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Star Wars Episode I

Star Wars Episode I

By Arpad Lukacs • January 5th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
20th Century Fox

Original release: May 19th, 1999
Running time: 136 minutes

Writer and director: George Lucas
Composer: John Williams

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

We’re first told about the Jedi in what now really feels like ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’, by the wise old Obi-Wan Kenobi when A New Hope was first released in 1977. In a way, it’s hard to see, but in the original Star Wars trilogy we never actually gain an objective view of the Jedi as they’re extinct; whatever we know, we know from two elderly warriors Obi-Wan and Yoda who are the only ones still alive and therefore the only representatives of a complex organisation that consisted of thousands of members before the Great Jedi Purge. From them, all we heard was righteousness and a relentless search for justice and peace.

When the prequel trilogy was released more than two decades later, we were in for a few surprises. Of course, one of the surprises was the disappointment that came with the long-awaited trilogy that’s been discussed, debated, analysed and dissected in great detail and in volumes. While I agree with most of the criticism regarding the overall quality of these films, I also found they had redeeming qualities and a completely different kind of surprise that endlessly fascinated me.

As opposed to the tyrannical world of the Galactic Empire in the original trilogy, the prequels take place in a world that’s a lot more complex – and a lot more similar to our own. The system throughout the galaxy is democratic under the control of the Galactic Republic. The prequel trilogy opens with a conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Trade Federation in which we’re reminded of the never-ending conflict between the Democratic and the Republican Party in the United States. The former is hindered by layers of government bureaucracy while the Trade Federation is all about business that despises taxation and regulation. The conflict in question is a seemingly insignificant one that nevertheless brings about drastic changes to the Republic that eventually transformed the way I looked at the Jedi Order completely. The crisis on the planet Naboo has great historical relevance on its own right. When reading Naomi Klein describing the Falklands War in her book The Shock Doctrine, we would only have to replace a few words to make the text fitting for the Naboo crisis and its aftermath:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

“On April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a relic of British colonial rule. The Falklands War, or the Malvinas War if you are Argentine, went down in history as a vicious but fairly minor battle. At the time, the Falklands appeared to have no strategic importance. The cluster of islands off the Argentine coast was thousands of miles from Britain and costly to guard and maintain. Argentina too had little use for them, though having a British outpost in its waters was regarded as an affront of national pride. The legendary Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges scathingly described the land dispute as “a fight between two bald men over a comb”.

From a military standpoint, the eleven week battle appears to have almost no historic significance. Overlooked, however, was the war’s impact on the free-market project, which was enormous: it was the Falklands War that gave Thatcher the political cover she needed to bring a program of radical capitalist transformation to a Western liberal democracy for the first time.

Thatcher was fighting for her political future – and she succeeded spectacularly. After the Falklands victory, which took the lives of 255 British soldiers and 655 Argentines, the prime minister was heralded as a war hero, her moniker “Iron Lady” transformed from insult to high praise. Her poll numbers were similarly transformed. Thatcher’s personal approval rating more than doubled over the course of the battle, from 25 percent at the start to 59 percent at the end, paving the way for a decisive victory in the following year’s election.” ¹


  • [1] Klein, Naomi The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2008), Penguin

The Falklands War is just one example in Klein’s book, in which she argues that crises are often used – and sometimes even manufactured – by powerful interest groups and governments in order to push through reforms that would be opposed under normal circumstances. In the midst and the aftermath of the crisis, however, the reaction is the opposite: the public welcomes and even demands these unpopular measures – the first sign of which in Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the ‘motion of no confidence’ against the Supreme Chancellor whose leadership is perceived too weak to help Naboo against the Trade Federation. Senator Palpatine, the new Supreme Chancellor gains considerable power under these extraordinary circumstances – due to a well-placed and timed shock therapy executed on a remote location that in itself has no historic significance.

This is the single event that sets the stage for the following years of political turmoil and eventual war, in which the role of the Jedi Order became a subject of fascination to me. When looking at the story in terms of parallels with the real world, it’s hard not to see what the Jedi stand for. If the Republic is our Democracy with the Galactic Republic and the Trade Federation being the two ruling parties – one in power and the other struggling with the regulations imposed on its dealings – and the events on Naboo representing a crisis reminiscent of the Falklands War, the Reichstag fire or 9/11; then the Jedi Order can only be understood in this context as a religious group that has infiltrated the Democratic process.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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