film, Star Wars, Ewan Mcgregor, the phantom menace, gary stu, criticism, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, George Lucas

The Phantom Menace and Gary Stus

I'm starting a new series where I review the Star Wars films on the way up to the release of The Last Jedi.

However, rather than just reviewing, I'm going to use my film degree for good and talk about some of the filmic and literary aspects of the movies as well as just complaining (or praising, as the case may be) them.

Ready? Let's get started.

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The Phantom Menace is chronologically the first episode in the Star Wars franchise, although it was the fourth film to be made. You've probably all seen it by now, considering it came out in 1999, but it chronicles the Trade Dispute on Naboo, the early life of Anakin Skywalker, and the introduction of Padme Amidala into the franchise.

Gotta say, compared to the fun and exciting crawl text of A New Hope, The Phantom Menace really pales in comparison. The Phantom Menace really put trade politics into a light that I don't think any of us wanted in our fun time space opera.

During the course of The Phantom Menace, our favourite characters; Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), fly around in spaceships a lot, meet some Gungans (include the execrable Jar Jar Binks), and have some space fights.

On the whole, it's really not a good example of the franchise.

Whilst some of the fighting is fun - most notably the lightsaber battle with Darth Maul - this episode gets bogged down in trivial things. The pod racing scenes take up significant time that they needn't to, and we have to suffer through discussion about trade disputes that none of us actually know or care about. Any sort of tension is solved by the Deus Ex Machina fairy and this film reads more like a misguided comedy than a sci-fi film.

At least, if you're really annoyed by Anakin Skywalker like I am, 60% of this movie is skippable.


Speaking of Anakin Skywalker, let's talk about him in this franchise.

The concept of a 'Mary Sue' (or, Gary Stu for male characters) is an "idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character or a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities." First developed by a fanworks author in the 70s, this term has evolved within literature to carry more of a generalized definition - "characters used for the author's wish-fulfillment" - and is often associated with self-insert characters.

When The Force Awakens came out there was a lot of whining on the internet about how Rey is a Mary Sue, despite the fact that she is significantly more of a well-rounded character than Anakin himself. A lot of this whining did stem from the misogynist side of the franchise, who were not happy that the films finally had another female lead.

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When we first meet Anakin as a child, we learn that he has an especially high midichlorian count ("one of the highest we've ever seen"). Midichlorians are what give Jedi their power, and according to the Jedi Council, Anakin is one of the most powerful people they've ever seen.

Yes, I am aware that Anakin needed to be powerful in order to create the overarching threat that is Darth Vader, but his powers are excessive. When he was a child, he hand-built a protocol droid and managed to beat opponents far older than him in a pod race, despite the fact that he had no knowledge of the Force and managed to unconsciously harness it to survive.

Continuing in that vein, Anakin climbs into a fighter ship whilst on Naboo to stay safe during a firefight. Accidentally he turns the starfighter on, and accidentally he flies into space and accidentally he destroys the one enemy ship that is preventing the Naboo people from protecting their planet.

'Accidentally', huh?


Plus, in Revenge of the Sith, he survives being burnt alive. Yes, yes, I know 'plot conveniences' and all that, but the guy is living a charmed life. Maybe he is magical.

Or maybe he's just a poorly written character, made to survive against all odds, so the audience has a proxy to feel sorry for.

However, he was a virgin birth created by a magical force in order to fulfill a prophecy. You really can't get more Gary Stu-ish than that.

Here is an excellent link to an article by Vox about Mary Sues/Gary Stus in Star Wars.

And here is a Tumblr post that makes a better case at this than I do.

What do you think? Comment below!

Emma Maguire