For years, it was a commonly accepted truth in Star Wars fandom that the prequel trilogy was unequivocally a blight on the franchise and perhaps even the worst set of movies unleashed on mankind. In fact, I’m sure in many areas of the fandom that sentiment still holds true. Liking the prequels was not something one admitted to, and especially not The Phantom Menace. A Star Wars movie about trade disputes? Ridiculous.
However as the years have gone on and social media has become a much bigger force in fandom, that sentiment is slowly changing. Far from being universally derided, the prequels have quite a large and devoted fanbase and the era itself is enjoying something of a renaissance these days through books, comics, and television. As we approach the twenty-year mark of the start of this trilogy, it’s worth looking back on the prequels and acknowledging that there’s quite a lot to enjoy…and quite a lot done well.
The Phantom Menace in particular has received the brunt of anti-prequel sentiment, and unfairly so. Not only is it a genuinely fun movie on its own, but it’s vital to the overall Star Wars saga and to the Skywalker mythos. It introduced key characters who are still important to the story years later (hello Darth Maul), brought depth to the franchise as we knew it then, and added key ideas, themes, and concepts that we now take for granted. While the prequels as a whole have experienced a resurgence in public favor lately, so too has TPM finally been getting the respect and appreciation it deserves.
And so in honor of its twentieth anniversary it’s time to take a look back at The Phantom Menace and see what makes it so great. In both its characters and its story, it’s worth appreciating all that it adds to the Star Wars universe.
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Mike: Last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration Chicago was not just my first Celebration but my first major convention of any kind. I had a blast and got to meet dozens of people from here and Twitter for the first time, but having technically covered the last few Celebrations here at Eleven-ThirtyEight and seen lots of rumblings about organizational issues (from both past events and this one) the thing I found myself most curious about as the weekend wound down was: how did Chicago stack up to the others?
I’ll be sharing more of my own thoughts soon, but suffice it to say that aside from a fair amount of stress over the status of my media application, I found the whole thing to be moderately logistically challenging but not to the point that it infringed upon my good time. If I wasn’t able to get into a panel I’d been hoping for there was always something new in the main hall to check out, or a friend to track down, or shitposting to do, so I never found it too bothersome.
But with this being my first con, I had no prior experiences to compare it to—better than average? Worse? Or typical? Luckily I had the novel opportunity to ask some of my staff writers—like, their actual physical selves—what most surprised them about this year. I should mention that while most of them are battle-scarred veterans of the convention floor, this was Abigail Dillon’s first Celebration as well—but I’m nice so I decided to ask her anyway. » Read more..
While there are no major spoilers below, I do discuss the contents of Queen’s Shadow in detail—consider yourself warned.
On May 19, 1999, The Phantom Menace opened in theaters. It was the first new theatrical Star Wars movie in sixteen years and kicked off a new trilogy exploring the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader, a character that had already earned a spot in the pantheon of classic villains. However, rather than opening the movie on Tatooine, where we learn that young Anakin is living as a slave, we instead start on an unknown planet in danger of invasion, ruled by a teenage girl who will do anything to save her people.
And yet, despite a whole movie and a handful of tie-in novels that centered around Queen Amidala, she became increasingly sidelined as the trilogy went on and her character became inextricable from her doomed relationship with Anakin. Her cadre of handmaidens made a brief appearance in Attack of the Clones, but by Revenge of the Sith she was alone and left to watch her world crumble around her without any apparent support. She ends the trilogy by giving birth to the next generation’s heroes and then, at the age of twenty-seven, loses her will to live and dies of a broken heart.
Three years ago I wrote an article advocating for a Padmé novel. For far too long she had only really existed as an extension of Anakin and wasn’t given a chance to shine on her own. As arguably the main character of The Phantom Menace and (inarguably) a key figure in the story of the final days of the Republic, she deserved a better legacy than only being remembered as the object of Anakin’s fears and an indirect reason for his turn to the dark side. More importantly, for a character who started with so strong a story and so interesting a backstory, it was a shame that her movie potential was wasted with bad writing. So to finally have her given a voice after getting the short end of the stick for so long is incredibly meaningful in a way that’s difficult to put into words.
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Dragon Con is somewhat unique among large conventions in that despite its size it is still entirely fan-run, meaning you don’t really see the industry presence (read: exclusive merch and reveals) that you would at a SDCC, NYCC, Celebration, etc. However it also means that there’s an emphasis on a wide breadth of tracks to cover almost every tangentially geeky topic there is to talk about, from the obvious sci-fi/fantasy titans (Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, etc) to more niche interests such as puppetry or LAN gaming.
The Star Wars team in particular always puts on four days of incredibly high-quality programming and discussions, and as a frequent panelist with the Star Wars track my goal this year was to bring some of that fantastic discussion to Eleven-ThirtyEight. And in a year where the fandom at large has dealt with some serious discussions around toxicity and representation, it seemed fitting to put a focus on one of the more controversial elements from The Last Jedi: Vice Admiral Holdo.
So I now present to you the latest in ETE’s Aggressive Negotiations series: a transcription of the Vice Admiral Holdo panel from Dragon Con 2018, featuring myself and three other panelists unaffiliated with ETE. For those unaware, Aggressive Negotiations are raw, largely unproofed live chats among our staff and occasionally others. They are more off the cuff and unscripted with the goal being to present fandom in its most raw form.
The panel discussion originally took place on Friday, August 31, 2018. This transcription has been slightly edited for clarity.
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Second Look is Eleven-ThirtyEight’s biannual tradition of highlighting some of our most interesting pieces from recent months. Every day this week you’ll find a different older piece back on our front page for another moment in the spotlight. – Mike, EIC
“Luke Skywalker has vanished.”
The opening line of the crawl for The Force Awakens was like a gut punch to Luke fans everywhere. And not only was Luke gone, he’d apparently gone missing voluntarily, as a result of Ben Solo falling to the dark side and becoming Kylo Ren. For two years the fandom theorized not only on why Kylo became evil but why Luke Skywalker, Rebel hero and Jedi legend, has apparently given up. In The Last Jedi, we finally get those answers. Luke takes Yoda’s advice to “pass on what you have learned” to heart, but a split-second mistake on Luke’s part brings the whole thing crashing down. And as a result Luke decides to exile himself on a remote island and leave no trace of his whereabouts. By the time Rey finds him, he’s an acerbic, sarcastic hermit who in so many rude ways tells her to leave him alone and that he refuses to help Leia fight the evils of the First Order.
This seems a sharp contrast to the bright, shining figure we see in the original trilogy. Luke had hardships and made decisions that backfired on him, but he was never one to run away from a problem. So at first glance this seems like a long string of extremely out of character moments meant to create drama and difficulty for Rey and Kylo. However, when taking a deeper look at Luke’s character and personality in the original trilogy, his circumstances in TLJ are a natural extension of his character.
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