March 21, 2012

The Tattoos Have Blinded You

I'm about to say something radical right now.

Brace yourselves!

Are you braced?

Seriously, you're gonna flip a shit over this.

Ok, here goes...

The climatic lightsaber duel in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace isn't that good. As a matter of fact, it's probably one of the worst in the whole series.

Still here? Good, let's get into it.

He wants to kill me now. 

First off, the conception of this particular duel is cool as balls. Two jedi vs. a sith lord wielding a double-bladed saber? Awesome! It doesn't hurt that said sith lord is one of the coolest damn villains in the Star Wars saga, maybe in all of sci-fi. Darth Maul just oozes menace, looks diabolically evil, and wields that saber like a god!

But, I'm sorry. This duel is terrible. Not quite as terrible as the pathetic excuse for a climax in Attack of the Clones, but nowhere near the franchises best. And I can chalk that up to two factors. Emotional investment, and sheer spectacle.

Let's get to the spectacle thing first, since it's probably a bit easier to talk about. The final duel in Revenge of the Sith, which sees Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker furiously trying to kill each other as volcanoes explode all around them is excellent from a pure, action movie standpoint. The sword choreography is fast, fluid, and interesting, and the fight moves from environment to environment, and finds clever ways to utilize said environments to change up the dynamics of the fight. One minute they are in tight corridors, forced to hammer away at each other in close quarters. The next, they are standing on floating platforms over rivers of lava, trying to dismember each other whilst simultaneously focusing on maintaining their footing. It's a thrilling sequence that never lets up.

The duel in The Phantom Menace is not. That duel sees Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn face off against Darth Maul in the bowels of the queen's palace on Naboo. The environment only changes once, and when it does, it's just going from one wide open space to another. This would be fine, but the combatants don't use their force jump capabilities or whatever to any sort of advantage. It doesn't help that the sword choreography is just lifeless. I really don't see all the awesomeness you guys are talking about here. These are two Jedi in their prime, and they are fighting a guy who is played by RAY PARK!!! They should be leaping left and right, bouncing off walls and laying into each other. But no. Instead, there's just an awful lot of standing around. At one point, Maul deliberately runs to the edge of catwalk, and then turns to face his opponents. He wasn't forced into that position, he just casually sauntered there. And then, rather than press the advantage, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon just stare him down.

And I counted at least five more moments like that, where an opening to dispatch someone was, not just taken not advantage of, but downright ignored. Remember when Qui-Gon sends Maul sailing off the catwalk to land on the other catwalk fifty feet down. Remember when he jumps down after him? Does he bring his lightsaber down on the red tattooed demon as he lands? No, he just lands right next to him. Well, does he then stab the sith lord with his lightsaber? No, he waits for a second, and lets Maul kick him away.

W! T! F!

After Qui-Gon gets stabbed, things take a turn for the better. Obi-Wan is pissed, and lays into Maul with a delicious fury. Maul gives as good as he gets, leaping around and savagely beating at the young jedi. It's really cool, and what I wanted from the whole duel. But there's another element that was just added into the mix that makes this last part so good. Which brings me to...

Emotional investment. Back to Revenge of the Sith. Yes, that lightsaber duel is flashy and Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen's stunt doubles do great jobs handling the swords. But there's a heart to this duel. Anakin has turned his back on everything he claimed to love and honor, and Obi-Wan has no choice but to confront his friend. You can feel Anakin's anger as he leaps around, and Obi-Wan's sadness as he delivers the final blow.

There is none of that in The Phantom Menace's duel until the very end. Until then, the heroes hadn't suffered any losses of any kind, and Darth Maul hadn't really been much of a presence. So when he finally shows up, it's just hollow. It's just a soulless dance, and it's not even a well choreographed dance.

Attack of the Clones boasts the absolute worst lightsaber duel of the whole series. A supreme lack of flair, coupled with no emotional investment whatsoever makes for one dull bout of fencing. The Empire Strikes Back has the absolute best of the series, one that beautiful combines well choreographed sword play with oodles of depth for the characters to plumb. There's already emotional investment in Luke's motivations for facing Vader. He knows he isn't a match for the sith lord, but the lives of his friends are too important. And then, beaten and bloodied, Luke has that huge atom bomb of a reveal dropped on him, and the whole thing takes on entirely new meanings.

The duel in The Phantom Menace doesn't even scratch the surface of the glories that Empire realizes. My opinion on this matter is just one of many I have that differ from the masses when it comes to Phantom Menace. I don't think that it's the worst Star Wars movie; I don't even think it's that bad of a movie in general. Sure it's poorly written and forcibly acted, but it introduced a lot of interesting ideas and themes that were tantamount in expanding the universe. And it also had the podrace, which is one of the best sequences in any Star Wars movie.

Ok, I'm getting away from the point, so maybe it's time to just wrap this up. I'm anxious to hear your rebottles on this matter, because I have no doubt that it will be an interesting conversation. Comment away nerds! Peace!


  1. (Weirdest thing - my iPhone really doesn't like it when I comment on Blogger)

    At the time TPM was released, the big reason everyone was so enamoured with the duel was because it was the first time in the series that we were seeing high-energy choreographed swordplay. Emotional resonance aside, seeing this stood in stark contrast to the clunky swashbuckling we'd watched in the original trilogy. As such, everybody got sorta jacked about it.

    That said, you won't hear any argument out of me that this duel isn't what it's cracked up to be. Then again, there is so much about TPM that's puzzling, which makes this just one more thing. So to me, this isn't all that radical an opinion - but indeed a very very thoughtful one.

    Well-played sir.

  2. You are preaching to the choir, brother. Infuriates me when people justify Phantom Menace with the final lightsaber battler, not only because of how awful the movie is as a whole, but how disappointingly over-choreographed the fight is. Get the same feeling when I watch Jedi as well, even though that's a far cry better than Phantom Menace.

    Love that you think Empire has the best lightsaber battle, because it totally does. Not only is it the most emotionally charged (as you mentioned), but I think it's the only fight in the entire franchise that actually looks like Jedi KNIGHTS going at it. The whole back and forth on the plank before Luke gets his hand lopped off is just-effing-great.

    Glad we're on the same page with this one, wish more folks would get on the bandwagon and quit being so jaded by the double lightsaber/wire stunts.

  3. First, let me just say that I do agree with you. Emotional impact might have a ton to do with the outcome of the lightsaber battles in the Star Wars movies.

    In Sith, two best friends having to fight it out, I really think that is the best overall battle. In Jedi, a father-son duel. And in Empire, a padawan not yet ready for battle thrust into it against an established Sith. In Phantom and Clones, there is no real emotional charge. In Clones, Anakin is again trying to prove himself to be the chosen one before he is ready (but in a different way than Luke in Empire). The only redeeming quality of the Clones battle, is the emergence of Yoda at the end. I am sorry, but that still gets me excited.

    That being said. In almost every lightsaber battle, sword fight, heck even most gun fights in cinema there is always a chance (sometimes multiple) for one person to kill (wound) another that is passed by. It's just the way it seems to go in film. Menace is so tightly choreographed that it looks like something on Dancing with the Stars. Which is why chances are of course missed.

    Did I want more? Of course. Especially with Ray Park as Maul. But, I still enjoy watching it. It is beautifully done, it looks amazing, and the score along with it just tops it off.

    So, although I do agree with you that it may be one of the weakest saber fights - I will still defend it for how it looks (and sounds).

  4. I probably have seen the fight you mentioned only a couple of times and while I thought it was good, I didn't think it was so great that you had to trip all over yourself to see it over an over again.

    But then, I'm not a big Star Wars fan...

  5. I haven't seen it in over a year so I can't comment specifically toi some thoughts you pointed out but will say it was just amazing for the time. You had to be there and have grown up with the other films to appreciate the epic nature of it.

    That being said, I still think it's good. My only real complaint with it is that it's too short. They don't play it out and Maul, just like Boba Fett, dies like a bitch. He was too badass and deserved better!

  6. Very impressed by your analysis of this (all geekery aside). I agree that it's not great - the impressiveness of a light saber just doesn't feel that impressive. It made me sad for the kids when TPM came out that they wouldn't desire a light saber like I did. The boys down the street had two and my brother and I went to play with them all the time just to play with the sabers.

  7. I haven't seen it since its original theater run. I refuse to rewatch it every time we have an actor come for RI that was in it. Feel free to rip it apart in anyway you see fit. I will not think any less of you.

  8. @Ryan: Yeah, but you go the high energy saber work for the whole movie when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were chopping battle droids into scrap metal. And then to have the big kahuna be lamer than that? Shenanigans, I say!

    @Aiden: Eh. It is a high point in the movie, I'll give it that. Not saying much, but we'll take it as it is. And the double lightsaber was sooooo cool when it was first revealed in TPM. These days, when every Star Wars things has a double bladed or dual wielding, it's boring.

    @Kano: I didn't take score into consideration, though when i do, it does go up a few pegs. John Williams' work on that scene is pretty spectacular.

    @Castor: You are a better man than all of us, and we will forever scorn you!

    @Kai: Exactly! Maul is such a BAMF, and he dies like a little bitch! That right there is another one of the just standing there instead of acting. Obi-Wan slowly jumps over him and lands for a full second before slicing him in half. Maul could have easily screwed him up, but no!

    @Jess: I don't know. I think that doubled bladed lightsaber being seen for the first time got a lot of kids excited. It was the first Star Wars movie I saw in theaters, and I begged my parents for one. They relented... but then I realized that it was made of plastic instead of raw energy, and that sort of killed it for me. SHUT UP, I was 8!

    @Rachel: Excellent! The Rachel Sign of Approval is what keeps me going throughout the day!