Friday, April 21, 2006

Analyzing: Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace

Episode 1, how I've loved to hate you these 7 years. In 1999, you held promise. Promise of something that could transcend time. A new hope, if you will, for another classic trilogy that would rival the original in both technical ability and scope of the story. And for years, I felt both betrayal and curiosity.

I camped out waiting to buy tickets an entire week in advance. I delayed the start of a job for you. I almost lost another. I saw you not only at my time on opening day, but also the following showing in the same theater. I watched you twice, back to back.

And then the excitement died and the backlash began. Was it deserved though? Here is a movie that serves only to introduce characters and set a series of events in motion that will cover some close to half a century in a galaxy far, far away.

You have a mentor in Qui-Gon Jinn who is a master in the ways of the jedi. And at times is seen as a bit reckless by the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. But Qui-gon is not reckless. Like anyone who is a master in anything, he knows that sometimes, the rules aren't rules. Sometimes the rules are just guidelines, there to be ignored in extenuating circumstances. Such as the discovery of a boy who has no father and has a high concentration of midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are, of course, mystical bacteria who exist in everything. They are also criticized as a bad addition to the series. But why? Isn't it natural to try to explain what causes something we don't understand? Perhaps it's an over simplication of what the force truly is in much the same way that Apollo carrying the sun with his chariot is a simplistic way to describe why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

This boy is of course Anakin Skywalker. The future Darth Vader. Though, as a boy, you see nothing in him that would cause such a thing to happen. It's almost unthinkable that this innocent child could become the scourge of the galaxy.

And let's not forget, everyone's favorite Gungan, Jar Jar Binks. The comic relief. The helpful idiot. People hated him, and I'm not sure why sometimes.

See, here's the thing, aside from being a family friendly PG movie, this is a child's movie. Not that it's intended specifically for children, but it's about children. It's a beginning, everything is young. So, it makes sense that since your main character is a child you yourself are immersed in a childish world in order to relate to young Anakin.

See, and that's where I think a lot of people (myself included at times) have a problem with Episode 1. It's kind of the Muppet Babies version of a Star Wars movie. But, in a lot of ways, it works. Here you are in a universe just before the storm hits. Everyone is still a little naive. They have no idea what's about to happen. There's a prophecy about bringing balance to the force, but no one really knows what that means. A series of events though are about to be set into motion that will begin and end two seperate wars, undo a galactic republic and seat and then kill an emperor. These are massive events on a national scale, can you imagine a galactic scale?

And because of the naivety of the characters, the tone of the film is a relfection of them. They are all like children trying to grasp at the consequences of seemingly inconsequencial actions. And they can't. The forest is so thick that they can't see the trees.

Thematically, that's what this movie is. It's childlike in it's approach to galactic politics as a reflection of the childlike characters. And that's what I mean when I say it's a child's movie.