Sunday, March 20, 2016

Revealed, Your Opinion Is

It's been a rough week on the Star Wars Minute! I absolutely love that podcast, but a couple of guests during their Phantom Menace Minutes have been big-time prequel haters, and none (to date) so much so as this past week's guest Chris Radtke. Sorry in advance for picking on you here, Chris.

Let me say, I feel for prequel haters like the estimable Mr. Radtke. I left the theater after Episode I and Episode III thinking, "Well, that stank." And I winced my way through the love scenes in Episode II along with everyone else. But luckily, in the case of both Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith, I purchased my midnight showing tickets with next-day matinee tickets at the same time, and in each case, that second-day showing revealed to me a lot of worth that I'd missed the first time around.

Sadly, all too many people seem unwilling to give the prequels a second chance.

I don't mean they refuse to watch them again, although in some cases that's true. But for a true prequel hater, subsequent viewings always occur through a lens of confirmation bias, and no thought or energy is devoted to answering the question, "Why in the world would anybody do that?"

There's a crap-ton of stuff in all of the prequels to furrow the brow of unmindful viewers -- things that make no sense on a surface level. I'll highlight two examples that received a huge heap of ridicule in minute 73 of the Phantom Menace Minute.

First, there's a complaint about the spotlessness of the landing platform where Amidala's ship lands and is greeted by Chancellor Valorum and Senator Palpatine. In a universe often praised for its "used" and "worn-in" look, shiny infrastructure like this landing pad and the queen's starship are seen as inconsistencies -- failures of Lucas and his design team to pay attention to what people valued in the original trilogy. But in Episodes IV-VI, there's a reason everything looks beaten up and past its prime: the Empire has been letting the place go to hell for 20 years.

The Republic possesses both the resources and the inclination to keep its machinery squeaky clean, whereas the Empire has no such inclination -- and uses its resources exclusively in the pursuit and maintenance of power. In this contrast, we see the difference of philosophy and priority that distinguishes the two civilizations.

And we see one of the many seeds of the Republic's downfall.

Even as it expends time and money and energy maintaining the bright upper levels of Coruscant in immaculate splendor, the Republic turns a blind eye toward injustice -- like the existence of slavery in the Outer Rim. Padme, who is a highly educated member of the Republic's upper class, isn't even aware such things exist. And while the purported guardians of peace and justice in this civilization have had a thousand years to address the evil of slavery, Qui-gon Jinn never shows a moment of interest in doing so.

Despite its structure as a democratic union, the Republic is a vain and egocentric realm with a rotten underbelly (as shown in numerous scenes in Episode II). Far from being a baffling inconsistency that contradicts the portrayal of technology in the Original Trilogy, Chancellor Valorum's spotless landing pad should be viewed as an example and symbol of the Republic's fatal flaws: the arrogance and complacency that ultimately lead to its overthrow.

The other complaint from minute 73 proves equally explicable if we move past outraged bafflement and actually try to answer the question, "Why would they do such a thing?"

At the end of the landing pad sequence, Anakin follows along in the wake of the queen and her retinue. Then, confused, he stops and looks to see why Qui-gon isn't right behind them. Padme tells him to come on, and Qui-gon gestures that he should go with her.

Like Anakin, our intrepid Star Wars Minute commentators didn't get it. Qui-gon is the one who's brought Anakin along, and while the midichlorian-packed little rascal is smitten enough with Padme to want to dog her heels, he clearly knows she isn't the reason he's here. Why doesn't his Jedi benefactor call him back and take him along to the temple? Isn't that the reason he accompanied Qui-gon and Obi-wan to the capital in the first place?

To answer these questions, all we have to do is watch a few scenes deeper into the film and see the immense skepticism the Jedi Council shows every aspect of Qui-gon's presentation. They don't believe him when he says he thought a Sith attacked him on Tatooine. Some of them literally roll their eyes at his suggestion of a vergence in the Force. When speaking of the boy he's found, Qui-gon picks his words with utmost care and diplomacy ... even though we later learn that he's gone against the Council on numerous occasions, and is viewed as obstinate and a bit of a wild card.

Could it be any more obvious that, in raising this subject, Qui-gon seeks the Council's approval for something he thinks they'll be hesitant to do? Is it not abundantly clear that he's trying to appear deferential and respectful, as opposed to presumptuous?

If he'd brought Anakin with him, it would have implied an expectation on Qui-gon's part -- an assumption that the Council would accept his judgment and test the boy. By leaving Anakin behind, he demonstrated the opposite: humility.

These conclusions are not hard to arrive at, if we just free ourselves from the view that everything puzzling in these films reflects thoughtless incompetence on the part of the filmmakers.

Of course, if you enjoy hating the prequels, you can certainly stick to that attitude and find your entertainment value in negativity. Just don't pat yourself on the back over how discerning you are, because what you're doing is stopping at the superficial.

Don't believe it?

That is why you fail.

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