The baseball playoffs begin again tomorrow evening, but I anticipate that with only one or two games a day, instead of three, I will be able to post during the Championship Series. In the mean time, I am making use of the free day before game time to write about the next ten minutes of the Phantom Menace.
As is becoming a staple of this deconstruction, a few things happen in these next ten minutes that don’t make complete sense, but there are two scenes which are very good, in terms of acting and character development. I can’t wait to discuss them…
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (00.20.41-00.29.58)
The droid army finally marches on Theed, the Naboo capital city, and captures Queen Amidala, hardly a difficult challenge because the Naboo people appear to submit without any resistance whatsoever. The Jedi also finally arrive, and realize that they are too late to warn the Queen about the imminent invasion, so they skip that part and rescue her.
Before that happens, there is a little confusing scene in which the question is finally asked, “How will you explain this invasion to the Senate?” (00.21.38). An excellent question that is given a less than satisfactory answer. Gunray replies that he and the Queen will sign a treaty which will then be ratified by the Senate (00.21.45). Two things: first, any treaty which can be proven to be signed under duress (like invasion and suffering) probably can be shown to be null and void. It is like the concept of an age of consent. Under a certain age, coercion is assumed, and rightfully so; likewise, there is no way any thinking official would consider such a treaty legitimate in any way. Second, Gunray (and Sidious, who is ultimately behind this) is foolish if they think any such legislation will even be in effect for any length of appreciable time. It might be ratified as Gunray suggests, but then it would be appealed and debated and appealed and ruled on and counter legislation would be introduced and it would be appealed and debated…the cycle would be endless where the illegal occupation of a planet was concerned.
I live in America and presidents have been fighting over things like taxes and healthcare and abortion law all my life and haven’t really come to any concrete advances. One president signs a ban or something and tries to get a law passed but by the the time the next president comes along he signs a release of the ban and then the next re-bans it. And these are relatively trivial matters. This treaty idea seems to have been a hastily included rational for how this ludicrous operation could make sense, but as neither the invasion nor the treaty was well thought out it just compounds the bad writing inherent within the movie.
However, there is one thing that I appreciate in this exchange: Gunray treats it as a simple business matter and the Queen responds with quiet resolve and neither makes it melodramatic. Both seem somewhat content, at this juncture, to settle in for a long stalemate until something else happens. Fortunately for the Queen, that takes all of 45 seconds.
For a change, when he discusses things with someone, Qui-Gon Jinn does not use a Jedi mind trick. He merely “suggests” that Amidala accompany him to Coruscant, finally realizing that nothing here makes logical sense (00.23.32). For some reason, however, Jinn automatically assumes that because nothing makes sense the Federation’s next move will be to kill Amidala. I have no idea how he comes to that conclusion. He cites his feelings, and well, his gut must be wrong. Sidious himself won’t ever try to kill her, instead he will constantly try to have her captured so she can sign the treaty. Despite why he reasons as he does, having Amidala leave the planet for Coruscant happens to be a good idea. If nothing else, she can call a massive press conference and get public opinion on her side.
Next the Jedi easily dispatch a bunch of droids. Given that I anticipate discussing the legendarily horrible aim of the stormtroopers in the original series, I love that the droids are consistently weak and ineffective. Their aim is great, but true to their character as mindless and stupid drones, they are effortlessly overcome. An improvement, actually, over the rank and file clones/recruits that make up the Imperial forces.
Once the heroic little group makes good their escape from the planet, they next encounter the blockade. Inexplicably, the Naboo cruiser flies directly at a blockade ship, and only that blockade ship opens fire, resulting in a direct hit to their shield generator (00.25.47). What would make more sense is to jink erratically and not provide a stable target. What would also make sense would be for the Federation to scramble a massive amount of starfighters, open fire with more than one ship, and force the cruiser to turn around or land in a docking bay. Neither happens. Furthermore, if faulty star wars tactics were not enough, I have no idea how a shield generator could be hit causing the shields to fail unless the shields had already failed. This just makes no sense. Fortunately, R2-D2 saves the day, but before he does, the hyperdrive also gets hit, forcing a Tatooine detour (00.26.52). This was almost the first natural plot occurrence, but that whole bit about the shield generator kicks it out the window, along with any tension that might have been present in what is obviously supposed to be a suspenseful escape, though John Williams’ score tries mightily to help.
All of this happens just in time for Jinn to say something stupid. Apparently it would be “no different” if they landed for repairs on a gangster controlled planet (Tatooine) versus a planet controlled by a real enemy (00.27.12). What? The Hutts generally don’t get involved where they don’t have a reason to be, gangsters usually protect their interests and businesses. Even if they had any clue who Amidala was or why she was there, I don’t see how they would care, except maybe if the Federation levied a bounty, which they haven’t done. Later on, when Watto appears ready to renege on his bets, Jinn threatens to go to the Hutts for conflict resolution. Either he believes the Hutts are a threat, or he doesn’t, but most of what Jinn does is confusing or evil anyway, so I guess this fits with his character. Also, I don’t know why they couldn’t just head for a third planet controlled by neither the Federation or the Hutts (oh yeah: Anakin. See how bad writing ruins a film? they have to get to Tatooine so they can meet Anakin, but doing so makes no logical sense).
While they argue, Gunray finally admits that he lost Amidala to Sidious, who introduces Darth Maul, Sith bloodhound (00.27.49). This scene is totally backwards. I have already written about the overuse of Sidious and the lack of a clear villain. This scene would have been much better if Maul had been on the ship orchestrating the whole event (from granting the Jedi permission to land to ordering the invasion) and if this scene mirrored the Emperor’s phone call in Empire Strikes Back. Gunray could have told Maul that he had a phone call from Sidious, and Maul would have answered and Sidious could have said “there is a great disturbance in the Force. That idiot Jinn is about to discover Anakin” but instead we have this bad writing. Praiseworthy: Gunray’s lieutenant is still the cool voice of reason.
More bad writing leads to the next scene in which a big deal is made about a robot. (An extremely well put together toaster, your Highness. It even passed post-manufacture tests and was therefore for sale.) In the original series the robots were treated like the animate second-class beings they are and aren’t treated with much respect at all, especially by Han. The best part about this scene is the Queen-decoy snarkily making the Queen clean R2, complete with smirk (00.28.35). Good acting. Two other things to comment on in this scene: first, Tatooine cannot be “far outside the reach of the Federation” if it is within range of a ship that can’t go into hyperspace, and second, why “must” the Queen trust Jinn’s judgment (00.28.54)? Neither makes sense, other than to reinforce Lucas’ lack of knowledge about space and Jinn’s inflated opinion of himself.
The stupid act of assigning of the Queen to clean a droid, while deliciously naughty of the Queen-decoy, nevertheless leads to a good scene: Padme is forced to confront a living, breathing Gungan who thus far her society treats worse than droids. This is a key scene for advancing the growth of Padme’s character. This scene could have been achieved many different ways that actually made sense, but at least Lucas got here. This is a moment of good interaction that shows that Jar Jar is not a complete moron, and that Padme has the ability to connect with those her society ignores. I like this solace of good writing; it is the calm before the bad writing storm that is Tatooine.
The Naboo cruiser lands on the outskirts of Mos Espa, settling onto the sands of Tatooine.