At the beginning of my last blog I made an unkind comparison between George Lucas and a woodpecker. I figure that Lucas may never read this blog, but there are people who do, and whether he does or not it is right to make amends. I began this analysis of the Star Wars films in order to objectively judge their value in terms of writing by the same criteria that any work of art is judged, be it literature, theater, film, or oral tradition. It is both unprofessional and illogical of me to judge the creator of the work, and on those grounds I apologize.
The past forty minutes and fourteen seconds of the film have built up to the next ten minutes, and while that statement seems inanely obvious, what I mean is that the next ten minutes of the film are a turning point, both in terms of plot and character development, mostly for Queen Amidala.
I have spent the last eight blog posts discussing why what is about to happen doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I will summarize: even given the unlikely course of events that brought the Jedi and the royalty of Naboo to Tatooine, betting their future on the outcome of race instead of expending every resource at their disposal to solve their problem is reckless and, quite frankly, dumb.
However, I really like the next ten minutes. They are honest, introspective, and momentous.
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (00.40.15-00.49.55)
Blink and you will miss Darth Maul’s only lines of dialogue in the film. He confirms that he was in fact tracing the location of the Queen’s starship through Sio Bibble’s call for help, and Darth Sidious gives him leave to seek out the Jedi. Darth Sidious still seems intent on making Amidala sign the treaty that will supposedly legalize the Trade Federation’s illegal blockade, invasion, and occupation of Naboo. Again, I have already blogged about how this treaty doesn’t make sense, unless Palpatine is planning to heroically defeat it in committee, so I’ll leave it be.
However, this does raise another logical problem for me. Consider: Darth Maul apparently tracked the general location of the Queen’s ship via holotransmission; Qui-Gon is risking everything to repair the ship. Would it have not made more sense for the Jedi, who have figured from the first time they landed on Tatooine that transmissions were a bad idea (it is why they didn’t call for assistance), to have simply abandoned the Queen’s ship, or sold it as-is, and bartered passage off planet with an “independent freighter pilot” a la Kenobi hiring Han Solo? They couldn’t be tracked, and they wouldn’t have to bother with purchasing expensive and hard to acquire machinery. The whole business of acquiring Anakin aside, does that not make logical sense? It does to me, and would be, to my way of thinking, much better writing. It even parallels A New Hope, and Lucas is not above mining the Original trilogy for ideas in other places, so why not here? It would have even foreshadowed Kenobi doing the same thing later in life.
Back on Tatooine, the sandstorm still rages while inside a humble adobe dwelling Shmi Skywalker pours blue milk and helps Anakin describe an escaping slave’s punishment: explosion via automated transmitter. Such a device is barbaric, brutal, and a very good deterrent, exactly what one would expect on a planet run by a bunch of criminals. I very much like this little meal because it gives the audience a chance to live with Anakin and Shmi, and the discussion about slavery helps to widen Amidala’s gaze. I believe this conversation directly influences her later decision to fight back, even when she first declared her pacifistic stance (“I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war”). Without getting into the debate on pacifism vs war, I will say that there are circumstances in which justice can only be won through confrontation, and I think this little discussion on slavery helps Amidala understand that.
It is in this sequence that Qui-Gon Jinn shows a completely different side to his character that the audience rarely glimpses. Anakin selflessly offers his help in solving the Queen’s dilemma, even to the point of risking death to do so (I don’t care how quick his Jedi reflexes, he still risks death every time he climbs into a podracer cockpit) and Qui-Gon does not influence the discussion either way, except to agree with Shmi that he would rather not risk Anakin’s life on their account. Even though my natural reaction is to harp again on the fact that Qui-Gon has barely explored any other avenue of opportunity, from the perspective of “there is no other way” he is being backed into a corner. From that position, I probably would have done what he does: concoct a scam with Anakin once Shmi allows it.
Anakin’s solution to the problem is a deus ex machina solution: Anakin appears, unlooked for, with a solution that was not expected. He single handedly solves the problem: he built the podracer, he races the podracer, and he wins the podrace. He also wins his own freedom, allowing him to be a deus ex machina during the end space battle above Naboo. I have no problem with this, in terms of the story, unless Anakin is meant to also be the hero of the film. A hero who is his own dues ex machina is problematic and uncreative. I again reference Luke in the Death Star trench being saved by Han Solo. That scene would be totally different if Luke himself trashed his pursuers and then blew up the Death Star. The equivalent happens in this film twice. But if Anakin isn’t the hero, who is? I have yet to really see a character that fits the bill. Maybe Qui-Gon as a flawed hero, or Amidala as a heroine who rises above her situation, but this trilogy is about Anakin, just as the next is about Luke. George Lucas has cited this fact when explaining why there are no Episodes VII-IX, so I am reluctant to admit a different intended hero.
Meanwhile Qui-Gon returns to Watto’s junk shop to put his scheme into action. Amidala clearly does not like this plan, mostly it appears because the plan depends upon putting an 8 year old boy in extreme danger, and I would like to hope that, as Kenobi puts it, they could be “stuck here a very long time” if the plan fails (00.44.29, 00.46.24). For a brief second Evil Qui-Gon surfaces when he belittles the Queen, though in all fairness he still has no clue that Amidala is the Queen in disguise, and if he knew I have no doubt he wouldn’t have said what he did. Inside the shop he negotiates a fair deal with Watto, and he doesn’t actually lie about anything. I very much like this version of Qui-Gon over the mind-tricking arrogant version. Also, I must say again that I love John Williams’ score of Star Wars, especially during these ten minutes. Seriously, watch just this segment of the film and focus on the music. It is amazing.
Now, the virgin birth of Anakin Skywalker: I don’t know, still, after many many viewings of this film and the saga as a whole, if I like the idea of the virgin birth or not. Such an idea fits with Lucas’ smorgasbord of religion that is Star Wars. He mishmashes philosophies and ideas to create this universe, and I would have been shocked if there wasn’t some overt Judeo-Christian idea somewhere. But Anakin as virgin born? I don’t know if it is necessary, really. Luke was incredibly special without being virgin born. Um, actually, everyone except Jesus (if you believe the talk) who was special was so without being born of a virgin. I know that the idea of midichlorians isn’t introduced until the next ten minute segment, but even if you give the Force a pseudo-scientific basis, it still does not necessitate a virgin birth. My verdict is still out, but even if I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it either. I accept it and move on.
Lastly, I really like the honesty of Qui-Gon Jinn in these ten minutes. Twice, to Anakin and to Shmi, he is forced to confront the reality of their situation as slaves and the possibility that there may be nothing that he can do about it. Amidala already was confronted with the ugly position of her benefactor, and both Shmi and Anakin were confronted with the truth that giving of yourself will not always suddenly make life better. Qui-Gon humbly acknowledges that he can do little to help them in return for their kindness and that is just the unfortunate business of living. This quiet exchange makes the world of Star Wars that much more realistic, and that is good writing.
Anakin Skwalker’s podracer roars to life giving rocket wings to the last hope of Queen Amidala and Qui-Gon Jinn.