Apr 17 2012
“Even in high school I was very interested in history – why people do the things they do. As a kid I spent a lot of time trying to relate the past to the present.” – George Lucas
First, a holdover from Part I: The Star Wars Prequels don’t stand alone like the Originals, mainly because they’re only the beginning. The Star Wars story is only fully resolved in its second half. Like Lucas says, it’s the way the past relates to the present that’s so fascinating in this saga.
Well, “from a certain point of view.”
Now, on to Part II.
A common complaint about the Prequel Trilogy is that its characters are relatively poor, lacking definition, development, and purpose. I disagree, so I’m going to spend this post responding to this criticism of the series — and through it, digging into parts of the story as a whole.
Half dark, half light. Funny how that works out…
I actually like that we see Anakin Skywalker as a kid first. TPM has an obviously child-centric tone; it’s jubilant and wacky in a way that none of the others are, despite the “phantom menace” that lurks in the shadows. It reminds me of the way Up combined grown-up issues (loss and regret) with childish whimsy (dogs that talk in silly voices). This is Star Wars in its period of innocence, and young Anakin fits nicely.
There’s also Anakin himself, who’s not quite the innocent cherub some make him out to be. He’s brash and cocky, despite his noble intentions. He already has the seeds of both good and evil inside him. Looking at two key lines:
1.) “Mom, you say that the biggest problem in this universe is nobody helps each other.” The real tragedy of Anakin’s character is this right here. Right outta the gate, all he wants to do is help people, but he never quite manages to. Watto prevents his freeing his mother. The Jedi prevent his saving her life. He is enlisted to protect Padme, but never the one who comes to her aid. Palpatine later wins Anakin over by providing him with something the Jedi never did: A way to help the people he loves.
2.) “I don’t want things to change.” Throughout the saga, Anakin convinces himself that if he can only become powerful enough, he can bend the whole world to his will. This tears him apart in AOTC and precipitates his fall to the Dark Side in ROTS. And it’s what he finally lets go of in ROTJ. Remember?
Luke: “But you’ll die.”
Vader: “Nothing… can stop that now.”
Mind you, Vader only comes to terms with mortality after he’s finally able to save someone: Luke.
Kenobi appears to be a pretty level-headed guy, but he rarely notices his own hypocrisy. For instance, the rhetorical trap set in his assertion, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Or chastising Anakin for impulsiveness after he himself went leaping through a window. Obi-Wan’s heart is true, but he’s handicapped by self-righteousness. This creates a rift between him and Anakin, the supposed Chosen One of the Jedi Order who is constantly treated as an annoyance.
An aside: Lucas has a brutally concise storytelling sensibility. Much has been made of how little time Obi-Wan and Anakin spend in scenes of warm friendship. I, too, would love more of their “good ole days” than the opening of ROTS, but is it needed? There are a few moments of context, the point is made, and Lucas is moving forward. “Always on the move.” Not what fans want most, maybe, but a defensible approach.
Anyway, Obi-Wan’s teaching is methodical — to a fault. No matter how impressive Anakin’s innate abilities may be, Obi-Wan constantly rebukes him. “Use the Force. Think.” Or, “Come to your senses!” Bitch bitch bitch. No wonder Anakin’s so frustrated and moody in that movie (“He’s holding me back!”). You’ll notice that, after Obi-Wan sees the consequences of this method, his advice for Luke sounds much different. “… this time let go your conscious self, and act on instinct.” A bit of the old pompousness remains, though, as Obi-Wan still doesn’t have enough faith in the Skywalkers to believe that Luke could save his father.
Boring? To me, Qui-Gon’s crucial: He’s the apparently-elusive main character of TPM and he’s the last “true” Jedi (in the Prequels). Throughout TPM, it is Qui-Gon alone who acts as an agent of compassion and understanding to the “pathetic life forms” he and Obi-Wan pick up. He and Shmi are the only two people who have faith in young Anakin, encouraging him to use his powers/skills to help others. In this way he (briefly) takes his place in Anakin’s life as a surrogate father figure.
Qui-Gon may be the only Jedi in the Prequels who can truly care for non-Jedi. His premature death is all the more devastating because it leaves Anakin in the hands of the prideful, ignorant remainder of the Order. An order that doesn’t even care if he misses his mother. (Also, look at Obi-Wan’s early by-the-book advice compared to this bit from Qui-Gon: “Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.”)
He’s supposed to be annoying. His name is built from the word “jar,” as in “jarring.” Star Wars has always had an element of absurdity, and Jar Jar is its extreme (mainly in the childlike TPM). You can learn a lot about the characters, Jedi or not, by how they deal with Jar Jar — most of them simply don’t treat him as anything other than a fool.
And he’s markedly not a fool, at least not completely. He goes from being a complete coward to someone willing to fight, maybe die, for his friends. His earnestness and kindness lead directly to the union of the Gungans and Naboo. He suffers consequences for his almost total lack of self-control, but eventually it comes through in a big way. It’s no coincidence that the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Coruscant offers no help to Padme, but the unrestrained honesty of Jar Jar does.
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