars series.
Was there an underwater battle? Not really, The Gungans attacked a droid army in The Phantom Menace, but it took place on a huge grassy field. There were some underwater action scenes, but not what the fans had been expecting.
Also, no V-Wings made an appearance in the prequels. A V-Wing ship is featured in the Star Wars: Battlefront video games, but it isn't the semi-aquatic ship that was expected, but instead a precursor to the Imperial TIE Fighter as well as the Rebel A-Wing.
1. "R2-D2 is a Jedi Knight"
This is my absolute favourite rumour that was ever associated with the Star Wars prequels. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever fathom this concept, yet the story persisted before the release of The Phantom Menace put it to rest.
There were many outlandish rumours surrounding the beloved droids of Star Wars; R2-D2 will be Anakin's personal droid and C-3P0 will be an interpreter for the Empire, C-3P0 was a con-artist before he became the butler-like robot we all remember, and another wonderful belief that in the Prequel Trilogy R2-D2 would be the protocol droid and C-3P0 would be an astromech! This one, however, takes the cake.
In the third film of the new trilogy a dying Jedi would somehow use the Force to imbue his life force into an inorganic object, in order to preserve it. That inorganic object would be none other than little R2. Why would anyone ever come up with this idea? The belief was that this explained why R2 would have that spirit of adventure that we see in the little astromech droid throughout the Original Trilogy.
It was also generally accepted that R2-D2 and C-3P0 would probably have their minds wiped at the end of the Prequel Trilogy in order to keep continuity with the original films. For this reason it was believed that because R2 would have a Jedi's mind that our favourite little droid's memory couldn't be erased and he would have an "insight" of some of the events that would unfold in the first three films.
What actually happened:
They were right about one thing; R2 and 3P0's memories would be erased after the events of Revenge of the Sith. However, C-3P0 remained C-3P0 and R2, R2.
R2-D2 was initially an astromech for the Naboo forces, but did essentially become Anakin's personal droid for his starfighting scenes. C-3P0 would end up being built by a young, brilliant Anakin Skywalker! That's right, Darth Vader built C-3P0...
Of all the rumours I've listed here, I bet no one saw that coming!