The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first part of a prequel trilogy that takes place decades before another trilogy, namely The Lord of the Rings. This is the most obvious thing that Peter Jackson’s newest film has in common with Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but are there any others?
One writer compared the movie’s version of Radagast the Brown, a somewhat silly wizard who was not depicted in the previous films, to Jar Jar Binks.
Another writer says a scene of Radagast trying to outrun some orcs on a sled pulled by bunnies “strongly recalls” the pod-race sequence in The Phantom Menace.
The introduction of a slightly coarser sense of humour to Middle Earth — embodied here by the quasi-drug subtext to some of Radagast’s scenes and lines like “If you have the balls for it” — roughly parallels the introduction of fart and poop humour to the Star Wars universe via the Jar Jar Binks character.
The Hobbit is based on a children’s story and therefore aims for a younger sensibility, not unlike how The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars film to co-star a child (indeed, multiple children, once we take Anakin’s friends into account).
There wasn’t enough material in the book version of The Hobbit to warrant a full trilogy, so Jackson padded it out with lots of filler. Likewise, George Lucas once admitted that most of his notes for the Star Wars prequels pertained to Episode III, and thus, “in order to get Phantom Menace to two hours, I had to use a lot of Hamburger Helper.”
The Hobbit pushes a new digital technology (48fps projection), the same way The Phantom Menace sort-of did. (If memory serves, George Lucas did some of the Phantom Menace re-shoots in 2K — not the whole movie, just a few scenes — and he was already asserting, back in 1999, that Episode II would be shot in 2K and therefore he wanted theatres everywhere to have digital projectors by the time Episode II came out. It didn’t happen quite as quickly as he wanted, in the end, but still…)
The one thing these two films don’t have in common is that Lucas shot his prequels one at a time, whereas Jackson shot his trilogy all in one go. So, when everyone realized how bad The Phantom Menace was, it was still possible — in theory, at least — to hope that certain course corrections could be made before Lucas turned to Episodes II and III. But in the case of The Hobbit, barring extensive reshoots, it’s a safe bet that the next two films will give us more of the same.
So, are there any other points of comparison we could make?