Filmmaker Jon Shenk captured a warts-and-all portrait of the most controversial episode of ''Star Wars'' -- and Lucasfilm put it on their DVD for the world to see

By Brian Hiatt
Updated November 12, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Phantom Menace: ©&? Lucasfilm Ltd, All Rights Reserved

For nearly three years, Jon Shenk and George Lucas spent more time together than any duo short of C-3PO and R2-D2. Shenk, a now-32-year-old documentary filmmaker, wasn’t Lucas’ Padawan learner, or even his accountant. He just had a job that any ”Star Wars” fan would wrestle a rabid Wookie to get: official chronicler of the making of ”Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.” ”I literally spent days where I would meet George at his car in the morning and say goodbye to him at the end of the day when he drove away,” says Shenk, who was 27 and fresh out of Stanford’s documentary filmmaking program when he began his ”Phantom” project. ”He couldn’t have been more comfortable with me.”

Shenk and his trusty digital video camera captured Lucas struggling to get usable performances from Jake Lloyd, the unseasoned preteen actor who played Anakin Skywalker. Shenk also caught Lucas telling his team that getting audiences to accept Jar-Jar Binks would be the key to the movie’s success. And when Lucas worried aloud that an early cut of his movie was disjointed and that he might have ”gone too far,” Shenk was there as well.

To their credit, Lucas and his minions have allowed Shenk to bring these arguably less-than-flattering moments to the masses in ”The Beginning,” a narration-free, fly-on-the-wall documentary. The hourlong feature is tucked into disc two of the ”Phantom Menace” DVD, which has been selling at light speed since its release last month. (Until the ”Shrek” DVD shattered its record this week, ”Phantom Menace” was briefly the fastest-selling DVD of all time.)

Lucasfilm marketing vice president Jim Ward, who supervised the creation of the DVD and sanctioned Shenk’s documentary, says he encouraged an unvarnished approach. ”Is it all roses? No, it’s called work,” he explains. ”We wanted this [not to] turn out to be some spin piece. Let’s really show what went into this — the artistry that made it happen.”