May the Force Be With You!

This week everyone has been surrounded by Valentine’s Day (or Single’s Awareness Day, or Day of Over Commercialism) and frankly I’m sick of it. Honestly, I thought to myself, how could I write about Valentine’s Day when there is something far more significant to current pop culture that has just made a triumphant return? What is that you ask? Well grab your 3D glasses young padawans! This week let’s talk…


(insert John Williams score here)

Star Wars is a space saga or space opera (just without the libretto) created by producer/screen writer/director George Lucas and originally introduced as a movie series. The story began in the middle with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977. The next installment, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, was released three years after. The final piece of the original trilogy would follow after another three years and was called Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

These first three movies follow the story of Luke Skywalker, a farm boy who learns that he is more than what he seems and decides to follow the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and learn the ways of The Force to become a Jedi Knight. He gets swept into the fight against the evil Sith Empire with the Rebel Alliance and meets some wise, brave, frightening, and funny characters along the way. For those who are unfamiliar with this epic there will be more on The Force and Jedi and the Sith and the Empire and theAlliancein a moment. 16 years after Jedi’s release, Lucas brought us back to the beginning of the saga to see where it all began in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Also three years later Episode II: Attack of the Clones arrived and again in another three years along came Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. These told the tale of Luke Skywalker’s father, Anakin Skywalker, from boyhood to manhood. Anakin was believed to be the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force. He was trained by Obi-wan Kenobi in the Jedi arts but fell prey to the Dark Side of the Force and became a Sith lord called Darth Vader. Vader and the Emperor Palpatine took over the Republic of the time and formed The Empire. The first movie made was initially just called Star Wars and not anticipated to be a success. In fact Lucas produced it out of his own pocket because no studio thought it was a money maker. However history has shown it to be one of the highest grossing movie franchises, just going to show that it’s the people in the end who really decide (Boondock Saints much?). Now you’d be hard pressed to find someone in our modern culture who doesn’t know Star Wars, even if they aren’t a fan. There are books, video games, toys, and even live action role playing games all expounding upon Star Wars. These additions to the stories are called the Expanded Universe. Every character ever mentioned, even if they walked on screen for a second, has an action figure. I even have a friend who was able to put “Jedi” as his religion on his dog tags. Yeah, it’s that big. And now Episode I is being rereleased in theatres in 3D. A new Star Wars for a new decade. But what part does Phantom Menace play in the story? Like I said, the prequels follow the story of Anakin Skywalker. Ep. I finds him a young boy living as a slave on the desert planet of Tatooine. He is found quite by accident by a Jedi Knight named Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). The movie opens with Qui-Gon Jinn and his Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) on a negotiation mission on behalf of the planet Naboo. The planet is being blockaded by star ships by the Trade Federation but “the negotiations never took place.” The Trade Federation is being controlled by the Sith lord, Darth Sidious, and his Sith apprentice Darth Maul, who try to have the Jedi killed. Sidious orders the Federation to invade Naboo and have a treaty signed by Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). The Jedi rescue her and the Queen’s star ship even makes it past the blockade but is badly damaged and will not make the full journey to the safety of the capitol plant Coruscant. This is not only the capitol of the Republic but also the home of the Jedi council. They chose to land on Tatooine to repair the ship because it is “small, out of the way, poor…[and] the trade federation has no presence there.” At a parts store where Qui-Gon is looking to buy a new hyper drive for the ship they find Anakin (Jake Lloyd). During his conversations with Anakin and his mother, Shmi, Qui-Gon begins to suspect that Anakin may have Jedi powers. After taking a sample of his blood Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan realize that it has the highest midichlorian count of any Jedi that has ever lived. Midichlorians, as explained by Qui-Gon, are microscopic life forms that live inside all living things. Normal human levels are about 2,500 but when present in high levels, they allow the living thing to communicate with the metaphysical power called the Force, which binds all living things. Anakin’s count is well over 2,500. In fact it’s well over 9,000! His count is over 20,000 midichlorians! And when Shmi admits that there was no father involved in Anakin’s birth it leads Qui-Gon to conclude that the boy was conceived by the midichlorians and therefore the fulfillment of a prophecy promising balance to the Force. With a new hyper drive, a new passenger, and a new mission, they take off for Coruscant. The Queen appeals to the Senate for help against the Trade Federation’s oppression but to no avail. Bureaucracy wins out. So she does what she feels is her last chance. She “[moves] for a vote of ‘no confidence’ in [the chancellor’s] leadership” in the hope that someone will be elected who will not let her people “suffer and die.” At the same time the Jedi Council refuses to take on Anakin as a padawan learner to become a Jedi Knight, though they admit the Force is extremely strong with him. They feel his future is too clouded and that his heart is too full of fear. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” says Jedi Master Yoda, “I sense much fear in you.” But just like Queen Amidala will not lose faith in or abandon her people, Qui-Gon refuses to abandon Anakin.Upon returning to Naboo, the Queen reaches out to the Gungans, a humanoid race of creatures who live in under water cities on Naboo. They don’t typically get along but to save their planet they agree to join together as one army. Now Star Wars is famous for it’s battle sequences, not only because they are epic and fantastic (especially for it’s time back in ’77) but also because it usually has about three different battles going on at once! You’ve got your land assault, your space battle, and of course your Jedi battle with lightsabers, laser swords with metal hilts and blades of plasma. From this point on, if you haven’t seen the movies, you need to. I’ve hardly skimmed the surface of the plot and the last battle is so epic you should be permitted to experience it for yourself. In my opinion Episode I is the best of the prequels. I saw it 5 times in theatre when it first came out and was Obi-Wan Kenobi for Halloween that year, not to mention the trading cards and movie companion guides I collected and read. And though the original three are the best, Star Wars in 3D is something I wouldn’t miss. Seriously, everyone should experience this for themselves because Star Wars is such an important part of our history as a collective culture.             So until next week when we meet again, May the Force be with you! Logo photo by Justine Impressions