I have moved into the next ten minutes of the Phantom Menace. I really appreciate the music of John Williams throughout the Star Wars saga. When the Jedi arrive in Otoh Gunga and stand before Boss Nass and the Gungan elders, Williams’ score is haunting and beautiful. He adds emotion to each scene, so masterfully interwoven with the visuals that the film is enhanced far beyond anything Industrial Light and Magic could create. Not that ILM is found wanting. Each time I watched these ten minutes, I saw something else happening in Otoh Gunga: Gungans swimming, herds of animals, fish – and I will never forget the first reveal of the city itself. Otoh Gunga perfectly captures the exoticism of the Star Wars universe, and its revelation evokes similar wonder to the first glimpses of the City in the Clouds in Empire Strikes Back.
Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (00.10.00-00.20.40)
The Trade Federation invasion fleet descends upon Naboo and then lands in the most isolated parts of the jungle/forest (00.10.19). Why? Captain Panaka already alerted his queen (and viewers) to the fact that Naboo don’t have an army, only “security volunteers” so I wonder why the Federation didn’t simply land outside the cities and march inside. Viewers don’t even see any resistance to the invasion (which is culminated in the next ten minutes) so why this an outback invasion? I think that Lucas is thinking that the army would need to form up before it actually marches on the city, and this would make sense with a flesh and blood army, but with a bunch of droids, they don’t need to be organized, just activated.
But, the massive droid carriers end up crashing through trees and chasing small forest animals and almost killing Qui-Gon Jinn (00.11.04). No, actually, that was Jar Jar Binks. To be fair to him, this is a circumstance completely outside of his experience. The encounter between them leads to Qui-Gon’s only good line in the film: “The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” (00.11.28). This simple exchange, however, highlights a much bigger issue: the questionable morals of Qui-Gon Jinn. From the very beginning of Jinn’s relationship with Jar Jar, he alternates between being amused by his antics, or being very very annoyed. In this instance, he makes a snide remark (which is understandable: I would be short with someone who almost got me killed). Later, he will use a rather intense mind-trick/Vulcan neck pinch to calm Jar Jar during their encounter with a third underwater monster (00.20.10). In between he will save him from being punished by Boss Nass (00.16.42). The way that we treat those who are beneath us, in status or intelligence/ability/power, says a great deal about us. At this point with Jar Jar, Jinn manages to be balanced, but later his morality crumbles.
After his close shave with the grave, he and Kenobi take off running (towards a Naboo city one supposes) only to be halted by Jar Jar’s mention of his home town. The Jedi seem not to hear the fact that Jar Jar is talking about a refuge, and only react to the word city, and demand to be taken there, even after Jar Jar admits that he has been banished and will be in a world of hurt if he returns. Nevertheless, he is indirectly threatened and submits (00.12.49). Since when do Jedi threaten innocent people? What disturbs me more is that Jinn and Kenobi don’t seem to care about Jar Jar’s fate, only their own mission, and more than that, this move doesn’t seem to have anything to do with their mission. Assuming they got a pre-mission briefing, they should already have an idea where the closest city is and would want to head directly there. Jar Jar is only interested in hiding from the droids, he calls Otoh Gunga “the safest place” when he first mentions it, and doesn’t say anything about how to get to the Naboo. The way things unfold, with Jinn asking Boss Nass how to get in contact with the Naboo, it seems like the Jedi have little information on the Naboo. This makes no sense, and points to bad writing from Lucas. This whole exchange seems geared towards getting them to Otoh Gunga and into their bongo and into peril with undersea monsters which is the definition of bad writing in a film: characters do things simply to get to a fight/explosion/or next scene. Nevertheless, Jar Jar leads them to Otoh Gunga and is immediately taken into custody for breaking his banishment.
The Jedi talk to Boss Nass, the leader of the Gungans, and while Nass presents a reasonable dislike for the humans of his planet, Jinn ignores him completely in his efforts to get what he wants, which is to contact the Naboo and warn them of the invasion, which they already know about. Seriously, Jinn’s insistence on warning them makes it seem like the Naboo have absolutely no way of knowing what is happening in space, with is ridiculous. Any nation that develops space travel can see what is happing in the space around their own planet. Lucas’ bad writing makes Jinn look stupid. It also makes Jinn a jerk: he uses a Jedi mind trick on Boss Nass to get a transport. I could understand maybe using it if Nass had ordered them imprisoned for tresspassing or something, but he doesn’t, and Jinn doesn’t even try to ask normally for help. He just waves his hand. Of course Nass capitulates, and Jinn turns to leave.
I mentioned previously that Qui-Gon’s redemption in these ten minutes is the salvation of Jar Jar, but even that act isn’t as pure as it seems. Jinn (and Kenobi for that matter) seem content to walk right out, take their stolen bongo, and leave him to his fate. But, Jar Jar, out of desperation, asks for help. Kenobi is exasperated that they might be held up even longer in their quest, but then Qui-Gon lies about why he is interceding for Jar Jar. At least, I hope he is lying, because otherwise he is a moron: Qui-Gon mentions “we need a navigator to guide us” and suggests maybe Jar Jar could help. Given that later when Binks wonders how they will get where they are going, Jinn assures him by saying “the Force will guide” them (00.19.26). When he doesn’t ask Jar Jar for help, it implies that he never intended to, making him a liar. So, why doesn’t he own up and tell Nass “look, we asked Jar Jar to lead us here, so don’t punish him on our account”? Instead, the venerable Jedi uses another mind trick. If it was only this scene, I might go easier on Qui-Gon, but instead he will try it on Watto several times when they make it to Tatooine. Kenobi used a mind trick once on some stormtroopers to get them out of a bad situation, and Luke used a mind trick once to rescue Han Solo. Those situations differ from this one because there is nothing at stake here, certainly not the wrongful imprisonment of Solo nor death for billions at the end of the Death Star’s laser. I more think Qui-Gon simply believes himself superior and is grossly impatient.
I will gloss right over Qui-Gon’s stupidest line, “there’s always a bigger fish” and wonder instead how he would have actually dealt with being lunch if not for convenient (ie bad) writing (00.18.31). I like very much that Jar Jar calls him to the carpet for acting like he has read the script to the movie: “when yousa thinkin’ weesa be in trouble?” (00.19.55).
To finish, there is a cut scene in the middle of the Jedi’s trip through Naboo’s watery core, in which Nute Gunray is on the phone with Sidious again. I dislike this scene for several reasons. First, a evil bad guy is way more evil when you barely see him. The Emperor is only ever mentioned in a New Hope and he has exactly one scene in the Empire Strikes Back. For six years Star Wars fans got increasingly creeped out by the galaxy’s big bad. But in Phantom we have already seen him twice. Second, and worse still, this scene does not contribute to either plot or character development. Sidious mumbles something about the Senate, underestimates Amidala, and in response Nute Gunray tells him absolutely nothing, but on purpose. In this case, Lucas should have listened to his own advice: “no need to report that to him until we have something to report” (00.19.18). It is very bad writing to include a scene that has no purpose.
Meanwhile, the Jedi are still on their way to tell the Naboo that they have been conquered.