Aggressive Negotiations: Negotiations with a Lightsaber

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

A lot of carry-over from Phantom Menace, though Hayden Christensen has been brought in to play an older Anakin Skywalker.  Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman return as Obi-Wan and Padmé.  Esteemed Christopher Lee (sadly passed away in 2015, but is extremely memorable for playing Saruman in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit [he had met Tolkien once], as well as voicing the Jabberwocky in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  He was also Rochefort in some of the older Three Musketeer movies featuring Michael York as D’Artagnan, and was a Bond villain in The Man with the Golden Gun; portrayed Dracula, and several different characters is various Sherlock Holmes renditions.  His filmography goes back to the mid-forties, with over 280 credits, after serving in the Royal Air Force in WWII) plays Count Dooku.  Jimmy Smits (spent a decade with NYPD Blue and a few years after that on The West Wing, and has a role in the new In the Heights movie.  Prior to that, he was with L.A. Law; I think that’s how my parents knew him…I do remember him hosting A Capitol Fourth  one year; the orchestra played Battle of the Heroes after Revenge of the Sith came out) joins as Senator Bail Organa (yes, Leia’s father down the road).

Takes place ten years after Phantom Menace, Anakin and Obi-Wan have grown as a Master-Padawan team and are assigned to protect Padmé Amidala, now a Senator after an attempt has been made on her life (the opening of the film).  Anakin still puts his foot in his mouth and apparently has not lost his crush on Padmé.  Obi-Wan cautions him, but Anakin is also distracted by dreams and visions he’s had about his mother.  That is why they almost miss a bounty hunter sending a droid to put two worm creatures into Padmé’s room.  Obi-Wan takes the quick way and jumps out the window after the droid (who’s reckless now?)  Anakin chases after his Master in a speeder, weaving in and out of Courscant traffic. The bounty hunter shoots down the droid and Obi-Wan almost plummets to his death, but Anakin catches him.  Then they banter back and forth a bit and Obi-Wan comments “if you spent as much time practicing your saber technique as you do your wit, you’d rival Master Yoda as a swordsman.”  “I thought I already did.”  “Only in your mind, my very young apprentice!”

What follows is a bit of a chase, where Obi-Wan is not fond of Anakin’s flying; “I don’t mind flying, but what you’re doing is suicide!”  [I did an excerpt of this scene from the novelization as a dramatic reading when I was on the forensics team in high school]  Until a shortcut doesn’t work out so well and the pair thinks they’ve lost the bounty hunter.  Anakin then leaps out of the speeder to catch the bounty hunter; “I hate it when he does that,” Obi-Wan mutters.  The bounty hunter tries to shake Anakin, but he persists, though he drops his lightsaber in the process.  Obi-Wan follows and catches his Padawan before he can run after the bounty hunter again.  They track their prey to a bar, Obi-Wan bemoaning a bit, “why do I have the feeling that you’re going to be the death of me?”  Anakin insists not, Obi-Wan is the closest thing he has to a father.  Obi-Wan sends Anakin to scan the crowd while Obi-Wan draws their prey out by having a drink at the main counter, after sending a patron away with a mind trick.  Obi-Wan catches the bounty hunter with his lightsaber and they attempt to question her, but another bounty hunter fires a toxic dart, leaving the Jedi with more questions and few answers.

The Jedi Council instructs Obi-Wan to track down the second bounty hunter.  Meanwhile, Anakin is to escort Padmé back to Naboo and keep her protected.  Chancellor Palpatine is eager to help young Skywalker and remarks he sees Anakin becoming the greatest Jedi, even more powerful than Master Yoda.  [This is not going to end well].  While Padmé is packing, Anakin complains to her about Obi-Wan; yes, his master may be as wise as Master Yoda and as powerful as Master Windu, Anakin still feels like he is ahead of Obi-Wan.  The older man is holding him back (fueled no doubt by the general consensus that Anakin is the Chosen One and probably nudged further by Palpatine’s slippery words).  An old informant of Obi-Wan’s sends him to Kamino; once he gets some help from Yoda and younglings when the Jedi Archives are incomplete regarding the planet.  They’re cloners, Obi-Wan is told.  They seem pleasant enough when he meets them, though they were expecting a Master Sifo-Dyus.  He ordered an army created for the Republic, using a man named Jango Fett as the base.  Jango claims he was recruited by a man named Tyranus.  Oddly, Sifo-Dyus was killed ten years ago.  When Obi-Wan reports to the Jedi Council, they confirm that this army was created without their authorization.  Obi-Wan is to bring Jango Fett in for questioning.  Jango Fett is undoubtedly the bounty hunter that Obi-Wan is searching for and they battle each other in the rain.  Jango has a young son named Boba (he’ll pop up down the road) who tries to help out (and that ship probably looks a bit familiar). Obi-Wan manages to plant a tracker on their ship and follows.

Padmé’s not terribly keen on hiding out on Naboo, but she can’t really go against everyone.  There are some deleted scenes that show more of Padmé’s family; very sweet.  And the scenery for Naboo is gorgeous, feels very Tuscan.  She and Anakin do manage to share a kiss while at the lake house (cue gorgeous love theme), but Padmé breaks it off.  Anakin tries to awkwardly talk about their feelings [the dialogue here is terrible], but Padmé keeps insisting that even if there was something between them, it is terribly unwise and forbidden.  While there, Anakin continues to have nightmares about his mother.  Padmé agrees to go with him to Tatooine.  There, they discover that Shmi is now married to Cliegg Lars.  But she’s not at the Lars homestead; she was taken by Tusken Raiders.  Anakin leaves Padmé with Cliegg, his son Owen and soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Beru (not the last time we’ve heard those names), so he can track them down (we hear Duel of the Fates reprised briefly).  He indeed finds his mother, but she dies in his arms.  Rage fills Anakin and he slaughters the entire village.  In the background we can hear Qui-Gon Jinn beg Anakin “no!”  Even Yoda hears it.  It does nothing to sway Anakin.  He confesses to Padmé after he brings his mother back.  She tries to comfort him, saying that to be angry is to be human.  Anakin retorts that as a Jedi, he is better than that.  He blames the Tusken Raiders, he blames Obi-Wan (and in pops a theme that will gain significance as we go).

Obi-Wan tracks the Fetts to Geonosis, after surviving an asteroid field; again, he’s not too keen on flying.  [Fun note, in the books that precede this film, mainly the Jedi Apprentice series, Obi-Wan didn’t mind flying, but there was an incident at some point that made him not as keen.  And Anakin is very reckless when flying, so that probably doesn’t help]  He transmits his report to Anakin to relay to the Council, then is captured.  We  finally meet the man behind a lot of this; Count Dooku (yep, over an hour into the film and we finally meet the big bad).  Dooku tries to sway Obi-Wan to his side, telling him that the Senate is under the influence of a Sith Lord named Darth Sidious.  We all know this is true, but Obi-Wan doesn’t trust a fallen Jedi.  Dooku was once Qui-Gon’s master and feels that his former Padawan would have aided him and attempts to sway Obi-Wan that way.  Together, they can destroy the Sith!  [All Sith seem bent on destroying something or someone].  Obi-Wan holds firm.

The Council is disturbed by the news from Geonosis.  They order Anakin to stay put.  Jar Jar is chosen to petition emergency powers being granted to the Chancellor in order to take control of the clone army (another reason for us not to trust the Gungan).  Palpatine makes a rousing speech promising to lay down the power that has been granted to him when the conflict is over.  [Liar!  And further disturbing note, this is very similar to how Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany].  Yoda will go to Kamino and Windu will take what Jedi he can to Geonosis to rescue Obi-Wan.

Luckily, Padmé firmly tells Anakin she is going after Obi-Wan, so if he wants to continue protecting her, as ordered, he will have to come with her.  They find a droid factory on Geonosis and almost make it through, even R2-D2 and C-3PO get in on the action, but the couple is captured.  They declare their love for each other, considering there is a good chance they’re going to die soon and share a kiss before taken into the large arena (sweeping love theme!)  Obi-Wan quips they did a good job of rescuing him.  Dooku announces that the three will be executed and three animals are released.  Padmé quickly makes it to the top of her tower (cause she was smart and snuck a lock-pick into her mouth); she’s showing up the men.  All three manage to get free, notwithstanding any injuries.  But droids roll out.  Countered by Mace Windu holding a purple lightsaber to Jango Fett’s throat, the cue for dozens of Jedi to enter. 

Battle commences.  Everyone gets in on the action, Padmé picks up a blaster and R2 has to rescue 3PO.  Jango and Windu face off and Windu decapitates the bounty hunter (with his son watching; I think the Jedi Master does regret it).  Dooku calls for a halt when the droids seem to be winning, offering the Jedi a chance to surrender.  Windu refuses for them to become bargaining chips.  “Then my friend, you will die.”  Not so fast, Yoda to the rescue with the clones.  Now it’s clone versus droid with the Jedi taking the lead.  Anakin, Padmé, and Obi-Wan follow after Dooku.  Unbeknownst to them, Dooku has secret plans for the ultimate weapon [and that picture should look familiar] in his possession.  The trio’s carrier is knocked about and Padmé falls out.  Obi-Wan insists to Anakin they continue with their mission (except he hasn’t missed what his Padawan’s reaction implies).

Obi-Wan and Anakin face off against Dooku [his fighting style is influenced by the fact that Christopher Lee was trained in fencing (Three Musketeers, etc)]  Anakin rushes in and Force lightning quickly throws him into a wall.  Obi-Wan lasts a few minutes against the master swordsman, but two cuts put him down.  Anakin leaps to his master’s defense.  For a moment he even has two blades, then they fight in dim lighting (call forward to some duels in the originals), but Dooku cuts off his arm (and I think he even regrets that for a moment).  Yoda hobbles in to face Dooku, who turns out to be his own former Padawan.  They’re equal in knowledge of the Force, so it comes down to skills with a lightsaber.  And Yoda jumps everywhere!  Just a blur of green!  Dooku can sense he’s losing, so turns his attention back to the fallen pair and tries to bring machinery down on them.  Yoda saves them, but that allows Dooku to escape.

Dooku meets with Lord Sidious on Courscant, revealing that he himself is now a Sith, named Darth Tyranus.  Everything is falling into place as Sidious planned.  The military parade outside the Senate building is ominous (paired with a very familiar theme).  Yoda sadly announces to Obi-Wan that the Clone Wars have begun (hinted at back in the original film).  And Anakin and Padmé secretly get married on Naboo.

There are elements of the film that I like; of course the music is amazing. As much as I may not like the love story between Anakin and Padmé, or at least how poorly it was developed, the love theme, Across the Stars does make me think of a grand romance with a hint of yearning; it’s just perfect for that deep passionate kiss…I mean, you could use it as inspiration for any favorite pairing.  There is a dramatic bit in the middle that signifies that all is not wonderful and happy in love.  (At times it does sound a bit similar to Fawkes the Phoenix from the soundtrack of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; the movies were released the same year and shared a composer; we’ll forgive him).

The arena scene is probably the best of the movie; very cool to see that many lightsabers.  Again, compared to the original trilogy, this is when the Jedi are at their height.  And it was fun to see how our main trio each fought their monster.  The duel between Dooku and our heroes was a bit of a letdown; he defeats Anakin and Obi-Wan fairly swiftly, though certainly left his mark (and it makes another connection between him and Luke).  Yes, it was rather cool to watch Yoda finally duel.

Often the middle movie in a trilogy will suffer a bit, because the set up has occurred, but you don’t get to the pay off yet (this occurred with Dead Man’s Chest).  Spoilers for those of you who have not managed to actually watch the rest of the series.  We know that a Clone Wars occurs during Obi-Wan and Anakin’s lifetime, though this was not how I was expecting it to occur; I always thought that the Jedi were fighting against the clones.  We know that Anakin at the very least sleeps with someone if not outright marries them and they clearly set that up back in Phantom Menace.  But what is supposed to be the main focus of this film, the developing love between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala falls flat.  There’s no chemistry between the couple.  Their conversations about feelings are almost painful.  Anakin feels he is entitled to Padmé because he had a crush on her as a boy and has thought of her for ten years.  She still sees him as that boy she helped rescue.  They just seemed forced together because it’s “supposed” to happen; and it’s Star Wars so there’s got to be some other action. 

We all kind of fall in love with Obi-Wan a little more; well, a portion of the fanbase at the very least.  Man, I love sarcasm.  Or quips.  Or snark, whatever you want to call it.  I appreciated all the bits thrown in to connect to the original films.  And yeah, we can now clearly see where design elements of the Empire originated, lot of clone influence.

For me, not the best Star Wars film, but better than basically all of the sequel trilogy…we’ll get to that rant in due course.  What are your thoughts?

Up Next: Revenge of the Sith

There’s Always a Bigger Fish

STAR WARS

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I have a, we’ll say multifaceted relationship with Star Wars.  This was one of the first fandoms I got interested in as a teenager, but it certainly wasn’t love at first sight.  My parents put on the original trilogy, long before there were even rumors of prequels, when I was growing up; and I had no interest whatsoever.  The most interesting things I can remember from that was that Frank Oz voiced both Yoda and Fozzie Bear.  I was about ten when the prequels came out and still did not have much of an interest.  That changed when I volunteered to man the children’s librarian’s desk during the summer reading program.  All the new children’s books were right behind me, including the Jedi Apprentice series, which tells the tales of the early days of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s master/apprentice relationship.  One sounded vaguely interesting (Number 12, The Evil Experiment, if I recall correctly), so I gave it a go.  And enjoyed it.  And then borrowed all of the other books in the series (which I finished in quick order; they were easy reads for me).  So I favored the prequel movies for the longest time.  Still didn’t necessarily want to watch the original trilogy.  Until I picked up another book at the library: Young Jedi Knights, chronicling adventures of Han and Leia’s twins, Jania and Jacen…I’ll get into all of that when we hit the original trilogy.  Again, I was hooked and thus brought into the fold of the original trilogy.

It was not always fun being the only one of my friends in school interested in Star WarsHarry Potter was fine, everyone at that point loved it.  As a teenager, the Jedi Code sounded interesting, mastering one’s emotions.  I read Star Wars and Philosophy and ended up writing a paper for college writing based on it [Living Morally in a Business World; not the project I am most proud of].  For a while, Star Wars played a role in developing my fanfiction world.  Star Wars fanfiction was actually the first fanfiction I read.  Then, I got into Lord of the Rings and that eventually took over.  I still like Star Wars and definitely have favorite characters and there are some books I will re-read multiple times, but growing into an adult changed my perspective on certain things (like Qui-Gon Jinn might not be the epitome of best Jedi Masters…partially influenced by some awesome fanfiction stories on AO3) and I now heavily favor the original trilogy.  Except the lightsaber battles, because they’re just totally awesome in the prequels.

I know there are about a half dozen different ways to watch this film franchise; I seriously debated posting this in release order, but I felt it would be too much jumping around.  I also will not be covering any of the cartoons; I’ve seen a good bit of Clone Wars and Rebels, but not all of them.  And I have not watched and don’t necessarily intend to watch The Mandolorian…I do not have time.  (I’m also really behind on the MCU shows on Disney+ right now, so it becomes a choice).  I do intend to watch the Obi-Wan Kenobi series when it comes out.  Apologies for any disappointment.  Star Wars is such a huge part of pop culture that it is expected that one knows certain things going into the prequels. 

George Lucas put together a great cast for Phantom Menace.  Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List [no, haven’t watched and not one I think I will], Gawain in Excalibur [I probably should watch that movie], the Irishman played Scottish folk hero Rob Roy, appears in Kingdom of Heaven and Batman Begins.  He voices Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, and makes bad guys fear for their lives in the Taken franchise) is Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, Ewan McGregor (he’s got a great voice in Moulin Rouge, is a bit funny in Down with Love, is dashing in Miss Potter, and voices Lumiere in the live-action Beauty and the Beast.  He appears in Nanny McPhee Returns, Angels and Demons, and a seriously weird movie The Island [I watched it because he was in it and I still get freaked out by memories of it]) is his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Natalie Portman (before she was Jane Foster in the MCU and Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl) is Padmé Amidala and Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, The Duchess) briefly appears as her handmaiden Sabé (the girls looked remarkably alike at that age).  Samuel L. Jackson (before intimidating everyone as Nick Fury in the MCU) introduces Mace Windu, I recognize Terence Stamp now (Siegfried in the hilarious Get Smart movie in 2008) as Chancellor Valorum.  Ian McDiarmid returns to play Palpatine; Frank Oz, Kenny Baker, and Anthony Daniels all reprise their roles from the original trilogy.

Now, let’s venture “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Jedi ambassadors are sent to the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo to force a settlement.  Master Qui-Gon Jinn feels that negotiations will be short.  As young Obi-Wan Kenobi points out later, they are short indeed; the Trade Federation is under the control of a Sith Lord, Lord Sidious, who instructs them to kill the Jedi.  Not so easy, they find out.  The two Jedi sneak down to the planet and make their way to the Queen.  They pick up Jar Jar Binks along the way [I don’t hate him, but he is annoying], but make it in time to rescue Queen Amidala and her handmaidens.  Qui-Gon recommends taking Amidala to Courscant to plead her case with the Senate, but their ship is damaged while escaping the Trade Federation blockade.  Little R2-D2 to the rescue! 

They still have to divert to Tatooine to make repairs.  The Queen sends Padmé along with Qui-Gon to find parts and in town, they discover a little boy in the shop; Anakin Skywalker [who very awkwardly tries to flirt with Padmé; mind you, he’s nine and she’s fourteen.  Why a nine-year-old is using lines he picked up from spacers…]  Qui-Gon attempts to use Jedi mind tricks on the shop owner, but they don’t work, only money.  So Anakin chimes in when he takes the newcomers home that he has built a podracer.  He’ll pilot and win and his new friends can repair their ship.  Qui-Gon is intrigued by this boy, a bit to Padmé’s displeasure.  Anakin’s mother admits to Qui-Gon that her son has no father [um, when did the Chosen One become Jesus?  Though technically, there are several mythical heroes that do not have fathers; Geoffrey Monmouth’s legend of Arthur terms Merlin as one such lad].  But Shmi feels that Anakin was meant to help Qui-Gon and Padmé.  Qui-Gon does manage to use a Jedi trick in order to gamble for Anakin’s freedom; sadly, the owner will only let one go.

Anakin wins the podrace [space Nascar] and Shmi encourages him to go with Qui-Gon.  As any nine-year-old boy would, he doesn’t want to say goodbye to his mother; but this is his chance to live out his dreams of seeing the stars. On their way back to the ship, Qui-Gon encounters a man dressed in black, carrying a red lightsaber.  We know that this is Darth Maul, Lord Sidious’s apprentice, tasked with finding the Queen and Jedi.  Qui-Gon manages to escape and introduces “Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi” (and those of us familiar with the original movies see foreshadowing!)  On Courscant, Queen Amidala meets with Naboo Senator Palpatine and Chancellor Valorum to discuss politics; Palpatine does not have much faith that their situation will be dealt with swiftly.  He urges Amidala to consider voting out Valorum.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan report to the Jedi Council.  The Sith (enemies of the Jedi) have returned.  Qui-Gon also informs them about Anakin, believing he was conceived by the Force (how is that a thing?), thus making him the prophesized Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force.  The Council doesn’t quite believe Qui-Gon, but allow the boy to be tested.  He is truly Force-sensitive, but he is too old, and too attached to his mother.  Attachments are forbidden within the Jedi Code.  Qui-Gon attempts to take Anakin as his Padawan.  One problem, he already has a Padawan.  So he declares Obi-Wan ready to face the trials to become a Jedi Knight.  The Council tables the discussion; Queen Amidala has chosen to return to Naboo to fight for her people.  The Senate is in an uproar over outing Valorum and Palpatine is nominated to replace him (more foreshadowing…some of us know where this is going).  Yoda warns Anakin “fear is the path to the Dark Side.  Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

Our heroes return to Naboo and Amidala meets with the Gungans to form an alliance (and a background pilot is a younger Richard Armitage, fun fact).  And turns out, Padmé is the real queen!  Sabé has been pretending to be the queen in order to protect Padmé.  Boy, is Anakin surprised.  The Gungan army will be a distraction against the droid army [and you’ve listened to John Williams a bit too much when you can tell there is a note sequence in the droid invasion theme that is heavily reminiscent of Indiana Jones facing off against the Nazis; not identical, but pretty close] while Padmé and her people sneak into the palace and take the Trade Federation leaders hostage.

Qui-Gon orders Anakin to stay safe in the cockpit of an empty fighter.  Then Darth Maul enters (most dramatic scene of the film and to the amazing Duel of the Fates soundtrack).  The Jedi will handle him, Padmé will go around.  I must say, it is very cool to see a young woman take charge and kick butt.  But the best part of the movie is Duel of the Fates, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon facing off against Darth Maul [fun note, the actor hired to portray Maul, Ray Park, is a professional martial artists and swordsman. Liam and Ewan did most of their own stunts and fighting as well; Ewan kept bending his prop lightsaber.  Further fun fact in regards to the words behind Duel of the Fates, they are taken from a Welsh poem and translated into Sanskrit; if you’re John Williams, of course you do that].  These are the Jedi warriors in their prime (compared to a disabled man and elderly man fighting in A New Hope).  There are flips and kicks and falling down platforms.  Maul manages to separate Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, trapping them all in separate force fields [what that area is actually supposed to be, I have no idea.  It looks cool, so we go along with it].  Maul and Qui-Gon make it through the corridor, but there is one field left, holding Obi-Wan back.  And he witnesses Maul run his Master through.  His “no!” echoes through the chamber.  Maul is waiting for him and it is an aggressive duel.  Maul overpowers Obi-Wan enough to disarm him of his blue lightsaber and kick him into a shaft.

Meanwhile, Anakin has kept his promise to stay in the cockpit, along with R2-D2.  Then he tries to help Padmé by shooting droids, but that engages the autopilot and takes him into space above the planet.  He accidentally crash lands into the droid control ship and blows it up from the inside, escaping to the cheers of the other pilots.  Padmé outwits the Trade Federation leaders.  Obi-Wan summons up his strength and leaps over Maul, calling Qui-Gon’s lightsaber to him, and cutting his enemy in half.  Both halves fall down the shaft, but Obi-Wan runs to his fallen master.  Qui-Gon’s last words to his Padawan are to make him promise to train Anakin.  Obi-Wan agrees.

When the Jedi Council arrives alongside the newly elected Chancellor Palpatine, they confer the status of Jedi Knight on Obi-Wan.  Yoda personally disagrees with the decision to allow Obi-Wan to train Anakin; he senses grave danger in training the boy.  Obi-Wan is willing to go against the Council to honor his fallen master’s final wish.  Yoda retorts “Qui-Gon’s defiance I sense in you, need that you do not.”  Ultimately, the Council has agreed to let Obi-Wan train Anakin Skywalker.  At Qui-Gon’s funeral, Yoda and Mace Windu wonder if Obi-Wan has killed the master or apprentice Sith.  (Then the shot focuses on Palpatine…foreshadowing!)  The film ends with a joyful parade between the Naboo and Gungans, declaring peace.

Now that I am older and re-watching the movie, the first part just seems to drag.  As mentioned above, Duel of the Fates is the highlight of the film.  I understand the necessity of setting up the back stories for all these characters we know, but a good portion of this film falls flat.  John Williams’ score is of course, amazing.

Some fanfiction stories that I have discovered that tie-in with Phantom Menace include

It Takes a Village by Siri-Kenobi12

There is no Pain by Meysun

Both of these require some knowledge of characters introduced in the Jedi Apprentice books.

Up Next: Episode II: Attack of the Clones