Part II. Parallel Sections: The Phantom Menace & Return of the Jedi
With the help of Anne Lancashire, a University of Toronto film professor, earlier we saw that Menace’s narrative was based on that of A New Hope’s. But, as parallel sections in a ring structure, the first section must match the last section (with each film representing an individual section of the ring). That means that Menace must correspond to Jedi. Does it? Let’s find out.
First, here’s a general breakdown of the three-act structure for each film. For simplicity’s sake, the descriptions have been left intentionally broad.
As you can see, the similarities are pretty striking. The general structural frameworks of the films are nearly identical. So, while parts of the story in Menace may be based on A New Hope, they have been placed firmly in the context of Menace’s corresponding episode in the ring composition: Return of the Jedi.
On Episode 1’s DVD commentary track, Lucas elaborates on the deliberate use of repetition throughout the saga, perhaps helping us begin to understand the bigger picture:
It’s a musical idea. You have a lyrical refrain and you keep playing it over and over again using different instrumentation, different octaves. It changes every time you rehear it. It’s the same note played differently. I’ve tried to use that right from the very beginning when I did Star Wars. Literally it came out with something I was trying to do with [THX-1138]. Instead of three acts, there was almost like three different movies, but each movie is telling the same story in a different way. I became fascinated with that idea. It’s kind of visual jazz. You go off on a riff on the same idea. You just take a concept and just interpret it differently visually. And there’s a lot of that going on in these movies. I like the idea of cyclical motifs that keep occurring over and over and over again. 1
So, based on the simple breakdowns above, if we take a closer look at the first act of Menace, we should expect to find correspondences to the first act of Jedi.
And, as it turns out, that’s exactly the case.
Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
It’s important to note that the following examples focus only on the links between Menace and Jedi. While there are also many links, some subtle and not so subtle, that exist between Menace and A New Hope, those will have to wait for another time. Also, please keep in mind that the following is not meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. There are plenty of others not mentioned here and probably many more yet to be discovered. And I look forward to seeing what other fans can spot.
Take, for instance, the opening scenes of Menace: Two Jedi, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, are sent to deliver the Chancellor’s demands in hopes of settling a conflict between the Trade Federation and the Naboo. Now compare this to the opening scenes of Jedi: Two droids, C3PO and R2D2, are sent to deliver Luke Skywalker’s message in hopes of settling the conflict between Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo.
Lucas has taken the general plot point of two characters sent to negotiate a kind of peace deal and interpreted it in two different ways, linking the films in the process. (Lucas even uses the same narrative device in both, by presenting the early parts of each film from the perspective of two characters.)
To help visually reinforce the connections between episodes, Lucas has the Jedi enter the Trade Federation Battleship much like another Jedi, Luke, enters Jabba’s Palace:
You’ll notice that in both films mysterious hooded figures walk through a similar shaped door in a shot that is conspicuously flat and two-dimensional. Notice also how the doors are positioned on opposite sides of the frame and actually open in opposite directions, horizontally in Menace and vertically in Jedi.
So, while the plot point of the Jedi’s arrival in Episode I connects to the plot point of the droids’ arrival in Episode 6, the shot of the Jedi’s entrance into the battleship more closely resembles the shot of Luke’s entrance into Jabba’s Palace. Of course, Lucas arguably uses a visual element from the droids arrival as well, since a C3PO-type droid (silver, rather than gold) greets Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan when they enter the battleship.
But perhaps one of the most notable links between these initial scenes is made with a line of dialogue. And it’s a line that many probably feel is nothing more than an exercise in
fanservice: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
It’s easy to forget that this well-known phrase is spoken by both Obi-Wan in Menace and C3PO in Jedi, mere moments after they walk through the doors seen above. Yes, it may be a knowing wink to hardcore fans, but more importantly, like the corresponding plot points and visuals, it’s a subtle marker that’s joining the beginning of the ring to the end.
Let’s keep moving through the rest of the first acts.
Precisely nine minutes into each film, there is a scene that takes place inside a palace throne room with a group of characters watching a holographic message.
Fifteen minutes into Jedi, Leia, disguised as a bounty hunter, brings Chewbacca to Jabba as her “prisoner.” She then bargains with Jabba—using a thermal detonator—to get a better price for the wookiee. Shortly thereafter, Luke enters the palace and bargains with Jabba to free his captured friends. He tries to use a “Jedi mind trick” on Jabba and fails.
Meanwhile, fifteen minutes into Menace, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan ask the Gungan Leader, Boss Nass, for help so they can warn the Naboo of an impending invasion. Not getting anywhere, Qui-Gon uses a Jedi mind trick on Boss Nass to secure a transport and free the captured Jar-Jar Binks. And this time, it works.
The visuals once again subtly reinforce the connections, as both Qui-Gon and Luke stand before a similar looking alien creature and are framed using nearly identical over-the-shoulder shots.
It’s also interesting to point out that both the Gungan City and Jabba’s Palace sequences represent different interpretations on the same mythological motif: the journey to the underworld. And as is usually the case, monstrous creatures lurk in these dangerous depths.
In Jedi, Jabba’s prized pet lives just underneath the palace. In Menace, massive leviathans live in the watery depths of Naboo, below Theed Palace. The monsters chomp on hapless creatures in both films and, as Lancashire insightfully notes, both sequences were, at least in part, designed as visual metaphors: for greed/primal appetite in Menace (“There’s always a bigger fish,” observes Qui-Gon) 2 and for controlling negative emotions in Jedi (the monster is symbolically named Rancor). 3
Following the rescue of Han Solo at the end of Jedi’s first act, Rebel forces travel to the planet Endor to destroy the shield generator that powers the Death Star’s deflector shield. Only then can the attack on the Death Star commence. In Menace, after the rescue of Queen Amidala, the heroes travel to Tatooine to fix the hyperdrive generator that powers their ship’s hyperdrive. Only then can Amidala plead her case on Coruscant.
At this point in both films, there is a transition to a scene that introduces a second Sith character into the film. Notice the similarities in transitions: a diagonal wipe (moving in opposite directions) to an establishing shot of a space station followed by a cut to the introduction inside.
As we move into the second and third acts of Menace and Jedi, you’ll notice that while the correspondences continue, they don’t always run concurrently. For example, in the second acts of both films, there is a chance encounter with the natives when an alien creature suddenly “thinks with their stomach.” It’s clearly a correspondence between the films, but the plot point occurs in the beginning of the second act in Menace and in the middle of the second act in Jedi.
The natives take the heroes back to their family/tribe, offer sanctuary, and eventually aid them in their quest. Interestingly, the heroes have dinner in Anakin’s slave hovel in Menace whereas in Jedi, the Ewoks plan to serve up the heroes at a banquet in C3PO’s honor.
And apparently no detail is too small in Lucas’s effort to connect the films. In Episode 1, Anakin attaches C3PO’s right eye. In Episode VI, a little alien creature pulls it out.
The pod race in Menace and the speeder bike chase in Jedi occur at the same time in both films, about halfway through (right around the one-hour mark). And there are numerous visual echoes between the two action sequences including:
Anakin and Leia both pilot their vehicles skyward and dive down from above.
And Anakin, like Luke, becomes caught in a chase-ending entanglement.
After getting knocked off her speeder bike in Jedi, Leia is discovered by an Ewok named Wicket, who, as Star Wars fans know, was played by actor Warwick Davis. The actor only appears in one other Star Wars film: Menace. He plays Anakin’s alien friend and a crowd spectator during the pod race.
Also, after the pod race, Jabba’s right-hand man has to wake the sleepy gangster from his “nap.” In Jedi, the same right-hand man has to wake Jabba up to alert him to Luke’s arrival.
Both Anakin and Luke make a fateful decision to leave loved ones at approximately the same time in each film, right around the 75-minute mark. Anakin leaves his mother to seek out his true destiny and become a Jedi. Likewise, Luke leaves his sister and friends to fulfill his destiny: confront Darth Vader and become a Jedi. And significantly, Anakin’s destiny is only fulfilled when Luke fulfills his.
In Jedi, Luke’s compassion for his father leads him to surrender himself to Vader, in an effort to draw his father back from the dark side. In Menace, Amidala’s compassion for her people, who are suffering under occupation by the Trade Federation, leads her to travel to Coruscant and argue for political intervention.
However, in doing so, she unknowingly surrenders herself to Palpatine, who as Darth Sidious, has spent the film trying to capture the Queen so she’ll sign a treaty that legitimizes the occupation. She walks right into the enemy’s hands without even realizing it.
In a nice, subtle touch, Palpatine greets Amidala upon landing in Coruscant and says, “It is a great gift to see you alive, Your Majesty” (emphasis mine). And again, the scene in Menace plays at approximately the same point in the film as its corresponding scene in Jedi.
Consequently, Amidala is manipulated by Palpatine into calling for a “vote of no confidence” in the current leadership which paves the way for Palpatine’s election to Supreme Chancellor—effectively putting an end to the Republic. Amidala, like the Rebels in Jedi, have fallen into a trap. (Also, notice how the next scene in Menace takes place, appropriately enough, on a balcony as the sun sets on Coruscant.)
Rereading Jedi in light of Menace, there is now added meaning to the Emperor’s attempt to lure the Rebels into his elaborate spider web. Take these two exchanges between the Emperor and Vader in Jedi.
The first one takes place when the Emperor arrives on the Death Star:
VADER: The Death Star will be completed on schedule.
EMPEROR: You have done well, Lord Vader. And now I sense you wish to continue your search for young Skywalker.
VADER: Yes, my Master.
EMPEROR: Patience, my friend. In time he will seek you out. And when he does, you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the dark side of the Force.
VADER: As you wish.
EMPEROR: Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen. 4
The second exchange takes place later in the film when Vader informs the Emperor that a small Rebel force, including his son, has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor:
EMPEROR: Then you must go to the Sanctuary Moon and wait for them.
VADER: (skeptical) He will come to me?
EMPEROR: I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you and then you will bring him before me.
VADER: (bows) As you wish. 5
We now know that everything is proceeding as the Emperor has foreseen in Jedi because he went through an uncannily similar experience in Menace. There is no need for Darth Vader to search the galaxy for Luke, in the way that Darth Maul searched for Amidala, because, as the Emperor learned, Luke will ultimately come to Vader just like Amidala came to Palpatine. So, in Episode 1, Palpatine learns of the “flaw of compassion.” In Episode 6, he fully exploits it.
Ninety minutes into Menace, Anakin is brought before the Jedi council. At the same moment on the other side of the ring composition in Jedi, Luke is brought before the Emperor. Notice the similarities between the Emperor’s tower and the Jedi Temple as well as the use of complementary colors inside the locations.
The interplay between the two scenes also places added emphasis on an important aspect of Star Wars: recognizing and controlling your emotions. In Menace, Yoda senses great fear in Anakin (of losing his mother), and warns him, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” In Jedi, Luke nearly turns to the dark side following the same logic when the Emperor plays on Luke’s fear for the safety of his friends (Vader, in turn, plays on Luke’s fear of Leia being turned to the dark side). And we can now see that the strategy behind the Emperor’s Machiavellian plan to turn Luke’s fear into aggression stems largely from the events in Episode 1.
Here’s how: Frustrated by the Senate’s inaction to resolve her planet’s crisis, Amidala makes a surprising decision to return to Naboo. She tells Palpatine: “I fear by the time you have control of the bureaucrats, Senator, there will be nothing left of our cities, our people, our way of life.” And flying back to Naboo, the young Queen—a staunch pacifist—makes an even more surprising decision: she’s going to fight. Not only that, but she’s going to war.
Amidala has let her emotions get the best of her, turning to aggression to “take back what’s ours” and escalating tensions on her planet into a full-blown conflict. It’s a far cry from someone who would “not condone a course of action that will lead us to war,” at the start of the film. And while Amidala’s impulses may be right, her methodology is wrong. Even Darth Sidious, upon learning that Amidala is going to attack, remarks “This is an unexpected move for her. It’s too aggressive.” And when he learns about her army he says, “She is more foolish than I thought.”
Making matters worse, Amidala’s emotions have clouded her judgment. She doesn’t realize that the “Battle of Naboo” is at this point an unnecessary war, with the eventual outcome being something of a pyrrhic victory. Sidious has already won. The whole invasion was one elaborate plan to propel Senator Palpatine into the highest office in the galaxy. It’s “the basis for the whole plot of the movie,” says Lucas. 6
So, here again, we see Palpatine observing Amidala’s behavior and learning how compassion and fear can be manipulated for his own nefarious purposes. And this is precisely how the Emperor learns to goad Luke into fighting at the end of Jedi. In other words, Menace is the setup and Jedi is the payoff.
This takes Menace into its final act, where the correspondences to Jedi become hard to miss. Both episodes feature multiple battles taking place simultaneously: a space battle, a ground battle, and a lightsaber duel. However, there is a small reversal of sorts. In Jedi, deactivating the shield generator on the ground allows the Rebels to attack in space. In Menace, knocking out the battleship in space immobilizes the droid army on the ground.
In addition, both films feature:
A technologically advanced society versus a more primitive people (relatively speaking, of course)
A Sith falling down a deep chasm to his death
A slain Jedi being cradled near the edge of a bottomless pit
And a funeral pyre.
On a musical note, the joyful parade music at the conclusion of Menace is actually a light, upbeat version of the exceptionally dark Emperor’s theme from Jedi, eerily foreshadowing the terrible events to come.
There is, however, one extremely subtle, but significant, correspondence between the final battles that deserves a bit more attention. In Menace, as David Begor so perceptively points out in his Bright Lights Film Journal article: “Amidala’s misguided assault on the forces of the Trade Federation would backfire, a pyrrhic victory possible only once the deliberate (in the case of the Gungan Army and Amidala) or accidental (as with Obi Wan and Anakin) disarmament of the protagonists had been engineered deus ex machina.” 7
Indeed, after the last instance of disarmament (Darth Maul kicking Obi-Wan’s lightsaber down the reactor shaft), the film immediately cuts to Anakin blowing up the Federation battleship, disabling all of the battle droids on Naboo.
Now, if this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because a very similar situation occurs at Jedi’s climax.
Sensing that Luke has a twin sister, Darth Vader threatens to turn her to the dark side. Enraged, Luke attacks Vader in a frenzy of hate and severs his father’s mechanical hand. He then realizes he is becoming the very thing he sought to destroy. Luke refuses the Emperor’s command to kill Vader and instead disarms himself. The film then cuts to Han running out of the Imperial bunker on Endor and then to the destruction of the shield generator dish that defends the Death Star, allowing the Rebels in space to destroy the battle station and achieve victory.
Both of these instances are—to borrow a phrase from Jungian analyst Steven Galipeau’s book The Journey of Luke Skywalker: An Analysis of Modern Myth and Symbol—“highly synchronistic events.” 8 Synchronicity, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is “the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.” 9 (Jung once defined it as a “meaningful coincidence.”)
Galipeau writes of the scene in Jedi: “Precisely when Luke successfully renounces the Emperor’s efforts to turn him to the dark side, the external forces that the Emperor had thought impregnable are destroyed.” 10 In other words, an inner event—Luke achieving a mature understanding of his emotions—corresponds in time to an outer triumph.
Now, despite the similar instance of synchronicity, no such understanding takes place at the end of Menace. Rather, the characters remain unaware of the actual and potential dangers that exist, both internally and externally. Thus, victory in Menace (if you can even call it that given Palpatine’s rise to power) still occurs immediately after disarmament, but unlike Jedi, it is largely accidental and ultimately short-lived. Real, lasting peace and harmony, we learn at the end of the saga, can be achieved only through compassion, mutual self-sacrifice, and mature self-awareness and self-control. 11 Or as Begor nicely puts it, “It is only by mastering the evils that lurk within themselves that its heroes ultimately conquer those that threaten them from without.” 12
The end of Menace, then, subtly anticipates the final victory at the end of the saga. And in both films, the editing, or more specifically the sequencing of events, is used to communicate a strong moral message about the importance of recognizing and dealing with negative emotions, aggression and violence.
It’s also interesting to watch how Lucas cleverly conveys the unchecked emotions and aggression of the characters at the end of Menace. For example: The Jedi, acting overly aggressive, are seen behind red force fields. (In the Star Wars universe, red is, of course, associated with the dark side, and anger and aggression.)
After Qui-Gon is killed, an angry and anxious Obi-Wan is conspicuously placed on the far right side of the screen before ferociously attacking Darth Maul, who’s on the far left side of the screen. In traditional film language, the “bad guy” usually enters from the right side of the screen and moves right to left. Conversely, the “good guy” usually enters from the left and moves left to right. 13 It’s no surprise, then, that moments later, Obi-Wan is pushed into a pit, hanging on for dear life.
After Anakin’s ship skids into the battleship’s hangar he says “everything’s overheated” (providing a nice bit of commentary on events) and we see that all the lights inside are now red. Then, right after Darth Maul pushes Obi-Wan into the pit and kicks his lightsaber over the edge, Anakin’s ship suddenly regains power and the lights turn green. (In Star Wars, green is strongly associated with the light side as well as life and peace.)
Finally, though, I’d be remiss in not pointing out perhaps the most significant correspondence that exists between The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi.
The bodily function humor.
Yes, fans who decried the inclusion of both a “poop gag” and a “fart joke” in a Star Wars film may now find some solace in the fact that they were meant to serve, at least in part, a greater purpose: to connect the beginning of the ring to the end—or more accurately, the other end. Because Jedi, if you’ll recall, includes two “burp jokes.”
It’s nice to see Lucas isn’t taking this whole affair too seriously.
Overall, it should be clear by now that Menace meets both the introductory and parallel sections requirements for a ring composition set by Douglas. Not only was Menace deliberately designed to match Jedi through a series of complex correspondences, but more importantly, Episode I sets up the conclusion of the saga as a narrative and thematic return to the beginning, as will be discussed in greater detail later. “When [the ending] comes,” writes Douglas, “the reader can recognize it as the ending that was anticipated in the exposition.” 14
The Two Sides of the Force
Before we go on, there’s one last thing that needs to be mentioned about The Phantom Menace. It may have gone largely unnoticed by many, but the film does introduce a new aspect to the concept of the Force. At its most basic level, there are two sides to the mystical energy field, the light and dark. But early in Menace, Qui-Gon makes matters more complex when he tells Obi-Wan to be mindful of the “Living Force.” (In fact, Qui-Gon is the only character in all six films to even mention the Living Force.)
While left somewhat vague and open to interpretation, the use of the term does implicitly suggest the existence of another, perhaps deeper, aspect of the Force. Indeed, this was spelled out more explicitly by Lucas himself in the film’s making-of book: “The Force itself breaks into two sides: the Living Force and a greater, Cosmic Force. The Living Force makes you sensitive to other living things, makes you intuitive, and allows you to read other people’s minds, etc. But the greater Force has to do with destiny. In working with the Force, you can find your destiny and you can choose to either follow it, or not.” 15
The Living Force is said to encompass both the light and dark sides. And the Cosmic Force is said to exist beyond the Living Force, that is, beyond the dichotomy of light and dark. Again, as we’ll see a little later on, this has some interesting implications for the ring composition and how we ultimately view the films. But for now, let’s move on to the next matching pair of films: Attack of the Clones & The Empire Strikes Back.
Continued on next page
- George Lucas, “Audio Commentary,” Disc 1, The Phantom Menace, DVD, directed by George Lucas (Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox, 2001). ↩
- Anne Lancashire, “The Phantom Menace: Repetition, Variation, Integration,” Film Criticism 24, no. 3 (March 2000): 36. ↩
- Anne Lancashire, “Return of the Jedi: Once More With Feeling,” Film Criticism 8, no. 2 (January 1984): 57-58. ↩
- Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, Return of the Jedi, Original Movie Script, (Monterey Park, CA: O.S.P. Publishing, Inc., 1994), 36. ↩
- Ibid., 61. ↩
- Lucas, “Audio Commentary,” Menace DVD. ↩
- David Begor, “Defense of the Clones,” Bright Lights Film Journal, November 2002. http://brightlightsfilm.com/38/clones1.php#.U9lUoVanGCs. ↩
- Steven A. Galipeau, The Journey of Luke Skywalker: An Analysis of Modern Myth and Symbol, (Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2001), 242. ↩
- Wikipedia contributors, “Synchronicity,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchronicity ↩
- Galipeau, Journey, 242. ↩
- For a more detailed explanation, please see Lancashire, “Complex Design in The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi: Once More With Feeling.” ↩
- Begor, “Defense.” ↩
- “Because the eye tends to read a picture from left to right, physical movement in this direction seems psychologically natural, whereas movement from the right to left often seems inexplicably tense and uncomfortable. The sensitive filmmaker exploits these psychological phenomena to reinforce the dramatic ideas. Frequently the protagonists of a movie travel toward the right of the screen, whereas the villains move toward the left” (Giannetti, Understanding Movies, 99). ↩
- Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition, Terry Lecture Series, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 38. ↩
- Laurent Bouzereau and Jody Duncan, The Making of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” (New York: Ballantine Publ. Group, 1999), 8-9. ↩