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Journey to the Force Awakens: The Phantom Menace

In the run up to The Force Awakens we’re going to take another look at each episode of the Star Wars saga so far. This isn’t for the sake of review (and if you haven’t seen Episodes I-VI for yourself yet I advise stopping your life immediately to rectify this), but to take a look at the elements from the previous films that may weave their way into the thread of Episode VII…

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

So, a new Star Wars film is out in December. Exciting right? Kicking off a whole new trilogy of action and adventure, introducing exciting new characters and building on the mythology of the Force and the Jedi. What could possibly go wrong?!

Anakin Skywalker from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

Ah yes.

Despite the relentless barrage of criticism that The Phantom Menace receives, watching the film again without any expectations was mainly an enjoyable experience. Sure there are negatives: Jake Lloyd is absolutely terrible, the amount of cartoon voices makes large chunks of the film difficult to understand and it gets dull as soon as the story moves to Coruscant. On the flip side however Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor both turn in decent performances, the lightsaber fights are spectacular and the pod race is genuinely tense.

The Phantom Menace takes place roughly 80 years before The Force Awakens, so the events from the film aren’t going to have too much bearing on Episode VII, right? Maybe. Let’s take a look at The Phantom Menace as the first step on the journey to The Force Awakens…

The First Order

Senator Palpatine from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

The Phantom Menace is a milestone for Palpatine. The man who would be Emperor rises from Senator to Chancellor of the Republic via chicanery and ruse, engineering both sides of an artificial conflict to take power. Whilst Palpatine has a fairly significant presence in the film neither he or Darth Maul are given any back story, so the mystery of Supreme Leader Snoke remains just that.

The political situation is also ripe for Palpatine to take over. The senate is corrupt and useless, dogged by bureaucracy and crying out for a strong leader. Whether this was due to the machinations of Darth Sidious is not known but it’s easy to imagine that such a huge, disparate political body would become ineffective over any given period of time.

What is interesting is the support for Amidala’s lack of confidence motion. The Prequel Trilogy mainly shows us life on the nicer side of the Star Wars universe, but if so many systems wanted change at the top then perhaps the life of the every man in the Star Wars universe was not so great even before the Empire.

The Resistance

Gungan Army from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

Resistance to what? The Phantom Menace is literally as Old Republic as it gets on the big screen. We see the Gungan army amassed against the Trade Federation and Padme retaking the Royal Palace on Theed, but that’s as tenuous a link between the Episode I and the Rebellion as you’re going to get.

Scum and Villainy

Jabba the Hutt from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

When travelling through the Outer Rim Captain Panaka and Qui-Gon Jinn debate the relative merits of stopping on either a Hutt or a Trade Federation controlled planet for repairs, and the conversation implies that the choice is one or the other. Presumably the Trade Federation planets became Separatist and then Imperial over time, but the Hutt controlled space remains unknown.

As the Rebellion/Resistance tries to spread the message that the war is over following Endor, the allegiance of the Hutts could play a crucial role.

The Force

Midichlorians from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

JJ Abrams is an adherent to the Original Trilogy so I’m not expecting anything to come from midichlorians in The Force Awakens, but he might surprise us yet. The mystic elements of the Force are treated vaguely in The Phantom Menace, and there’s certainly no implication that the Jedi’s connection to it is starting to wane. We do however get the first mention of the prophecy of the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force – a prophecy that ultimately leads to the near extinction of the Jedi.

The Skywalkers

Anakin and Shmi Skywalker from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

This is the start of the Skywalker lineage proper. Should Abrams acknowledge midichlorians there’s a chance he could tackle the mystery of Anakin’s immaculate conception – after all, that’s something that a certain Knight of Ren could be very interested in finding out more about.

Otherwise Anakin and Padme meet for the first time. It’s badly written and truly cringe worthy at several moments, but it’s also pretty damn significant to the saga at large.

The Kylo Ren Collection

Anakin Skywalker Podracing from The Phantom Menace | The Hoth Spot

If Kylo Ren wants to pick up some truly vintage Darth Vader memorabilia he needs to get himself to Tatooine, stat. Whilst Anakin may not have had many belongings in his first life as a slave he did leave behind a custom built and incredibly quick pod racer. Whether it’s survived after 70+ years is debatable, but if not then he may still be able to find the blue and white coloured flag that Anakin raced under…

***

Some elements possess clearer links to the future than others, but The Phantom Menace sets up everything that comes afterwards. Regardless of the less than stellar execution it’s still the very first step of the Star Wars story, and from the introduction of Anakin and Obi-Wan to the rise of Palpatine it hits all of the plot points that it needs to.

It may be clumsy, but it’s the only place to start.

Next week: Attack of the Clones takes us one step closer to The Force Awakens!

Attack of the Clones >>


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