An excerpt from StarWars.com‘s oral history of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace:
“George Lucas looks back on some of the film’s key scenes.
The opening sequence, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn take on battle droids aboard the Trade Federation ship.
George Lucas [The Phantom Menace writer and director, Star Wars creator] : The thing is, in IV, V, and VI, you didn’t really get to see real Jedi in action. To me, that was something that a lot of people would want to see. And of course, the other part is, where are the Jedi at this point? What are they? We’ve never seen one, really, except for Obi-Wan.
The idea was to establish Jedi as what they were, which is sort of peacekeepers who moved through the galaxy to settle disputes. They aren’t policemen, they aren’t soldiers; they’re mafia dons. They come in and sit down with the two different sides and say, “Okay, now we’re going to settle this.”
A lot of people say, “What good is a lightsaber against a tank?” The Jedi weren’t meant to fight wars. That’s the big issue in the prequels. They got drafted into service, which is exactly what Palpatine wanted.
Qui-Gon, Padmé, and Jar Jar come to Anakin’s home and talk around the dinner table; Anakin reveals that he had a dream in which he grows up to become a Jedi and returns to free all the slaves, while Jar Jar snags some fruit with his tongue, and Qui-Gon reveals the real reason they’re on Tatooine.
George Lucas: It’s interesting. It was a hard scene to shoot. Dinner scenes are always the hardest to shoot because of screen direction. It gets complicated. But it was fun, I enjoyed it. It’s a little bit of a domestic scene. There’s a lot of domestic scenes in Star Wars actually, people don’t realize, like the scene with Luke saying he’s going off to the academy, or with Obi-Wan in his home. There’s a number of those.
I liked the idea of having a scene that is not driven by “the phantom menace.” It’s driven by family issues and things that they want to do, and about their character. I don’t get to include too many of those because of everything else required in a film like this.
Jar Jar flicking his tongue came into being because he’s a salamander. He does eat flies with his tongue. So the idea of putting that in the scene just seemed like a humorous moment. It’s similar to moments we had for Threepio and the Ewoks, and some of the other more humorous characters.
The final duel between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul.
George Lucas: I wanted to come up with an apprentice for the Emperor who was striking and tough. We hadn’t seen a Sith Lord before, except for Vader, of course. I wanted to convey the idea that Jedi are all very powerful, but they’re also vulnerable — which is why I wanted to kill Qui-Gon. That is to say, “Hey, these guys aren’t Superman.” These guys are people who are vulnerable, just like every other person.
We needed to establish that, but at the same time, we wanted the ultimate sword fight, because they were all very good. It sort of predisposes the sword fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan later on. There’s real purpose to it. You have to establish the rules and then stick with them. The scene illustrates just how Jedi and Sith fight and use lightsabers.
I had the fight continually move locations so that we had some room to do it on various sets, and that was really a callback to the Douglas Fairbanks / Errol Flynn movies, where you have a really long, intense sword fight.”