Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rewatching Star Wars: Episode One, The Phantom Menace

I’m spending Thanksgiving week re-watching episodes one through six while doing the absolutely finalist finalization of my book.  Starting with one, saving the best for second-to-last. 

I went too easy on Jar Jar earlier. He’s horrible, and embarrassing, and not funny. And grating. And his feet look creepy. I’ll have to avoid watching this movie for another decade to replenish the nostalgic fondness for him that I was starting to develop. 

I really liked Qui Gon the first time I saw Phantom Menace. A tall, handsome, long-haired maverick Jedi, perpetually in trouble with the boss, not above gambling. On this rewatch, I was checking him for signs he knew what would be happening in the next five movies, and I concluded he did know a little, and was slightly unstable due to this knowledge. Repeating, in his death scene, that Anakin was the one to bring balance to the force, and not giving Obi Wan any choice as far as his training. A “do it because I said so on my deathbad” kind of order has to weigh heavy on a padawan, given that they are traditionally removed from their parents.

I just read an eloquent Facebook post by David Gerrold about the soul of science fiction, in which he touches on the human potential movement as reflected in science fiction. Which is probably the reason Jedi are removed from their parents.  The human potential movement was still influential when Star Wars came out, and it drew heavily from the Freudianism popular at the time. By this thinking, removing children from caregivers and giving them to the hyper-sane jedi was doing them a service. Because they were free from the “original sin” of faulty upbringing, they could use their dispassionate complex-free wisdom to handle potent magic.

By the time we get to Phantom Menace, science and popular thinking have moved past Freud and all the attendant theories about how we could all be superhuman psionic star beings if we didn’t have mum and dad filling us with complexes and headtrips.  In this retcon of the Force, now the magic flows from your popularity with symbiotic bacteria, and instead of providing enlightened leadership, jedis are now concerned with bringing balance. Such as keeping corporate interests from drawing actual weapons, and not making waves with slaveholding gangsters. People who still cling to human potential sci fi seem to dislike the midichlorians the most, and the whole chosen-one storyline that goes along with them. I think it’s interesting how the characteristics associated with the Force fluctuate according to the era.

Personally, I like the whole operatic notion of a six-part story about the Faustian decline and redemption of Anakin hovering in the background of a gee whiz shoot-em-up in space. Jake Lloyd gets the saga off to an uneasy start as he plays Luke-as-a-kid with an overlay of Vader’s obsessive overbearingness. He’s a very pretty kid, with a cherubic rounded face. I found myself noticing his buddy Kitster and wondering how a kid with more angular, brooding features would’ve done in this role, which frankly doesn’t really call for skilled acting chops. If you’re the chosen one, you get to interact however you choose, and it’s interesting that you’d just happen to choose being purchased as a slave by a jedi-immune race at age three when theoretically you could have used the Force and have gotten a more jedi-amenable race to outbid him, but you know, Star Wars philosophical arguments.  [Gallic shrug.]

My favorite parts were the exteriors and crowd scenes establishing the marvelous Star Wars universe. The entire pod race segment, with its diverse stadium crowds and Big Daddy Roth vehicles. The distinctive sounds made by all the SW vehicles, including when they’re in space. The Twi’lek tarts attending to Sebulba. The backslung pelvises of the strutting battle droids. The Coruscant exteriors (in the SW universe, I would totally be living in Coruscant).  The rich dyes of Padme’s orange burka, the Dinotopian grandeur of the Naboo capitol, and every last one of those one-scene-only appearing aliens; I hope they each got their own action figure.

I also loved Darth Maul, full of sexy Sithy slither. His climactic battle with Qui Gon and Obi Wan always makes me think of Kurosawa.

Besides being an opera about Darth Vader, Star Wars can also be seen as an epic love story between C3PO and R2D2. In Episode 1, they meet cute, complete with a tease of a nude scene, establishing clearly that R2 (who has already been commended for combat skills) is the older and more experienced one.

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