Tuesday, May 19, 2015

31 Day Star Wars Challenge, Day 19: Favorite Scene in The Phantom Menace

Via Star Wars Wiki
Oh, The Phantom Menace, how I do love you, despite the extreme disappointment that you were. Kind of like Matrix Reloaded, I walked in, prepared to be wowed by the mind of one of my major creative influences, and left feeling like I'd just watched an entire movie of occasional (somewhat boring) action sequences spliced between talking heads. Does that mean I didn't enjoy it? Well, not at first, obviously, since my nerd rage had erupted, but once I sat down and watched it several more times, I found myself appreciating a lot about it, in particular one scene that ended up being ruined by the third movie.

When Nute Gunray is tricked by Queen Amidala's decoy, I felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie. A superior force was outwitted by a much smaller, less advanced one by using one of the oldest ruses in the books. (I mean, yeah, Keira Knightley kind of looks like Natalie Portman in the queen's makeup, but I guess all humans look the same to the Neimoidians.) Amidala utilizes her royal decoys* to the utmost potential, which shows her intelligence and adaptability as a leader, and she is able to end the occupation with very few casualties.

Of course, she abandoned her pacificism in order to accomplish this, but here's the thing: this has everything to do with Lucas' inability to create characters in the prequels. Leia was a bigwig within the Rebellion, the adopted daughter of one of its founders, and she shows it. Her strength and leadership ooze out of her in every scene, and even though the original trilogy was Luke's story, Leia has agency and frequently takes situations into her own hands, starting from the first time she meets her rescuers in A New Hope to choosing to hop on the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi to pursue the stormtrooper. We are able to see her character arc throughout the three original films. But with Padme, her mother, is, just like her decoys, a plot device that is shown to be inconsistent. After resolving the Trade Federation blockade with guns and Gungans, she goes all "aggressive negotiations" (at which I groaned in the theater) after spending the first part of Attack of the Clones supposedly campaigning against such actions, only to return to "OMG guys, let's give peace a chance" by the time Revenge of the Sith comes around. Based on her own activities, Padme is a pragmatist when forced to be, but her idealized self is that of a pacifist. But none of this is ever touched upon in the movies; it's not really even inferred. We are supposed to care about Anakin's path to Darth Vaderdom, so she takes a backseat to him and is basically a cardboard cutout with tear ducts.

Shit, at least I have this scene.


* The decoys are something I wish was delved into more in The Phantom Menace. Obviously, you don't want to overuse that sort of thing, but the decoy seemed, like so much else in the prequels, just to be a plot point instead of a person that was dedicated to the queen. The book version does a much better job of giving the decoys names and reasons for being what they are, so you should definitely check it out. 
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