The night I walked into the theater with my family to see The Phantom Menace, I had a huge, excited smile on my face, fully prepared to be wowed by the mind of one of my major creative influences. Instead, I was jealous of my mother, who’d somehow fallen asleep near the beginning of the movie, drool and all. Now, and I know this is going to raise some eyebrows, TPM slowly became my favorite of the prequels. It’s devoid of a love story, there aren’t too many subplots going on (that we know of), and sure, the performances were wooden at best, but at least it’s not Hayden Christensen talking about being “so in love.” In some places, I actually really enjoy the narrative choices being made, specifically using The Hidden Fortress plot that George Lucas was inspired by: a princess disguising herself as a mute peasant so she doesn’t give herself away as she’s escorted across enemy territory.
Which actually brings me to my favorite scene: when Nute Gunray is tricked by Sabe, one of Queen Amidala’s decoys (played by Keira Knightley), I felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie. A superior force was outwitted by a smaller, less advanced one by using a bait and switch (and kind of relying on the racist concept of, “Meh, all y’all look alike, so it must be you!”). This way, Amidala utilizes all of the resources available to her to their utmost potential, showing an intelligence and adaptability that is necessary in leadership, and ultimately is able to end the occupation with much fewer casualties had the battle continued. Padme is definitely laying the groundwork for her own daughter’s strengths thirty years later. Granted, she turns into a cardboard cutout with tear ducts by the end of the trilogy, but at least I have this movie to think about what could have been.