Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Padmé Amidala, and the Lack of Focus

It’s been nearly sixteen years since The Phantom Menace first came out—sixteen years! God, I’m old—and there is no shortage of negative critiques for this movie online. But now that Episode VII has been announced, I decided it was time to go back and revisit the prequels. While the Star Wars prequels are some of my favorite movies, they are very poorly written, and that’s especially true for Episode I. The Phantom Menace could be removed from the story entirely with the series losing very little, since the movie comes across more as a prequel to the other two prequels instead of as the first part of a trilogy. Nothing much of importance happens in Episode I—Palpatine becomes chancellor and Anakin and Padmé meet during an unexplored conflict about a trade blockade—and the story also has a distinct lack of focus. It’s not until Episode II that the Clone Wars begin and our main conflict gets going.

Padme Amidala Episode INot only is Episode I’s plot all over the place, but we wind up with four potential main characters. While this is not necessarily a problem, it becomes a problem when a movie doesn’t know what it’s doing. As a result, none of these characters are particularly developed, and it’s hard to tell which character is supposed to be the main character.

Out of all four of them, though, Padmé is probably the most interesting character, and her story arc has a lot more potential that everyone else’s. She’s a young, naïve queen, fighting for the liberation of her people, while at the same time trying to reconcile this need for violence with her own personal pacifistic beliefs. Or at least, that would be the case, had her character been better written, and had she been intended to be the main character. Regardless of what the writers wanted when they wrote this episode, Padmé is more connected to the plot than any other character, and she’s also the one with clear motivations we can relate to. What this means is that The Phantom Menace is potentially the first Star Wars movie with a female lead.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Star Wars, Prophecies, and Bringing Balance to the Force

The Force and whether or not it’s balanced has always been a central part of the Star Wars mythos. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the Force—sometimes referred to as the Way in ancient times—was a field of energy created by all living things. In the prequels, we discover that this energy field actually came about by microscopic organisms called midi-chlorians living in people’s bloodstreams. Someone who had a lot of midi-chlorians was called Force-sensitive, and they could interact with the Force to perform amazing feats—telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, and more.

The Old Republic SithNaturally, different religious factions came about, with different beliefs about the Force and how best to use it. One of the main tenets was that the Force needed to be balanced, and according to prophecy, that balance could only be brought about by a Chosen One. This Chosen One prophecy ended up being a central part to the prequel universe, and it was something about Star Wars that I was always interested in exploring more. Unfortunately, the prequels never explain to us what the prophecy is, the Chosen One’s role in it, or what balancing the Force even means.

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Magical Mondays: The Force

The_Force_handsScience fiction and fantasy seem to be divided by a pretty definitive line. Science fiction deals in advanced technology that either doesn’t exist yet, such as interplanetary travel on massive levels, or seems to be completely impossible given what we currently understand about science, like Stargates. We suspend our disbelief and for a brief period of time allow for the possibility of the seemingly impossible. Fantasy also requires our suspension of disbelief for another seemingly impossible matter, one that is generally more fantastical that scientific. On top of that, magic is normally an unexplainable construct within a universe, and its existence is usually simply accepted without any kind of reasoning as to why it’s there. That tends to be the purpose of the fantastical. We suspend our disbelief for it, and though we like to learn how it works, we don’t need its existence defined.

This distinction, however, is not always clear cut, and it has resulted in some debate over which category Star Wars falls into. On the one hand, though it takes place “a long time ago”, the setting is still a futuristic society with advanced technology and space travel. On the other hand, the story still utilizes some fantastical elements in how it presents its technology—lightsabers, the Death Star, etc.

Light doesn’t bend like this. Sorry.

Light doesn’t bend like this. Sorry.

But probably most fantastical is the Force. Because of this, I would classify Star Wars as science fantasy, since it has elements of both. I mean, let’s face it; the Force is essentially just magic.

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