Why I Love The Phantom Menace

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peace!

There are times when it feels like my love for the Star Wars prequel trilogy is tantamount to treason. I anticipate the day when the door to my home gets kicked in and a policing gestapo not unlike the Emperor’s legion of stormtroopers trots me in front of a House Un-American Affairs Committee to be judged for my unholy allegiances.

At this point, I’m used to disagreeing with other people regarding matters of pop culture, entertainment and art, but on most things (and with most people), we can agree to disagree. A shrug and a skeptical “Really?” are the worst I suffer for my affection of Roger Moore era James Bond films, my indifference with the majority of the Marvel film franchise, or my insistence that The X-File’s alien conspiracy mythology actually makes perfect sense (at least until this recent renewal).

But professing love for not only Episodes II and III, but that most indefensible of all films past, present and future, The Phantom Menace?! I’m either insane, an idiot, or both. Nearly seventeen years after its release, people are still foaming at the mouth with hatred for Episode I while a growing contingent of minority opinions rush tirelessly to the film’s defense.

My intention isn’t to start a fight. I have no interest in changing your opinion or speaking to every sin the film purportedly commits in its 2 hours and 16 minutes running time. I just want to share the single thing that I love most about the film, because I feel like it’s the one thing that doesn’t typically get recognized or mentioned whether someone is praising it or tearing it down.

That thing is this: an idea. A really simple idea, but incredibly well-executed, it serves as the spine of not only this particular film, but thematic material for the larger franchise of Lucas’ six films. The idea is this: symbiosis.

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Obi-Wan first introduces the concept in the underwater Gungan city, when he says to its leader, Boss Nass. “You and the Naboo form a symbiote circle,” he says. “What happens to one of you will affect the other.”

Symbiosis is the idea that different, individual systems must work together for mutual benefit. Internally, our bodies function with this theory in practice. Without blood pumping in oxygen and nutrients, the brain will die; without a brain, the circulatory system can’t function.

Externally, symbiotic relationships exist in nature. A shark will abstain from eating a pilot fish, because it helps the shark by consuming parasites that would harm it. You and your pet operate with a similar unspoken contract in place. You give it food and a place to sleep and defecate, it gives you affection (and promises not to eat you when you’re sleeping).

In the world of the film, the metaphor of symbiosis is not just applied to the Gungan race and the Human Naboo who both inhabit the same planet. It also carries over to the political “body” of the Senate, the internal workings of The Force, and the motley crew of Jedi, royalty, droids, alien and slave that must join forces to combat the greater threat of the Sith.

Symbiosis is not just unnecessary flavoring to an action adventure fantasy story; rather, it is the ENTIRE point of the film.

galactic senate

Lincoln’s famous quote, “A house divided against itself can’t stand” is essentially a call for symbiosis, for mutual benefit, for peace and compromise instead of selfishness, greed, and conflict. In the world of The Phantom Menace, we see the opposite of that ideal in the bickering Senate chamber–more than a little familiar seventeen years later–where greedy corporations work at cross purposes against the best interests of the galaxy purely to line their own pockets.

(Incidentally, my second favorite thing about the film is the mind-blowing idea that mega-corporations needn’t bother with lobbyists as middle-men; they already have direct political representation!)

Similarly, The Force, that mystical energy field that exists between all living things, receives a purpose in The Phantom Menace beyond merely plot convenience and cool special effect opportunity. One thing that is so often lost in the hand-wringing about how Episode I demystifies the Force by introducing midi-chlorians is that midi-chlorians are never identified AS The Force, but merely as THE MEANS by which a Force-sensitive individual can COMMUNE with it.

As Qui-Gon explains, “Midi-chlorians are microscopic lifeforms that exist within all living cells… we are symbiotes with them… lifeforms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians life could not exist and we would have no knowledge of The Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force.”

A Jedi listens to the Force through the presence of these microscopic lifeforms in his or her bloodstream, calling upon the powers manifested by The Force only in the interests of serving its direction. By contrast, the Sith as represented by Darths Maul and Sidious bend the Force to their will, they use its powers not in pursuit of the greater good but rather for their own self-interest.

And thus, the symbiote metaphor receives its necessary other half: the parasite.

sidious

“The Phantom Menace” referred to in the film’s title is the parasite in an unhealthy body that can’t heal itself. Without a government that operates with symbiotic efficiency, it is the equivalent of a human body that is stressed, dehydrated and operating on too little sleep… and maybe a little drunk too. It is vulnerable to attack from infection.

The parasite of the film, flitting in and out from behind the scenes and in front of them, setting off a domino effect of destruction in his wake, is Senator Palpatine, eventually revealed to be the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. The Sith, in the grander sense, are a parasite on the Force and the reason why the Jedi refer to the Force as being out of “balance,” but it is Palpatine in particular who is sickening the vulnerable Republic and poisoning the well of the Jedi’s powers.

The antibodies the Force distributes as a counterattack are in unlikely form: the Gungan Jar Jar Binks and the Tatooine boy Anakin Skywalker. Qui-Gon’s adoption of the Gungan and the slave elicit an exasperated response from his protege, Obi-Wan: “Why do I sense we’ve picked up another pathetic lifeform?”

Haters have long wondered the same. Why introduce the eventual badass Darth Vader as a precocious child? What’s with that goofy rabbit-eared frog tripping over everything?

jar jar

The film argues that even the most insignificant, obnoxious being in the galaxy is sometimes necessary to resolve a greater problem. Jar Jar Binks is far from an unnecessary character in the film and I’m always mystified by fan edits that attempt to excise him. He is the glue between the Naboo and the Gungans, the only way to create a symbiotic relationship on the planet and chase off the parasitic threat of the Sith-manipulated Trade Federation. Leaving him out of your viewing experience is really missing the point.

The fact that he’s usually obnoxious and ridiculous and groan-worthy only strengthens the lesson here: figuring out how to get along with people who annoy the living shit out of you is the greatest single trick you can learn in life. I posit that if we could all find peace with the character of Jar Jar Binks, the world would probably be a far calmer and more empathetic place.

Symbiosis does not happen without sacrifice. Whether that’s a shark resisting the urge to gobble up that tasty morsel flitting around him all day long or it’s you cleaning up a mess your pet left under your bed, the mechanics of a successful relationship require a fair amount of teeth-grinding behind a grimace disguised as a smile.

Most of the characters in the film don’t particularly like each other, but that doesn’t stop them from figuring out how to get along long enough to arrive at a solution. It’s ultimately Queen Amidala who comes to her senses first when exposure to other cultures and characters of lower status forces her to acknowledge her higher status and perceived power as illusions. Her worth as royalty is entirely dependent on her ability to unite rather than divide, and ultimately she must sacrifice her ego and join forces with individuals she once thought beneath her.

padme kneeling

The beauty of The Phantom Menace is that central idea of symbiosis and how it carries through on every possible level of the film’s framework, as good a literary metaphor lurking beneath a fun, mainstream adventure story as any I’ve seen before or since the film’s release. And the best part is that I don’t feel like Lucas beats you over the head with the idea; it’s definitely there and I don’t think you can avoid seeing it after being exposed to it, but it actually took me awhile to discover that heart and conscience reverberating beneath all the podracing, blaster battles, and lightsaber duels.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’re welcome to return to your regularly scheduled hatred of The Phantom Menace. But minor quibbles aside, I can’t feel anything but respect and admiration for it or any other piece of entertainment that aspires to provoke and inspire thought and conversation about those larger ideas and concepts that affect us all.

So yes, I love The Phantom Menace, and if that simple opinion makes me insane and/or idiotic, at least I’ll have my defense prepared when they kick in my door.

 

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50 thoughts on “Why I Love The Phantom Menace

  1. Well, I enjoy the prequels and The Phantom Menace too.
    And for whatever its worth, I’ve searched google and set it back to the years these movies came out and you know what I didn’t find? This massive hatred of the prequels. Wherever and whenever it came from I find no evidence whatsoever there was a massive amount of hate from fans at the time of its release.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Terri! It’s always exciting to hear from another fan of these films. If I had to take a stab at understanding the backlash against the prequels and The Phantom Menace in particular, I’d say that I think it largely corresponds with the fact that it’s SUCH a departure from the original trilogy. A lot of people were so shellshocked by the differences that I think they took the easy way out and leaned into the haters’ camp. For many of us, it expanded that galaxy far, far away that we loved so much. For others, they missed the familiar tropes established in those original films. It’s just unfortunate that this film remains such a controversial topic all these years later. I think a sober assessment of the film’s merits reveals that it has so much to offer.

  3. Thanks for this excellent contribution to the growing number of pieces coming to the defense of the prequels! I too really appreciate the way that Lucas weaves the theme of symbiosis throughout the film. I also loathe how bashers keep completely misrepresenting the relationship of midi-chlorians to the Force. I was never bothered by them and thought that they only enriched the universe as well as the film’s theme. The idea that they make the Force anything less than it was originally portrayed as (a mystical energy field generated by living creatures) is ridiculous. (On a side note, I was also pleased to see someone else who is indifferent to “the majority of the Marvel film franchise” – I think they get more praise than they merit).

    I’ve loved The Phantom Menace since I first saw it after standing in line with a multitude of other excited Star Wars fans back at the midnight opening in 1999. I saw it a total of 19 times during its original theatrical release, saw it 1 time during its 3D release, and had the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen once again when I watched all 7 films in one of the theatrical marathons leading into the premiere of The Force Awakens last December. On the subject of the irrational amounts of hatred that are thrown at this film and the other two prequels, I actually took a stab at analyzing how it came to develop in a blog post that I wrote back in December: http://wrathfuldove.org/2015/12/14/a-brief-history-of-prequel-bashing-or-why-we-cant-have-nice-things/. In short, I think that it was the result of a bad combination of overhype, a vocal minority of disappointed fans made louder and more extreme through the groupthink environment of the early days of widespread access to Internet forums, and a gossipy entertainment media hungry to keep the new Star Wars story in the news for milking by spinning its release as a disappointment. With each new film, the media loved to hype and profit from the hype and then tear the released film down, profiting from the controversy.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, John, and also for providing the link to your piece. It’s insightful stuff and I love the “mental yardstick” analogy. Regarding midi-chlorians, I feel relatively certain that a lot of the hatred against that concept boils down to people’s misunderstanding of it. I grew up watching the original trilogy before I was introduced to the prequels and I never considered the possibility that Han Solo or Chewbacca could summon the Force. Midi-chlorians are both an elegant tie-in to the theme of symbiosis and also a practical narrative device to show how potentially powerful Anakin could become.

    • John, I love your blog about Prequel haters. I think I might’ve shared it on my Facebook page. Can’t remember. Anyway, I think you’re observations are spot on. I also enjoyed your review of The Force Awakens, I felt the same as you. The film worked best when it focused on its original characters, but fell apart after introducing Han and Chewie.

  4. …”my indifference to the Marvel film franchise…”
    That makes two of us.

    It saddens me that people will harp on the prequels (and to a lesser extent, “Avatar”), films that had imagination and a message, but endlessly devour the MCU, formulaic films that lack heart, like zombies.

    • Thanks for the comment, Marshall. Jab aside, I don’t mean to suggest that the Marvel films have no merit, merely that I feel a lack of engagement with (many of) them. For me, there’s not much beneath the hood. They are fun bits of pop entertainment, but they don’t resonate. I’ll admit that I like fun, blockbuster movies, but if my mind goes digging beneath the surface, I want to be able to find some things that will provoke and challenge me; I like dense films rife with ideas and themes. I know a lot of other people who couldn’t care less about those things; they want a story that moves briskly and characters that they can easily relate to. It’s not a judgment call; it’s just a matter of preference.

      • I know many people love the Marvel movies and I don’t want to hurt their feelings but as DC fan, many Marvelites have used the films to bash DC. Batman v Superman isn’t even out yet and already some people are trashing it. But Captain America: Civil War is already a certified masterpiece! And it isn’t even out yet!

      • Well, this is definitely true. I do tend to favor the Christopher Nolan Batman films and I enjoyed Man of Steel despite a few concerns. I’m looking forward to checking out B v S. I think Snyder is a talented and very underrated filmmaker.

  5. Great article, thank you for sharing your insights. The hatred for the prequels, and Phantom Menace in particluar, is utterly irrational so I don’t expect you to change any minds. Nonetheless it’s always nice to see that there are other people out there who recognize and appreciate the themes underlying George Lucas’s wonderful films. It’s interesting that you feel Phantom Menace was a big departure from the original trilogy because I never really did. To me, it always felt like Star Wars. I also think it’s something of a grower. With repeated viewings, it has gone from being a film I like to a film I LOVE. And given that George Lucas made all of his films with kids in mind, the fact that my 8-year-old considers Phantom Menace to be his favourite of all 7 Star Wars movies demonstrates to my satisfaction that he really got it right with Episode I.

    • Martin, thanks for writing! It’s interesting. I actually exposed my wife to the saga starting with Episode I and it remains her favorite of the series as well. She didn’t have any experience with Star Wars before I showed her the series and wasn’t aware of any of the plot twists that were to come. Regarding TPM being a departure, when I look at it compared to the OT, I’m overwhelmed by how risky it is. While there are echoes of the OT throughout, it looks completely different from the original films both in terms of design, costumes, and the epic scope of the worlds. Its character archetypes are wholly unlike the ones we see represented in the original three films. And the plot, revolving around a political con game, goes in a completely opposite direction from the rebels-on-the-run flavor of Eps IV-VI. I would argue that these are all positives in favor of the film; they’re the kind of decisions made by a guy who’s willing to take a risk and wants to evolve as a storyteller rather than someone churning out the same thing over and over again.

      • Michael, that is fascinating about how your wife got to experience the saga in chronological order rather than order of release! I’m sure you’ve seen people argue about what order people should view them in when being introduced to the series. A few months back, I found a series of reddit posts from a Star Wars newbie watching the films from Episode I to Episode VI in order to prepare to see Episode VII, and it was certainly an interesting peek into what that experience might be like. How did you wife react to seeing the protagonist get corrupted and virtually all of the heroes suffer defeat and ruin in Episode III? I’ve argued elsewhere that if one knows nothing about what to expect, then the shock of the events in Episode III should be far more surprising and impactful than the sacrificed shock of the reveal of who Luke’s father is in Episode V. The reddit viewer knew about that reveal going in so it wasn’t an exact experiment for my hypothesis, but the viewer *was* deeply shocked by Episode III and how deep it plunges into darkness.

      • She was absolutely traumatized by Episode III, and angry as all hell at Anakin. I have made the same argument about the relative impact of the plot twists in Ep III vs. Ep V and I absolutely believe I-VI is the way to go. The great thing about Vader’s reveal scene in Ep V is that the impact lands whether you know Luke’s true parentage or not, and it’s arguably better knowing it. Hitchcock spoke to this idea with the bomb-under-the-table theory, stating that true suspense is only attained when the audience knows something the protagonist doesn’t.

  6. Phantom Menace is my favorite film of all time, and Jar Jar my favorite fictional character. I know what it’s like to be that guy who means the best but just seems to screw up and annoy everyone. That was the first 25 years of my life, and I suspect a lot of Jar Jar haters had similar experiences and don’t want to be reminded of it.

    One thing about Jar Jar’s importance to the will of the Force that came to me a few years back and nobody else seems to realize is that Qui-Gon would never have given the slave boy in the shop a second glance had Anakin not come to Jar Jar’s rescue for the altercation with Sebulba. Jar Jar is responsible for bringing the Chosen One into play, for better or worse, and that’s the polar opposite of “useless”.

    • Thanks, Adam! I think we all feel like Jar Jar at some point, and for the record, I find his shenanigans in the film to be pretty amusing and occasionally worthy of a cackle or two. He’s such a loveable doofus; I don’t know how you could completely hate him. Interesting point about Jar Jar bringing The Chosen One into play. I don’t know that I’d ever considered that before!

  7. That’s a great blog.You’re very observant. I missed the symbiosis theme. And you’re right. It’s out there in plain sight. What I took away from The Phantom Menace was that this was a peek at what the Star Wars universe was like before the Empire. By necessity it has to contrast with the original trilogy. Thus we get happy-go-lucky characters like Jar Jar and pod racing. This was a reflection of a happier time.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Neil. I think what’s especially cool about this film is how colorful it is compared to later installments. There’s a real sense of getting to see this galaxy deteriorate over the course of the saga and I think that’s a really cool touch.

  8. Great read. It rekindles my faith in the SW “fandom” when people like yourself offer thoughtful, educated, and most importantly, POSITIVE insights of George Lucas movie making endeavors. I’m really over the “hater” culture that’s abused it’s :15 mins of fame. Unfortunately, I think the damage is done and all we can do is re-examine and appreciate these movies and their deeper themes. No one can take away the movies George Lucas did make! I appreciate the time you put in to share this with everybody.

    • Really appreciate the compliment, Adam. I think there are a few more of us prequel fans out there than we may have considered. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response I’m getting to this piece, and it makes me optimistic that there may be a brighter future for fans of GL and the prequels in particular. I remember feeling at one point like I was the only person on the entire planet that loved the prequels, and that was clearly never the case.

  9. when Qui-Gon kneels and closes his eyes in the middle of the duel, while darth maul is behind the shield , so fierce and hateful. that is my favourite scene in the Phantom menace.
    for me the worst point of the whole prequel trilogy is the lack of charisma of the main characters. Hayden Chistensen in particular.
    And There’s not enough humor. In the original trilogy there was a lot of dramatic situations but you always had r2d2 and c3po ready to break the tension.
    But still the phantom menace is pretty good.

    • Yes! I absolutely love that scene contrasting the personalities of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul during the duel. Such a nice character moment that says so much with nothing more than the juxtaposition of the actor’s facial expressions and poise.

    • Daniel, thanks for chiming in. That is indeed a great scene and one of those clever little touches that makes Star Wars unique to me. Qui-Gon showing off his fearlessness and commitment to The Force right in the middle of an epic duel is as good a character moment for him as any he has throughout the film. The topic of Hayden’s performance and chemistry among the main cast is probably too large to respond in this post, but I may take a stab at it in a longer piece.

    • Hayden Christensen is BRIMMING with charisma. It’s just a matter of what kind.

      I had a difficult time warming up to Hayden, in fact it took until Revenge of the Sith and even then I was indifferent until I realized that everything I (and everyone else) assumed to be performance flaws were actually Anakin Skywalker’s natural flaws, and that if I had been through what he had, wouldn’t I act similarly?

      Hayden (and Jake Lloyd) portrayed Anakin perfectly. It makes sense how someone like that became Darth Vader. Like everything else in the films, bashers bash him because he’s not what they expected, rather than reevaluating what they thought they knew.

      Everyone remembers Vader as the ultimate villain, but watching IV-VI and really analyzing it shows that Vader is really a very sad and broken character. Killing your underlings when they disappoint you isn’t being “badass”, it’s throwing a temper tantrum and breaking your toys out of spite. THAT’S the kind of character Hayden played – he couldn’t let go and cope with loss, despite his desire to do good. As a result, he hastened the evil he wished to circumvent out of fear – and then blamed everyone but himself.

      That’s why Hayden went from being one of my least favorite performances to my most favorite of the saga.

      • Well said, Adam. Especially the temper tantrums point. I’m a fan of Hayden’s as well and am looking forward to speaking to his strengths as a performer in future posts.

  10. ” figuring out how to get along with people who annoy the living shit out of you is the greatest single trick you can learn in life.” Brillaint piece of writing. It’s a movie I love.

  11. Well written, Michael. While it is certainly my least favourite of the films, I’m by no means a hater and I have grown weary of defending it online. I think I’ll just point them all here 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words, Nob. Send me your haters and I’ll do my best with them! TPM may actually be my least favorite of Lucas’ six as well, but I probably admire it more than just about any of the other films with the exception of the original Star Wars (A New Hope).

  12. I am by no means a prequel trilogy basher. In my opinion Revenge of the Sith is a superb movie, in many ways greater than Return of the Jedi.
    My son is a huge fan of Attack of the Clones – an entry in the saga that I also believe is worthy of more merit than it receives.
    In fact, I believe AOTC should have been where the saga began.
    If you boil down the story of The Phantom Menace, there is very little that couldn’t have been used as the opening crawl to Star Wars Episode One: Attack of the Clones.
    This would have allowed ‘episode 2’ to be about The Clone Wars. As good as the animated series is, I do feel fans were shortchanged there. A live-action ‘Clone Wars’ installment would have seen the development of Anakin and Obi Wan; their relationship and indeed Palpatine’s rise to power would have been more palpable.
    There are things in TPM that could have made epic scenes in the Clone Wars flick that never was – Darth Maul could have fought Obi Wan and Anakin; The pod race could have been more mature and a lot less “wizard” and the relationship between Padme and Anakin would have had a more believable starting point.
    With the story ark I have in mind, the collective audience would have benefitted from a true prequel trilogy. What do I mean by that? Well, in effect, TPM is a standalone movie. It is set a good 10 years prior to AOTC.
    I have always considered the Star Wars saga to be a pyramid of six films – prior to The Force Awakens – with TPM being one era; AOTC AND ROTS being another, followed by A New Hope, Empire and Jedi as the third era.
    Where the prequel trilogy was always going to suffer was in its pre-determined history. After all, we all knew Anakin would become Vader and that Obi Wan would play a part in Anakin’s demise.
    The sequel trilogy could have been mired in a similar manner, had the ‘expanded universe’ fans had their way.
    Thankfully we have a clean sheet moving forward and the galaxy is unexplored in lore. I for one am glad of that.

    • Paul, I appreciate your feedback and I definitely see where you’re coming from. I think the worth of a film like The Phantom Menace is the way in which it deviates from what the audience expects. I think most of us thought the story of Anakin and Obi-Wan would start with the Clone Wars. When we revisit TPM, we’re confronted with the fact that it predates even the most ancient lore established in the original films. Personally, I think both AOTC and ROTS deliver the goods in a major way, but I think TPM sets the stage beautifully. As much as I would have loved to see a full film devoted to the Clone Wars, the Star Wars saga has always excelled with the idea of “show a little, imply a lot.” The character of Boba Fett, for instance, was certainly more about mystique and build-up than he was about delivery. What TPM does so well is build a world that feels tangible and bruised to the point where you can believe it will descend into the madness that follows in AOTC and ROTS. My appreciation for Revenge knows no bounds, but I can’t deny that it owes a substantial debt to the groundwork that TPM lays.

  13. “But professing love for not only Episodes II and III, but that most indefensible of all films past, present and future, The Phantom Menace?! I’m either insane, an idiot, or both. Nearly seventeen years after its release, people are still foaming at the mouth with hatred for Episode I while a growing contingent of minority opinions rush tirelessly to the film’s defense.”

    Um dude the people who are foaming at the mouth are the idiots. They simply can’t accept the reality of TPM and the prequels being among the most successful movies of all time as in successful with the actual audience.

    You know like actual real people? The same who made TFA and the OT so successful. For whatever reason they can accept the one premise but not the other.

    Too bad for them. They are the minority and they don’t even realize it!

  14. TPM has a great story. I has a modicum of good scenes with some fine acting in places.

    Overall the film, along with the rest of the trilogy, suffer from poor directing, dialogue, pacing etc etc. Lucas (like Chris Carter) have great vision and creativity. They even made some good stuff along the way WITH HELP FROM OTHERS. When they decide to strike out on their own the batting average nose dives.

    A New Hope was edited by his wife, who made changes that helped made the film the iconic game changer it was. Lucas had input from many sources in the OT as I’m sure you are aware. This also includes American Graffiti.

    Then he became rich and famous and decided he wanted to run the prequels on is own….I rest my case.
    I don’t think the prequels are absolutely horrible but they are made by someone who cannot write dialogue to save his soul and has this propensity for changing his creations as often as I change my socks…He is also well known as a poor director as evidenced by many actor quotes who’ve worked with him over the years.

    Nice article but I totally disagree.

    • Thanks for writing, John, and I appreciate the compliment even if you disagree with me. Any filmmaking process is a collaborative one, and I don’t deny that Lucas has had some great collaborators. But he also had some terrific help on the prequels. He didn’t do it ALL on his own. Yes, he wrote and directed, and sure, some of the dialogue? Not so great. But a good film is more than dialogue. It’s even more than plot. I’d recommend checking out my post Keeping It Reel (https://oconnoblog.com/2014/04/15/keeping-it-reel/) where I argue that a film is SO much more than a recorded play.

      • Hey

        Yeah, Lucas had lots of help on the prequels but he was the headmaster/buck stops here as compared to his OT where two others directed the last two films and many of his ideas were removed or changed in ANH as I mentioned above. He complained a lot about that lack of control and then he got it and made the prequels.

        At any rate, the idea of symbiosis you bring up is a great one and it is a major theme surrounding the film. The story in this sense is good as I mentioned above as well. It’s the execution of the idea that is the problem.

        You mention Jar Jar as this bumbling fool who is essential to the plot..He is that but I can think of a much better example that was done properly and to much greater affect. Gollum. The ring would not have been destroyed if not for him. He is this nasty creature that the reader wonders why he is not killed or cast out many times before the end…but as you know, Gandalf feels he is an intricate player in the game and we shouldn’t judge him to hastily etc etc. Jar Jar is a Sunday cartoon character. He steps in shit and hits his head on things, bumps into this or that which creates a kind of a Goldberg machine of chaos…reminded me of a keystone cop routine.

        You bring up midi-chlorians and how they were misinterpreted as THE force. You are right but here is another problem imo; Why bring them up at all? To what purpose? They are an addition to the mythology and spiritual nature of the Force that needed no further understanding. We already know from ANH that the force is an energy that surrounds us an binds us (all living things). I can now imagine a new line of medicine that collects and grows these little creatures to transfuse them into those who want force powers…yeesh.

        I guess my only other response is to reiterate my initial post. The story was interesting and to borrow your phrase. A good film is not just a good story. It requires engaging and interesting characters, interesting and arresting ways to make them interact with one another. Actors that bring these characters to life and make you believe who they are pretending to be. A plot that does not confuse….anyway…Just as we all have our own opinions on most things, I would never dare to wish for everyone to think about things the same way. That would be a form of hell imo. 😉

        Cheers.

  15. Obi-Wan first introduces the concept in the underwater Gungan city, when he says to its leader, Boss Nass. “You and the Naboo form a symbiote circle,” he says. “What happens to one of you will affect the other.”

    On a character level, I feel like we shouldn’t undersell the importance of it being Obi-Wan who says this line. In a lat of ways he seems like Qui-Gon’s sidekick during this film, but latter while he’s still a Padawan Qui-Gon call him “Wiser then I”, and this scene is vital to making that more then just an informed trait. What Obi-Wan says is of course not something Qui-Gon is going to object too, but it was Obi-Wan who quickly put the words together and said them.

    Many complaints about the Politics of the Prequels are basically how haters wanted everything overepxlained. I for like that there is room for interpretation. Lucas agenda may have been Bernie Sanders, but I can still interpret the message of TMP in a far more Libertarian way then you have.

    • It’s funny you bring the politics into this, because I’m actually mulling a piece about that idea of interpreting these films through political lenses. Thanks for the great comment, and excellent observation about having Obi-Wan deliver this key line in the film.

  16. I wish your blog existed a few years ago, when I was still a student. Having based my academic dissertations and most of my essays on George Lucas, Star Wars, and Lucasfilm, it would have made a great source. On the other hand, I’m glad that I found out about your opinion after The Force Awakens…. (which I consider more or less a Hollywood fan film). It feels just right, as I am a long time fan of the prequels, their role in the Star Wars saga and the history/language of cinema – but I digress. Keep up with the good work!

    • Wow! That is high praise! Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment, Gianluca. I have been an enormous fan of the prequels and a devout defender since they were released. I’ve watched them so many times trying to understand the criticism and hatred they have received, and ultimately came to the conclusion that either I was insane or everybody else was.

      It’s been enormously gratifying to find other fans such as yourself and be able to connect over our shared love of these films. I’ve been amazed at all the incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, articulate people who are drawn to the prequels and can speak with such passion, wit, and expertise about all their interesting qualities and values. It’s an enormously welcoming fandom and a great bunch of really positive people; the haters have had their time in the spotlight and I think we’re due our opportunity to grace the stage.

  17. Hello! I’m here, finally, thanks to your link at the Prequel Appreciation Society. (Sorry it took me so long to come and respond!) I found myself nodding along quite often; I’d never really thought about symbiosis as a theme, but once you point it out, it does jump out. And it makes sense that it would be the theme for this film, which takes place earliest of all of them. We start with symbiosis (harmony) and then watch the breakdown of that relationship.

    I also love your introductory part about how vehement people’s reactions are to other people liking the SW prequels. It’s just STRANGE!

    • Hey Jayoungr! Really appreciate you checking this out and leaving your feedback. As you put it so well the “vehement” response to many fans’ appreciation of the prequel trilogy is a perplexing, troubling trend. The best and only way to defeat is it to keep putting ourselves out there and fighting all the negativity and hatred with positivity and appreciation for these films and their creator. It’s the prime reason why I started George Shot First; I couldn’t stand idly by any longer, and I knew that there were other fans out there like yourself who felt as strongly as I did.

    • Some peoples reactions are “strange” for sure but I think you find that in any segment of society. I think why people, like me, don’t like the films is pretty easy to ascertain. I’m not vehement about the prequels being bad I just say they are and point to several reasons why I think that. You can take it or leave…or we can have a discussion. The one overriding theme I do hear about those who like the film is one of a overreaching story arc of symbiosis as you say here. I get that and is something I can appreciate. I see it in a movie I rather enjoy, Prometheus. Another film that was widely panned but a great theme of Panspermia, God and the arrogance of trying to become one. I can also admit that there are pieces of that film that were not done well at all. Some of plot decisions were ridiculous and it is obvious some important details were edited out.

      I guess it just depends on whether the theme the prequels were attempting to tell erases the the more distracting problems such as direction and dialogue etc.

      • Ah, but “problems with direction and dialogue” are in the eye of the beholder. If more people could admit that, we wouldn’t be having these discussions.

        I’ve always been comfortable with a fair amount of theatricality in my theatre–I don’t demand strict naturalism, which is the main level on which the direction, dialogue, and acting of the prequels are frequently bashed. I think that going for a more stylized and mythic approach was not only a valid one, but the right one to achieve the effect Lucas was going for. I acknowledge that it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for me personally? It’s a feature, not a bug.

      • I’m not totally sold on them being entirely in the eye of the beholder. I think there are objective ways to identify wooden acting, let’s say from that which is not. I think it would not be that difficult to find you examples in Prometheus or the prequel’s of bad dialogue and acting. That doesn’t change ones view of the movies overall but I’ve never understood how one can say everything in a movie or book etc in entirely subjective.

      • Then how to you explain some people (like me) not being dissatisfied with the direction, dialogue, or acting?

        I’ve offered my own explanation. I think many people have an image in their heads of what constitutes “good acting,” and it’s based in naturalism. But although that is far and away the dominant style of acting seen in movies today, it’s not the only possible or acceptable style, and not even the best for all situations.

        It’s the same sort of thing that happens when people say J.R.R. Tolkien doesn’t create realistic or rounded characters. What they usually mean when they say this is that he doesn’t use the techniques of psychological realism that have been the dominant style of storytelling and widely considered the only type of “good writing” for the last hundred years or so.

  18. I just rewatched this movie, the first time with my kids, and I have to say I really enjoyed it this time! Jar Jar wasn’t nearly as grating as I remembered, and my kids growing enthusiasm as the film wore on brought me up too. I recommend anyone that hates it to watch it with a young first timer!

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