Saturday, March 13, 2010

Star Wars marathon: The Phantom Rebuttal

The Phantom Rebuttal

*As part of the ongoing Star Wars marathon, a rebuttal formulated by each co-host is presented each Sunday following the publication of our individual reviews. Naturally, in order to fully appreciate this article, a proper reading of Bill’s review over at Bill’s Movie Emporium is required. Besides, if there's a link to a site or blog here at Between the Seats, it's because it has our stamp of approval.

Bill, let me start by saying that I appreciated your attempt at shielding yourself early on by admitting that you consider yourself to be somewhat of an oddball Star Wars fan and that such a reality would lead to opinions that wouldn’t jive well with most fans of the franchise.

Yeah, nice attempt.

In fairness, I shall begin by revealing the areas where we find common ground. Strangely enough, the more I thought about your assessment of the Darth Maul character, the more I found myself understanding such a point of view, the fact that his existence serves no other purpose other than to show a peeved off Sith who relishes at the chance of destroying the Jedi. No other depth is required for Maul and any attempt at creating some would incurred great risk of tampering with the main reasons why we like him: he’s a visually cool bad ass. I think what turned me around regarding Maul was when I sat and thought about some counter examples I could use to make you look like a fool. I began to think of a franchise I myself am extremely familiar with, the James Bond franchise, and reminisced about the various heavies in those films and realized that pretty much all of them had a) little screen time b) only made the full extent of their strengths known in the late stages of the stories.

Oh, and the medi-chlorians suck. High five!

With that out of the way, it’s time to get down to business. Tatooine. I’m willing to concede that a bit too much of the film’s running time is spent on the desert planet. Maybe things could have been sped up a bit, but I’ll defend a lot of what transpires there. This is in fact the crux of the story. Why is there an original trilogy? Because Anakin Skywalker went from heroic Jedi to evil Sith Lord, thus creating a huge clusterfuck of problems around the galaxy. To fully understand where all these problems started, one must return to the beginning and discover the character as he was. The time spent on Tatooine serves two primary purposes. The first, and one that I think is the less important of the two, is the sense of familiarity which the viewer can appreciate. Tatooine is Star Wars after all. It is where the two most important characters of the entire saga hail from, therefore in the telling of their respective stories, a decent amount of time will be spent there. The second purpose is that of character background. I liked that notion of Anakin Skywalker coming from nothing, literally nothing, to eventually become the most feared person in the galaxy. I liked how Qui-Gon Jin and company come across the boy, almost accidentally and how that fateful encounter gains in significance through Qui-Gon’s realization of the boy’s Jedi potential and how he must deal with Watto to take Anakin away, otherwise an amazing opportunity is lost. It was one of the few moments in Episode 1 where I think the story elements came together and became interesting. The culmination of the Tatooine sequence, and one that importantly leads to Anakin’s freedom, is an amazing podrace, something I don’t think Star Wars fans saw coming based on the type of action we had witnessed in the original films. The time spent on Tatooine is not perfect, I’ll grant you that, but I liked it enough.

You go on to say that the 'meat and potatoes' of Episode 1 are found in Palpatine’s politicking on Coruscant. Although I can understand why you would say that, I have trouble getting behind that statement. Much of what worked in the original trilogy rested in the character relations, not the wheeling and dealing between Galactic Empire officials or whatever debates Palpatine had with his councillors, something I briefly touched on in my original review last week. It’s funny because you and I seem to be coming from completely different places when analyzing Episode 1. You think the more important element rests with the politics and Palpatine’s slimy manoeuvring whereas I champion more of the character driven storytelling elements, not to mention a lot of the dryness in those politics scenes. I always feel like the only one who understands what in carnations he’s supposed to be doing on set is Ian McDiarmid. Remind me again why Terrence Stamp is the movie... To me it just feels as though the politicking on Coruscant is something one of those Lucas Film approved authors could write about in a spinoff novel. Lord knows how many of them there are by now. In an actual Star Wars movie? I’m not so sure that was a good idea.

Ah, the idiocy of the Jedi Council in their decision to have Anakin trained. It is absolutely idiotic, it is one of the worst decisions they ever made (actually, it is the worst because they eventually all end up dead). Your assessment of that decision is spot on, which is why I’m surprised by your reaction to it. The Jedi are held up to such high standards I think it becomes difficult to imagine them as imperfect. But as the case of Anakin will demonstrate down the road, everyone, even an ‘I’m supposed to have no desires or emotions’ Jedi, is imperfect. The opportunity presents itself before the Council to train a boy who may, may, become the most powerful Jedi ever. Jedi, not Sith. They’ve been training these guys for centuries, they know what they’re doing. The fallibility in the Jedi Council’s behaviour in Episode 1 is but an extension of the fallibility we the viewers witness in the character of Anakin later in the saga. They saw an opportunity to cash in, recognized that there was in inherent danger in the choice (emphasized by the fact that the Council refuses at first to have Anakin trained), but thought about it twice and gave in to the potential of having a demi-god on their side. It’s this ‘idiotic’ decision which shows the first signs of cracks in the almighty Jedi armour. Their wisdom is suddenly put into question. They might not be as bright as they think they are and, in the long run, it leads to their destruction. There are reasons why the Galactic Empire rules the universe at the start of Episode IV, one of them being that the Jedi got caught up in their so called greatness and messed up royally.

This has been strange article to write. My overall opinion of the film is lower than yours Bill, and yet here I am defending so many aspects to Episode 1. Not much of what I have written above forgives the film for its inherent blandness in countless scenes and the horrible acting which permeates throughout. Story elements are one thing, and as I wrote last Sunday, I like the world in which Episode 1 transpires, but if it isn’t conveyed in a manner that feels interesting, then the film is problematic in my opinion. You and I both attacked certain aspects of the film, only that we rarely attacked the same ones. Have you tried to use reverse psychology on me, Bill?

N.B. Hey Bill, what did you think of the film's title, The Phantom Menace?


Anonymous said...

I'll get more in-depth after I post my own rebuttal tomorrow, but I'll respond to one of your points and answer your question tonight.

First, the title always struck me as an odd one. I know what Lucas was going for, the menace isn't anything we see on screen but is actually Palpatine working behind the scenes. Still, this is Star Wars and that means a title that ties into what happens on screen and maintains that bit of pulp that all the Star Wars titles have. So, not bad, but a bit odd.

As for Anakin and the Jedi Council, my point there had more to do with the idea of allowing someone as powerful as Anakin to walk away. It's not that the Jedi needed to take him on because they needed his power, but rather if they don't take him on then it's more than likely he will be sought out by another Force group and that would be bad for the Jedi. With the rumblings of the return of the Sith and the existence of other Force based religions/groups (and I do admit that a lot of this is spurned on by the EU, so sue me) I don't see how they could turn him away and risk him falling into the hands of someone else.

Yes, it is a decision that backfired on them, but I'd say it backfired because of a combination of Anakin's faults and the ineffectiveness of the Jedi to be adaptable teachers. Still, if I were on that council I'd rather take a chance on Anakin and see if you can mold him into a good Jedi than allow him to fall into the hands of someone else, like the Sith.

I'll return with more later, probably, but first I want to get up my rebuttal, so see you tomorrow...

edgarchaput said...

I think I misunderstood your criticism of the Jedi Council's behaviour. I thought you disliked their decision to train him. It was the fact that they originally chose to let him go that has you peeved. Okay then, we're totally on the same page then. My bad.

I like the title a lot. It has a much different ring to it than any of the others, but it's a great sounding title.