Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Star Wars the Phantom Logic

As a kid I loved the first Star Wars... and by "first" I mean the prequel trilogy, eps 1-3. I loved the original trilogy of 4-6 as well, duh, but I enjoyed the others as well. I didn't get why everyone hated Jar-Jar Binks! He was the laughable clown that amused my 7 year old self. I was very childish as a child and was swept away by this cool shiny new instalment of the Star Wars movie franchise just because it was there and children aren't very smart or hard to entertain. I was so not-smart that it didn't even occur to me that Palpatine was to become The Emperor. My parents refused to tell me this just so I could have a little suspense for later (which most people don't get thanks to the unorthodox release order pretty much half the twists and surprises are reduced to amusing hints of foreshadowing the audience can laugh at).

But then I grew up. And after many many years of only rewatching the latter films I have returned to Episode 1 for its re-release in 3D (I did not pay for this, someone else did, which means my integrity is still intact...) Now with the critical thinking skills of an adult I can say for sure that Star Wars episode 1 is terrible.

It is actually really the worst live-action Star Wars film in my opinion.

The premise is the dumbest thing I've ever heard... some vague mumbo jumbo about trade law disputes that leads to a planet-wide blockade... somehow. Also it is not ever stated what these aliens trade or why Naboo is of importance. Somehow Palpatine has decided that despite his obvious unimportance in the Galaxy that he's going to force his own damn planet to become a hostage for the sake of getting leverage in the senate which will lead onto the clone wars and eventually the empire. There's a very big grand scheme to things which is an amazing piece of planning and imagination considering he comes from a planet with no military...  Why is he so evil? When did he manage all this evil Sith training while trying to become a politician? Perhaps avid Star Wars fans can answer this from information from the Expanded Universe but I'm sorry that is exclusionary and too obscure for the majority of movie goers and thus just doesn't allow us to get his character.

Well the premise might be explainable somehow but lets talk about individual idiocies that make the film fall apart. For starters: why do they land the droid ships on the other side of the planet? For some reason they decide their big plan for invasion is to not go where they're invading then deforest the planet as they travel (thus emitting who knows how many carbon emissions into the air, obviously their plans for evil are two-fold, the first being anti-environmentalist in nature. "Oh you've reclaimed the planet, BUT OH WAIT THE POLAR ICECAPS MELTED! HAHA!" We can only hope that was their plan all along...) You know why it's the other side of the planet? Because the fastest way to get from the Gungan city to the Naboo capitol "is through the core"... so therefore it's a straight line.

But why is the planet so small and why do we not see any magma in this core? All we see is water! And the submarine has shield-like barriers keeping the water in but when they lose power they stay up. OK obviously there are two different power sources at work here. One is for the shields and the other is for everything else and if any breakages occur one obviously moves two wires around and solve everything. All complicated machinery capable of going extreme depths is this simple, didn't you know?


Gungans are racial stereotypes. No really, they are pretty much alien black people. "Mesa sorry! Mesa no speak too good, but you white man save me I am your slave white man! Yes yes master! (Jar Jar actually refers to Qui-gonn as his master seconds after they meet) Me not so smart but that Okidey, I don't have problem with all the rich white people thinking they're better than me!" (Jar Jar manages to effectively blurt out with his stereotypically huge lips) They are segregated from the richer human population and the end of the movie is effectively a celebration of improved race relations. Gungans are noble savages that, like the Na'vi in Avatar, they are capable of being a warring tribal nation but require the help of the white man to come together and actually achieve anything of worth (a theme that would return in Return of the Jedi with the more interesting Ewoks) which is actually just a distraction for the humans to do the real work of saving the planet.

I figured this out before I watched Star Wars tonight. I don't remember when it occurred to me that Jar-Jar was a racial stereotype but I've been saying it for years. What I didn't realise until this umpteenth viewing is that so are the Neimoidians (the race behind the Trade Federation). We had the primitive black tribes, now for the shifty greedy asians! They have slanted pupils instead of slanted eyes and the accents! How did I not pick up on that earlier? If only they had teeth I bet one of them would be gold just to make them look shiftier! The only people who aren't white who are actually good guys and human are Captain Panaka and Mace Windu! (Only one of which actually does anything in the entire film and he's really a secondary character who is constantly being trumped by those around him. "We shouldn't go to Tatooine it is a bad idea." "I disagree." "..." His moment of glory is technically shooting a window a few times so they can climb out of it. Expanded universe he is more interesting. Everyone is more interesting in the Expanded Universe. Darth Maul for one is way more epic in the comics.)

Now I'm not saying George Lucas or his films are racist... but he has unfortunately tried to clearly separate humans from other aliens as obviously superior and has (possibly unknowingly) thrown in some bad stereotypes to prove this. And in regards to Captain Panaka's importance being subverted by all those around him, well just because he's black doesn't mean he needs to be important or make a stand against racism to not be racist. He as a character just isn't as important as a Jedi regardless of ethnicity so the fact that he is both human and black instead of all the humans being white is more of a counter-argument that George Lucas isn't racist he is just really bad at coming up with aliens. (Why are they all foreign?) Humans are the superior race but black people are included in this therefore black people are not inferior and solely represented by the lower aliens. The lower ratios of black people to white people is more indicative of the movie industry in general where most films have mainly white casts unless the plot specifically revolves around African American related issues or people etc and so the lack of black characters of importance is really a non-issue within the scope of Star Wars (though some would argue an issue in the scope of Hollywood as a whole but that's a completely difference discussion)

Lets continue.

The Queen's voice is so utterly monotone and uninspired. It's so bad that I laughed every time she spoke. "my people are dying..." she says with so little emotion that a robot would not question her if she stated she was not in fact human. I cannot stress how much Natalie Portman decided that the queen didn't have a personality and she was only being paid enough to act out one character so she picked Padme, the handmaiden alter-ego as the one to actually give tone to the voice of. She has since decided that being in Star Wars shouldn't deter her from actually acting and went and did things like Black Swan (presumably to make up for all that bad acting she did under Lucas's direction)

When Obi Wan was being chased by the droids on the hover things (oh no I don't know all the terminology...) why didn't he just use his lightsaber? Lucas has circumvented the most obvious logical way out of the problem just so Obi Wan can have a dramatic action orientated entrance back into the story. This is what we call bad writing... but it is interesting enough to distract the viewer from how little it makes sense. If you pay more attention you'll notice this happens often not just in Star Wars but in any movie with action in it.

Obi Wan and Qui-Gon Jin's rescue of the Queen is pretty standard. Kill the robots, take her to a ship, take off... taking her wardrobe with her. Wait, what? Why is it that she has a change of clothes everywhere she goes regardless of circumstance? The Queen just has clothes installed all over the citadel for some reason in case she's ever out for a short stroll and needs to change outfits 3 times. Obviously.

The droids are all stupid. They should be highly sophisticated machines considering they're the military enforces for a giant corporation and most of all they should be serious. Why are they sarcastic? They are programmed to be slow, stupid, cowardly and basically their AI (which isn't self-sustaining for some reason) is pretty much every character flaw you would want to program out of a soldier/worker/anything that can talk even if it was a servant. If the droids were even half-decent the entire movie would've been a lot shorter when instead of giving Qui-Gon some sass they just shot him/threatened to shoot the prisoners (they've decided to detain the pilots... right next to their fighter ships... because moving them away from the flying machines with guns was too much of a hassle? Nowhere to put them that wasn't convenient for anyone who wanted to rescue them?) and force the Jedi to give up instead of letting a bunch of innocent people get slaughtered in front of them. If it weren't for the B2 Super Battle Droids the Trade Federation would've lost the clone wars half a week in and that would've been that.

And the droids are useless as soon as the control ship is blown up. Despite the fact that there are dozens of them around the planet that all look exactly the same only one of them is of any worth. Also, shutting down the radio signal or whatever that controls the droids makes them so broken some of their heads fall off without provocation. They are pretty much the worst designed pieces of machinery in the entire galaxy and I am surprised they don't end up falling over in a slight breeze.

Its not just the droids that are poorly designed but pretty much everything in this film. Anakin's podracer is pretty much the pinnacle of technological brilliance in this film as despite its many hurdles of sabotage and multiple sources of injury throughout the film it still manages to function even when it isn't even intact. Everything else is a fragile flower laced with gunpowder really despite the pod being designed and built by someone who doesn't even have 2 digits to his age and the Naboo and Trade Federation's technology is space-worthy.

Anakin gets into the fighter and for some reason it is automatically on auto-pilot... which sends it straight to the control ship and into the fray of the fight. Why exactly? I am willing to concede that perhaps it locked onto the nearby squadron and for some reason there's a protocol to follow the leader (whoever that is) but that's a bit far-fetched. Regardless, it finds its way into the fight and 5 minutes later it's overheated... What? Apparently Anakin picked the one with a faulty radiator... because... plot device.... He has of course already flown into the ships hangar and then a little bit further in because they left the doors open so he could conveniently get to the bit where they store the ships that deploy the droids. Oh, then he blows up the main power source somehow and starts A MASSIVE CHAIN REACTION THAT DESTROYS ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING FOR SOME REASON. Yep, because there is only one door between the giant exposed power thingy and the outside of the hangar bay... Basically just imagine if the Death Star (which yes, Lucas, you are ripping yourself off here as if being derivative is OK when it's you) hadn't a small 2m exhaust port leading deep deep into the very core and instead had a massive gaping hole that you could walk in and could fire randomly and still manage to destroy something important. They really didn't think this through... in the slightest.

I'm sure I had more complaints about this film that I didn't when I was younger but I stopped doing it chronologically so might've gotten muddled and forgotten. I am also very tired so I'm going to stop there and just go with "this movie doesn't really make much sense and is pretty bad." I will admit I might have made some point in this post that some avid Star Wars fan will be able to refute with their expansive behind-the-scenes/Expanded Universe knowledge so if so please comment and tell me how I am wrong. But basically the movie is just... nonsense. Its a series of bad-dialogue, action sequences and poorly designed plot points that forcefully shunt the story forwards. I am actually amazed that out of all the seasoned actors in this film, none of them had an interesting or emotionally driven screen presence as Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker. He actually was capable of emotions and his departure from his mother was the only scene with any hint of an emotional impact...

Though I will say this about its 3D conversion: the opening titles look better in 3D.

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