May the live blog be with you: A running diary of "Star Wars" Part I
In honor of May the 4th, I attempted to watch all eight ‘Star Wars’ movies in honor of the “holiday.”
The keyword, of course, is “attempted.” Much like the entirety of the prequel trilogy, I took too long to get started, and started watching “The Phantom Menace” shortly after 11 AM.
Below, then, is part one of a running diary of my May the 4th, which I spent watching the prequel trilogy, “Rogue One,” and “A New Hope.” There will be laughs, tears, and stray observations in a format inspired by Bill Simmons’ running diaries from his time at ESPN, which I am obligated to mention so I don’t get publicly dragged on Twitter.
11:07 A.M. PT--We begin with “The Phantom Menace,” the first ‘Star Wars’ film I remember seeing in theaters just shy of my fifth birthday. The film opens with a crawl that serves as an economics lesson, explaining that the Trade Federation is blockading Naboo.
11:09--Of course, it’s the duty of the Jedi to resolve trade disputes, because nothing says “guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic” quite like being an intergalactic WTO mediator.
11:11--We’re introduced to the Trade Federation, and the idea that the new aliens in this film will also serve as racial stereotypes of varying levels of offensiveness.
11:12--Hey, look, it’s Emperor Palpatine telling the Trade Federation to get rid of the Jedi negotiators! Wait, it’s not Emperor Palpatine? Oh, it is, but we’re going to sit through three movies before anyone who isn’t evil finds out? Okay.
11:17--The Jedi negotiators, of course, are a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, and his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were forced to escape to the surface of the planet, so we cut to a meeting of Queen Amidala and her royal council. One of the members is hung about the planet’s “communications” being shut down. The guy definitely lives in a proton torpedo shelter.
11:19--It’s Jar-Jar Binks. He hasn’t aged well. I wonder what Neeson and McGregor thought when they saw a completed version of this scene for the first time.
11:21--Ewan McGregor is a rare, successful source of levity in the prequel trilogy.
Obi-Wan quips that “this has not been our day for warm welcomes.” Between this, and mentioning the brevity of the negotiations, Kenobi’s got quips!
11:23--The Gungan/Naboo dichotomy and the city of Otoh Gunga are such missed opportunities. Lucas could have explored what discrimination and segregation looked like in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, but the Gungans are played for comic relief, so he only manages to skim the surface.
That, and the Gungans aren’t funny.
11:33--Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan break the blockade, with Queen Amidala and seemingly most of Naboo’s security forces in tow. The ship comes under attack and R2-D2 is there to save the day, because everything is all just a *bit* too connected.
11:35--boba fett dont read this
darth maul hello
11:37--The Queen is none too pleased about stopping off on Tatooine for fuel and repairs, so she sends along her handmaiden Padme, who is totally not the Queen, why do you ask?
11:40--The sound you heard at this time on May 4th was probably me cringing when 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker, played by the adorable but overmatched Jake Lloyd, asks Padme if she’s an angel. Anyone who blames Lloyd at all for this film is misdirecting their criticism. You can’t reasonably expect a 10-year-old, playing a young version of the franchise’s most iconic character, to carry a film directed by someone who hasn’t directed in 20 years, and with that kind of dialogue.
11:46--R2-D2 meets C-3PO for the first time, and immediately starts beeping and booping trash to the protocol droid. All is briefly right.
11:48--Darth Maul actually has two lines in the scene on Coruscant! He talks about how populated Tatooine is, and I start to question my understanding of everything I know.
11:49--Anakin says “laser sword” and “Jedis” in the same sentence. I TAKE BACK EVERYTHING I SAID.
11:55--We learn that Skywalker is a slave and was immaculately conceived. I’m not sure if you guys got it, but the latter means that Anakin is indeed like Jesus, in case the “chosen one” and other allegories won’t give that away later.
11:57--Qui-Gon Jinn knows the name of Anakin’s friend, Kitser, even though we’ve never seen him before. Qui-Gon’s bet his ship on Anakin in tomorrow’s podrace, and his face of relief when the podracer works channels a relieved gambler so well that I think Neeson’s method acting for this film was just being a compulsive gambler.
12:03--One of the heads of the two-headed podracing announcer is literally the most cliched, generic sportscaster you can think of, and it’s quite possibly Lucas’ best storytelling decision in the prequels.
12:08--The podrace begins and it’s...good? This is the first genuinely exciting part of the film.
12:17--Anakin wins and Jabba the Hutt, serving as the audience’s surrogate for the film so far, wakes up from a nap.
12:25--Darth Maul attacks! He ambushes Qui-Gon, who’s returning to the ship with a newly freed Anakin. Of course, Qui-Gon couldn’t have freed his mom, or combatted the intergalactic slave trade in general, because the Outer Rim is outside of the Republic’s jurisdiction. In case it wasn’t clear, the Jedi are ineffective, and Lucas will tap into that quite a bit over the next two films!
12:31--Palpatine, played with a dastardly Shakespearean influence by Ian McDiarmid, starts planting the seed that the Republic is failing and that he, alone, can fix it. Coming to the slow realization that the Star Wars prequels were ahead of their time in showcasing the fragile nature of democracy is just as distressing as it sounds!
12:34--We meet the Jedi Council. Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu has been in the film for all of a few seconds and is already fed up with this whole Sith returning and the emergence of the “chosen one” thing.
12:37--Queen Amidala, as was unsubtly suggested to her by Palpatine, calls for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, and we see Terrence Stamp’s crushing realization that he is nothing more than a glorified cameo.
12:49--Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin, the Queen, Padme, and the rest of the royal company return to Naboo, where Padme reveals in a meeting with the Gungans that she’s been Queen the whole time! Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon look at each other in subdued surprise, and it is at that moment that the ineptitude that will ultimately bring down the Jedi is on full display.
As an aside, I also find myself questioning: was it really necessary for her to use a decoy at all? On a backwater planet like Tatooine, who’s going to recognize a planetary political figure? She goes to Mos Espa without much protection anyway. The “twist” is ultimately not worth the pay-off, since any audience member with eyes can recognize when Natalie Portman’s wearing the Queen’s makeup.
12:58--Jar-Jar leads the Gungans into battle against the Droid Army, while our human heroes storm the royal palace. Some pilots head into space to take down the Droid Control ship and OH MY GOD IT’S DARTH MAUL AND HE HAS A DOUBLE-SIDED LIGHTSABER AND I HAVE FORGOTTEN ALL OF MY COMPLAINTS ABOUT THIS FILM.
1:02--Anakin, as instructed, stays in the cockpit of his (underratedly cool) Naboo starfighter and flies off into the battle. For all of Lucas’ directorial struggles in his first film since A New Hope, and they are legion, he pretty much nails the attack on the Droid control ship and the duel between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul is a highlight in the entire series. Speaking of…
1:08--After getting separated from Obi-Wan and having their fight interrupted by some conveniently placed ray shields, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul resume their duel. Since this is the First Film In A Trilogy, Maul gains the upper hand and kills Qui-Gon, leaving the apprentice against a Sith Lord.
1:11--A Skywalker takes down a large battle station, and somehow The Force Awakens is considered the most unoriginal film in the series.
1:12--Obi-Wan quickly finds himself in over his head, losing his lightsaber and nearly his life as he hangs from the edge of an ominous pit. He’s no Andy Dwyer, and avoids falling in, only to use the Force to leap over Maul, grab his master’s lightsaber, and cut the franchise’s coolest-looking villain in half. Qui-Gon’s still hung about Anakin being the chosen one, and Obi-Wan promises to train him as I sit there thinking that he’s made a mistake of Bluthian proportions.
1:15--John Williams is the master of using musical cues from previous films while piecing together new songs. You can call it self-plagiarism, but as Yoda mentions the danger he fears in training Anakin and a hint of the Imperial March plays, you can’t deny its effectiveness.
1:16--At Qui-Gon’s funeral, Mace Windu asks Yoda if the Sith master or apprentice was killed, seconds before the camera PANS DIRECTLY TO PALPATINE. I’m sure Lucas never intended for it to be much of a twist that Palpatine was Darth Sidious, as it’s painfully obvious they are the same character the moment we see an evil, hooded figure who sounds a lot like Emperor Palpatine at the beginning of this film.
But Ian McDiarmid is never listed as Darth Sidious in the credits until Episode III, when the audience officially learns that he and the Sith Lord are one in the same. It would have been more effective if we didn’t see Sidious onscreen, or if Lucas eschewed ambiguity and gave us a scene of Sidious removing the hood after one of his hologram Skype sessions end.
The camera pan works more subtly, of course, but then why the secrecy in Episode II, when Sidious appears on camera just once? McDiarmid is strong as Palpatine throughout, but especially so in Episode III when the lines begin to blur. The Palpatine problem, in my eyes, sums up much of what went wrong with the prequels: Lucas took far too long to explain much of the Original Trilogy’s critical plot points, while rushing to explain its minor details and over-connect disparate elements and characters.
1:17--The Gungans and Naboo celebrate the victory, as well as the planet’s newfound peace, and we then wipe to the credits.
Some parts were as bad, if not worse than I remember (looking at you, Jar-Jar), but “The Phantom Menace” has some good things going for it. The podrace, dogfights, and lightsaber duel are legitimately great, but the film mostly goes through the motions to get there, and fails to provide a compelling foundation for the remainder of the prequel trilogy.
Lucas is clearly still finding his legs in Episode I. As I’ll touch on in part II of my running diary tomorrow, he’s more comfortable by the time “Attack of the Clones” rolls around, but he still cannot manage to avoid some of his worst impulses.