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The Tattoos Have Blinded You

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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!

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