Star Wars:The Phantom Menace (a 15-Minute Force production): Chapter Four: The Results are in…Your Midichlorian Count says…You Have No Father


45:01 – 60:00

You know, it’s come to my attention that I didn’t say anything about Jake Lloyd’s acting during our last segment. Here’s the thing, I don’t really like criticizing child actors too harshly. When a child is an excellent actor, as Natalie Portman was long before this movie, I don’t mind saying it. I honestly believe most children are merely average to bad actors. Jake Lloyd, as that rascally proto-Jedi Lil’ Anakin, turns in a performance that reminds me of young Ronny Howard as Opie Taylor during the first season of The Andy Griffith Show. It’s more about being cute and aw-shucks precious in a manner that would appeal to a teen-aged girl like Padmé. I think he turned in the performance George Lucas wanted from him.

It will be a while before I talk about Luke Skywalker, but I have to add that Lloyd’s performance was probably no worse—or better—than Mark Hamill’s in A New Hope. I’m just putting that out there. My personal opinion, of course.

As this 15-minute stretch begins, we’re still in Watto’s shop and Qui-Gon makes his deal with Watto. He’ll supply the podracer; Watto supplies the pilot—Anakin. Also, Watto pays the entry fee. If Anakin wins the race, Watto gets to keep all the prize money, minus whatever is needed for parts for their starship. If Anakin loses, Watto gets to keep the chrome-plated Nubian starship. Watto wins either way. Watto likes this, and the deal is struck.

Qui-Gon keeps Obi-Wan informed about what’s going on. He tells Obi-Wan that There’s something about this boy. He speaks with Shmi about Ani, saying she should be proud of him. Qui-Gon finds out that Ani has special powers, can see things before they happen, which makes him appear to have quick reflexes. He tells Shmi that it is a Jedi trait. The Force, it seems, is unusually strong with Anakin. Qui-Gon asks Shmi who his father was.

There was no father, says Shmi. Matter-of-factly. She asks Qui-Gon if he can help Anakin.

Qui-Gon looks less shocked by the no father thing than any normal person would be. When I first watched this, I thought that this was where the story train pulled into the station at Crazy Town. The desert, the robes, the Greatest Story Ever Told vibe with Tatooine as a setting. Was Lucas honestly making Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader into the Jesus-figure of this story? Honestly, Obi-Wan dresses more like Jesus. Anyway, the fatherless son epidemic continues.

We cut to Anakin working on his podracer. Some of the local Mos Espa kids come over and give Anakin a hard time, not at all impressed that he’s in the big Boonta Race. I wanted to note that one of the children is of the same alien race as Greedo from A New Hope. You know, the one who George Lucas insists shot first at the cantina, even though the rest of us know better. Considering that this is a prequel, this kid might even be Greedo, growing up on the mean streets of Mos Espa before relocating to Mos Eisley.

Jar Jar is also working on the pod racer. Anakin tells him to stay away from the energy binders, but, of course, his accident-prone nature results in his getting zapped by the binders, which seems to just numb the afflicted body parts instead of blasting him into atoms. Another futile attempt a comic relief. After Padmé manages to untangle Jar Jar from the machine, Anakin fires up the pod racer. It’s working.

A night scene is next. Under the pretense of cleaning a cut on Anakin, Qui-Gon gets a blood sample and sends it to Obi-Wan, who quickly finds out that Anakin’s midichlorian count is above 20,000. Even Master Yoda doesn’t have that high a midichlorian count. No Jedi does, Qui-Gon assures us.

It seems we were keeping the Jedi and the Force deeply within the realm of crazy ancient religion by including a virgin birth. Then, in an abrupt about-face, we try to reduce the ability to use the Force to something—midichlorians—that can be detected in a tiny blood sample, trying to make all things Jedi appear to be more science than mysticism. My confused-as-hell blood count has to be higher than Jar Jar Binks’. What exactly are midichlorians? I don’t know, but it sounds like they would be green.

Darth Maul lands on the surface of Tatooine under cover of night. He has several drones with him that he sends towards a settlement, apparently Mos Espa.

The next day, as they are preparing for the race, Qui-Gon finds out that Watto has bet heavily of Sebulba to win: he always wins. Qui-Gon decides to bet his new podracer (which also does not belong to him, really) that Anakin will win, and, if he wins, he wants Watto to free both Shmi and Anakin. No podracer is worth two slaves, Watto says. Just the boy then, Qui-Gon haggles. Watto says they will let fate decide and he throws a chance cube (think: flipping a coin). Red means he will free Shmi; blue, Anakin. Qui-Gon can’t affect Watto’s mind, maybe, but he has no trouble making the cube land on blue. Poor Shmi.

Anakin shows up with Padmé and his friend Kitster, as well as R2-D2 and C-3PO, who are building their own relationship. Kitster tells Ani that he’s sure he’ll finish the race this time. Padmé catches this and asks Anakin if he’s ever won a race. Not exactly, he answers. Never even finished? Padmé says, incredulously.

So, no, Anakin has never won a race, and now his freedom and the ship parts needed to repair Queen Amidala’s starship are riding on his victory. Qui-Gon seems to be the only person unconcerned about this.

Exterior shot of the big stadium where the racers will be starting. As the camera pans, we view a scene heavy with CGI effects. Honestly, this may be Wacky Races, and Sebulba with his goggles just may be Muttley. I’m scanning the racers looking for Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstop. A two-headed announcer is reading off the lineup.

As impressive as the character effects are (and they are), I hate every minute of this race warmup. Every minute. It seems to go on forever. The entire thing is too much of a cartoon, with more Jar Jar level comic relief as well. No dramatic tension is created. Not once did I believe the outcome of this race would be anything other than a win by Anakin. Yes, the race and stadium are evoking Ben Hur, and every other movie ever that’s featured a race during its climactic final scenes. But, this isn’t a final sequence. We’re not even at the half-way mark yet. We seem to be stretching out this sequence just to show off some fancy digital effects. That may have been enough, once upon a time, to keep my interest. Not these days.

We manage to work in a quick fart joke with Jar Jar (let’s continue to lower the bar, shall we?). Then, we see Sebulba as he does the cartoon sneak-up on Anakin’s pod racer. He sabotages it, gives an evil cartoon laugh, and then—I swear to the Maker—strokes a whisker type thing on his face that may as well be Dick Dastardly’s mustache. He and Anakin exchange trash talk. Afterward, Qui-Gon gives Anakin a pre-race pep talk, telling him not to think and to use his instincts.

Jabba the Hutt is at the race, in his private luxury box. Jabba is looking more svelte than he did in Empire. Hey, it happens to all of us. Jabba gives the signal that starts the race.

And, as we hit the 1-hour mark, Anakin’s podracer stalls at the starting line. The result, no doubt, of Sebulba’s sabotage.

Let’s summarize the last fifteen minutes.

It took us 15 minutes to get from Qui-Gon’s gentleman’s agreement with Watto to the start of the anticipated Boonta Race. During that time, we learned that Anakin didn’t have a father. No, he doesn’t have two mothers, either. Hold all questions, please. We were also introduced to the concept of midichlorians as an indicator of Jedi strength. We also managed to work in a couple of classic Jar Jar gags, then upped the stakes by making the outcome of the race determine Anakin’s (but not his mother’s) freedom from slavery.

It has been approximately 30 minutes since we landed on Tatooine. I have hated most of it, and I’ve never been one to use the word hate lightly. It’s not the heat; it’s the stupidity. I am so ready to get off this planet. I have a feeling that’s not going to be anytime soon.

Until next time…The 15-Minute Force is What Binds the Galaxy Together…for One-Quarter of an Hour at a Time.

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