Sunday, May 10, 2020

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

It’s virtually impossible to encounter a forum discussion about the Star Wars prequel films without chancing the poster who talks about them as though they’re rape cases, or see the rare review that civilly balances intelligent praise and criticism of the movies. Regardless, alleged “fans” of the franchise have an odd disdain for creator George Lucas, unlike the reverence that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry has, which would be equivalent to Christians disliking Jesus. Star Wars was never a flawless franchise to begin with, as I could name a number of plot holes in A New Hope, and it’s pretty hard to objectively “rate” all the films given their lingering issues.

The movie itself about thirty-two years before the Battle of Yavin that occurs at the end of Episode IV, which serves as the focal point in the timeline of all Star Wars media, the antagonistic Trade Federation protesting the taxation of trade routes by taking over the backwater Galactic Republic planet Naboo, whose ruler, Queen Amidala, is consequentially forced to evacuate thanks to the help of Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, the former who provides a good, intelligent foil to the dimwitted, polarizing, reptilian Gungan Jar-Jar Binks.

Saying that Jar-Jar is an example of “bad” acting would be akin to saying Donald Duck’s voicework is “bad,” and the “issues” with actor Ahmed Best’s performance are more a case where the writing, rather than the acting itself, is problematic. As would be the case with science-fiction media since Star Trek: The Original Series, Episode I is full of racial stereotypes, with the Gungans themselves for instance a parody of Africans not well-versed in English, including BRIAN BLESSED’s portrayal of their leader Boss Nass. The Nemoidians represent Asians, and Anakin Skywalker’s slave master Watto Jews.

There is the “inconsistency” of Obi-Wan’s statement in The Empire Strikes Back that Yoda was “the Jedi Master who instructed me,” but since Jedi tend to start training as younglings, it’s likely that Yoda did train him when he was young, as the now-defunct Legends continuity confirmed, before his apprenticeship to Qui-Gon Jinn. Regardless, I think the “inconsistencies” people whine about are vastly exaggerated, and not nearly as bad as those in say, The Simpsons. Also, Anakin is a “great pilot,” even if he’s not professional, as Obi-Wan states in the original trilogy, and I liked the homage to Ben-Hur in the podrace.

Back to the film itself, it also has a plot hole that originated in Episode V where Queen Amidala’s vessel, when fleeing into outer space, has infinite directions to go, and the Trade Federation’s ships aren’t blocking the whole planet, but her ship flies directly near the blockade, but the scene does introduce R2-D2, the only surviving astromech droid who repairs the ship’s shields. Many also bemoan the alleged superiority of the film’s technology to that in the original trilogy, although it didn’t really seem blatant to me and not as much so as in, say, Star Trek: Enterprise and Discovery.

I’ll admit that it’s obvious, as well, as to the true identity of the eponymous “phantom menace,” since when I first saw said character, I was like, “He looks really familiar.” I further think it makes perfect sense that the Force has a biological basis (midi-chlorians) since if everyone in the Galaxy had access to the energy source, it would’ve made Darth Vader and later Kylo Ren’s respective genocides of the Jedi Order meaningless. Even the original trilogy hints that Force-sensitivity could be biological, with Luke telling Leia, “The Force is strong in my family: my father has it; I have it; my sister has it.”

Queen Amidala’s brigade ultimately find themselves on the Outer Rim world of Tatooine, where the Republic doesn’t exist and slavery is still rampant, and they encounter Shmi Skywalker and her son Anakin, who seems to be of virgin birth, given the absence of any father (although Revenge of the Sith and a canon Darth Vader comic hint a little at Anakin’s possible patronage). Qui-Gon believes Anakin is the prophesized “chosen One” who will bring balance to the Force, which admittedly is out of whack since Jedi vastly outnumber the Sith, who show themselves fronted by the enigmatic Darth Maul.

I don’t think Star Wars has ever been about good, cohesive writing in the first place but more about flash effects and battles, and most can agree that Episode I definitely doesn’t disappoint in terms of its visual or musical presentation. There are questionable decisions with regards to the technology such as the Gungans’ shield capabilities, with the droid armies able to march right on through them but not shoot through them. Before I saw the movie in the theater for the first time, some jerkwad in an unrelated forum spoiled a key plot point, but there is another twist that hadn’t been spoiled for me.

In the end, I definitely think the first chronological cinematic installment of the Star Wars franchise definitely has far more going for it than alleged “professional” film critics and fake “fans” suggest, although it’s definitely not without its issues such as the ethnic stereotyping of certain alien races. I think that 99.99% of the people who dislike the film are blinded by nostalgia and deluded into thinking the original trilogy is infallible, which I think is a load of bull, and just goes to show that most film critics and “fans” are vastly unqualified to judge cinema with true objectivity in the first place.

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