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I suppose most of us knew that Qui-Gon wasn't going to make it through Episode I. He obviously wasn't still around during the original trilogy, and it seemed unlikely he would survive long enough to start training Anakin when we knew that Obi-Wan took on that task instead.

So when he and Obi-Wan have this heartfelt exchange right before the final battle, we know it's leading up to their final separation. And what a poignant, bittersweet moment it becomes. Qui-Gon might only be in one movie, but his influence on Obi-Wan will affect every important choice his Padawan makes thereafter.

I appreciate how Obi-Wan initiates, how he offers an apology for his previous criticisms about Anakin. You can see it still stings him that Qui-Gon is ready to move on to another Padawan (I mean, the guy was ready to just drop Obi-Wan then and there in favor of Anakin, in front of the entire Council!) but Obi-Wan recognizes that his behavior was childish and not befitting a Jedi. And he expresses his gratitude for Qui-Gon's faith in him. Qui-Gons's response proves that he wasn't just claiming that Obi-Wan was ready for the trials so he could get him out of the way and move on to Anakin, just in case anyone was wondering. He offers Obi-Wan warm, unreserved praise.

"I foresee you will become a great Jedi Knight."

This is another place where Episode I's status as a prequel makes everything so much more meaningful. Obi-Wan will be a great Jedi indeed -- and one of the very last of the old order. He will also blame himself at least partially for Anakin's fall to the Dark Side, and live much of his later years in exile. He will not be the Jedi who saves the galaxy and brings Anakin back to the light, though he plays in a part in teaching the one who does. Qui-Gon's life ends in tragedy, but Obi-Wan will live through worse and worse tragedies every day, for years upon years.

And this scene will have its counterpart in Episode III, in the final exchange between Obi-Wan and his own former apprentice before everything falls into darkness. Obi-Wan, too, offers Anakin effusive praise and encouragement, but for Anakin, already tormented by nightmares of Padmé's death and the pernicious lies planted in his mind by Palpatine, it is not enough. The contrast with the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan scene makes it all the more painful.

Next time, the powerful words that will bridge two peoples and ultimately win a war...
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It is clear to me now that the reasons I enjoy Star Wars are vastly different from the reasons many others enjoy Star Wars. They perceived the prequels as some sort of dramatic departure, or even betrayal, of what makes Star Wars Star Wars. I saw them as a natural extension of what already existed. They hate the very concept of midichlorians. I love it.

"They continually speak to us, telling as the will of the Force."

Earlier in the film, midichlorians are mentioned but not explained. We know only that their presence indicates something important to the Jedi, that Anakin's count is higher even than the great Master Yoda, and that Qui-Gon suspects the boy might have even been conceived by midichlorians. But now, with a simple question from Anakin, he explains their meaning. And I just love this scene, because it demonstrates Qui-Gon's patience and teaching ability, his gentle smiles and clarifications as Anakin looks more and more bewildered and incredulous. ("They live inside me" has a great wait, is this guy completely nuts??? kind of delivery.) It shows us what might have been, if only Qui-Gon had survived to be Anakin's master. Now there's no more mystery, and we understand the Force like any other mundane scientific principle.

Or not.

People complained the concept was too "science-y" and removed all the mysticism of the Force. I could counter that communing with unseen lifeforms with a sort of bond that must be felt rather than intellectually understood is just about as mystical as you can get. But I'm not going to focus on contentious arguments and counter-arguments. Instead, I'm going to explore why I love this addition to the Star Wars mythos and why it makes perfect sense, to me, as a logical extension of existing lore.

Again we have the preeminent theme of symbiosis, life forms living in harmony so they can derive mutual advantage from each other. There are planet-sized symbiont circles as seen with the Gungans and humans on Naboo, but there are also symbiont circles at the smallest microscopic level, in every living cell. It's beautiful.

Now, for the record, even though there's a strong mystical/magical/fantasy element to midichlorians, I'm perfectly happy with their scientific association. Biology is a rational realm of study, but it still fills me with a sense of awe and wonder. The name of midichlorians is obviously a reference to the real-world mitochondria, which perform the essential cellular task of metabolizing energy -- and which, far back in the evolutionary process, might have been a separate life form that engaged in symbiosis with larger organisms and ultimately became so entwined in their processes that it merged into a permanent organelle. Amazing, right? And that's hardly the only example of microscopic symbiosis. Our digestive system is an entire miniature ecosystem for microbes, and we've only just begun to explore the nature of our relationship with that vast network of symbionts, the unseen life forms we literally couldn't live without.

Okay, but maybe science isn't your thing. Star Wars is space fantasy; it's about wizards who can levitate and perform mind control and see the future. Well, yes. You know what else? They have a deep and reverent connection with living things. Obi-Wan describes the Force as "an energy field created by all living things." Yoda says, "Life creates it...makes it grow." The concept of the Force has always included this crucial element of connectedness between living things -- in other words, symbiosis.

And it makes sense that there would be some measurable way to determine a person's potential affinity with the Force. Potential, remember, not actual ability. Anakin has an off-the-charts midichlorian count, higher than Yoda, but he's not as powerful as Yoda...yet. He still has to be trained, to learn how to heed the whispers of the Force, to understand how to channel his powers. Even if he owes his very existence to midichlorians, that's still no guarantee that he'll be the greatest Jedi ever. It still takes work. I also like that it's never explicitly stated whether the midichlorians were actually responsible for Anakin's conception, nor what it truly means to be "the Chosen One;" whether he was meant to be conscious avatar of the Force, or just a cosmic accident foreseen by an ancient Jedi prophet, or something else entirely. It's much more interesting to speculate and explore the possibilities than to have everything spelled out, to have far-reaching questions that extend past a simple yes/no answer.

Also of note -- every life form has midichlorians. So even if your count is very low, you still have a connection to the Force. Not enough to become a Jedi, but enough for the Force to matter, for the phrase "May the Force be with you" to to be more than a meaningless rote expression. We are all part of the symbiont circle.

Next time will be another line from Qui-Gon, and all the more poignant because, though he doesn't know it, there's not much time left for him....
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After enduring the inaction and indifference of the Senate, Queen Amidala is in the midst of a moral crisis. She gazes out at the glittering cityscape of Coruscant, an entire city-planet full of people without a single one who can help her. She knows the futility of trying to take back her planet by force without any significant military power on her side, and even if she had a hope of winning, it would require a war that goes against all her pacifist principles.

And then Jar Jar mentions the Gungans' "grand army," and you can see the wheels start to turn in her head. It's a desperate hope, and it would mean fighting and violence and all the things she hates. But it's still a hope, and anything has to be better than sitting and waiting helplessly while her people die.

So when Palaptine arrives, flushed with triumph at his almost-certain appointment as the new Chancellor, the news hardly seems to register for Amidala. She is already mentally plotting out what must be done to set her plan into action. She moves, striding from one end of the room to the other, full of energy and determination, so different from the queen quietly sitting on the couch during the pre-Senate scene in this apartment. Palpatine's words hardly seem to have any effect on her, except to further strengthen her resolve. She tells him she has decided to go back to Naboo.

He protests; he reminds her of the dangers. She does not waver. She will sign no treaty.

"My fate will be no different than that of our people."

A perfectly-phrased rejoinder. It shows her solidarity with the people who call her queen, characteristic of the self-sacrificing kind of leadership she espouses. It also contains a subtle jab against Palpatine -- remember, these are your people too, Senator! -- that would probably prick the conscience of anyone who actually had a conscience. It doesn't change Palpatine's evil designs in the slightest, but Amidala could not be aware of that. Nor does she notice the very slight smile emerging on his face once she turns to leave.

If she stays on Coruscant, he'll become Chancellor and put on a show of helping the poor beleaguered people of their home planet. If she goes and inevitably gets herself killed, her martyrdom will only increase the power of the sympathy vote (which he refers to with a rather smarmy complacency, followed up with a "I will be Chancellor" line that always makes my skin crawl). And if she somehow manages to pull off her one-in-a-million gambit, her victory will make it all the more natural for the Senate to give Palpatine a victory as well. At this point, he can't lose.

This line is poignant as well in how it will be echoed throughout the trilogy. We see Amidala evoking a similar sentiment later on in Episode I when she reveals her true identity to Boss Nass, kneels before him and declares, "Our fate is in your hands," which is enough to convince him that the Naboo might not be so unforgivably arrogant after all. The fate of Gungan and Naboo is entwined, and they have finally acknowledged it and can use to reclaim their planet.

Then, in Episode III, Anakin refuses to leave a wounded Obi-Wan, informing Palpatine, "His fate will be the same as ours." In this regard, he and his secret wife are very similar. Devotion, self-sacrifice, a refusal to abandon those they care about. Only someone as skilled as Palpatine is able to corrupt such a trait into obsession, jealousy, and a lust for power.

It's a different kind of tragedy for his wife. This devotion to people is both her most admirable strength and her greatest vulnerability. She could have easily died in her quest to take back Naboo. Her life is imperiled repeatedly through the trilogy as she ties her fate to those around her, devoted to a cause greater than her own self-preservation. And when her people fall -- her Republic, her colleagues in the Senate, and most of all her beloved husband -- she falls with them. All that they used to be has died, and so she dies as well. Her fate is the same as theirs.

Next, some more wisdom (a little biology lesson) from Qui-Gon...
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Twenty! At this rate, I could be doing this series for at least another year. Perfectly happy with that.

I've always appreciated the way that the prequels shift our perspective of characters first introduced in the original trilogy. Vader/Anakin is the most obvious example of this, but we also get to see a younger, brasher Obi-Wan, as a well as Palpatine adroitly playing a kindly, helpful role before his true nature is revealed. And then there's Yoda.

In the original movies, Yoda is a peculiar (and entertaining) blend of quirky and wise, goofy and admirable. He is the wise old hermit, the secret wizard that the hero initially disregards before recognizing his true worth and humbling himself to be taught by him. And yet for all his wisdom, by the end of Episode VI we begin to see that he, like Obi-Wan, is flawed in his understanding. Neither of them believed Vader could return from the Dark Side. Neither of them saw any option but for Luke to kill him. Luke saw another way.

Which brings us to Yoda's earlier days, before everything falls apart. His part in Episode I is relatively small, but enough to see that he is a leading member of the Jedi Council. Not an exiled loner, but part of the establishment. A well-respected leader -- perhaps a little more like Luke assumed he would be when he was looking for him in Episode V. This is Yoda in the glory days, blind to the doom that awaits the Jedi. Or is he?

"Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Yoda doesn't know the full enormity of what's coming, but he's wary, perhaps not so arrogantly self-assured as the rest of the Council. He doesn't know that Anakin will become a dreaded Sith Lord, but he knows that his future is troubled. And these words of wisdom provide the perfect foreshadowing for the trajectory of Anakin's fall to the Dark Side.

When I first watched Episode I, I thought Yoda was being a little ridiculous in reprimanding Anakin for missing his mother. And I still think the Council's lack of compassion was significant factor in alienating poor young Anakin, demanding a stoicism that you couldn't possibly expect from a nine-year-old untrained in their ways.

However. Fear of loss is the core of Anakin's weakness. It drives him to anger when he cannot prevent that loss. That anger festers and becomes hate, toward the Sandpeople in Episode II and toward the Jedi themselves in Episode III. And suffering -- suffering is very stuff of Vader's existence, both for those who encounter him and within his own tortured soul.

If only Yoda's words could have somehow been presented as a kindly warning, rather than a stern reproof. But who knows whether Yoda ever would have had the means to protect Anakin from the darkness that threatened to claim him. He is in many ways a relic of the old Jedi Order, the last of their kind. Luke, with his greater compassion and understanding, will be able to build up something much better. (And don't talk to me about Disney movies that undermine all of Return of the Jedi's triumph. Just, don't.)

Next, more bold words from a newly empowered Queen...
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I'm going to have to find a new way to title these posts. Roman numerals can get kind of unwieldy...

Anyway, let's look at the Senate scene in Episode I. It might just be my favorite Coruscant scene in this movie. First off, we get a dizzying view of the chamber where thousands of galactic representatives meet. It reveals the truly massive scope of the Republic...and how easy is to drown in a sea of bureaucracy. The scene is frustrating; of course it's frustrating. It's only a few minutes long, yet it seems to drag on interminably as we slog through procedure after procedure. Then, when Amidala finally has the chance to plead her case, she's immediately interrupted, and asked to defer. This brings us to her scathing response. "I will not defer. I have come before you to resolve this attack on our sovereignty now."

"I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee."

We see now why someone as young and comparatively inexperienced as Padmé managed to get herself elected ruler of an entire planet. Her gifts are on full display here; her eloquence (clearly not planned beforehand, as she's being compelled to speak extemporaneously), her passion, her ability to cut through all the political bickering straight to the heart of the problem. Her people are in peril of their lives and the Senate might be willing to form a committee to talk about it. Maybe. Well, she's not having it. The momentum of her resolve will carry her all the way back to Naboo, where she will reclaim her planet without any help from an ineffectual government.

Of the process, she unwittingly paves the way for a Sith Lord to attain the highest position of power in the galaxy...and her planet's freedom will only be a temporary victory, as it will ultimately fall under the shadow of the Empire along with everything else in the galaxy. And so we see the quiet brilliance of Episode I. On its own, it offers a simple tale of a young queen saving her people in the face of galactic indifference and conspiring villains. But as the first chapter of the saga, it portrays the beginning of the end, a pyrrhic victory on the road to tragedy.

Next, some prophetic words from Yoda (though even he can't see the extent of the approaching disaster)...
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Thanks to everyone who watched my absurd One-Woman Star Wars! I'll probably start making Episode II after the summer, when my kids are back in school. I've never had more fun with such a silly endeavor.

So we have two major plot strands that play out on Coruscant: Amidala's attempts to gain the aid of the Senate, and the Jedi Council's response to Qui-Gon's discoveries. Both reveal the complacency of the Republic's most powerful institutions, ultimately leading to their undoing. For the Jedi, that complacency is illustrated quite effectively by Ki-Adi Mundi's declaration.

"The Sith have been extinct for over a millennium."

Oh really? If the Jedi Order hasn't caught a trace of them, then they don't exist? Don't you think there's even the slightest possibility the Sith could have found some sneaky way to escape your notice?

Mace: "I do not believe the Sith could have returned without us knowing."

Ah, well. That settles it. The Council's knowledge and foresight is pretty much infallible. If a threat that dire was rising up, you would know. Only one problem with that....

They've been around this whole time. Whoops.

By the film's conclusion, the Council will finally have to concede that the Sith aren't extinct after all -- after losing the one Jedi wise enough to recognize the danger early on -- but they're still blind to the identity of the Sith Lord who's hiding in plain sight. It's the beginning of the end for them. There's a similar line coming up from the librarian in Episode II, indicating that this arrogance extends beyond the Council. We see how you don't have to be evil to enable the downfall of goodness. You need only be complacent.

The Coruscant scenes are, overall, fraught with disappointment and frustration. The capital of the Republic should be a place where things happen; where problems get solved and people are striving together for the greater good. Instead, we witness inaction, delays and bureaucratic squabbles, and cool dismissals of anything that threatens the comfortable worldview of the establishment. Palpatine must, of course, carry the blame for taking down the Jedi and the Republic, but they sure helped make it easier for him.

Next, some or Amidala's impassioned words to Senate...
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A day late, sorry! I suppose posting that massive video on Wednesday threw me off my usual schedule. In any case, let's look at the master manipulation of one Senator Palpatine. I'll never understand why people complain about the Coruscant/political scenes in Episode I. First of all, they really don't take up a large percentage of the movie. But even if they were longer, why wouldn't you want a glimpse into the workings of a massive galactic-scale government? Particularly one that is, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, teetering on the verge of collapse? Don't we need to understand how the Republic fell and why it's so important to restore the democratic principles destroyed by the Empire's tyranny? I mean, that's the whole point of the prequels, examining the macroscopic decay of the galactic government as well as the intimate fall of a single man. And here is the Sith Lord at the center of it, playing the part of a kindly advisor.

"The Republic is not what it once was."

How I love this scene. While Palpatine puts on a show of offering a young leader counsel and support, he is slowly but surely manipulating her into serving his plots. Notice the staging. She sits, passive and nearly silent, while he talks and talks and talks, walking circles around her almost like a predator stalking its prey...or a spider weaving its web around its victim. His tone carries a convincing note of regret as he describes the corruption and slogging inaction that has enveloped the Senate. But in truth, he has been eagerly encouraging the Republic's decline, preparing for his eventual takeover. The Republic is not what it once was, and he's secretly delighted. Valorum is mired by baseless accusations, he takes care to note -- but Palpatine could very well be the one who started circulating those rumors, ensuring the current Chancellor's failure and subsequent take-down.

In the long run, almost every well-meaning character will play into Palpatine's plots. But within the smaller conflict of Episode I, at least, the queen is able to choose a different path than the one he has laid for her. She shakes off her passivity by the end of this scene, declaring that accepting Federation control is something she cannot do. And by post-Senate scene, she is confronting him with fierce energy of her own, no longer merely sitting and listening. She moves, she speaks, she acts, and she takes back Naboo. If only it had brought a lasting peace, but Palpatine has been playing the long game all along.

Next, some Jedi Council arrogance foreshadows their downfall...
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Well, here it is. The results of over two months work and a whole lot of insane fannishness. It's meant to be silly, of course, but I hope viewers will be laughing with me and not at me? We'll see...

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One of my favorite aspects of the Padmé/Anakin relationship is that it doesn't start with sweeping romance, longing looks and smoldering stares. It starts when they're children. So the foundation isn't built upon physical attraction (notwithstanding Anakin's admiration of her angel-like resemblance); it's built upon friendship and a mutual admiration of each other's desire for goodness and kindness. That's why my favorite Episode I scene between them is this one.

"My caring for you will remain."

It's a challenge, actually, to limit myself to only one line from this scene. Each one carries an important note of foreshadowing, character development and deepening of their friendship. So I'll go ahead and put the entire exchange of dialogue here. Why not?

Padmé: (Noticing Anakin huddling in the corner) Are you all right?

Anakin: It's very cold.

Padmé: (Bringing him a blanket) You come from a warm planet, Ani. A little too warm for my taste. Space is cold.

Anakin: You seem sad.

Padmé: The queen is worried. Her people are suffering...dying. She must convince the Senate to intervene, or...I'm not sure what will happen.

Anakin: (Gives her the japor pendant) I made this for you. So you'd remember me. I carved it out of a japor snippet. It'll bring you good fortune.

Padmé: It's beautiful. But I don't need this to remember you by. (Considers) Many things will change when we reach the capital, Ani. But my caring for you will remain.

Anakin: I care for you too...only I...

Padmé: Miss your mother.

Two people, scared and feeling out of control, seeking comfort in each other. I love how Padmé offers the physical warmth of a blanket as a sort of symbol of the emotional warmth she represents to him. And then there is the strange wistfulness hiding beneath the simple words "Space is cold."

I love that Anakin, miserable as he is, still notices her pain and tries to help with a simple trinket. There's a ton of foreshadowing here. "So you'd remember me." Years later, Padmé will still have this pendant, and she'll still remember him. She'll carry that memory to her grave. Good fortune? That's harder to say. Terrible pain and suffering will come, but ultimately it will be Anakin's connection to Padmé, through their children, that will save him from his darkness.

And Padmé must navigate carefully between the wish to prepare Anakin for her "disappearance" on Coruscant and the need to hide her true identity as the queen. "Many things will change. But my caring for you will remain" as we see when she tells him later as Amidala, "We are sure her heart goes with you." And that caring will continue, till death.

Lastly, we see the beginnings of Anakin's anguish at being separated from his mother. Padmé is deeply empathetic, the one person who understands. Which will make it all the harder when her loss is at the center of Anakin's fears in Episode III. But for now, this exchange establishes a sweetness and gentleness that lies at the core of their relationship.

Next, some ironic words from Palpatine.

But in the meantime, if I can work up the nerve, I might post a video which I've been working on for over two months. It's quite silly, but I've put quite a lot of time into it. (It's nearly an hour and a half long. Yeah.) I assumed I had achieved peak fandom with Les Starwarbles, but now I may have exceeded myself. We'll see...
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I love the rhythm of the Star Wars movies; the balanced to and fro between high-adrenaline action sequences and quiet moments. And sometimes those quiet moments are the most powerful. After the intensity of the podrace and its giddy, gleeful aftermath, we switch to the gentle but crucial scene when Qui-Gon informs Anakin of his freedom. Anakin's departure from his home and mother on Tatooine is heartbreaking even within the immediate context of Episode I's storyline, and proves to be pivotal for the overarching tale of Anakin's fall to darkness. Every line carries its own poignancy, and I could easily quote the entire sequence. But this line might be the most important -- in the scene, perhaps in the entire film, maybe the whole prequel trilogy.

"But you can't stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting."

This is the crux of Anakin's struggles, and the ultimate reason for his downfall. He can't bear for anything beloved to fall out of his control, out of his reach. Change, the only sure thing in life, is unthinkable to him. And in spite of his mother's wise and caring words, he will fight that change with all his might. Nowhere in the prequels does this concept play out more strikingly than in this scene:

Anakin is literally racing against the setting suns, driven to save his mother from her inevitable fate. And when he can't save her, he momentarily succumbs to his darkest urges. How painfully ironic that it is her death that leads to his first significant descent to the Dark Side; she, the woman who taught him far better than that. But he's been without her influence for ten years, and while the Jedi have tried to teach him to avoid unhealthy attachment, they are also responsible for his prolonged separation from her. It's just a mess in so many ways.

In any case, back to the original scene. Shmi's wisdom is particularly meaningful because she must endure an equally painful sacrifice in letting Anakin leave. You can see that her heart is breaking, but she knows his chances of leading a better life and reaching his potential are far greater if he can leave Tatooine. She doesn't let her attachment to him get in the way of his future. She conceals the depth of her own pain for Anakin's sake, and she stands alone as he walks away from her.

Honestly, I get so emotional at this point, it's almost a relief to switch to the adrenaline of Darth Maul's attack on Qui-Gon. There's that tonal rhythm again. It really works.

Next, my favorite Padmé and Anakin scene in Episode I...
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Ah, Obi-Wan. Stuck on the sidelines, helplessly waiting while his master concocts some harebrained scheme to get the money for their ship's repairs. By the time Qui-Gon shows up with the parts, you can see his Padawan has just about reached the end of his tolerance for impulsive eccentricities.

"Why do I sense we've picked up another pathetic life form?"

We usually assume that the previous pathetic life form he's referring to is Jar Jar, but maybe it's not just him. Maybe this isn't the first mission where Qui-Gon has picked up strays with the vague sense that they might prove useful. My husband and I have even joked that Qui-Gon has been constantly on the hunt for potential Chosen Ones. Can you imagine Mace Windu wearily rolling his eyes about it -- "You think everyone's the Chosen One. Last week you thought it was that potted plant!"

But seriously. Obi-Wan is going to get some intense comeuppance for his snark this time. This "pathetic life form" is mere days from becoming his Padawan, and their relationship is arguably the most important he will ever know, for better or worse. He'll go from the unpredictable but steady care of his father-figure, Qui-Gon, to becoming the caretaker of a tumultuous surrogate son/brother in Anakin. And he'll learn very quickly that Anakin is far more than some helpless pitiable creature. Don't underestimate anyone's potential. That slave from an obscure planet could very well be the Chosen One.

Next, some words of wisdom from Shmi...
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One of the features of writing something that takes place before an already-existing story is the awareness of things the audience knows that the characters do not, creating marvelous opportunities for dramatic irony. Foreshadowing is different, more tantalizing, when we already know what's coming.

There are so many foreshadowing lines in Episode I. When Padmé demands, "Are you sure about this? Trusting our fate to a boy we hardly know?" there is tremendous irony in knowing that she will utterly bind her fate to Anakin, and though it's after more than a day's acquaintance, it's still a swiftly-made decision that will have life-long consequences. We can chuckle at Threepio's "I assure you, they will never get me onto one of those dreadful starships" and Obi-Wan's "We could be stuck here a very long time," knowing their respective futures of perilous space journeys and decades of exile on Tatooine. There's Anakin's heartbreaking line "I had a dream I was a Jedi. I came back here and freed all the slaves." Though we know the Jedi part is coming, before Episodes II and III came out we could only wonder whether the rest of the dream foretold his destiny or only his longed-for desires. And there are few moments more poignant than the exchange between Anakin and Qui-Gon. "No one can kill a Jedi." "I wish that were so." We know that Anakin will become Vader, the infamous Jedi-killer. And Qui-Gon is mere days away from being killed. Sob.

"I want to be the first one to see them all!"

For some reason, there's something particularly affecting for me about this particular line. The foreshadowing isn't quite as literal -- though Vader travels far and wide, I doubt he manages to visit every system in the galaxy. But it's so heartrending to consider the contrast between this wide-eyed, innocent optimism and the grim being that Anakin will become.

This is one of those moments that I'm particularly impressed by Jake Lloyd's performance. There's so much sweetness in his face as he gazes at the stars and voices his dreams. Like most young children, his imagination is the only limit to his aspirations. (Of course, his confidence is significantly abetted by his ability to see the future.) Obstacles like slavery don't worry him; they can and will be overcome. And you can see why Qui-Gon believes in him, even before he confirms his high midichlorian count. It's hard to resist his infectious enthusiasm. We might all benefit from gazing at the night sky with a fresh sense of wonder and excitement. It's all too easy to forget how remarkable it really is to have a galaxy before your view.

And then I can't help wondering if Vader ever remembered this moment during his long, lonely life among the stars. SOB.

Next, a little more snark from Obi-Wan...
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Here's a character that was largely well-received upon the release of Episode I. In fact, if there were any complaints about Darth Maul, it was that he was killed off too soon, wasting further opportunities to use such an awesome character.

In response I would answer: no, he wasn't. He didn't die too soon. He served his purpose perfectly and I wouldn't change a thing.

"At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge."

(I should probably note the existence of Darth Maul's reappearance in the Clone Wars series, but I only consider the show semi-canon, and that particular "plot twist" just makes me giggle uncontrollably. I remember people joking about the idea of Maul showing up with just his upper body attached to some kind of robo-legs. Joking. As in, wouldn't that be ridiculous? And I still think it's ridiculous. He's dead, guys.)

Now, let's consider one of the motives that drove Lucas to making the prequels in the first place. He was growing more and more concerned that people were idolizing Darth Vader, seeing him as cool and awe-inspiring. But he was meant to be a tragic figure, pitiable at best. So he set about telling Anakin's story, of how a young man with tremendous potential for good squandered it all out of fear and selfishness. And then lost everything he cared about. Villainy isn't cool. It's pathetic.

Darth Maul isn't the ultimate villain. He was never meant to be. He's a lot more imposing than the cowards leading the Trade Federation, but in the end he's just as much a pawn of Palpatine as they are. What is this revenge he's talking about? You can speculate about his backstory, but my sense is that most of his burning hatred toward the Jedi has been fostered and fed by Darth Sidious. He is a Sith Lord; therefore he hates the Jedi and must enact vengeance. But I doubt there's really anything truly personal in his drive for revenge. Certainly not toward Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan specifically. He attacks them because that's what he's been taught to do, and he obeys.

In the end, Maul's terrifying appearance -- the nightmarish swirls of red and black, the horns, the glowing eyes, the double-bladed saber he wields with deadly precision -- is nothing but a mask to distract us from the true danger, the phantom menace lurking behind it all. And when Maul is killed, it will ultimately prove a hollow victory as the master simply finds a new apprentice and proceeds with his plans for galactic domination. Maul, meanwhile, won't live to see the Sith destroy the Jedi order and take over the galaxy. He gets to be the face of the surprise reveal - "Whoops, guess the Sith weren't totally eradicated a thousand years ago after all!" but he reaps none of the rewards. He proved useful for a time, and was then easily discarded for someone with more political savvy, who will in turn be discarded for someone younger and far more powerful.

(Also of interest - each character who plays the role of primary villain in the three prequel episodes could be seen to represent one aspect of Vader's persona. Maul possesses his imposing physical presence and prowess, Dooku is a former Jedi turned Sith, and Grievous is a former organic being turned cyborg. Pretty intriguing when you think about it.)

Star Wars isn't about awesome villains doing awesome villainous things. It's about good and evil, and why good is good. The prequels in particular are about about the exploitation and/or corruption of well-meaning people, while episodes 4-6 explore how good can prevail once more. And Darth Maul's character fills exactly the little role he needs to fill; no more, no less.

Next time, some heartrending foreshadowing from Anakin...
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We tend to celebrate characters who are brash, outspoken, snarky and daring. The quiet ones often go unnoticed and under-appreciated. But I've always liked the quiet ones. Probably because I tend to be more on that end of the spectrum myself. That's probably why Shmi is one of my favorites and, I feel, deserving of far more appreciation.

"The Republic doesn't exist out here. We must survive on our own."

Much of Shmi's importance in the overall story of the saga resides in her influence on Anakin -- her presence during his childhood, but especially her absence once he leaves to become a Jedi. It's always a tricky thing to create a character whose primary impact comes from her absence and death (and the use of "her" isn't a coincidence -- it's overwhelmingly women who are placed in this role). All too often, the character is nothing more than a plot device, underdeveloped, her special place in the hero's heart implicit rather than explicitly developed. But Shmi's portrayal is saved from this danger by an excellent performance from Pernilla August and the details the story reveals of her personality and experiences.

She is kind and giving, in spite of her own very limited means. When Anakin brings home a bunch of strangers in need, he has no doubt that she'll take them in, because that's what their family does. She opens her home to them, brings them to her table and feeds them. Anakin even convinces her to let him enter the podrace by apparently repeating her own words -- "The biggest problem in this universe is no one helps each other."

However, there is an interesting edge to her softness. When Padmé young and idealistic, begins a rant against the injustice of slavery, Shmi stops her with a gentle but firm rebuke. The Republic doesn't exist out here. An interesting way to phrase it. She could have said, "Those laws don't matter as long as the Hutts are in control" or "Your Republic isn't as powerful as you might think" or any other rejoinder that could launch them into a sociopolitical discourse. But Shmi's view of things is pragmatic. For any practical purposes, there is no Republic. That's how she has learned to see the galaxy, as a necessary survival tactic. Help others, but don't assume that anyone will help you. Eke out your own survival.

Shmi keeps her intense emotions buried deep. She doesn't openly sob or scream, even as she's watching her son go into mortal peril in the podrace, even as she's letting him leave her forever. It's not that she doesn't feel the complete depth of those emotions -- she says outright that she dies every time Watto makes Anakin race. But as a slave she's surely learned that it's safer to keep a calm, straight face, to react mildly even to the most monstrous of situations. It's a tragedy that someone as extraordinary as Anakin was born into slavery, but a slave's life is just as tragic for someone as gentle and good as Shmi. I'm very glad to know that this changes sometime before Episode II and she spends her last years in comparative happiness. But I'll discuss that more in later installments.

Next, a few more terse words from a Sith Lord...
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Along with duality, another crucial motif of the Star Wars saga is the concept of identity and how it can be formed and altered. Visually, this motif plays out with symbols like masks (and unmasking), uniforms and other evocative costumes, and even the environments that represent characters or races. But there is a verbal component as well, and that is the use of names.

"I'm a person, and my name is Anakin!"

On the surface, this line might seem nothing more than a clumsy way to let us know what this boy's name is. But I've always found it highly appropriate that we're shown from the very beginning how Anakin dislikes being identified as a slave, takes his personhood very seriously, and believes that said personhood is tied directly to his name. It's heartrending, because we know that he will ultimately become enslaved far more tragically to the Emperor. And that enslavement will be symbolized by a new name, that of Vader.

This flash of anger, this insistence on being identified by the correct term, strike me as very similar to the moment Luke speaks his father's former name and Vader snaps, "That name no longer has any meaning for me." His furious reaction makes it patently obvious that the word Anakin is, in fact, painfully meaningful for him. Any reference to his former self must be shoved away, denied and spurned. But that only proves how powerful a force his original identity remains, somewhere deep inside him.

Anakin will bear many identities throughout his life -- slave, celebrated podracer, Jedi Padawan and Jedi Knight (and how he bristles at the notion of not attaining the rank of Master -- kind of gives new meaning to Vader's boast to Obi-Wan -- "Now I am the Master"), secret husband, Sith Lord, aspiring (but never attained) ruler of the Empire. In the end, however, the identity that saves him is not one defined by his abilities or his social status or how others view him. It is an identity based upon the ability to act with complete unselfishness and sacrifice -- that of father. It is only when his love for his son overcomes his need for power and control that he regains his personhood at last and becomes Anakin once more.

Next time, something from Anakin's mother....
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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, without apology. I love this character.

"Meesa day starting pretty okeeday with the brisky morning munching..."

He's a hapless klutz, but he's kind-hearted and always means well. And I love this scene where he is introduced to Padmé. She's the first character who appears to like him immediately, without reservation. This says a lot about her capacity for compassion and being non-judgmental, which become particularly important once she reveals herself to be the queen. She asks, "You're a Gungan, aren't you?" with simple curiosity, not an ounce of disgust or rancor toward the race that has historically spurned her people.

His response, meanwhile, says a lot about Jar Jar. I love this whole speech. He's so artless, almost child-like, in his re-telling of the events that swept him up into all of this. And the goofy words are just so much fun to say. "Brisky morning munching" is a great synonym for breakfast; I should really use it more often. And his bewilderment and terror at the current situation? Honestly, I could see myself responding the same way, though perhaps with slightly different wording. "I have no idea what happened. One second I was happily getting breakfast, then suddenly this Jedi shows up and everything's exploding and I'm flying on a ship into outer space. I'M TERRIFIED." (Also, when he says he's getting "berry berry" scared, I'm always thinking, "Oh, Jar Jar has a thiamine deficiency, huh? Better get some more whole grains into his diet!" Um, just a little nutritionist joke there.)

In any case, the friendship between Jar Jar and Padmé is a vital precursor to the alliance between Gungan and Naboo that will ultimately defeat the Federation, and it all starts here, with a scared fugitive pouring out his fears to a sympathetic handmaiden. Maybe after she finishes cleaning Artoo, Padmé goes and finds a suitable brisky morning munching for Jar Jar. It's just the kind of thing she would do.

Next time, we'll finally hear from Anakin....
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Sometimes you just need a character who can provide little snippets of exposition, someone who can help the audience navigate the twists and turns of a fast-paced plot or intricate world-building. And if you're going to be that character, why not do it with with gusto, fully embracing the role of Captain Obvious? Such is Ric Olié.

I love everything about this goofy minor character. Ric's lines are never complex or nuanced; they're simply the necessary connective tissue to help us understand that the ship is in danger, or Artoo has just miraculously saved the day, or they're arriving at the city planet of Coruscant. But his delivery is so earnest, so wide-eyed and fully invested, that I can't help grinning every time he opens his mouth. His lines are memorable to me not in spite of but because of their cheesiness. "There's the blockade!" "That little droid did it!" "Coruscant! The entire planet is one big city!!" Always with an exclamation point. I love it.

I enjoy "Power's back!" in particular because it's infinitely quotable. I feel obligated to say it every time a power outage is restored, with that same intense Ric-ish delivery. It's almost as fun as saying, "Commence primary ignition" when starting a car, or "Full reverse! Chewie, lock in the auxiliary power" when you're about to drive backwards. It's simple; there's no brilliant hidden meaning or subtlety, but Star Wars isn't all about deep meanings for me (though obviously that's a big part of it). It's also just plain fun. I don't think it's a mistake that the character Ric interacts with most, other than his fellow pilots, is Anakin, the little boy who's about to have the whole galaxy opened up to him. The thrill of seeing Coruscant and Naboo for the first time, and learning how to fly a ship -- we get to see that through Anakin's eyes. And Ric's delight at sharing it with him is infectious. When you think about it, there's something pretty special about a very busy pilot who still takes the time to listen to a newly-freed slave boy and give him an impromptu lesson or two. Cheesy lines, yes, but Ric's a good guy.

Next time, something from Jar Jar...
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Another pithy quote from Qui-Gon. This one won't be a surprise to anyone, I'm sure. But it's still lots of fun to explore.

"There's always a bigger fish."

First off, the delivery is perfect. Wry and understated, considering they just barely escaped being devoured by a giant undersea monster. That's Qui-Gon for you -- perfectly assured that things will work out for the best, even when it seems patently obvious that disaster is looming. And then we have the delightful ambiguity of this statement. In this situation, the bigger fish ended up being a positive factor for them. But what if the bigger fish comes after the bongo next? Is a bigger fish really something to rejoice over?

On top of that, as a symbolic statement, this line provides marvelous foreshadowing for a film with a hidden "bigger fish" -- a phantom menace, if you will -- pulling the strings of smaller fish like the Trade Federation. Even the formidable Darth Maul is little more than a pawn within the larger schemes of Sidious. There is nothing more deliciously ironic to me than the parade scene at the finish of this film, wherein our heroes celebrate their defeat of the Federation -- while the actual mastermind behind the whole invasion is standing right there. One step closer to his plot to take over the galaxy. Hiding his evil nature beneath his benevolent smile. It gives me chills every time. I wonder if Qui-Gon, with all his outside-the-box wisdom, could have spotted the true bigger fish if he had survived. We can only wonder.

Next, some words from one of my favorite minor characters....

(Note: I've backed up my journal at Dreamwidth and will be crossposting there for the foreseeable future.)
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Returning to the regular chronology, let's take a look at our heroes' trip to Otoh Gunga. I remember being absolutely enthralled by this sequence upon my first viewing. I'll never understand the crabby nonsense about how special effects ruin everything and we should have real settings and practical effects and blah blah blah. Now, shoddy effects can certainly be distracting. But the idea that something has to really be there on set to be convincing? Bah. Why can't we have more faith in an audience's imagination? And the actors, for that matter. I love being transported to bizarre worlds that couldn't possibly exist here. That's part of the fun of the saga.

And we'd never been treated to something like this before. An underwater city, with peculiar bubble-like walls that kept out water but allowed entry if you slowly passed through them. A race of proud, amphibious beings who look down on outsiders with contempt. An imposing tribunal who passes judgement on wrongdoers with an arrogant assurance of their infallibility, who dismiss the invasion aboveground as completely irrelevant to the Gungan people, safe in their hidden refuge.

And then we get Obi-Wan's line.

"You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of you will affect the other; you must understand that."

We've already seen hints of the overarching theme of symbiosis, but this is the first overt reference. I like that it's spoken by Obi-Wan; it shows that he has worked hard to understand his master's teachings of the Living Force. I also think the half-pleading, half-chastising tone is fitting for a younger, more impetuous character. Qui-Gon would certainly like the Gungan bosses to understand their interconnected role with the Naboo, but he's not going to demand that they listen to a lecture when there are more immediate urgent concerns. Obi-Wan is a little less patient with them. To him it's so patently obvious, and therefore quite frustrating, that their complacency will be their undoing. Qui-Gon is content, meanwhile, to use a little mental manipulation to expedite their journey. Always the pragmatist.

But any wise audience member won't dismiss the line as quickly as Boss Nass does. First of all, it provides some useful foreshadowing to the moment when the Federation's invasion does, in fact, disrupt the haven of Otoh Gunga, leading at last to their alliance with the Naboo. Secondly, what a beautiful and universal concept it truly is! This weird alien world and the vastly different human civilization above share an intrinsic bond whether they are aware of it or not, and certainly whether they like it or not. There are many real world versions of this concept, from John Donne's "No man is an island" to the Circle of Life described in the Lion King. Who we are, and what we do, will affect those around us, and the reverse is just as true, whether we're considering our fellow humans or other life forms or the very planet on which we live. We will only discount the wellbeing of others at the expense of our own wellbeing.

Notice that the blame for the rancor between the two peoples can't be laid entirely at the feet of the Gungans. Boss Nass expresses disgust at the Naboo's superior, arrogant attitude, and I don't think he's entirely fabricating. I can easily imagine humans, with their preconceived notions of what an advanced civilization looks like, would see the Gungans and immediately assume they're primitive, simple-minded, even child-like. If only they hadn't needed an extreme situation like an invasion for both groups to finally overcome their prejudice and embrace their symbiont as an essential part of life! At the risk of being extremely cheesy, I hope we can all find our place in the symbiont circle without being compelled by such extremes.

Next time, one of my favorite lines from Qui-Gon...
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I'm going to cheat a little here and go backwards. I've been doing the quotes chronologically until now, but I realized that I wanted to cover two lines in one entry. Both come from that pesky guy who never lets you see the top half of his face.

"I will make it legal."
"Not for the Sith."

With Darth Sidious and Palpatine, we have a different kind of duality as compared to Amidala/Padmé or the Gungans and Naboo. It's a deceptive, manipulative dichotomy, between the apparently benevolent Senator and his hidden evil nature. The secret connection between the two identities is indicated from the very start, as both make their initial appearance via hologram. Both are a form of manipulation of those with whom he is communicating, though his exploitation of Amidala is more subtle, beneath the veneer of helping the queen and her people. He appears kind and helpful and honestly bewildered that the ambassadors haven't arrived yet.

As Sidious, however, he is brusque, dismissive of the slightest sign of cowardice ("I don't want this stunted slime in my sight again") and sneering. And then there is his utter contempt for the rule of law. "I will make it legal." There we have his entire system of political belief, summed up in five words. His will, his word, makes the law. Not the will of the people, not a collection of elected representatives; just one ultra-powerful being, bending the galaxy however he pleases.

And later, as the sniveling Federation leaders admit that Queen Amidala has slipped from their grasp and will be impossible to find, he offers the brief but highly effective retort, "Not for the Sith." This is accompanied by Darth Maul's sudden impressive entrance, the first time we get a view of his nightmarish visage, terrifying even in the fuzzy blue of a hologram. So we don't have too much trouble believing that the Sith are, indeed, a formidable force (sorry, but it's such a common word, the puns are inevitable) to be reckoned with.

Sidious speaks in curt, harsh tones. Palpatine, as we'll see in later scenes on Coruscant, rambles on and on in a friendly and solicitous manner. But that chatty kindness is nothing but a mask, and beneath it all is a man who could send a chill up your spine with just a handful of well-chosen words.

Next time, the theme of duality continues with some words from Obi-Wan...
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