Movie: Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace

I haven’t even made it through the opening scrolling text things, and already I have the movie paused. Something just isn’t right.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away….

Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.

Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockage of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.

While the Congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA. Are you freakin’ kidding me? If I have to keep pausing this thing in order to write loooog things, it’s going to take all weekend to watch this movie.

OK, let’s start with the easy ones.

1. “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.” Hmm. Where have we heard that one? That happens all the time in the US — people don’t like the taxes, or how they are implemented, or their rate of taxation, or whatever. Sometimes, the people get all crazy from the heat and do things like throw tea in the harbor, when they don’t like the taxation and what it brings them in the form of representative government. Opinions on taxation are a lot like asshole — everyone’s got one, and generally speaking, you should keep your to yourself, but if yours is giving you angst or discomfort, you probably need to go see someone about it — a doctor, a congressman, even the Supreme Chancellor.

Do you need to go get a beer or something? Use the bathroom? Because, as Theron says in 300, “This will not be over quickly.”

Get it on!
Alright, so where were we? Oh yes — the opening text. The first sentence in the opening text. Yikes.

2. “Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockage of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.” Who the hell is our narrator to start slinging mud and calling people names? If that how his momma raised him? The Trade Federation looks, smells and acts like an entity based upon business principles. And yes, that means minimizing expenses and maximizing profits. Do you call your dog a greedy oxygen thief just for breathing?

And, I gotta add — if it’s Trade Federation shipping that is carrying the stuff to Naboo, and they are doing it because they choose to do it (vs. someone else is doing it, or it’s being done not by choice i.e. public buses), I think they’re pretty much free to do whatever the fuck they want, thank you very much, Galactic Empire. I am going to assume throughout this that no one is making the Trade Federation trade, that they choose to do it, and that money and financial reward drives them as individuals and as an organization.

If the Galactic Republic’s taxation system, for example, keeps the missions to Naboo or elsewhere as unprofitable, I think we’d all see the financial bottom like and would understand the need to stop them. Any student of history — no, probably any student — has read of system that have failed because of excessive taxation, to include the American colonies. If the Galactic Republic decided that those missions to Naboo or elsewhere were critical, there are things that it, as a government, could presumably do — adjust the tax rates, to make doing it more attractive; amend laws, requiring it; offering subsidies to other firms, to get them to do it; etc.

But bad, bad form on the part of Mr. Narrator. Greedy — sheesh.

3. “While the Congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict.” Whoa, whoa, whoa — the Supreme Chancellor can’t handle the fact that the Congress is a bureaucratic swamp? Wow, yeah – because the Galaxy has never seen a Congress that was a bureaucratic swamp before. So he secretly sends Jedi Knights? Uh, yeah — the Galactic Republic has been a successful republic for — I kid you not — 25,000 years. And suddenly it’s not OK, according to the Supreme Chancellor, because he knows better about trade di?

Something ain’t right here, folks. Sounds like this is an issue for the Congress — otherwise, there’d be no secret anything. Congress needs to deal with this situation, not Mr. Fancy Pants Supreme Chancellor.

And not be dispatching two GSG20’s to go “solve” the problem. What are they, his cleaners? His hitmen? Are they going to go capture “suspects” and then submit them to waterboarding? This whole things smells of questionable legality — and the Jedi Knights are at the center of it?

The Jedi suck. How the hell can they be “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy” if they have to go on secret missions to do it? Mr. Meany Narrator manages to say opposite things in the same sentence — Jedi’s going on secret missions, oh, but their the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. Ahem — bullshit!

And do you wan to take a stab at what “settle” means in this case? The problem is taxation. The solution is to send thugs? Do they have the authority to tinker with the economics of the Republic? Can they offer economic incentives, or a stimulus package to the region?

If I was one of these two Jedi Knights, and my boss came to me and said, “Hey, the Trade Federation and / or others have a beef with the taxation on the trade routes, and the Trade Federation has parked some battleships near Naboo and has stopped all shipping to Naboo. Go fix it” I am sure my response would be something along the lines of, “Say again all after ‘Hey’. You’re coming in broken up and stupid.”

Because really, what the hell can Jedi Knights do about this? I can think of three things.

A. Diplomacy. But shit, anyone can do that. Am I missing something, or is that not their super-strength area? I’d guess that they’d have about as much luck as anyone else — and, seeing that it’s risen to this level, I think some guy of the street, even if he is a Jedi Knight, isn’t going to come up with some solution all by himself just by talking. Jedi can’t solve this with diplomacy.

B. Use that Jedi mind trick thing. Which, if you think about it, would soooo not work in a case like this. You think one way, but I’m going to some in and make you think something else. The situation hasn’t changed. The problem is still there. Everyone else still sees the problem and the situation the same, just not you. Problem? Not solved.

C. Cutting off some heads or something. The Soviets you to go and find the families of hijackers, cut off their digits, and deliver them to the hijackers. Hijackers usually didn’t mess with the Soviets. But I’m guessing that the Jedi Knights can’t do these types of black ops — after all, they are “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy.” Could they be used for some direction action / violence against some key target in the Trade Federation? Sure, I guess. But they’d be fools to risk that cool title of theirs (the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy), and likely would not resolve the overall issue of the dispute over the taxation of the trade routes.

As the series grows, it becomes apparent that Queen Amidala represents actual diplomatic capabilities. Looking back, the Supreme Chancellor would have done better to have sent someone like her, instead of his two thugs.

So, there you have it — over 1200 words, and I managed to make it through the scrolling text at the beginning of the movie. Let’s move on, quickly, because I’m starting to wonder some more just what the Supreme Chancellor thinks it means to “settle the conflict” when so far, before he has dispatched his Jedi Knights, it’s been referred to as a dispute (not a conflict) over the taxation of the trade routes. The more I think about it, the more it seems that the blockade is only going to become a conflict because the Supreme Chancellor is sending two guardians of peace and justice to bust heads and start fighting. No one is calling it a conflict except the guy dispatching secret assassins. Thanks, Karl Rove.

OK, on to the movie.

Scene one? Trade Federation guy asserts what we all are suppose to know — the blockade of Naboo is legal.

Bwaaaaa ha ha ha ha!

The Trade Federation is doing something that is permitted under law but is causing problems. Congress is looking into it. And in the meantime, the Supreme Chancellor has dispatched two ninjas.

Uh, yeah — remind me again, but why are the Jedi Knights seen as the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy.

Oh, and our Jedi Knights aren’t traveling as Jedi Knights. They announce their arrival is being ambassadors for the Supreme Chancellor. WTF is that all about? This whole mission for the Jedi Knights something like something more out of VP Cheney’s office than a mission for the honorable knights, right?

What cracks me up is the response from the Trade Federation guys when the learn that the two Ambassadors are in fact Jedi Knights. You might as well have told them that Chuck Norris was outside, waiting to have a word with them. Or that Hannibal Lecter was asking if they’re care to join him as lunch. Or if Senator Edwards….. Well, you get the idea.

The Jedi Knights are set up as being these righteous guys, ones who can do no wrong, ones always on the side of right. Ones to superior to the rest of us, thanks to the Force, that they represent perfect perfection. But right away, as the movie opens, their actions, and their reception by others who know of them, show us that the description of them from Mr. Narrator Man does not match the reality of the Galaxy.

It’s not a good day when Jedi show up at your door, but a bad day.

if you told me that Chuck Norris was coming over to help me resolve my problem, say, with the city over a parking ticket, I’d cheer – he’d probably help bring some logic and reason to the discussions, and would help see that the best solution is reached, best for all parties involved.

And if Jedi were coming over? Oh, shit — lock the door. Get a gun. They might be described as being the good guys, but really, they’re perceived as being boogie men.

Which becomes all the more apparent when we learn that the Jedi Knights have come with a list of demands from the Chancellor.

Oh, that’s good. Because disputes are often best settled with demands, delivered by thugs.

I sat that in a very off handed manner, but it really is true. One of the things we talk about in the military is conflict. Violence and combat is a part of some conflicts, but not all, and (I would hope) all of us think that a dispute properly solved with words is better served than by a solution that unnecessarily includes violence. It’s better to talk, than to fight.

take, for example, this situation and overlay it onto a neighborhood in Sadr City, just outside of Baghdad. The central government is imposing taxes, but not at a level that is in balance with the economics of the region. Adjusting taxes and massaging the economy is a tricky thing — ask Alan Greenspan about that one when you see him next. Anyway, in this case, the Trade Federation might be represented by Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr is (legally) cutting off trade into Sadr City, in an effort to force the government to come up with a better solution to the taxation. Is the answer to send hitmen to see Al Sadr with demands from the central government? Probably not — that would likely only cause violence to start, at a time when it had been a peaceful dispute.

So, yeah. Demands. Way to go, Jedi Knights. You guys are tools. They show up, the Trade Federation sees their being sent as ambassadors as a clear attack on the Trade Federation (they think they’re all going to die — the Jedi Knight have an impressive reputation, just below that of Chuck Norris), and they order the launching of their troops / mercenaries to Naboo.

Congratulations, Supreme Chancellor — you have a conflict.

It’s so sad, it’s almost comical. Almost right out of Spies Like Us.

It’s actually kind of sad to see the Jedi Knights open up their Big-Gulp sixed can of whoop ass. The Trade Federation blows up their ship in its bay, which somehow the Jedi sense / learn / whatever. The Trade guys then try to gas them and attack them with droids, thinking that’d be enough.

It’s not. The Jedi go on a rampage, or at least act in a manner that can be seen as going on a rampage. Sure, they might say that they were just defending themselves, but come on — they’re Jedi Knights. Why use a light saber, when they can use those mind tricks of theirs to disable others? Noooo, they’re all about the killing.

Now a quick word about the battle droids. Actually, a quick word about any robot that can make violence.

They need to hit exactly what they aim for, and to fire / attack only when there is only a 100% chance of hitting exactly what they aim for.

There shouldn’t even be debate on this. It kills me to see this in films — like this movie, and like this entire series — with robots firing all willy-nilly and hitting everything but their target.

I understand that humans do this, too. When it comes to attacking, we suck. Not even open for debate on that one, either. But the robots we build? Nope. They need to be entirely accurate. Which is going to be amazingly difficult, I know.

I don’t want to have to go to some mother and explain to her that her child was killed because our robot missed. I definitely don’t want to have to explain that our robot chose her child as the target instead, by accident, but I still don’t want to explain a missed target.

And in this movie, they miss too much. Waaaaaay too much.

(Oh, look at that — over 2300 words, and I’m seven fucking minutes into the movie. Sweet Mary, Mother of God — help out on this one, k?)

OK, the Jedi Knights are thugs. They’re also not that bright. The Trade Federation is preparing their response — sending troops to Naboo — and what do the Jedi Knights think when they learn this?

Wow, that’s an odd response from the Trade Federation.

Holy crap, guys. You come on a secret mission, claiming to be ambassadors while hiding your Jedi Knight status, to deliver demands to the Trade Federation Viceroy. And you didn’t think it conceivable that it might not go over well?

Oh, Jedis, Jedis, Jedis. Did you sleep in school?

Now. The Trade Federation, and their attack. What’s their top priority? Cut off all communications coming out of Naboo.

Attaboy, Viceroy! Excellent choice. When you’re beating up another kid on the playground at school, be sure to hold your hand over the mouth, to keep them from screaming and from attracting the attention of the teachers.

But I have to ask – why are you sending ground troops? What are you hoping to get out of this invasion? Surely you’ve thought this through, right? You’re doing it for a reason?

The Supreme Chancellor sent Jedi Knights to kill you, you think and you respond by sending troops to Naboo. Now, granted, the Republic itself does not have an Army, but why send troops to Naboo?

Overthrow the government there? Change the taxes they give you for shipping? OK< we do learn that it's to get the Queen to sign a treaty, to give better terms to the Trade Federation. But, when she slips away, they don't think to declare her dead, install a puppet regime / Coalition Provisional Authority, and get someone else to sign away all of their rights and their economic future. Newsflash, Trade Federation: You're no Haliburton. I’m not sure you have what it takes to run a whole planet — and a planet that is compartmented, as we learn later in the film thanks to Jar Jar Binks. Overthrowing the government of Queen Hottie will not necessarily get you control of the whole planet — or do you even need that?

“A communications disruption can mean only one thing: invasion.” I looooove this line, spoken by one of the Queen’s peeps. They’re all gathering in a ring, doing that hologram video conference thing with Senator Palpatine (of Naboo), when the link drops.

I love it because I’ve used video conferences things around the world, and the damn things always drop out. And when the communications are disrupted, it have NEVER meant invasion. Never. Ever. But it’s a great quote, one I try to remember to use any time we love a video conference link. “Well, clearly this can only mean one thing: invasion.”

Now, about the physics. Have you taken a look at the ships we humans on Earth use to go into and out of space? Pointy. With winds, to fly. And made of hard stuff, because coming back into the atmosphere is a pretty violent event.

And in this movie? Space ships that come in and out of Naboo’s atmosphere look more like hammerhead sharks. What’s up with that? We’re suppose to believe that those things can survive re-entry from space? They don’t even look like they can fly, must less hover. They look like beautiful boat anchors more than they look like vehicles that can take to the sky. What the hell is propelling their movement? Cheesy Poofs?

Later on, the Jedi Knights take a ship and fly off. And, of course, they take a ship that needs uncommon repair parts, which bites them in the ass later. Common platforms, using common parts, makes repairs and sustainment easier. And when you’re leaking fuel from your hyperdrive, it’s best to head to someplace with a reasonable expectation of having what you need — and maybe not to someplace described as remote, small and out of the way. Because, as we learned with this one, they get there and can’t easily get out.

Oh, and the ships. And physics. You can either use force, to push up against gravity, or use force to push forward in order to use wings to give you lift to keep you off of the ground. Think hovercraft vs. airplane. And yeah, just about every craft in this movie uses neither.

And that bugs the shit out of me.

And more silliness? The Jedi Knights go into the water with Jar Jar, wearing all of their clothes, including their heavy and long coats. Sure, they have their little SCUBA adapters in their mouths, but really, swimming with that much on sucks. Jedi Knights — maybe not all that bright.

Oh, and it takes like 2 minutes to swim down to the hidden city. How hidden is that? Later, it’s going to take 40 minutes for them to get out of there. But it takes just 2 to get there. 2, if that. Oh, and somehow the Force will guide them through the core of the planet.

The Jedi Knights, once on the planet, realize that they must warn the Naboo. Of what, I have no idea, because the invasion has already started and or happened. Maybe they need to warn the Naboo that it was their fault.

Nah. They’d never do that.

But they think they need to warn Queen Hottie’s people. So they go underwater, where the Naboo are not. Yeah, that makes sense. I think I need to go buy sterile bandages, so I go stand in the middle of a corn field. If they went underwater to get away from the landing troops, well, I’ve got a little secret to share with you, Jedi Knights — they’ll still be there when you come out of the water. Hiding in the kiddie pool doesn’t really solve anything, just as delivering demands didn’t really solve anything.

Now, about the Queen. On the one hand, she seems so very out of touch, so distant, so detached. On the other hand, she is elected and only serves for a finite term. Which is cool. I love her outfits. I always suspected that Karl Rove use to run around the White House, late at night, dressed the same.

OK, some more about stupid Jedi thinking.

When they land on the planet, Obi-wan is left with the ship. Make sure they send no transmissions, he’s told. If they send a transmission, the bad guys might detect it and figure out where they are hiding.

Which is fine. Except that you have the two Jedi Knights, operating at different locations on the planet, sending transmissions back and forth. While I understand that their concerns might be about interplanetary interception of their messages, they’re idiots for overlooking that yes, even those cell-phone like calls that they are making on the planet can at least be detected, if not identified. No transmissions really should mean no transmissions.

Now, about the slaves.

When we meet Anakin, he’s a slave boy to a slave woman. They live outside the law and order of the Galactic Empire. And yes, slavery is OK.

Now, I have to ask. When is it OK? On our planet, we have one species that walks and talks and rules all others. But across the Galaxy, there are countless ones with those capabilities. On our planet, as the only species that walks and talks and stuff, we have other domesticated animals that, really, can be viewed as our slaves.

With the supremacy of The Force, of those who have it, and of the wide range of walking and talking species, could the day come when humans from Earth could be relegated to a role similar to that played by dogs today? After all, everyone is amazed that little Anakin can race a pod — because that’s outside the range of expectations for his species.

I dunno. I know that we think of our species as the end all, be all, but there could be a time and a place when we are not. We’d go through a pretty big shift in our paradigm them, for sure.

And it’s strange, that slavery is not OK, but gambling is.

Now, a few words about the Sith. Why would anyone think that all is in order, all in balanced, when there are bunches of Jedi but no Sith?

And when there can only be two Sith, why does everyone seem so amazed that they were able to go underground and hide from the Jedi for so long? I mean, really — how many humanoids are there in the Galaxy? We’re talking two — one, two.

If the Force is so strong, in the Jedi and in the Sith, why aren’t they better at some of the things that they do? Darth Maul, for example, lands on the planet but has no idea where the other are. Shouldn’t the Force be able to tell him where they are? After all, it does all that “disturbance in the Force” and “Force is strong in this one” stuff at other points, why not here when he needs to find those in whom the Force is strong? He ends up having to send out robot droids to go search for them — which is, as I see it, a failure for the Force.

Anakin. Am I the only one to pick up on the whole messianic theme? His mother claims it was an immaculate conception – there was no father. When Qui-Gon Jinn finds him, he assesses that the Force runs unusually strong through him — very Jesus like.

But it’s the whole immaculate conception stuff that set of buzzers and bells for me. And the talk of the prophecy, of the one who will bring balance to the Force.

And here’s one more thing I really don’t get. At some point, the Jedi Council talk about how the Sith — the dark side — has not existed for thousands of years. But, even knowing that, Yoda warns that pain / fear turns you to the dark side. In essence, fly straight and narrow, or you’ll become a bad guy, a Sith. Even though there haven’t been any for thousands of years. That doesn’t really make any sense — not what I wrote, but the logic of Yoda and the other Jedi Knights. Really, they don’t want Anakin because he worries about his mother. But with what we see from the Jedi Knights in this movie, of their actions, their reputations, their willingness to do things that clearly seem to be wrong, I think Anakin’s mother should be the least of their worries.

And while we’re talking about her — Anakin’s mother. Could the turning point in this entire series be when Qui-Gon Jinn decides not to press for the freedom on Anakin’s mother? Her later death caused huge changes across the Galaxy, and her death was tied back to Qui-Gon Jinn no pushing for her release. If he had, if she had been freed and had left with them too, things might have been different for the galaxy.

So, yeah — way to go, Qui-Gon Jinn. Ye another Jedi Knight screw up. Any reason why the Force couldn’t have helped you make a better decision on that one? Obi-Wan talked earlier in the film, about how Master Yoda had told him to carefully listen to what the Force would tell him about the future, but Qui-Gon Jinn had said to focus on the now. Which was obviously bad advice, when you look at the impact of his bad decision about Anakin’s mother.

Also, about R2D2. When this movie came out, I read a piece that talked about R2D2 being the thread that holds together all six movies. But i have to ask — would a droid really last that long?

When we meet R2D2, Anakin is a boy, just 9 years old. At the time of the last Star Wars movie, Anakins kids are grown themselves. So, let’s see — Anakin became a father around 24, maybe, and Luke and Leia are maybe the same age at the end of Return of the Jedi. The super-nerds say it was 36 years, if that helps. It doesn’t really matter. My point is: Would he have lasted that long? If he did, wouldn’t he had gotten some upgrades, some benefits from science and technology?

There are some things in this movie — and in the others, too — that I could have used without. The pod racing, for example. I understand that the story needed some vehicle for Anakin to show his Forceness, and to facilitate his freedom. I understand. But the pod racing was a gimmick that, when I first saw it, seemed to only be a gimick for setting up a video game tie in. There were so many other ways this could have been done, and been done better. Yes, it’s racing, which is good, but it’s NASCAR racing, which sucks.

Pod Racing

And Jar Jar Binks. What a gimmick. I know that the intent was for him to provide comic relief, but I just don’t like the character. Annoying. Insulting. Give me someone more interesting and that can provide comic relief.

I would have a Gungan “sacred place” actually be in water, where they live. Having it out of the water seems a bit, um, stupid.

Also, not that I would do without but maybe under the title of “I would do differently” — having General Zod as the Supreme Chancellor. OK, so actually I mean Terence Stamp. For me, and for a lot of others out there who are old, he will always be the main bad dude from the early Superman movies.

In this movie, hands down, Queen Amidala is my favorite character. Ok, sure — she’s hot. But she is also the most logical of the characters, and she may be the only one in the Galaxy who seems to understand the issues at hand. A smokin’ hot momma who is logical and applies reason to things. And she has great hair. But if you listen to her words, to things like her speech to the Senate, she’s a pretty sharp cookie. Not sure how she ended up with Anakin, but hey, that’s her weakness.

And, as an Army guy, I have to comment on the Napoleonic nature of the big battle at the end. A big, wide open plain, with lots of fields for fighting, away from the population centers. Perfecting fighting, for the old Western ways. And the plan to capture the Trade Federation Viceroy? Classic center of gravity assessment — take the Viceroy, and you have taken the Trade Federations ability to fight. Deny him to the Trade Federation, and they cannot regroup and the fight will be over. Of course, going by foot up through the waterfall to the palace grounds, up a few thousand feet in elevation, should take a good long while; they do it in no time at all. But, none the less, the bulk of the fighting take places on this big open field.

Because, you know, no on fights like that today. No one has fought like that since, well, Napoleon.

And, yes, for the record, I would say that the power supplies for the shield are the COG for the Gungan. Take them out, and deny them to the Gungan, and they can fight no more.

And lastly, a question about midi-chlorians. You know, those micro-organisms in them all through which the Force exists. The the TV show The 4400, tey deal with similar things. But someone came up with a synthetic version, and started to hand it out to everyone, boosting their levels.

What would have happened in Star Wars if someone had come up with a synthetic midi-chlorians, something that could have been given to everyone? The Force would have flown as strongly through them all as it did through Darth Vader. Boy, that would have really screwed things up, huh?

Or would it? If the Force is God, as George Lucas and others have assessed, what would it mean if everyone could be supercharged with midi-chlorians?

Alright — 5100 is enough.

4 thoughts on “Movie: Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace

  1. Um, “long time ago…” Maybe Napoleon got his playbook from these guys. They don’t fight like today because it isn’t happening today.

    But I do totally agree that the whole balance in the universe thing would mean the yin yang of Jedis AND Sith, not one or the other. The first two seasons of Babylon 5 allude to this as the “good guys” fought the Shadow Warriors. The Shadows were supposedly bad, but they were just advocating that everyone do their own thing — like anarchy. The Vorlons were mentoring the good side, but they were totally controlling and manipulative. So, peace without freedom, or freedom without peace? Which is the good and which is the bad?

  2. Somewhere, school teachers are shaking their heads and wondering if you put this much effort into assignments a long time ago, in a Catholic school system far, far away.

  3. On, they’re not shaking their heads. The know the answer to that one — nope. Not even close. Had no interest in school, but I do have an interest in movies and, these days, in trying to be a better writer.

    See, if they’d asked me back then to blog….

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