Friday, June 26, 2015

Star Wars Countdown I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars is a classic of classics. When A New Hope was released in 1977, it revolutionized the entire genre of science fiction. It was soon followed by The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. These three films panted a deep love of science fiction into many people, including myself. Then, the cinema went dark for sixteen years, until finally Star Wars graced the screens again with The Phantom Menace, followed shortly by Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. After this, it seemed like that was the end of the line for Star Wars movies, as an extensive Expanded Universe, now called the Legends Universe, had been built up in novels, comics, and video games, and another set of movies would not have fit the lore. However, When Disney bought the franchise, they found a work-around: to retcon everything that was not found in the movies and the animated TV shows and reimagine the galaxy’s future. Thus, one and a half years ago, humanity was blessed with the announcement of a third trilogy, beginning with The Force Awakens, to be released this coming December. In anticipation of this new installment, I have taken it upon myself to watch one Star Wars movie per month up to Episode VII’s release and discuss it here on A Scientist’s Fiction, starting today with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Notable music introduced: "Duel of the Fates"

Much anticipation awaited The Phantom Menace, as it was the long-awaited prequel to the world-rocking Star Wars trilogy. However, its release left many people with mixed feelings, and many others completely disappointed. As a seven-year-old I loved it, watching it every day for weeks with my younger brothers. Eventually we got tired of it, and stopped, and until this month I did not see it again. So now that I have matured enough to understand the plot and critique its elements, let’s take a look at some of the reasons The Phantom Menace may or may not be a good movie.

First off, we already knew what was going to happen before it began. Being a prequel, we knew how it was going to turn out, but it is more than that. There was only one surprise; most of the movie was completely predictable. It is obvious that George Lucas spent very little effort on this aspect of the movie, as illustrated by Darth Sidious, the mastermind behind everything, appearing in only the second scene. The whole theme of the movie was that there was a mystery, but knowing how it plays out before it begins kind of defeats the purpose.

The plot felt more like a checklist than a story. Manipulation of the Galactic Republic politics by Senator Palpatine aka Darth Sidious? check. The Jedi discover Anakin Skywalker? Check. Anakin does everything his son does in episode IV, but better and at a younger age? Check. Anakin meets a girl with whom he can later have said son? Check. Jedi versus Sith lightsaber duel? Check. Okay, we’re done. Much of it seemed forced, brought about by a string of incredibly unlikely events that had to have played out exactly the way they did, or Anakin would not have become a Jedi and Naboo would not have been saved. When everything that happens is a little too convenient, it loses the sense of genuineness that comes with the randomness of real life.

At the climax of the film, when the main characters are taking back the capital of Naboo, the Jedi are sidetracked by a menacing alien Sith named Darth Maul. But who was this mysterious adversary? He was given only one line in the entire movie, and absolutely no back story or reason for existence, except for the rule that there must be two Sith. For all practical purposes, he was just a bad guy with horns and a full-body tattoo. As far as villains go, Darth Maul was really pretty boring, existing only in fulfillment of his part of the checklist.

And everyone can agree that Jar Jar Binks should not have existed. Enough said.

But as I was watching, I noticed something. I felt a great sense of wonder revolving around the Jedi and the Force, amplified by the soundtrack, and I have to ask a question: should we judge this movie by standards it was not trying to fulfill? The Phantom Menace did not focus on storytelling, but rather had a different purpose altogether: apply a spiritual spin to a sci-fi world. With the Force as a mystical energy that can be used to influence reality, it starts to make sense how all of those incredibly convenient coincidences can happen. It was not supposed to feel realistic in this way. The Force is a mechanism for destiny, a recurring theme throughout all of the Star Wars movies. Darth Maul was meant to be a mysterious face of evil instead of a fleshed-out villan. He was supposed to be felt, not understood. And we must not forget to mention the soundtrack, which is every bit as epic as the original trilogy’s. All in all, I found myself taken in by the galaxy’s mystical and fantastic nature, and I enjoyed the movie a lot more than I thought I was going to. Maybe Star Wars Episode I does not deserve all the hate given to it, as it does what it intended to do—show a world permeated and guided by a mysterious Force—very well.

There is a YouTube video by Belated Media titled “What if Star Wars Episode I was Good?” where the host presents a version of the movie as if he had been an editor and George Lucas had submitted the script to him. I agree that his version would have been better. You can check it out by clicking here.

Star Wars Countdown:
The Phantom Menace

No comments:

Post a Comment