Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

“Hard to see, the dark side is.”

Yoda

Ah yes. We’re back to the old favourites. In fact, The Phantom Menace is a fallback, because there is never any good telly on any more. It also represents the beginning of a failed Star Wars marathon. We got bogged down in episode two, but I’ll save that rant for another post.

The Phantom Menace is technically episode one, but it’s newer than episode four, because of the unique order in which the Star Wars films were made. Essentially, the original three were so popular that George Lucas made a prequel trilogy. The Phantom Menace is therefore the first of the prequel trilogy. With me so far?

The evil Trade Federation invades the peaceful planet of Naboo in what appears to be a dispute over trade routes but is actually part of a grand plan by the dark side of the Force. A couple of Jedi knights rescue the queen of Naboo so that she can plead her case before the Galactic Senate in Coruscant, the planet-city.

The Phantom Menace is really amazingly political. In the slow bureaucracy of the Senate there are echoes of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, as well as the Roman Republic and the rise of Hitler. Now tell me Star Wars is frivolous and meaningless.

Am I overthinking this?

One of the annoying things about this film is the fact that there are multiple high points. At the end of the pod race, you think “Surely it’s finished now?” No; we move on to the battle of Naboo. “Now has it finished?” No; there’s the Epic Duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi. There’s not really any one event that the film builds up to, rather a string of equally climactic events. And there’s no one character upon which the film focuses: Anakin Skywalker, Queen Amidala, Quai-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Senator Palpatine, Jar Jar Binks all spin in and out of focus without any central point of reference. The result is a film that definitely feels like part of a trilogy: there’s little internal coherence, and you can tell that it needs the next films to tie up the loose ends. Contrast this with A New Hope (episode four), which makes a perfectly good stand-alone but can still lead neatly into a sequel.

And I’m slightly puzzled by Hugh Quarshie. British viewers might know him better as Ric Griffin from Holby City, but he has a supporting role as a Naboo guard captain or some such. My question is this: what is he doing in a British soap, of all things, when he had a not insignificant role in Star Wars, one of the biggest films ever? Seems like an odd career move.

The Phantom Menace is all right, but I’d much rather watch the originals. If you’ve never watched Star Wars, start with A New Hope. It’s much better.

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