There is a woodpecker who lives in the tree behind my apartment. Every late morning and early afternoon he spends anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours trying to peck his way into my apartment wall. Eventually the idea seeps into his head that it simply won’t work, and he flies off to peck a tree. This woodpecker has more imagination than George Lucas.
Such a statement sounds ludicrous in the face of the wonderful galaxy that Lucas created for people like me to live in, but it really is true. For one thing, most of the Star Wars design elements actually belong to the geniuses in the art department at Skywalker Ranch and the computer wizards at Industrial Light and Magic. Watch any of the Star Wars special features and pretty quickly it becomes evident that Lucas asked for “a Nemoidian” but didn’t tell anyone what that was and then simply approved the design that he liked. I have no idea what was actually in Lucas’ mind when he wrote a Nemoidian into the script, but it appears that on more than one occasion even he did not know what one was until an artist sketched it. The Art of… books prove this point also, showing all the rejected sketches for races, objects, and locals.
My point is this: the upcoming rigamarole about a hyperdrive generator and Qui-Gon Jinn’s long con of Watto only shows in stark detail Lucas’ lack of imagination. Because Anakin Skywalker lived on Tatooine, and because Anakin needed to be discovered by the Jedi, Qui-Gon needed to land on Tatooine, but making that occur meant that Lucas needed to contrive all sorts of events to get him there and keep him there long enough to ensure that Anakin be adopted into Jinn’s Traveling Circus, but not a single one of the upcoming events makes any logical sense, and the life of any narrative work is tied to the plot making logical sense.
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (00.29.59-00.40.14)
The Queen’s damaged spaceship has landed on the outskirts of Mos Espa, a small town/spaceport on the edges of the Dune Sea (a place Luke Skywalker knew well). Jinn disembarks the ship with R2-D2 in tow, a good choice, and with Jar Jar, a questionable choice. I think this occurs for two reasons, only one of them necessarily bad. First, Jar Jar is the Chewbacca of Phantom Menace, so he needs to be in almost every scene. Second, Jar Jar is intended to be comic relief and the reason why all the little children will get hooked onto the new Star Wars (yes, I did just call Binks a gateway drug). The second reason is the bad one. There was not one single child in the old trilogy, unless you count the Ewoks, but as a kid, I always wanted to be the adult characters like Luke, Han, and Lando. Only people who misunderstand children think that children want to be the children in movies. All the toy isles in any major store prove this point: very few child action figures, very many adult action figures.
In universe, Jinn’s decision to bring Jar Jar along doesn’t make any more sense. He is a proven clutz, and an awkward person so far outside of his natural environment that I am slightly shocked that he isn’t huddled in a storage locker somewhere on Amidala’s ship. I think that Jinn is trying to blend into the diverse population of Tatooine, but in this case, he would have had better luck with Padme who orders herself along on the trip anyway (00.30.30). Jinn doesn’t think Amidala’s inclusion in the field trip is a good idea (but Jar Jar??) because the spaceport is not going to be “pleasant” (00.30.37). I know that is what he says, but what we see of Mos Espa is about as unpleasant as Mayberry. But then, Mos Eisley, the “hive of scum and villany” wasn’t all that bed either, except for a couple of drunken serial killers, but they assaulted all their unsuspecting farm boys inside the bar, not on the sandy streets. Maybe I am nitpicking, but when what is written/said doesn’t line up with what is shown, it is bad writing.
In any case, I do enjoy the ironic hilarity that ensues: Jinn, with irritating superiority, shows utter lack of respect and borderline contempt for the Queen while the Queen stands right there and says nothing. I admire Amidala’s restraint in not immediately taking Jinn down a notch, but his moment is coming.
To the main point in this ten minute segment: “we’ll try one of the smaller dealers” says Qui-Gon Jinn, beginning his search for the Queen’s car part (00.31.37). Given that everything in this movie is the result of some sort of happy accident, I would ordinarily be annoyed that Qui-Gon just happened to go directly to the small dealer in which Anakin Skywalker worked, but this is a minor point in the bigger problem of what happens next: Qui-Gon Jinn only ever goes to Watto’s shop. This is a very, very big deal. He is supposed to be finding a part to fix the Queen’s ship as rapidly as possible so that he can get her to Coruscant and the Senate so that she can plead her case. Every other concern should be secondary, and not a moment should be lost, and no stone should be left unturned. (At least, that is the urgency that Qui-Gon uses as justification for his evil.)
With that in mind, as soon as he saw that one shop didn’t have the part he needed, he should go on to the next, and the next, and the next. Then he should try the next town over. And the next. And then, if the truly inconceivable happened and he couldn’t find his car part anywhere on the whole entire planet, not even for ready money, he should try the next closest planet. Of course Watto says “no one else has a T-14 hyperdrive” but the ludicrous thing is that Jinn apparently believes him, as if that isn’t the oldest trick in the junk dealing book (00.34.32). Since when is that statement ever true? Also, why doesn’t he try to exchange his Republic credits for something “more real”? Jinn doesn’t try anything else because Lucas’ real purpose on Tatooine is to retrieve Anakin, and for that to work Jinn needs to be an idiot and Watto needs to not accept Republic credits so Jinn can scam Watto into freeing Anakin.
Really. Bad. Writing.
At least Jinn’s unconscionable mind-tricking ways don’t work here, because Watto happens to have more mental toughness than most people (00.34.13). This leads to another revelation about Jinn’s character: he has no idea how to deal with people that he cannot intimidate or mind-trick. (Wait and see what he does when the Jedi Council dares to tell him no.) I’ve said it before: Qui-Gon Jinn’s morals are definitely in question, and he definitely is more evil than he should be as a Jedi.
Scrunched in between the mind-bending junk dealing is a small touching scene in which Amidala, and by extension, the viewers, meet Anakin Skywalker. He is a “funny little boy” who has been podracing “all his life” and is not a slave, but a “person” (00.33.16). Well, he is slave, actually. Mostly this is good. It is only a little weird because a 14 year old Queen is starting to fall in love with an 8 year old slave/person. To be fair, he has more maturity than the average 16 year old boy, but it is still a little weird. Padme is the right amount of amused and endeared, but it is still weird. Romance should stay the domain of adults.
Next Jar Jar proves why he shouldn’t have been included on this field trip, and then something remarkable occurs: a natural plot device in the form of a sandstorm. Deserts tend to be prone to sandstorms, especially in Tunisia where these scenes were filmed. In fact, a sandstorm hit the set and nearly destroyed everything. So, this makes for a complete and total perfect sense making reason why the Jedi and Co stop over at Anakin’s house.
While there Anakin’s mother is introduced, along with C-3PO, who is being built by Anakin. Well, in typical 8 year old fashion he claims to be building him when he is probably just rebuilding him from spare protocol droid parts, being that protocol droids are about as common as toasters. But I buy that Anakin could be a mechanical genius.
Finally, the Queen’s ship receives a transmission from Sio Bibble who claims that the “death toll is catastrophic” (00.39.49). I agree with Jinn, for once. It would make no sense for the Trade Federation to be murdering people just to get Amidala to surface, especially since Sidious already said he would take care of the situation with Darth Maul. These ten minutes end with some unusual good writing.
Good thing too: lunch is about to be served, even though they are running out time by dealing junk only with Watto.