Looking at Film – Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was directed and written by George Lucas and it was released in 1999.

The Trade Federation are unhappy with the taxation on trade routes, and therefore blockade the planet of Naboo. Two Jedi Knights are ordered by the Senate to resolve the problem, however the Trade Federation won’t give in without a fight and attack the Jedi. The Jedi manage to escape to Naboo to worn the planet’s population about the impending attack, however they are too late as the Queen has been kidnapped by the Droids. The Jedi set the Queen free and escape the planet, but there luck is shortly lived when their ship gets badly damaged and they have to land on the back water planet of Tatooime. Here, they meet the young Anakin Skywalker who battles through a high stakes pod race in order to win enough money for the parts needed to fix their ship and his own freedom. As they finally leave the planet they are attacked by an unknown enemy, Darth Maul! After a tense battle, Quin-Gon-Jin escapes with the others to the Senate, however they quickly realise that they’re going to get no help from them and make the bold decision to return to Naboo and fight the battle alone. During this battle, the Droid army are destroyed and Anakin blows up the Trade Federation’s ship. Quin-Gon-Jin is brutally killed by Darth Maul, but Obi-Wan kills Darth Maul in return. After the battle, the Trade Federation leaders are arrested and Obi-Wan begins Anakin’s training in becoming a Jedi Knight, as he had promised Qui-Gon-Jin.
CULTUREDLEFTPEG, 2013. In Retrospect: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Mance. In: Confessions of a Nerf Herder. 2 April 2013 [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://mynerfherder.com/2013/04/02/in-retrospect-star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace/

The film pays great attention to the colours that the characters wear and what they symbolise. Darth Maul wheres all black, which could represent evil, mystery, death and power; he has red and black patterns painted all over his face and head which could represent war, angry and danger. The intense colours used for Darth Maul are in great contrast with the more neutral colours of the Jedi Knights. The colour brow represents loyalty and trust; it is a warm colour suggesting a monk’s robe. The colour brown also represents how they are very grounded and stable for people to be able to lean on for help and support. Qui-Gon Jinn’s lightsaber is green which could represent how he is very emotionally involved with saving Queen Amidala’s and her people from being attacked. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber is blue which could represent the trust and loyalty that he has for Qui-Gon Jinn; it could also represent the power and knowledge he uses when defeating Darth Maul when Qui-Gon Jinn can no longer do so.

The lightsabers are a symbol of the Jedi Order, and the uniqueness of the weapon makes them stand out from the rest of the inhabitants of the Star Wars universe. The use of colours in the lightsabers helps to identify them and who they represent. For example, colours like blue and green are used for the Jedi to show that they stand for the light side of the force (good) and red is used for the Sith who represent the dark side if the force (evil).

Motifs such as space ships and laser guns remind the audience that this is a science fiction film and that the action taking place on screen is happening in a different universe than our own. Aliens are also used in this way but they also help to drive the plot and provide convenient opponents for the more commonly human ‘good’ characters. This makes it easy for the audience to sympathise with the human characters and gives the film writers an easy ‘bad guy’. The Aliens in the film also entertain and keep the audience interested as unusual and strange life forms help to populate the Star Wars universe.

Science fiction jargon is used at many points during the film to create a sense of futurism and out of this world technology. These technical terms such as ‘hyperdrive’, ‘medichlorians’, ‘lightsabre’ and ‘pod racer’ all serve a similar role to that of the aliens in the way that it shows we, the audience, are not in our own universe. They also serve as plot motivators as the fact that their ships hyperdrive is damaged when they escape indirectly causes them to land on Tatooine and meet Anakin, setting off the events of the Star Wars saga.

Stock Characters
Within every film genre there are stock characters where the same stereotypes will almost always appear in the films within one genre. Below are some examples of stock character within science fiction:
-The scientist
-The female(victim/love interest)
-The sceptic
-The alien
-The idiot
-The hero
-The villain
-The child

In Star Wars some of these stock characters are very much present; however there doesn’t seem to be a a character that fits the scientist role. When I thought of the female/victim, I automatically thought of Queen Amidala because at the beginning of the film she is seen as a weak and vulnerable character as she failed to save her people from the Trade Federation, however she is never objectified as the love interest in the film. Although it could also be argued that Anakin Skywalker could be the victim as he is saved by the Jedi repeatedly and is seen as vulnerable because of his age.
I think that the sceptic would be Yoda, even though he has a slightly minor role, because he questions Qui-Gon Jinn’s plans.
I think that Jar Jar Binks fills the role of both the alien and the idiot because he is the alien with the most dominant role and he is constantly fooling around and doing stupid things.
I think that throughout the film Qui-Gon Jinn is the hero because he is the leader of the two Jedi Knights and is the one to make the decisions, however when Qui-Gon Jinn dies, it is then Obi-Wan Kenobi who has to step up as the hero and kill Darth Maul. I think that it is common for people to assume that the hero has to be male, however it could be argued that Queen Amidala is the underlying hero after all. She starts off being very timid but her character develops throughout the film to be more determined, strong and adventurous. It is Queen Amidala who comes up with the plan to take back control of Naboo and fight against the Trade Federation and she continues to come up with many ideas to help this come into action, for example, the land battle diversion. It could also be argued that Anakin Skywalker is the hero because he is the one that blows up the Trade Federation ship.
The villain in this film is Darth Maul as he kills the character first seen as the hero, Qui-Gon Jinn.
The child in the film is Anakin Skywalker primarily because of his age but also because he has to be looked after by the Jedi. However Obi-Wan Kenobi could also be seen as the child because he is Qui-Gon Jinn’s apprentice and therefore looks up to him, just like a son would look up to his more knowing father.

The genre of this film is science fiction. According to the English Oxford Dictionary, the definition of Science Fiction is:-
Fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.

It took many decades of development before science fiction films were taken seriously. Originally, they were very much looked down on as B movies, with low budgets and no well known actors, and it wasn’t until Star Trek and Star Wars were released in the 1970’s that they made a big impact as a genre. The first science fiction films were made by Georges Melies, a French magician, in the early 1900’s, including A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904). However, it was more the ‘fantasy’ part of his films which inspired other film-makers and sci-fi as a genre took quite some time to become popular. In the 1920’s German film-makers produced a number of films which imagined significantly greater developments in science, such as space travel, and in the l930’s and 1940’s a number of low budget sci-fi serials were made, with all sorts of futuristic gadgets and inventions, which were based on pure fantasy rather than any attempt to consider serious possible scientific developments. However, in the 1950’s there was renewed interest in the genre, partly because the films were made to appeal to the teenage market, which was increasing with the growth of drive-in cinemas, and partly as a reaction to fear of the atomic bomb and the Cold War. Destination Moon (1950) was the first sci-fi film to try to be true to current and possible scientific developments and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was the first film to portray aliens who had better technology than us and who were also coming as friends, not enemies. Other classic sci-fi films made at this time were ‘creature features’ which featured monsters which were created on earth as a result of mistakes made with atomic radiation, such as Them! (1954) and Tarantula (1955), reflecting society’s worry about the effects of nuclear warfare. The next film of particular note was Planet of the Apes (1968) (which received an Honorary Award for Makeup), commenting on the inhumane treatment of animals; it had a number of well known actors in its cast and was a big hit. The same year 2001: A Space Odyssey, introduced the idea of a computer working for itself for its own benefit rather than that of human operators, and also emphasised the importance of stunning special effects in the genre.

However, it was in the late 1970’s that science fiction became an important and highly regarded genre in its own right, when firstly Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and then Star Wars (1977) were released; Star Wars is still the third highest-grossing film ever in the US and received 10 Oscar Nominations. This was a classic science-fiction film, but also encompassed other film genres, such as the Western, fantasy and combat films, making it appeal to a vast audience. A common occurrence with science-fiction films is that they spawn sequels and Star Wars has five. These films established science fiction as a popular genre and have been followed by numerous notable films, including Alien (1979), also incorporating the horror genre, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), growing to series of 12 films, and ET the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), another major box office hit. The special effects employed in these films have developed significantly, especially with the use of computer generated special effects, such as the ‘creature feature’ series Jurassic Park (1993, 1997, 2001, 2015).

Like other genres, science fiction often contains elements of other film genres, such as horror. In Frankenstein (1931), for example, the concept of a mad scientist producing a monster has elements of both science fiction and horror. Sci-fi theoretician Vivian Sobchack explained the difference between the ‘monsters’ in horror films and the ‘creatures’ in science fiction films by noting that horror film monsters often evoke some sympathy from the audience and there’s usually only one in a film, whereas the creatures in science fiction films tend not to have any human emotions attributed to them and make no emotional connection with the audience, being just ‘things’ which are usually hostile and in groups. A film such as Star Wars also has elements of the Western (the suggestion of exploring new frontiers) and combat films. Science fiction films, however, are particularly identified by their settings; usually in the future in conditions that may result from imagined developments in technology with its repercussions on human life. This allows the creators to use limitless imagination on the conditions that may exist and to continue to answer the question ‘what if?’ as one development leads to another, such as developing space travel opening up whole new worlds and the life that may or may not exist within them. Another factor common to this genre is the production of series, sequels and prequels, with only horror films having a similarly high number. For example, Star Wars has six films, Planet of the Apes five and Alien four. These films are appealing to a young audience, who also like to have related merchandise produced, such as video games and comic books, and who become such fans that they will attend conventions, such as the fans of Star Trek.

The fact that science fiction films are set in the future or the present with imagined technological developments, means that film-makers use a number of easily recognisable icons, such as the spaceship, aliens, robots, cyborgs, computers taking control and dystopia (a world where life is particularly bad). Throughout their development, science fiction films have also reflected the issues concerning society at the time, such as the 1950’s fear of the unknown effects of atomic warfare (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 1956), concerns about the environment and overpopulation (Blade Runner, 1982), the emerging reliance on computers (WarGames,1983) and the development of cyberspace (the Matrix series).

IMDB. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120915/fullcredits

WARD, J., 2013. Padme is the hero of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. In: Making Star Wars. 7 August 2013 [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://makingstarwars.net/2013/08/padme-is-the-hero-of-star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace/

FRIEDMAN, L.; DESSER, D.; KOZLOFF, S.; NOCHIMSON, M.; PRINCE, S., 2013. An Introduction to Film Genres. New York: W. W. Norton & CompanyAn

SPARKNOTES. Star Wars Episodes IV-VI [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.sparknotes.com/film/starwars/themes.html

COLOURWHEELPRO. Colour Wheel Pro – See Colour Theory in Action [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html

SCOTT-KEMMIS, J. The Colour Brown [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-brown.html

OXFORD DICTIONARIES. Science Fiction [9 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/science-fiction


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