This is a temporary page intended to collect thoughts and reactions to technical issues arising from the new movie.


This is a transitional page gathering and sorting initial thoughts about several technical topics arising from The Phantom Menace. The topics covered here may eventually be divided and integrated with other pages dealing with more general subjects. However the temporary organisation may turn out to be semi-permanent.

Thanks are due to, in alphabetic order:



Watto, the inimitable Toydarian junk dealer of Mos Espa, represents one of the most interesting challenges to physical interpretation of The Phantom Menace. This bloated being is about half a metre tall but he spends a great deal of time hovering and flying through the air on a pair of leathery wings that beat invisibly fast. How is it that such an apparently heavy creature can remain aloft? Some large birds are known to remain airborne with a comparable body volume, but they do not flap so quickly, and they glide or depend on aerodynamic lift provided by their horizontal motion.

How can Watto's wings provide enough lift to allow him to hover, and how does he obtain enough energy to continually beat his wings so quickly? The problem of lift could be reduced if he weighs less than he appears. Perhaps one of the devices on his belt provides a supportive antigravity effect, like the suspensor belt worn by Baron Harkonnen in Dune or the casings of the Shell Hutts in The Mandalorian Armour. Perhaps his species has limited inborn Force capabilities involving self-levitation in addition to immunity to mind tricks attempted by humanoid Jedi? Perhaps his body is not as solid as it seems; he could be hollow or foamy and full of hot, light gases. His round belly suggests a balloon-like gas bladder.

Whatever his weight, Watto must have a remarkable source of internal energy in order to beat his wings at the observed rate. He must consume some remarkable food, and he probably spends much of his day eating. Partial explanations proposing a gaseous interior and unusual diet are supported by Episode I: Visual Dictionary, which also states that Watto subsists on specially imported high-energy egg-seed foodstuffs.

The comments of ILM artists and technicians in CINEFEX also support the notion that Watto is made of extremely low-density, partially gaseous tissue. (This information is reported to have been repeated in a television special, From Star Wars to Star Wars, that has been shown in some parts of the world.) If so, his biology must be much more radically different from that of terrestrial animals than his mammal-like appearance suggests. Normal animal tissue is mostly composed of water, which has a density about a thousand times greater than the density of air at standard pressure. In order to compare with air density, Watto's body must be chiefly composed of gas; he is literally vacuous and spongy. Whether the vacuoles are large enough to see, or whether the empty spaces in his tissue are a fine as a microscopic foam is undetermined at this time. His teeth and all the other seemingly hard parts of his body probably weigh a total of less than a kilogram or so.

Watto's buoyancy would be greatly assisted if the density of Tatooine's air happens to be greater than that of Earth. Unfortunately there are no obvious ways to judge the planet's atmospheric pressure and composition from movie footage alone. However the world's habitability is not a great restraint, because human beings can adapt to live comfortably at very high pressures and under a large range of gas mixtures (so long as enough oxygen is present and there are no seriously noxious gases).

Watto seems to spend a large part of his time hovering in the air, with his wings beating invisibly fast.

Mos Espa

Many of the Tatooine locations of The Phantom Menace are filmed and photographed extensively enough for a fair attempt at determining the surrounding geography to be possible. According to CINEFEX, the pod-race circuit was carefully mapped, which should allow approximate reconstruction of some outlying areas. If a region as vast as the racing track was planned, there is hope that the entire Mos Espa environs may have been mapped, which would make a rationalised reconstruction fairly easy.

Different regions on the outskirts of the city were also seen from the landing sites of the Naboo starship and Darth Maul's Infiltrator. Maul seems to have landed on a mesa further from town than the Naboo company; since he was able to see the night lights of three different cities on the horizon. He probably landed on a different side of Mos Espa, otherwise he surely would have seen the Queen's ship with his macrobinoculars.

The Skywalker hovel has been seen from front and back faces in short and long range. The slave quarters in the block containing the Skywalker dwelling are stacked at least two levels high on the street side, and the entry to the Skywalkers' is on the street level. The rear side leads to a common open balcony platform with knee-high wall. Stairs lead down from the balcony to the open flat plain of the town's margins. The ground level on the outer, rear side of the building appears to be a level lower than the street, which suggests that there may be an additional floor of hovels or utility rooms below the level of the Skywalker home.

A useful place to start for constraining the specific layout of Mos Espa is the gigantic pod-race arena. (CINEFEX locates the arena at Anchorhead, but this contradicts the novel.) Several features visible at the scale of the individual characters can be identified on the larger-scale views of the scene. The podracers and their direction of travel are immediately obvious; the start on the left side of the arena (from crowd point of view) and they fly in an anticlockwise sense around the track. The complimentary observation tower used by Anakin Skywalker's family was far behind the starting grid and was the tower with the poorest shade, which gives only one possibility, indicated in the diagram below.

The Hutts' platform must be in a deservedly central position. It could be the lower balcony with triple arches, or it could be the higher one that stands many metres above the surrounding spectators. The latter theory has strengths: for the sake of the Hutts' security, because it is more directly attached to the main building, and because Jabba would not have flicked a pygmy nuna off the edge unless it was a serious fall. However the lower balcony seems more likely because the gold and crimson details edging it match the ornamental rugs seen in the close-range view of Jabba's box.

Watto is a podracing regular and his private box is one of only six. However a view of his booth published in CINEFEX shows a large section of crowd to Watto's right, and a sheer rock face beyond it. This means that Watto's box must be the rightmost box of his cluster, and the distant wall is probably the side of the slender crag that stands near the back of the right extreme of the arena.

The announcer's booth appears to be on the same side of the race-track as the spectator seating, but its exact position is uncertain. The sections of the crowd glimpsed behind this small tower could be in any of several places near the lower edge of the stands. The only significant clue is that the announcer looks to his left when facing Skywalker's stalled podracer. It is likely to be one of the minor towers very close to the thick buildings on either end of the starting/finishing arch.

According to CINEFEX, the twin suns were due south at about forty-five degrees above the horizon at the time of the race. Thus the shadows of the towers and other features of the racing complex can be read as indicators of the north direction. The main arms of the race circuit are roughly aligned in a north-south sense.

Mos Espa Arena Features
Tentative identification of some of the non-trivial features of the Mos Espa Podracing Arena.

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Views towards the starting grid and arch, from the base of the Skywalkers' observation tower.

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Close view of the Hutts' observation box has rugs that match the lower central booth of the large-scale model.

Watto's box at the podracing arena, with a glimpse of the surrounding crowd and natural features beyond.

Close view of the arena commentator's tower, and a glimpse of the surrounding crowd blocks. The presence of seating blocks both behind and in front of the commentary box implies that it is one of the minor turrets in the middle of one of the stands.

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The booth where Jinn and Watto met after the race is set in interesting scenery that is hard to reconcile with the position of Watto's box seen earlier. It may be a flipped scene, or it may be a different box.

Other features of the arena, as identified by Episode I: Visual Dictionary. The Skywalker observation tower seems curiously absent in this shot. Was it a temporary construct installed for a late entrant? Or did the photograph predate additions to the arena?

Production model of the rear of the Mos Espa slave buildings, including the Skywalker home. [CINEFEX]

Pod Racers

The pod-racer vehicles of the Hutt-sponsored Boonta Classic race on Tatooine are credited with speeds of over eight hundred km/h. The fastest is Anakin Skywalker's, reaching a maximum of 947km/h. At one point, The Phantom Menace novel describes the racers' motion as barely sub-sonic. The speed of sound depends on the composition and temperature of the air; therefore knowing the speeds of the fastest podracers constrains the properties of Tatooine's atmosphere. Any detailed knowledge of the nature of the atmosphere would in turn tell us something about the engine performance needed to drag the podracers through the air at their known speeds. Both of these aspects of the problem deserve investigation, and will be considered in further updates.

It is interesting to consider the effect of these high speeds on the podracer pilots. Most of the podracers expose the driver to the direct blast of oncoming air and dust. Anakin Skywalker's vehicle is an exception. How can the other podracers breathe under these conditions, let alone grunt at each other like Sebulba and Mawhonic? Perhaps some of the pilots belong to species that are able to live comfortably without breathing for several minutes; invertebrates like Gasgano could be biologically very different indeed. However abstaining from breathing will not solve the risk of dust abrasion; that may require the pods to use deflector shields that are more subtle and less visible than those employed in the battles during other parts of the movie.


The Phantom Menace is the first movie to show two different members of the Hutt species. Others have been depicted or described in official comics and novels, but this is the first time that it has been possible to make detailed physical comparisons.

Jabba is at least as large as he was in Return of the Jedi, and his facial features are consistent as well. Even his nostrils are as crooked as in the original representation, which means that the incident which broke his nose happened sometime earlier than Episode I. He is strikingly different from his appearance in A New Hope: Special Edition though: in that film he seemed to be reduced to about half his normal mass, and the colour of his eyes had changed from ochre/red to yellow. When he met Solo in Mos Eisley, his face was puffy and less wrinkled.

Interestingly, those temporary alterations are more characteristic of the Jabba's guest at the Boonta Eve race: the female named Gardulla. Perhaps yellow eyes, facial puffiness and weight reduction are characteristics of the female phase of the hermaphroditic Hutt life cycle? Jabba normally assumes a masculine identity, under which he seems more aggressive and seems to take more pleasure in defiling female slaves of humanoid species. Perhaps there is a correlation.

Since The Phantom Menace shows that Tatooine had more than just one powerful Hutt resident, Jabba's presence there seems unlikely to be just a personal eccentricity. The planet is said to be under Hutt control, but that in itself might not be sufficient reason for Hutts to live there, especially considering the fact that Hutts are mollusks and chose a moist planet (Nal Hutta) as an adoptive homeworld. Perhaps Tatooine offers other advantages, like milder gravity making it easier for them to move and bear their weight in comfort? Published references suggest that Tatooine is a standard gravity world, but the existence of a native animal as vast as the krayt dragon also suggests lighter gravity. A study of the ballistics of flying and crashing objects in the podrace could settle this aspect of the question.

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Gardulla the Hutt is smaller than Jabba at this time, and she has yellow eyes unlike his masculine red eyes.

Jabba the Hutt as he appeared in A New Hope: Special Edition has yellower eyes, fewer facial wrinkles and is less massive than in The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi.


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Last updated 7 April 2002.

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