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Star Wars

Star Wars
Star Wars Title

About the only unequivocally well-executed thing about this film are the effects and (certain) character and creature designs. The computer-generated virtual sets that provide the backdrop for most of the film are marvels of architectural illusion (rivalled only by the hairstyles and headdresses of the Naboo Queen Amidala).

Various classes of droids used by the Federation are truly novel; the best of these are battle droids that enter as whirling mechanical wheels, then unfold into scorpion-like battle turrets with their own defensive force fields, but mechanical footsoldiers are also quite striking. Eye-candy, however, is relatively cheap these days; no amount of it can overcome the film's basic inadequacies. No two ways about it - the film is dull.

If being dull were all that was wrong with the film, it would still be a let-down; but the film's aspirations of making some kind of comment on race and its way of playing on Lucas' sources react to produce a film that is not only awful but dangerous.

By way of background: In the backstory for the Star Wars universe, Lucas openly offers humanoid/non-humanoid relations as an allegory for race relations on Earth. Non-humanoid species, especially under the Empire, are treated roughly as non-Whites have been treated in Earth's own colonial history - marginalized at best, exploited, ridiculed, despised. The enlightened "good guys" (the Jedi, Amidala, the Rebellion of the later films) see beyond these species differences, while mistreatment of non-humans is institutionalized under the Empire of the later films.

Racial Caricatures

This idea breaks down immediately, though, when you look at the characterizations of the non-humanoid races. Whatever their physical appearances, their voices and characterizations are clearly drawn from the worst racial caricatures of the popular entertainment of the 1930s and 1940s. The sinister leaders of the Trade Federation who serve as the front for the soon-to-be Emperor sport accents and mannerisms (and to a lesser degree costumes) that are immediately recognizeable as thinly veiled Thirties-Hollywood-Japanese. The Federation quickly combines memories of Japan as a military threat in the Thirties and Forties, and 1980s Western anxieties over the Japanese economic threat. Watto, the junk merchant who owns young Annakin Skywalker and his mother, needs little comment; he is mostly characterized by his greed (which the Jedi use to easily dupe him), his enormous hooked nose (bordering on a trunk), and what some have identified as a warped derivative of a Yiddish accent (or which may be a middle Eastern accent - but just what kind of Jewish stereotype he is seems like a hair hardly worth splitting).

The Phantom Menace Cont'd


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