Moving On (Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, 2020)

Harley_Quinn_BoP_PosterThe DC Extended Universe Films have struggled. A lot.  By the time Justice League came out the only film that had seemed to be a solid success with critics and audiences. Wonder Woman was joined by Aquaman and Shazam! as viewed through a largely positive lens.  Of course, Shazam! was a bit of a disappointment in the box office, which is too bad considering it is a fun and entertaining film.  Harley Quinn had it’s own issues facing it… a spin off (it is not really a sequel to Suicide Squad in any sense of the word) to a poorly received film (Suicide Squad made nearly its entire haul opening weekend) that went for an “R” rating.  The only character appearing in this film was Harley Quinn. Mind you, Margot Robbie is often cited as one of the best parts of Suicide Squad, mainly because she was.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a pretty messy title, and considering this is a Harley Quinn movie, rather misleading.  The focus is Harley Quinn and her life post Joker. But Harley discovers that life outside of the Joker actually makes her a big target for the underworld. Her biggest Danger is the Black Mask, Roman Sionis. He is after a unique jewel that was stolen by the pickpocket Cass Cain.  But things get complicated and Harley finds it hard to turn Cass over to Sionis.

Alongside are several interconnected side stories, Black Canary is working for Sionis, Detective Montoya is trying to take Sionis down and the Huntress is out for revenge on Sionis and his goons. Which means they will all have to team up together.

As I said, this is Harley’s movie. She narrates the film and will constantly suddenly decide we need to learn more of the story.  While this could lead to a complete mess, it kind of works as an aspect of Quinn’s personality.

I really like the characters in this film.  In fact, I found myself wanting more of Black Canary and the Huntress. Ewan McGregor is clearly having a good time playing an off the rails villain. Of course, Margot Robbie is making the character her own, becoming identifiable in the way Ryan Reynolds is with Deadpool or Hugh Jackman is with Wolverine.  She is so much fun in the film.

The action scenes are very well constructed and make for a whole lot of fun to watch.  The film is incredibly colorful, there is one scene where she is in the local jail taking people down with glitter pellets and other “silly” takes on weapons that is gleefully played out. They also use a visual queue similar to Suicide Squad…except they do it far better.

The “R” rating does not feel necessary and the film goes a little long. But it was a really entertaining time, and frankly, I wish this was the type of movie Suicide Squad had been.

Shine Harder (Doctor Sleep, 2019)

Doctor_Sleep_PosterI have not read Doctor Sleep, the follow up to King’s the Shining.  So, when it was announced as a film, I was not particularly excited.  I did not know how they planned to approach it.  As a sequel to the Kubrick film? As an adaption of the book?

It turns out? A little of both.  But does it work?

The film opens in 1980, where we are introduced to Rose the Hat.  She leads a cult that devours “the Steam” of psychic children, keeping the cult young and giving them power.

Danny has grown into a man trying to drown his his power and guilt in drugs and alcohol. Having locked the ghosts of the Overlook away over the years, through training from Dick Hallorann. After he winds up in a small town, he meets Billy Freeman.  We also meet young Abra Stone, a powerful young girl of immense ability. As the years pass, Dan Torrance has found himself taking a role in a hospice as an orderly, but also the bringer of comfort to the dying. His “shine” allows him to help the dying overcome their fear. Abra is strong enough that she begins to communicate with the sober Dan.

This power also brings her to the attention of  Rose and her cult.  And so Dan finds himself working to protect Abra and stop the cult.

So, does it work? Yes.  Very well.  Flanagan manages to weave the source materials together so that this feels like a relative of the Kubrick movie.  He infuses iconic visual moments in a way that is not merely copying another’s work.

The performances are really good, selling the more fantastic elements.  It is a lot of fun getting to see the possibility of the powers of the “shining” that are hinted at previously.  The main cult members are pretty intriguing, and really, the film ends with a hope that makes it a nice companion piece to the Shining.

Flanagan is proving himself a trusted horror director and Doctor Sleep is a great addition to what I hope is a long and fruitful career.

Nothing But Star Wars Episode Three (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, 2005)

Revenge_Of_the_Sith_PosterAnd finally…we see how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader!

Spoilers are about to slice through here like a lightsaber through butter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spoilers! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-*cough* *wheeze*

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Opening in the tail end of the Clone Wars, we begin in the middle of a heated space Battle.  The Jedi and the Clone Army are trying to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from the Separatist leadership of Count Dooku and General Grievous.   Anakin and Obi Wan end up in Grievous’ ship.  The fight Dooku, who again knocks Obi Wan out quickly (Obi Wan is looking pretty incompetent here). This time, Anakin gets the upper hand, and at the encouragement of Palpatine, beheads Dooku.

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Remember my complaint about how they killed Darth Maul in the first film? Revenge of the Sith does sort of do my suggestion. Christopher Lee has a great expression of fear on his face as he realizes Sidious (Palpatine) is wanting him to be killed by Anakin.  Except, it occurs at the beginning of the film, making it not a special line being crossed.  Sure, it indicates Palpatine’s growing influence, but it is not that last step before accepting the role of Darth Vader.  And Dooku has not been a character really built up.  We barely got to know him.  I believe he appeared a bit in the Clone Wars cartoon on the Cartoon Network, but in the movies, he never gets to be a major heavy.  Like Mace Windu, he is primarily earning credibility via the face in the role.

General Grievous, a character introduced in the Clone Wars cartoon, escapes in a lifeboat, while sending his warship plummeting down towards Corsucant’s surface.  Anakin and Obi Wan manage an amazing crash landing.

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Padme reveals that she is pregnant.  Though worried about people discovering their secret relationship, Anakin is overjoyed by the news. However, he is soon beset by nightmares of Padme dying while giving birth.

Anakin is asked to spy on Chancellor Palpatine for the Jedi Council while Obi Wan checks on a lead for General Grievous. Anakin is uncomfortable with this, as Palpatine has taken on a mentoring role and even a father figure for him.  Palpatine starts to drop hints about the power of the Dark Side, especially the power to save and even resurrect life.

Obi Wan finds and confronts Grievous.  Grievous is actually kind of a neat character.  A bit of a proto-Darth Vader, he is an alien cyborg.  Like Obi Wan said of Vader, Grievous is more machine than man.  He collects lightsabers of fallen Jedi, and his arms split from two to four.  This creates a pretty cool visual where he spins his arms while holding four lightsabers.

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Obi Wan manages to send Grievous packing into the great galaxy beyond.  Meanwhile, Anakin is troubled by the realization that Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Palpatine has control of the Republic and is secretly leading the Separatists.

After learning of the news from Anakin, Mace brings several Jedi to take Palpatine into custody.  He surprises them and manages to kill all the Jedi except Mace.  Mace proves far stronger, and has Palpatine’s back (literally) against the wall.

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While trying to use his force lightning against Mace, Anakin arrives.  Palpatine begs Anakin for mercy.  Windu is ready to kill Palpatine, stating there is no other option, but Anakin states he should face trial, not merely executed on Mace’s whim.  Mace refuses and as he goes to strike, Anakin chops off Mace’s hand.  Sidious takes this opportunity to fire another Force Lightning blast and launch Mace out a window to his death.

Now, I always assumed that the Emperor’s appearance was him being old (there was also once a version that he was constantly cloning himself, and the clone bodies were breaking down, but this is no longer canon).

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Apparently, however, it is a result of expending ridiculous amounts of energy.  He anoints Anakin as Darth Vader.  He sends out the secret Order 66, which commands the clone soldiers to kill any Jedi they are with.

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Now, Ben Kenobi told Luke how Darth Vader hunted down and slaughtered the Jedi.  But it turns out he was not the frontline for this.  Instead, he is sent to the temple looking all tough and scary…

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To kill a bunch of little kids.

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And while that is monstrous, it also makes Vader seem like less of a threat in general.  He kills the easy prey, while the Clones are killing fully trained Jedi. Darth Vader is then sent to the Mustafar system, on a volcanic planet to remove the separatists. Obi Wan and Yoda survive the attempts on their life.  Obi Wan and a very pregnant Amidala go to find Anakin.

Yoda takes on Darth Sidious in a powerful battle, leaping around and dodging Sidious’ attacks.

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Yoda ultimately slips away and meets with Senator Bail Organa. Both Sidious and Vader proclaim the Jedi have attempted a coup, forcing Organa and Yoda to flee.  When Obi Wan and Amidala reach the volcanic planet, they try and talk Anakin down, so to speak.  But he believes they are betraying him, and starts to force choke Amidala.  This results in a dramatic life and death lightsaber duel in the middle of flowing rivers of lava.

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Obi Wan delivers one of the dumbest lines of the entire franchise. “Only Sith deal in Absolutes”.  It makes a certain amount of sense regarding Obi Wan’s attitudes towards facts in the original trilogy. But it is just a dumb line, as we saw Jedi dealing in absolutes just…heck…twenty minutes earlier.  As the fight concludes, Obi Wan cuts off Anakin’s arms and legs.  There is a lot of dramatic but weird dialog.  Obi Wan laments that Anakin was his friend, he was supposed to bring balance to the force, yadda yadda yadda.

And then he leaves Anakin to slowly burn to death.

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The Emperor pops over and picks up Anakin.  Then we get scenes of Amidala giving birth, while Darth Vader is encased in his new suit.  Amidala dies as she looks upon her twins.  They give Leia to Organa and take Luke to Anakin’s half brother Owen Lars.  Because if you want to hide a kid from his dad, his family is probably the best place.  And you know, don’t give him the last name of Owen or anything. And seriously, Amidala died why? Other than she had to as a plot contrivance?  They seriously don’t have the technology to save her? She appears to have died of a broken heart.  Really?

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And speaking of Amidala? She is practically set dressing in the film.  Poor Natalie Portman is sidelined the majority of the film to be Anakin’s plot device.

I really found the prequel film rules about the things like the Rule of Two, which states there are only two Sith Lords at a time.  A master and an apprentice.  This makes no real sense, and the original films had no such implication.  The idea that there would only be two Sith in comparison to endless Jedi seems bizarre. Within the legends (books and comics, mostly), this is also challenged by Darth Plagueis, who was the master to Palpatine. But the rule makes no real sense, because it is not a notion that there is like a single Sith Emperor over all other Sith…It is literally that there are two Sith at a time.

Nobody has any real chemistry in this film.  It just feels like everyone is delivering their dialog so they can be done with it.

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In spite of this, Revenge of the Sith (a title meant to recall the original working title of Return of the Jedi) is far from the worst of the prequels.  The first twenty minutes are terrific.  The various action sequences that follow are quite good, especially the Mustafar battle.

I also like how the technology of the world feels fresh and shiny, like this is everything at it’s heights.  Contrasting that with episodes four through six where everything seems old and broken, like the rule of the Empire has crushed any sense of beauty and design and left only the most industrial sense of design.

But unfortunately, the entire prequel series was obsessed with answering questions nobody had. And this one is no different, making a mad rush to pack in stuff we don’t really need.  The film takes place twenty years before a New Hope.  And we get a shot of Gran Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader watching the beginning of the Death Star.  Now, is the idea it could take twenty years to build the Death Star is not implausible.  But they built a second Death Star with totally different specs in a couple years. Infant Leia sees Amidala, while infant Luke’s eyes are closed.  Why? Because in Return of the Jedi? Leia tells Luke that she remembers her mother’s smile. Luke cannot remember anything about her.  It is like Lucas sat down and watched the original films making a list of things he thinks have to be in the new films.

However, the three prequels just never meet the goal of being a great new trilogy, because they are bogged down in weird choices of storytelling and fan service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing But Star Wars Episode Two (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, 2002)

Attack_of_the_Clones_PosterThe Star Wars machine keeps plugging on.  Episode one had a rather mixed reception, but it made money.  It would have taken a catastrophic return to derail new trilogy.

The film would make a jump and start to try and “right the ship” so to speak.  As much as Lucas tried to defend Jar Jar Binks, his role gets diminished greatly in both this and the next film.

And let us go back on our spoilerific journey!!!! Send in the clooooooones!

 

 

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Picking up around ten years after the Phantom Menace, Amidala is now a Senator.  This is, funny enough how they move Jar Jar out of the picture…he is a representative for Naboo. But anyways, after an attack on her ship as she arrives on Corsucant, the Jedi Council sends Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to protect the Senator.

Anakin apparently still has his crush on Amidala, who is shocked to see Ani went from nine year old boy to a good looking teenager. They plan to stand guard in her apartment as they also try and determine how best to investigate the attempt on her life.

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The investigation gets a boost though when a second attempt is made by letting to poisonous bugs into her bedroom.  Artoo derails the attempt by alerting the Jedi.  They pursue the shadowy killer through the skies of Corsucant (the skies are full with levels of traffic).

This leads to an exciting chase sequence with Anakin being incredibly reckless.

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Really, it is a pretty enjoyable scene.  It ends with them crash landing in a seedy part of town.  They follow their target into a bar.  It turns out she is a shape shifting bounty hunter.  She starts to confess, only to be shot with a poison dart, dying almost instantly.

The Jedi Council formulate a new plan.  Anakin will accompany Amidala undercover to a remote part of Naboo, while Obi Wan will focus on the investigation. Obi Wan starts by focusing on the dart.  But he really cannot connect it to anything.  He visits a friend who runs a dive restaurant who tells him that the dart belongs to the Cloners of Kamino.

This starts a new mystery, as Kamino does not appear in any star maps he can find.  With Yoda’s help, he locates his destination.  When he arrives, he is surprised to find that they were expecting a visit.  Not from Obi Wan, but another Jedi Master who Kenobi reveals died several years before.

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He discovers that the previous Jedi master had hired the Kimino people to create an army of Clones.  He is introduced to Jango Fett, a bounty hunter who is the basis of the clone army.  Jango had one requirement, and that was a clone untouched by the Cloner’s programming to raise as a son (can you see where this is going?). Lucas actually added actor Temuera Morrison’s voice as Stormtroopers and Boba Fett in the original trilogy.

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There is a fight and Jango escapes with Boba, but Obi Wan follows them to the planet Geonosis.  There, Obi Wan discovers the Separatist army, led by Count Dooku.  Dooku is an ex-Jedi (and gets cool points because it is Christopher Lee).

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Meanwhile, Anakin confesses feelings for Amidala.  At first she pushes back due to her career and the Jedi rules against love and marriage. Anakin argues they can love, and follows the Jedi tradition of loopholes.  But he becomes distracted by nightmares of his mother in trouble. He returns to Tatooine.  He discovers that his mother was sold to the Lars family.  However, rather than keep her as a slave she has married the farmer.  She was kidnapped by Sandmen.  Anakin locates the Sandmen village and discovers his dying mother.  In a fit of rage, he slaughters all of the folks in the village.

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As they ready to depart, they get a message from Obi Wan.  Anakin and Amidala head off to Geonosis (taking C-3PO, who was with the Lars family,  with them). When they arrive, they are instructed to wait, but Anakin gets impulsive and they enter a factory making a droid army.  Elsewhere, the Galactic Senate gives approval to the Clone army.

Obi Wan has already been caught, but Anakin and Amidala are fighting their way through the factory, dodging the automated machines building droids. Instead of saving Obi Wan, they end up captured as well.

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After getting caught, the three are brought into an arena to fight to their deaths against three very unique monsters.  In the midst of this battle Amidala gets a totally implausible rip to her uniform…like, comically implausible.  Just as it looks like the Separatists will when, the other Jedi arrive along with the Clone Army.

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There is a big fight in the arena between the separatists and the Jedi and Count Dooku runs off.  Everybody takes chase after he and the retreating droid separatists. Anakin and Obi Wan reach Dooku’s lair.  Dooku manages to incapacitate Kenobi, but Anakin puts up more of a fight.  Dooku manages to sever Anakin’s hand and get the high ground so to speak.  Suddenly, before he can dispatch the two Jedi, Yoda walks in and they have the fight nobody knew they wanted.

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Once Dooku realizes he probably won’t win this fight, he retreats to his ship and escapes to fight another day.  The Clone Wars have begun.  Anakin gets his robot hand and secretly marries Amidala.

The film ends one this note, with a rather weak cliffhanger.  The Empire Strikes back ended on the note of the big reveal.  Here there is no big reveal really. “Luke, I am your father” drives discussion and anticipation for the nextr installment.  Here it is just…”Well, there is one more!”

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So…about the whole romance.  Amidala was about fourteen when she met Anakin.  And generally I would not balk at a five year age difference. But as they are tied together by her time where he was just a cute kid…it seems like the intended romance might have been able to spring more organically had they started out more like a year or two apart (her sixteen and him fifteen or something). Christiensen and and Portman also lack any chemistry to sell the fast moving relationship. The relationship just feels so rushed it is hard to buy it ever happens.  And again, had they been much closer in age in the Phantom Menace, the seeds could have been laid much more organically.

This film is really the first to make a big show about the Jedi rules forbidding marriage and attachments.  Frankly, it is a dumb and terrible rule that calls into question the concept of the Jedi as an organization.  How is not having attachments going to make you a better protector? But then, we have seen that the Jedi are pretty sketchy.

To a certain extent, I don’t see this concept as bad.  The original films gave us only Obi Wan’s portrayal of the Jedi as noble Knights who fought oppression and stood for Justice in the galaxy.  That the prequel films are revealing a far more political organization is not a problem…but how it pulls it off is leaving a lot to be desired.  It is kind of dull, and in spite of their ineptness, it is pretty obvious we are supposed to be rooting for the Jedi.

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) Directed by George Lucas Shown: Hayden Christensen (as Anakin Skywalker), Natalie Portman (as Senator Padmé Amidala), Samuel L. Jackson (as Mace Windu), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi)

The whole subplot with Boba Fett is really pointless.  It is, in fact, one of the most pointless fan service moments of the franchise.  Jango is killed, beheaded by Mace Windu in front of Boba.  We see young Boba holding his father’s helmet to his face.  And, this might have been a powerful image had Boba Fett been a major player who we saw a lot of in the original trilogy.  But he has, like, three lines including a scream before he dies Between Empire and Return of the Jedi.  This gives us no insight, and frankly, undermines part of what made him popular.  He was mysterious.  Things in Star Wars that needed no backstory? C-3PO and Boba Fett.

One thing that stands out is how lazy the world building is. In the original trilogy, things that paralleled our world still felt unique.  When Obi Wan is offered an illicit substance, he refers to it as “Death Sticks”.  I know there have been cigarette brands with ironic names like that…but really? Obi Wan’s friend with the diner? The diner looks just like a fifties diner.  And they have drinks like “Jawa Juice”. It just feels like there was no effort put into this world.

In spite of my complaints, this is a step up from the Phantom Menace.  We get some cool lightsaber duels, for one. Seeing Yoda in action turns out to be surprisingly fun.

Lastly, remember how I said Amidala gets an implausible rip in her outfit?  A cat monster things takes a swipe at here…this is the result:

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Nothing But Star Wars Episode One (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, 1999)

Phantom_Menace_PosterAs previously noted, people were pretty resigned to Star Wars remaining a trilogy of parts four through six.  Then it was announced, Lucas had decided episodes one through three could finally be made.  He stated that the technology had reached a point that he could truly make the stories he desired to tell.

The geek net was still in it’s infancy in a lot of ways, but it was set ablaze with rumors and claims of leaked scripts and insider knowledge.

A lot of those rumors turned out to be false…but in May of 1999 we got the long hoped for return to a galaxy far, far away…

 

And now, the standard warning of the spoilers…endless spoilers!

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Opening in space (of course) we meet two Jedi Knights on an exciting diplomatic mission with a trade…federation…aw crap. Our Jedi are Qui-Gon Jin and a young Obi Wan Kenobi.  Kenobi is a padawan, a Jedi-in-Training. As they wait for Trade Federation diplomats to enter, they are instead greeted with poison gas.  They fight their way through droids to try and get to the bridge to confront the Trade Federation, but are forced to run.  They hitch a ride on troop transports down to the planet of Naboo.

Knowing they must warn the government of Naboo, they try and find a way to the main city population. They run into a local, a giant amphibious creature who speaks with a weird variation of an Jamaican Accent (The Trade Federation is run by a guys with distinctly Asian Accents…this ends up being a recurring issue of accents that seem connected to negative traits) named Jar Jar Binks.

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Jar Jar takes the Jedi to an underwater city with more of his race.  There they find out Jar Jar was banished for being clumsy.  Really.  Qui-Gon convinces the Gungan leader Boss Nass (who looks suspiciously like Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard) to give them a ship and Jar Jar.  The ship gets them to the capital, where they save Queen Amidala and a small band of her guards .

As they escape the planet the ship is damaged.  They land on the planet Tatooine.  While there, Qui-Gon, Padme (an attendant to the queen) and Jar Jar happen across a junk dealer and his boy slave, Anakin.  Anakin makes an impression on Qui-Gon who he senses is strong in the force.  Due to an impending sand storm, Anakin offers them shelter with he and his mother.   The boy of about nine gets a crush on Padme while Qui-Gon questions his mother about their lineage. She notes that there was no father, but rather it was a spontaneous pregnancy.  You know, like Jesus.

Meanwhile, on the Planet Corsucant, the Senate is debating how best to deal with the Naboo situation.  Unknown to everyone, Senator Palpatine is pushing for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Velorum.  He is manipulating people to nominate him as replacement.  His motives are shrouded in darkness, but we know he is a Sith Lord and he has an agent, his apprentice Darth Maul.

Darth Maul is on the hunt for the missing Princess and Jedi. Qui-Gon makes a bet with the owner of Anakin for the parts needed to fix their ship.  He also makes a side bet for Anakin’s freedom.  The bet revolves around one of the film’s best sequences. Anakin is a pod racer and if he wins, Qui-Gon can take both the ship parts and Anakin with him.

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The Pod race is a pretty thrilling sequence and plays like “space NASCAR”. The primary story purpose of this scene is to establish his piloting skills. This relates back to a New Hope when Ben explains that when he first met Anakin, he was an accomplished pilot. Phantom Menace kind of creates a problem, in that Anakin is a nine year old kid.  There is not really any doubt when listening to the dialog in a New Hope Anakin would likely have been very late teens or even early twenties.  But Lucas wanted to make a statement on meeting Vader as a boy.

Anakin wins his freedom and joins Qui-Gon and Padme on their ship.  As they are leaving, Darth Maul appears and Qui-Gon has a lightsaber duel. Qui-Gon jumps onto the ship and leaves Maul behind.  They arrive at Corsucant, where Qui-Gon warns of Maul and presents young Anakin, who he believes could be the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Force, to the Jedi Council. The Council is far more hesitant, believing that Anakin has lived to long without proper Jedi training.

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This actually makes no sense when we look to what the series had presented us with.  Beings gifted in the use of the Force have access to it regardless, would not trainig, no matter their age be good?

Admittedly, the Jedi Council seems to be a rather ineffective group.  They often seem to want to take a hands off approach, showing that, maybe, the legend of the Jedi as magical and wise space knights may be…a bit fictitious.

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Phantom_Menace_Jedi_CouncilQui-Gon states he will take on Anakin’s training himself, in spite of already having a padawan. They take the Princess back to Naboo in a plan to fight back against the Trade Federation. They recruit the Gungan’s for the fight.  They need to take out the space station of the Federation, which will render their battle droids useless.  It is revealed that Padme is actually Princess Amidala and the girl we thought was the Princess was actually a decoy.

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The Naboo pilots take back some ships and head out to destroy the main Trade Federation ship, while Anakin is told to stay put hiding in a ship.  The ship conveniently goes to autopilot and takes him straight into battle.

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Qui-Gon and Obi Wan are confronted by Darth Maul.  During their fight, Maul impales Qui-Gon.  Angrily, Kenobi charges in and manages to slice Maul in half. Meanwhile, R2 (who is co-piloting the ship Anakin is in) turns off auto-pilot.  Anakin tries to get turned around, and in doing so, manages to blow up the command ship, disabling the droid on the planet surface.

Kenobi promises to train Anakin in accordance with Qui-Gon’s wishes. Then, there is an awards ceremony in a reflection of the end of Episode Four.

Honestly, of all the Star Wars films, I probably find this one the most frustrating.  It introduces something call midichlorians. They are the microscopic sentient life forms in all bodies that indicate how perceptive one is to the force.  This allowed there to be a scientific test.  Qui-Gon explains that Anakin is “off the charts”.  But truthfully, the original trilogy stayed firmly in the world of the Force being a form of mysticism.  It seems weirder to have a scientific explanation, even as just an indicator.  In spite of this film being the first mention, they do apparently date back to about 1977 in stuff Lucas wrote up for the expanded universe material.

Add to that, Lucas still uses mysticism like Prophecy.  Ben never mentions any prophecy in the original films, though the extended universe was apparently full of them.

Anakin is made out to be a boy genius.  Both C-3PO and R2-D2 are in the film, with R2 being introduced as a service droid on Amidala’s space ship.  But 3PO is used to show how mechanically inclined Anakin is by revealing that 3PO was built by Anakin.  This is one of those rather silly additions that does not have the intended effect.

Having Anakin blow up the Trade Federation ship purely by dumb luck is not a good choice, either.  As noted earlier, Ben certainly suggests to Luke that Anakin was a gifted pilot.  It diminishes Anakin to have him stumble into success as a kid.  The idea, I suspect, was to sell just how powerfully Force Sensitive he was.  It just makes him seem lucky.  And this is really a simple solution.  Had they cast Anakin as a young man, he parallels Luke. The idea that he is skilled as a pilot does not need as much proof.  Anakin never needed to be a child prodigy.

The choice to kill Darth Maul is another stumble.  Darth Maul, for one thing, has a terrific design. He is automatically imposing with his red skin and facial tattoos. He has a cool double lightsaber.

Phantom_Menace_maul

It would have been a much better plot device to play him up as the Darth Vader of the series. He is the big bad guy who makes it until the end…as Darth Sidious begins grooming Anakin he subtly plays them against each other. Finally, in the third film, Anakin and Maul are in a pitch battle.  Anakin has him against the ropes and then, in a dramatic moment, Sidious startles Maul by commanding Anakin to kill him.  In that moment, Maul realizes Anakin is going to replace him.

Another thing the film establishes is the Jedi Gear.  In Return of the Jedi, Luke wears that slick black outfit. According to Lucas, this was proper Jedi attire.  Ben wore the robes not because that was a Jedi outfit.  He was hiding out as a desert hermit.  The Phantom Menace, instead, establishes that he was just wearing his Jedi robes.

Frustratingly, with the Phantom Menace, there is not a ton that I find enjoyable.  The Pod Racing scene is terrific stuff.  It is an exciting roller coaster ride.  And the lightsaber duel with Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul is great stuff as well.  But the rest of the film feels like it was bogged down in fan service that never actually serves the story.

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