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Old May 25th, 2016, 05:24 PM
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The Phantom Menace: An Ever-Evolving Relationship

Being a Star Wars fan since I was consciously aware of its existence, I remember being absolutely floored when news broke that a new Star Wars film was in the works. Being five years old at the time, I was right at the age where I could start to appreciate just how cool Star Wars was, and the release of The Phantom Menace was the biggest moment of my life up until that point.

The thing I remember most about that time was the sheer vastness of the movie's merchandising campaign. I couldn't go a day without using some form of Phantom Menace licensed product. It was almost as if the merchandising execs hired Yogurt from Spaceballs to launch run The Phantom Menace campaign. Star Wars school supplies, Star Wars cereal, Star Wars themed math activity books, Star Wars shampoo and soap. As a young kid, all this stuff blew me away. And it was pretty cool.

When I went to actually see the movie, it was everything a five year old could have expected. Action, special effects, and laughs were the only things that really registered to me at the time, and in my opinion, this movie rocked. I couldn't understand what anybody was saying, or why they were doing what they did, but I liked it.

I held this opinion until my teenaged years, after the dust of the prequel trilogy had settled. By that point, my major focus when regarding a film was how well the plot worked. By now, I, for the most part, understood what was going on in The Phantom Menace, and I tried to justify it's legitimacy in a number of ways. It was still a pretty cool movie, right?

Well, after pondering what made the original trilogy good in the first place, the witty dialogue, the overarching themes, the general "fun-ness" of everything going on, I realized that The Phantom Menace simply didn't hold a light to these three movies. This was a movie I saw probably five times a year, for the last 10 years, and it sucked. I struggled to find a redeemable factor in it.

Now, this sentiment began to hold true for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but, while those movies also dominated a good chunk of my childhood, and were both better movies than the Episode I, coming to realize just how bad The Phantom Menace stung me more. It was as if a part of me was invalidated.

I remember seeing the movie Fanboys for the first time, and feeling terrible for the characters when they finally went to see the Phantom Menace. At that moment, Star Wars, a great and beautiful thing, would endure a wound that it still hasn't recovered from. The final line of Fanboys was "Guys, what if the movie sucks?" A question nobody was ready to answer.

It wasn't until I was in college when I discovered the Belated Media YouTube series based around the question "What if the Star Wars prequels were good?". (I'm pretty sure I first came across these videos somewhere on Heroscapers, actually.) After watching these videos, the case against the prequel trilogy was closed. I could never watch the prequels, movies that I loved as child, again.

Shortly thereafter, I read an article, (I probably first saw this on heroscapers as well) about Star Wars: Machete Order, or the best order in which to watch the Star Wars movies. The idea stated that, in order for a new viewer to best enjoy Star Wars, they should start with A New Hope then Empire Strikes Back, circle back and watch Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith then finish with Return of the Jedi. After pondering this much, I kinda liked it. The reasoning was sound, and it made the prequels a bit more accessible. Well, 2/3's of the prequels, anyways. The Phantom Menace was cut out of Machete Order altogether. Another crushing blow to a movie I once loved, but a move I agreed with, not giving it a second thought. The Phantom Menace did very little to move along the story, and would have bogged down an otherwise well-flowing story.

It was around this time that Disney purchased the Star Wars brand, and the new trilogy was announced. At this point the damage was done, so I approached this news, although not necessarily optimistically, with an "it can't get any worse" attitude. I'd go see the new movie, if I liked it I liked it, if not, oh well. Life goes on.

It wasn't until last year when my sentiment towards The Phantom Menace took an unlikely turn towards the positive. By this point, I hadn't seen the movie in years. However, a chance YouTube search led me towards discovering the true answer to the question, "Who really was the Phantom Menace?" Or so I thought.

The video, in a nutshell, hypothesized, using clips from the film, that the Phantom Menace wasn't Darth Sidious, Anakin, or Darth Maul, but Jar-Jar Binks. The video pointed towards a number of subtle hints that Jar-Jar was not a bumbling buffoon at all, but actually an incredibly manipulative Sith Lord. The evidence from the film made the theory at least plausible, and I began to piece everything together. Could it be possible that this character, one I loved as a child, then came to revile as I matured, was actually the most carefully crafted super-villian in the history of cinema? One that even most hard-core fans were clueless about? A cryptic tweet by actor Ahmed Best sold me on the theory. Jar-Jar was the Phantom Menace.

Or so I thought. I agree, and still agree that Jar-Jar was the Dark Lord behind everything in Star Wars. But was he really the Phantom Menace? Further meditation brought up another candidate for the title: Qui-Gon Jinn. Another of my childhood heroes.

Qui-Gon's status as the Phantom Menace revolves around his decision making abilities and his conveniently faulty Force powers . Few who watch Episode I with a critical eye can argue against the fact that Qui-Gon certainly is a menace. Here we have a Jedi Master, who within the first two minutes of the movie, fails to sense a major disturbance in the Force, dismissing his Padawan's accurate senses as a result of anxiety and a lack of focus. Not a good start, Qui-Gon.

Later in the film, when debating whether or not to land on Tatooine, the deciding factor ended up being that Tatooine was a Hutt planet, and Qui-Gon Jinn was looking for the Hutts. Huh? He's looking for a species of gangsters controlling all sorts of criminal enterprises including illegal spice trade, gambling, and slave trading. What he did with the Hutts, we never learn, but Qui-Gon's attitude towards them certainly doesn't make it appear that his "looking for the Hutts" has anything to do with bringing them to justice. What Jedi would be actively seeking them out? Strike Two.

Qui-Gon also doesn't seem to have the best relationship with the Jedi Council. He doesn't follow the code. We don't know exactly what that means, but it's obvious that there are things that Qui-Gon does, or doesn't do, that go against the Jedi Order. Also, we have to question his cavalier attitude towards kind of training, but not really training, Anakin behind the back of the council. What could be gained from this? And could he really keep the Jedi Council from finding out what he's doing? This also doesn't look good for Qui-Gon, especially when this kid becomes the focal point of behind the destruction of the Jedi a decade down the road.

Almost everything Qui-Gon does can be questioned in this movie, from deciding to keep Jar-Jar around, to agreeing the let Padme wander around Tatooine with him, to failing to recognize the danger that Anakin could be. Going into the second movie, we also learn that Count Dooku, a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side, was Qui-Gon's Jedi Master. Yet another indictment of Qui-Gon Jinn. The question is, did he know what he was doing. Can a Phantom Menace be a menace without knowing it?

I would argue yes, that Qui-Gon did not know what he was doing, and had a legitimate belief that his actions throughout the movie would eventually lead to the destruction of the Sith. He never sensed the disturbance that Obi-Wan felt at the begining of the movie, his business with the Hutts, while suspect, was minor in nature, and his dispute with the Jedi Council simply evolved from differentiating interpretations of good. His mistakes, although catastrophic, were honest. His intentions, although good, still pushed the first domino towards the galaxy falling into a prolonged period of war. He started it all by discovering Anakin. He was the catalyst. He was the menace. A phantom, not only to the people around him, but to himself. The Phantom Menace......

Another school of thought agrees that it is Qui-Gon Jinn whom the The Phantom Menace refers to, but Qui-Gon was deliberate in every action he took in the movie, knowing the chaos that the galaxy would fall into. If you watch the movie closely, and ponder some of the decisions made by Qui-Gon with the frame of mind that he was trying to do bad from the start, it lends some credibility to this idea. I think the first theory is stronger, but I can understand why some people would agree with this one as well. The only argument against this one is that Qui-Gon ultimately dies, but with his work done, does it matter?

The pursuit of the Phantom Menace has reinvigorated my love for the film, and the prequel trilogy as a whole. While structural issues and bad acting plagued all three of these movies, I've been captivated by the idea that George Lucas secretly added intricately hidden plot lines to what were ultimately disappointing movies. Sure, I still cringe at the endless trade dispute dialogue in Episode I, and the whole midi-chlorian thing was blasphemy. But, just the chance that The Phantom Menace purposely set up Jar-Jar to be the bad guy, or Qui-Gon Jinn to be the real Phantom Menace, makes it one of the more intriguing movies I've ever seen.

Well, this ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be, but I figured I'd share my thoughts, given the number of Star Wars fans I've seen here. This stuff probably isn't new to most fans, but since it has completely changed my perception of the prequels, I figured it was worth sharing. I hope you enjoyed!

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Old May 25th, 2016, 06:13 PM
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Re: The Phantom Menace: An Ever-Evolving Relationship

I don't hate the prequel trilogy as much as most folks do, although they certainly aren't by any stretch of the imagination objectively good movies (there's over 4 hours of Mr. Plinkett reviews on YouTube explaining why in excruciating detail--I suggest checking those out if you've got the time (mature content)). The biggest problem with them is that what's good or even deep about them is completely muddled in so much bad acting and directing and nonsensical plots.

Anyhow, I'll get to the point of yours I find the most intriguing: Qui-Gon. He's a very underrated character that occupies a type of individual very rarely seen in the Star Wars movies--that being a more gray-area character.

Although he is definitely a good guy, there's a reason why Qui-Gon isn't on the Jedi Council. His willingness to deviate from their code, his frequent use of his Jedi Mind Trick, etc. makes him a very different type of "old sage" character compared to Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. Yes, the council predicted that Anakin was dangerous, but Palpatine could've destroyed the Jedi with or without him (sure, Anakin stopped Samuel L Jackson from killing Palpatine but he was the one who informed him of Palpatine's true nature in the first place).

Anyway, the character of Qui-Gon hadn't been seen before until then, so I'm glad I got to see him, just like I was glad to see Finn as a type of character that hadn't been done before in The Force Awakens. And I find it unfortunate that Liam Neeson wasn't in more movies, but I digress.

Speaking of Force Awakens, I'm curious to see what kinds of themes they explore there in future movies. Or maybe they'll play it super-safe. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we.

~TAF, sorry for wasting your time

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