The Phantom Menace - My First Star Wars Film
The Phantom Menace is an interesting film in that the primary reasons I enjoyed it during my first viewing are no longer my favorite features of the film. My first viewing was really dominated by the spectacle — the environments (like Theed, Otoh Gunga, and Coruscant), the podrace, the duels, and the music. As I've gotten older, though, my interest has shifted to the quieter character-driven scenes, such as Anakin's goodbye to his mother, Shmi and Qui-Gon's interactions, and the friction between Qui-Gon and the Council. And Palpatine - he's a highlight. Not knowing his true identity the first time I saw the film, I dismissed him as a largely innocuous secondary character. Rewatching, though, is a treat, especially after realizing just how much of a slimy, manipulative snake he is. And there's Qui-Gon, one of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time. Not only is he played by the exceptional Liam Neeson, but he's also one of the greatest Jedi of the Old Order. Here's a man who really stands in strong contrast to the dogmatism and elitism that plagues the Jedi Council, which isolates itself in a literal ivory tower. His interactions with little Anakin were a joy to watch and his death really hit me hard, hurting all the more after viewing Revenge of the Sith and wondering what could have been. The movie itself is a nice set-up for the following films, establishing a lot of the underlying difficulties that will plague our characters — Anakin's difficulties with the Jedi, the Jedi's detachment from the lives of common people, and the Republic's inability to act (even for those facing a crisis), and so on. On its own merits, though, the film's plot, centered around the liberation of Naboo, is well-done and gives us some great insight into Padmé's character. Qui-Gon is the protagonist of this film, but it is really her story. He serves to bring the three central characters together (Obi-Wan, Padmé, and Anakin), but it is Padmé who is at her most powerful here — who proves her mettle whereas in the following films, she will increasingly have both her personal and political power torn from her. Anyway, The Phantom Menace was a wonderful introduction to the Star Wars universe. Full of life and warmth, it nonetheless has its own undercurrent of darkness. Highly recommended (through a highly subjective review).
7th Sep 12
I think Maul was the most effective with the little screen time he got. It made him understated, mysterious, so that less of him was more. Of course, inversely the movie didn't need more Jar Jar.
8th Sep 12
In terms of what I meant about it being "Padmé's story," I was thinking more of the fact that the plot of the film really revolves around her and her people's situation on Naboo. She makes several of the most important decisions in the film, after all, such as choosing to go plead her case to the Senate and then deciding to go back to retake her planet. That's not to diminish Anakin's importance in any way, but his story isn't really what drives the plot forward. It's actually something I noticed about the prequel trilogy — each of the big three characters has a film where they are the main focal point of the plot. For Padmé it is TPM, for Obi-Wan it is AOTC (Anakin and Padmé falling in love and finding Anakin's mother is important, to be sure, but it doesn't move the plot forward), and Anakin's is ROTS.
For Anakin, I get the feeling that although he is cynical and unhappy with some aspects of his situation ("I'm a person!" "I wouldn't have lasted so long if I weren't so good at fixing things" "it'd be a shame if you had to pay for me" "no one helps each other" etc.), I do think that, as a kid, he doesn't completely know better — he has no other life experience with which to compare what he's living now as a slave. So I think going off on his own to live with the Jedi for ten years does make him much more dissatisfied with life. Though, I do think that Anakin is very defensive about his worth as a human being (hence why he gets so stuck on his name, and note that Watto only ever calls him "boy") and that's also why he's constantly promoting his skills, such as podracing, because it's what he thinks gives him value.
For Darth Maul, I don't necessarily think he needed more screen time. He worked well with what he had and it helped to give him an aura of a predator — constantly stalking our heroes with a single-minded focus on their destruction. He's the most animalistic of any of the villains and, in my opinion, my viewing experience wouldn't have been enhanced with more dialogue from him
I didn't mind Jar Jar, to be honest. His antics in the final battle were really the only point where I felt he was overwhelming, but I thought his character developed some great themes about tolerance. All of the characters — the Jedi, the Gungans, and the people of Naboo — don't really seem to like him and view him as a burden. And yet, without his help, Padmé could never have freed her people and the Gungans and humans would have never have been brought together. I think he showed the importance of recognizing the value in all people and not being dismissive, even if you do find an individual annoying. You may come to rely on their help one day.
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