Now, I understand that a lot of people have watched the now infamous 70 minute Phantom Menace review and I had a hard time getting through part 1 the first time I clicked on it. I reacted with a little volatility to it, mainly because I thought it was a waste of time for someone to put together a 70 minute review of a film.
And, I’ll concede that some of his points are valid, but others are pretty paper thin. So, I wanted to discuss some of his points and dismantle a few of them that I thought were pretty ridiculous.
I won’t bother with arguing about the tone of the piece, which I thought was pretty obnoxious, I’ll just take on his major points in this seven part series.
Part One: The Protagonist:
The author of the video posits that Phantom Menace doesn’t have a main character or a protagonist, but the film clearly follows Qui-Gon Jinn, through his mission, his finding of Anakin, and his dilemma about whether or not he should train the boy in the face of opposition to the Jedi council. Supporting characters help fill the plot and dilemma’s in the same way Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando fill them in in the classic trilogy.
The opening crawl text serves as the context for Qui-Gon’s mission and he goes through the film trying to serve his duty and fulfill it, but at the same time he struggles with his interpretation of the force and the will of his masters.
Queen Amidala is at the center of this as well, and her duty is to her people.
Phantom Menace’s structure rhymes quite a bit with the structure of A New Hope and Anakin arrives at about the same point in the timeline and story as Han Solo does in their respective first appearances. Though Anakin is younger and admittedly less likeable than Han Solo, he provides a pivotal lynch-pin to the story (both in aiding in their egress from Tatooine and in creating that moral dilemma for Qui-Gon) and saves the day.
I agree that there is no single protagonist in The Phantom Menace that has the strength of Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, but follows the same fractured protaganist pattern that The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi do. Each of the protagonists add their dilemmas together to create a whole picture of the story. It’s the same thing with a lot of war movies. Take Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far as an example. There isn’t any one consistent protagonist, but a dozen of them reaching for the same final goal though all of their motivations are different. Though the Nazi’s are barely characters in that film, they are much like the Sith in Phantom Menace. We don’t need the extra exposition to be told that the Nazi’s winning are a bad thing and the same is true for the Sith in The Phantom Menace.
Phantom Menace accomplishes this “super-goal for all the protagonists” structure. Never once do you watch that film without a sense of what the story is or what needs to be accomplished for our band of heroes to win the day. There are clear objectives brought on by the characters and their decisions that are affected by their actions. Naboo is in peril and through the film we’ve learned that the two indigenous people of Naboo are at odds with each other. If they don’t come together and fight the Trade Federation, the Sith will win. And while we aren’t exactly sure WHY the Sith want to win, the fact that they do makes this repulsive to the audience. Because of the goals of the protagonists and the strength of the villain, we are glued to our seats when Darth Maul arrives to prevent this from happening and we cheer when Obi-Wan finally gives the bad guy his due.
The author of the review even admits that you don’t have to follow the structure he outlined in the beginning of his video essay, but doesn’t offer any credible reason why it doesn’t work here other than some snarky remarks.
And the point that traditionally the protagonist has to win the day and get the girl is specious. As a protagonist, Qui-Gon sacrificed his life for his duty and that sense of loss permeates in the end of the film at his funeral, which is a catalyst for the rest of the Star Wars saga. To separate Phantom Menace from the fabric of the entire story is neither plausible nor fair.
In a vain attempt to prove his point about a lack of clear characters and protagonists, the author of the 70 minute Phantom Menace review asks a few of his friends to describe Star Wars characters without saying what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession in the movie was.
My guess is he asked a bunch of people who hadn’t even really watched Phantom Menace more than once because he had to remind them who he even was. Had he asked someone like me, he would have had as full and complete a description for Qui-Gon as he got for Han Solo in the video.
For example: Qui-Gon is a venerable, older gentleman who has a habit of taking his own path and bucking both tradition and authority. He’s wise, offering constant advice and commentary on things and keeps his cards close to his chest, often to the point of befuddling and frustrating those who work beneath him. As an archetype, he’s the reserved and wisened old sword-master.
As for Queen Amidala: She has an overriding sense of duty and civic pride to her people and, though she’s thought to be young and naïve, she has a strength and courage to her that help win the day. She’s also not interested in the pomp and circumstance of royal life and instead prefers to witness and participate in events first hand. She’s eloquent and concerned, willing to fight for her people in a way that echoes the character of her daughter in the later films.
Asking people who don’t really know about the movies or don’t know enough about them to describe the basic character traits of characters isn’t much of a genuine argument. All he needed to do was ask someone who HAD seen the movie and he wouldn’t have been able to include that in his video review.
That is where Part One of the review ended and so too will I end my rebuttal of it. We’ll see what happens next time.