Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The copy of the movie that I could get to the easiest was a fan edited version that reportedly has less Jar Jar Binks. It’s been roughly 3 years since I’ve last seen this movie, maybe more, so it’ll be interesting to revisit after all these years. So I might not know what’s been changed.

Did you know the opening scrawl starts with “Fall of the Jedi”. Spoiler alert, am I right?

The whole concept of prequels is a little strange for me. I think it’s going to be extra challenging to make a movie good when you already know what’s going to happen.

So it turns out that there’s a Phantom Menace, or THE PHANTOM MENACE. This is all in the opening scrawl and I don’t know if this the original or a fan version.

Wow, the Jedi have been the guardians of peace in throughout the galaxy for over four thousand years. Let’s just take that in for a moment, how’s that for a sense of scale? The USA has only been around for between two and three hundred years. All of human history is something like five thousand years.

Apparently there are rumors that the Sith and their Dark Lord are back in action but the Jedi have dismissed that. That’s pretty interesting considering it struck me that Darth Sidious ran a pretty tight ship, but then again he did get on the holographic cell phones with corporate presidents so it’s probably likely people have heard about shady hooded guys cutting deals.

Our movie opens with two Jedi being dispatched to a Trade Federation fleet. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are introduced. Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon’s apprentice, is anxious, but Qui-Gon is cool as ice about the whole thing.

An interesting bit of conversation I think is really revealing:

OBI-WAN

Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.

QUI-GON

Yes, but not at the expense of the present.

The Trade Federation guys freak out and try and gas and kill the Jedi. Which immediately fails and the Jedi destroy the droid soldiers sent to kill them.

The Trade Federation commanders start despairing that the Jedi are going to kill them. They’re kind of a panicky lot.

In one of my favorite moments in the entire franchise, Qui-Gon starts carving through the door to the command chamber. He starts using his lightsaber to cut through the door, it’s amazing. It’s also really telling about the very esoteric abilities of the Jedi, here’s a guy who is melting a metal door, but the heat is not affecting him. The Force pretty commonly lets Jedi do something subtle about protecting them from things like heat.

Does anyone think Natalie Portman’s first lines are spoken with a strangely deep voice? Also, the queen of Naboo is fifteen. That’s like… Naboo’s jam. They democratically elect a fifteen year old to be their queen, sort of hinting that they don’t know how monarchy or teenagers work.

Queen Portman is really decked out too. I like her really ostentatious costumes. Anyway, the Trade Federation guys are like, “WHAAAAAAT Jedi? We haven’t seen any Jedi!”

And everyone is like, welp. We’re screwed.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon sneak down to Naboo. Qui-Gon saves Jar Jar Binks from being run over and he immediately swears his life to Qui-Gon’s service (declaring it demanded by the gods). It’s weird, religions don’t come up much in Star Wars. Also, this life debt thing is kind of echo of the much cooler Chewbacca.

Jar Jar takes them to the Gungan city, which is underwater. That’s cool.

Do you know how hard it would be to swim in full robes? The Jedi and the Force again, man.

King Gungan is reluctant to intervene on behalf on the Naboo people being conquered by droids. Qui-Gon uses the Jedi mindtrick to secure a ride to go help the Naboos.

I do love the Jedi mindtrick. It’s got to be such a weird gamble since it’s obvious that the Jedi can’t really tell if it’s going to work or not.

Wow, in this edit, they’re just immediately in the Naboo City. Queen Portman has changed into her goth costume. Her and all her chancellor types are now prisoners of the droids.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon casually destroy the droids and rescue Queen Portman. Qui-Gon is like, “We’re the ambassadors.”

And Sassy Vizier is like, “I guess you’re not very good.”

The Trade Federation apparently can’t kill the Queen, or so they think, but Qui-Gon’s got a bad feeling about this and wants to get her to Coruscant.

Some droids die.

Really, I haven’t seen villains so outclassed since the last Avengers movie (Avengers: Weekend at Ultron’s).

The blockade shoots their escape ship and bam! R2-D2 is suddenly in the movie and we finally get to see an R2 unit in their designed environment (other than the backseat of an X-Wing of course). Of course R2 units don’t have legs, they’re designed to roll around on ships.

Now they have to go to Tantooine. Because of battle damage.

You know, as plots go, I guess all of this make sense. They’re going to go to Tantooine, buy some parts and some fuel and be on their way.

Obi-Wan is looking at the hyperdrive. It always impressed me how we see people working on weird magitech engines like hyperdrives.

Queen Portman sends her handmaiden with Qui-Gon who heads in to town with R2 and Jar Jar. Why Jar Jar? I don’t know, I guess no one would believe Jar Jar is doing anything important.

R2 has all the technical readouts for what they need, so that makes sense.

Wow, Jar Jar is really not in this edit.

Republic credits are no good on Tantooine for Watto. Do you know how weird that sound? Like go somewhere and try to spend some dollars.

Qui-Gon tries to Jedi mindtrick but ends up looking like a real chump in a poncho.

So now they’re kind of screwed.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is staying with the ship.

Anakin is introduced. You know, Jake Lloyd has gotten some shit, but he’s not that bad.

The gang goes to Anakin’s house. There we find out that slavery exists and the Jedi, despite being the guardians of peace, have let that kind of practice keep up on the outer rim.

Turns out Watto’s into NASCAR gambling.

Anakin’s built his own car and offers to race for the parts they need. Anakin’s mom, Shmi, is all against it, but then Anakin cute-faces her and she can’t resist. That’s the last time she’ll ever have a virgin birth, right?

Qui-gon ponchos his way back to Watto’s to do some stuff, and Handmaiden Portman is pouting.

Anakin is a pretty slick podracer pilot, apparently. Despite being a child, proto-Jedi, even without training, exhibit some pretty interesting abilities like enhanced reflexes. It’s also kind of implied that Anakin’s some kind of techno-savant, which is weird since the Force is generally as portrayed as being tied up with organic stuff.

It’s worth noting that while Luke was reportedly a talent pilot and a great shot, he was never played up to be a kind of Harry Potter like Anakin.

Qui-Gon picks up some mojo from Anakin. It always surprised me that Jedi can’t really eyeball if someone has special powers. Like, it’s not something they can just feel out.

So is like Anakin a clone of Shmi? That’s kind of how it would work biologically.

Qui-Gon’s all like, “I’m not here to free slaves.”

Wow, Darth Maul just shows up without any intro other than landing on Tantooine and scoping the place out with his binoculars. Darth Maul was always so cool looking.

 Qui-Gon makes a play to get Anakin freed from Watto’s service. Watto throws a die, and … wow, the fan’s totally edited out Qui-Gon’s Jedi hand gesture.

Space Chariot race.

Sebulba, the evil chariot racer, shows up to posture around evilly.

Then Qui-Gon calls Anakin “Annie” and I’m like, man that’s not cool.

Handmaiden Portman continues her character arc of sulking.

Pod racing is so chariot racing. It’s weird that they build two jet engines, connect them with purple magnetic lightning, and then chain a chair to them.

Anyway, the race starts, and Anakin’s pod doesn’t start.

Then it does.

I love the Star Wars engine noises. They’re so satisfying.

Anakin’s doing all this wunderkind stuff. Makes me wonder if Luke is just really disappointing as sons go.

DARTH VADER

I was destroying Death Stars since I was seven.

Then Anakin wins. I mean he hasn’t won yet, but I’ve seen this before and I’m not sure there’s a lot of tension here. Some of the visuals are pretty cool.

Annie’s engine bursts into flames. So he flips some switches and things are cool.

I guess the part that fell off wasn’t that important.

Then Annie wins.

Watto is fussy about “winning”. Apparently he lost everything, which you know, whatever.

Qui-Gon threatens to take the deal to the Hutts when Watto refuses to give up Annie, but that doesn’t make sense to me since it seems like a verbal agreement, but maybe there was some contract stuff off screen.

Obi-Wan is all like, “Why do I think we’ve taken on another pathetic life form.”

I guess everything seems pathetic when you don’t have a laser sword and you can’t see the future. Still, Obi-Wan, no need to be a dick about it.

Annie has always dreamed of being a Jedi. Considering the later movies, I wonder if he was just dreaming about the future (considering he later dreams about his mother’s death).

Shmi’s going to remain behind in slavery. That’s a pretty dickish thing when you consider that the Jedi never come back to … you know… get her out of slavery considering they seemingly have tons of resources and it would help make one of their Jedi Knights slightly less prone to go evil.

You know, this is actually a kind of cool story, considering that Annie comes from a crappy slave origin, and that would really color his later interactions, if you think about it. I don’t think this movie really gets into it, but there’s definitely something there.

Darth Maul hops on his space moped. Time for shit to get real.

Darth Maul tries to run over Annie, but Qui-Gon saves Annie then gets into a pretty sick fight with Darth Maul. Then Qui-Gon jumps on the ship and they fly away.

Qui-Gon identifies Darth Maul as someone well-trained in the Jedi Arts. I mean, he did exhibit super-jump and could use a light saber, seems like a pretty logical conclusion.

Handmaiden Portman and Annie have a bonding moment, I’m not really sure why. Annie is cold, which oddly makes sense because, as Portman comments, he’s from a warm world.

Portman and Annie talk and… wow, they cut out a lot of Annie’s dialogue too. Good job, Fans, that was a good edit.

None of that “are you an angel?” business.

Finally our heroes arrive on Corscant and there meet Senator Palpatine, and the Queen’s rocking her feathered goth look again. Supreme Chancellor Valorum is also there. He’s definitely a surprisingly important character who is only going to be in the entire franchise for like ten minutes.

Annie goes with the Naboo delegation. Seems like a weird choice, except I guess Qui-Gon hasn’t gotten him a ticket to Jedi Hogwarts yet. The Queen is now rocking a new look that I like to call “Japanese Chandelier”.

Palpatine says everything is crippled with corruption, and advises the Queen to call for an election of a new stronger Chancellor. Palpatine is a pretty sneaky dude.

Qui-Gon goes to Jedi Hogwarts and meets the Jedi council. He reports he fought a guy with Jedi skills, and so he suspects the Sith are back. Yoda’s all like, “It’s hard to tell.”

Here Qui-Gon describes Annie as a “vergence”, and how the Force willed him to find the boy. Everyone rolls their eyes at Qui-Gon’s “The Force told me to do this.”

You get the feeling he says that a lot.

Then there’s action in the Senate. Let the bureaucratic action begin! Chairs are recognize and other chairs are not. Palpatine is like, “Dick moves all around, people.”

Queen Portman shows up in what I like to call “Gilded Jester”.

It seems like the Senate is pretty sucky. How much of this is organic and how much is the machinations of Palpatine? It’s ambiguous. Like maybe Palpatine showed up at a house that was already burning down.

Queen Portman is kind of British sounding right now.

Wookies!

Obi-Wan is like, “The boy is too old.”

Obi-wan is then like, “Don’t defy the council, not again! If you would just follow the Code, you’d be on the Council.”

Yeah, it definitely sounds like Qui-Gon is a giant hippy and every one on the Council is kind of tired of his weirdo beliefs.

Jedi testing seems to involve a technique identical to Peter Venkman’s tests in Ghostbusters. Meanwhile, the Jedi Council senses that a kid separated from his mother is scared and misses his mother.

These guys are literally psychic.

Jar Jar says something. No one cares.

Palpatine is now the Supreme Chancellor. He promises to end corruption. Seems like a pretty empty promise, but… politics. I suspect that George Lucas isn’t a huge fan of politics and bureaucracy.

Queen Portman decides to return to Naboo. She’s currently wearing what I like to call “Silk Scorpion”.

Meanwhile, back at Jedi Hogwarts. The Jedi Council is like, “Don’t train that kid, he’s too old.”

Qui-Gon is like, “I’ll do it then. He’ll be my padawan.”

Yoda is all like, “You already got one padawan. That’s Jedi Code.”

So Qui-Gon immediately says his apprentice is ready for his doctoral dissertation.

The Jedi Council instead sends Qui-Gon to Naboo with Obi-Wan to track down this mysterious Dark Warrior. That cool Dark Warrior.

Obi-Wan wants Qui-Gon to fall in line and get promoted to the Jedi Council. He really underestimates how big a hippy Qui-Gon is.

Qui-Gon decides to take the boy with him into a war zone. So. OK. He can’t train him but the Council can’t stop him from showing the boy how to do things and give him advice and… wait a minute…

The Naboo have no army, so Queen Portman is like, “we’ll get those Gungans to fight for us.”

The Queen’s ship reminds me of the The Flight of the Navigator. Jar Jar is actually pretty useful as the liaison to the Gungans, even taking the heroes to the Gungan secret fallback position.

King Gungan does his best impression of Brian Blessed.

Then Handmaiden Portman reveals that she’s the Queen. Gasp! She gets on her knees and King Gungan can’t say no to that face.

King Brian Blessed the Gungan is on board. ON. BOARD.

All the Naboo have been put into camps. Camps. There’s really nothing more modern or evil than putting people into camps. Nothing good ever happens at mandatory camping.

The Gungans will march out their army to draw out the droid army, and then the Queen and her dudes will go in and capture the Trade Federation viceroy.

Naboo fighters will go and destroy the droid control ship in orbit.

Gungans have some pretty elaborate shield technology that they then mount on the backs of space elephants. I suspect that since they primarily live in swamps and underwater, maybe mechanical vehicles are harder to build and maintain?

The heroes get into the Naboo city without too much trouble. We see Darth Maul standing next to the viceroy. The Naboo seize control of their ships, meanwhile Qui-Gon tells Annie to get into cover. He tells the seven year old boy he brought with him into a war zone to take cover. Why not just leave him on a ship or something?

I mean luckily they don’t because Annie is way better than the rest of the Gungans.

The droid artillery is hard countered by the Gungan shields so they charge them.

Gungans seem to use a kind of phalanx system of fighting. They also seem to throw blue balls at the droids that incapacitate them. The blaster bolts of the droids deflect off the Gungans’ hand held shields which makes me wonder if they operate on a principle similar to light sabers.

Darth Maul shows up and the music starts playing and all non-Jedi are like, “Uh, we’ll go a different way,” and run away.

Darth Maul opens a door by Force throwing a piece of junk at a door panel. It’s one of the coolest moves in all the movies.

Obi-Wan gets kicked off a ledge because OSHA doesn’t exist in Star Wars.

Obi-Wan also takes a surprisingly long time to pull himself up, which could be a factor of a couple things, possibly exhaustion from the fight.

Then there were laser doors.

Which had to be Darth Maul’s plan, right? Because it effectively separates the two Jedi.

I do like that Qui-Gon was driving Darth Maul back. It’s funny, I’ve always believed that Qui-Gon was the Jedis’ best fighter, but just too annoying for them to just fire, so they would send him out to do all their crap work.

So him standing toe-to-toe with the coolest Sith currently alive makes a lot of sense.

Then Darth Maul mauls Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is just standing there and you get the feeling that no matter how bad Obi-Wan’s hairdo, that Darth Maul is in big trouble.

Queen Portman gets captured. But then the decoy queen shows up and decoys. Then they capture the viceroy because the Queen hid a gun in her throne.

Young Scottish Obi-Wan then takes the fight to Darth Maul and it’s so unlike anything we saw between the Obi-Wan Darth Vader fight from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope it’s kind of disorienting.

The High Classical Era of Jedi were just so much flashier than the Post-Republic Jedi it’s amazing.

Obi-Wan gets kicked off another platform and …

Wow, I think they edited out all of Anakin’s lines during the fighter scene. I think they cut him out entirely. Well played, Fans, I dig it.

They also cut out Jar Jar’s really annoying and cowardly surrender. Good on them.

Then Darth Maul dies because he can’t resist some flourishes.

I just realize that Obi-Wan kills Darth Maul the exact way Anakin tried to kill him in Revenge of the Sith. Darth Maul literally has the high ground and Obi-Wan just jumps over him.

Guess Obi-Wan had the advantage of knowing about that trick.

The good guys capture the viceroy and makes them sign a treaty of surrender, and Chancellor Palpatine shows up to celebrate their victory.

Wait, they also cut out all the Sidious scenes in this movie. That’s pretty cool. You really do think that Palpatine is a good guy actually.

Obi-Wan flips the Council the bird and says he’ll train the boy. Yoda’s pissed but let’s it happen.

Then they burns Qui-Gon’s body and all stand around it which has to… smell weird right?

Obi-Wan, newly upgraded to a full doctor, and takes Annie as his apprentice. Yoda drops that the Sith always come in twos.

The end.

This new edit is actually really good. I recommend it. Also, I love this movie. Yeah, there are problems with it, and it’s kind of not good in some ways, but it just feels genuinely Star Wars.

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7 thoughts on “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

  1. I am glad you enjoyed Episode I on a rewatch. I find myself semi-constantly defending it whenever I’m in gatherings with unfamiliar nerd-type-people and usually I get shot down with something akin to a reflexive “LOL, no.” The weird thing is that I don’t remember this consensus when the movie was playing in the theaters. It’s like at some point the elder council of nerds residing somewhere in the interstices of the Internet passed a fatwa declaring Episode I haram. Now everybody’s just totally sure that it isn’t cool.

    My very favorite thing about the movie is that you can tell that there’s just so much going on behind the scenes. Episode I is the first time the Star Wars universe feels like a fully realized place instead of just a backdrop for awesome space action. Personally, I think it’s better at that than the Dune miniseries, which had way more running time and a whole book to work off of. If you think about it, that’s a really significant accomplishment.

    To be fair, it’s always been a hallmark of the series that the guys making it were careful to get a lot of the details right. For instance, they were really careful when they were building their models and thinking through plot details. So much so that the ones they got wrong have gone down in nerd-lore (e.g. “less than 12 parsecs”). Those bits stand out because so many of the other details work to make up a self-consistent whole.

    I think that cutting out most of Jar-Jar’s scenes would work better now than it would have in ’99. Jar-Jar’s main job in the movie, from a dramatic perspective, is to serve as a contrast to make it clear how awesome the feats that the Jedi are routinely doing actually are. In Episode IV, it was enough to have Luke shouting about a flashing light to establish Han Solo as cool under pressure. In order to do the same thing with two fully-trained Jedi Knights, you need somebody even more extreme, so that they won’t just shut up and let the Jedi calmly handle everything.

    But nowadays, the general public has a much better appreciation of what Classical Jedi were actually capable of. You don’t have to sell the 2015 audience on just how cool a fully trained Jedi knight actually is. The subsequent spin-off TV shows, video games, and movies have already handled that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just realized that Jar Jar is also like Chewbacca (life debt, etc) but even Chewbacca came as a pairing with Han Solo. Chewbacca was even kind of bumbling in his own way (setting off the trap on the Forest Moon of Endor, dropping tools on Solo’s head, putting together Threepio incorrectly), but I think the pairing with another character really helps you accept him.

      Han would get mad at Chewie. R2 would piss of Threepio. There really wasn’t anyone for Jar Jar to really play off of.

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      • R2 couldn’t really be his foil because he couldn’t understand him. Qui-Gon would call him out on stuff (grabbing his tongue) but really didn’t seem to care about him most of the time. Anakin and Amidala just seemed vaguely amused by him. Obi-Wan disliked him but really didn’t interact with him much.

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    • I don’t know if I replied to this, so I’m moving this comment here:

      I found that my coworkers hate the Phantom Menace to an almost irrational level. They hate it even more than Star Trek into Darkness, which I think is an inferior movie. It is a little amazing at how deeply ingrained Prequel Trilogy is in the culture. I never noticed it really until you brought it up.

      I spent yesterday thinking about Jar Jar and why I didn’t like him. Superficially, he’s not that different than Threepio, who I like despite being annoying and cowardly. I wonder if it’s because Jar Jar didn’t have an R2. Threepio’s annoying qualities were tempered by the fact that he was practically never in a position he was designed to handle, he was packaged with R2, and I never doubted that Threepio was sincerely loyal to Team Skywalker.

      Enter Jar Jar, who was exiled by the Gungans, who is rescued by Qui-Gon and swears his loyalty to him. But then proceeds to be more of a hindrance. His only time contributing was acting as a go-between for the Jedi and the Gungans. He is given a position of prestige among the Gungans and then surrenders in a way that contrasts really poorly with the other major Gungan character in the movie.

      I feel like you accept Threepio as a part of the comedic team of R2 and Threepio, and Threepio’s flaws play off R2 well. And Threepio helps out, if only to translate R2. But Jar Jar shows up and it’s as if Qui-Gon keeps him around because he believes the Force dropped him in his path. If you take Jar Jar out of most of his scenes, as this edit did, the movie’s trajectory is pretty unchanged. Jar Jar honestly doesn’t seem like he’s trying to be helpful for a lot of the movie.

      Later on, we see that Jar Jar has achieved fairly high rank in Gungan society (as the Senator) and it seems like he really didn’t deserve that kind of prestige. That’s at least where some of my resentment comes from.

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      • Interesting. Chewbacca gets to coast on street cred from “Droids don’t tear people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose.” for the whole series. So he never gets put in the same bucket as 3P0 or Jar Jar.

        But I really think the reason why Jar Jar comes off as so much lamer is that he has to do many of the same things 3P0 does, but he has to take them up to 11 in order to serve his purpose. In Episode V, Han can say something like “shut him up or shut him down” and the point is made (that they’re in a serious situation and need to do something heroic real soon now). But in Episode I, the ship has two classically-trained Jedi and Jar Jar.

        The core of the problem is that classically trained Jedi are really bad dramatic heroes because they’re always totally calm and they really can handle basically everything. And there’s no dramatic tension in “Yep, got this, push this button here … OK, cool.” Only Sith are a match for Jedi. Which is why the last fight scene with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Maul is so awesome. But as we get into Episodes II and III, this problem is mitigated because they’re up against foes who are so clever they defeat them before the battle even happens.

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  2. I get the turned up to 11 argument, because someone has to be a Hobbit. And, if all your characters are superhuman monks trained to eschew emotion, it makes sense that you need a larger than life character to handle all the lacking humanity and vulnerability.

    Here’s the thing, though, I would have appreciated if his bungling had been more of an asset, which would justify Qui-Gon’s faith that Jar Jar was important enough to bring with them because of the Force. And, while C-3PO was a liability, I always believed at his core he was loyal. Sometimes I feel like Jar Jar was just blindly doing whatever he wanted, to the degree that he was working against the team and didn’t seem to care. I might be remembering this incorrectly, but I remember thinking he was an asshole. The dislike I have for him is related to the disdain I have for Pippin, except Jar Jar never gets the entwine.

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    • I can see that. In the beginning, Jar Jar’s a screw-up who got himself exiled for his destructive hijinks. In his adventure, he tries to help out in his own way. And, despite his ridiculousness, they would have been unsuccessful without his assistance as a native guide among the Gungans. It’s worth keeping in mind that they really did need him despite all of Obi-Wan’s snark.

      Then he gets a mostly-honorary position as General. He doesn’t seem to really need to do anything for the army to fight. And he only gives the order to surrender. So why did the Boss appoint Jar Jar, of all people, as General of the Army? It doesn’t really make a lot of sense on the surface, right? After some thought, I believe he did it precisely because he was expecting the army to lose.

      Remember, their whole final plan was a crazy Russian doll: the Gungan army was supposed to draw the main body of the occupying droid army out of the cities; then the Naboo resistance was supposed to pull most of the remainder into the streets, thinning the palace guard; and then the Princess’s commando strike needed to decapitate the Trade Federation leadership. At the same time, there’s a space battle wherein the remnants of the Naboo fighter corps somehow needs to disable the central droid transmitter in order to prevent the previously distracted droid army from crashing back into the city and rescuing Gunray. The chances of all of this working out have to be pretty much zero.

      But the Gungans really liked having the Naboo bend knee to them. And even if they lost horribly and the Princess was forced to sign the humiliating peace treaty legitimating the occupation, presumably the Trade Federation would go away soon enough. After all, it’s even in their name: the Trade Federation are businessmen. They don’t want to rule Naboo forever. They just want to trade it for the repeal of the tariff that got levied at the beginning of the movie.

      So I think Boss Nass was thinking that the army he’s sending out is going to lose in a most inglorious fashion. And, remember, the Gungans pride themselves on being warriors. So he needed a fall guy to blame for the defeat. Somebody nobody cared about. And yet someone who could plausibly be given command. In that light, Jar Jar’s the perfect candidate. The plan’s pretty simple: reinstate and promote him on the grounds of arranging the alliance; send him out there to lose; disgrace and exile him for bringing shame to the Grand Army; and then cash in with the Naboo when the Trade Federation get what they want on the grounds that the Gungans were there for them in their hour of need.

      But then the miracle happens. Amidala’s crazy plan works and they actually win! So, of course, there’s plenty of credit to go around. And Jar Jar can’t help but get some of it as the guy at the switch during their greatest victory.

      Now think about the new situation from the Boss’s perspective. He’s got Jar Jar in charge of the army with a great victory to his name. But he knows that Jar Jar’s an incompetent. He’s not officer material, so he clearly can’t keep him on as General of the Army. So what does he do? He kicks him upstairs again. Part of the deal the Gungans cut with the Naboo is clearly that the Gungans get one of the Senators that Naboo is entitled to in the Galactic Senate, so this is a net new position from the perspective of the Gungans.

      Boss Nass doesn’t really care what Jar Jar does when he’s there. Presumably, he’ll just go along with the senior senator from the Naboo delegation. The point is to have a Gungan there for an internal Naboo political reason: to show that Gungans are to be taken as seriously as the humans on Naboo.

      I can see how that seems unfair. He blundered his way to the top in basically the same way as he blundered through the final battle. He certainly didn’t earn most anything he got.

      But I think the big time gap between Episode I and Episode II is relevant here. Jar Jar’s a different guy in Episodes II and III than he was in Episode I. He grew up almost as much as Anakin between the two movies. We just don’t get to see any of it, probably because of the fan and critical backlash against the character. But it’s clear that he takes his responsibilities more seriously than most of the Senators. He really wants to do the right thing even though he’s mostly just a figurehead. Which is why it’s so tragic that he’s the mechanism by which Palpatine seizes absolute power.

      Jar Jar’s character arc feels real to me in a way that most of the other characters don’t, even as his character traits feel like crazy cartoon exaggerations. Not everybody who ends up in the history books is amazing and talented. A lot of people just have opportunity thrust upon them by accident of birth or events.

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