Sunday, May 27, 2018

Things That Don't Suck...Darth Maul Apprentice

This one dates from a time before The Last Jedi blew away Phantom Menace as the worst Star Wars movie of time.  It stands as a reminder that you can do Star Wars right, even in this SJW age.


I've never made a secret of the fact that I hate The Phantom Menace.

I know I'm hardly alone there.  But whenever the subject of riffing on this over priced cinematic turd is raised, someone always pops up to say, "but you have to admit Darth Maul was great!"

Actually no, I don't have to admit any such thing.

Because he wasn't.

Ray Park did a decent enough job with the fight scenes.  He can make screen violence look like it would hurt, which is harder to do than you think. 

But the character had absolutely no depth whatsoever.

There is a certain tried and true formula that goes.  First, you introduce the villain and tell the audience that he is bad.  

Which Lucas more or less remembered to do by making him pal around with a guy who was clearly going to become the Emperor from Return of the Jedi if not quite the one from Empire except Lucas "fixed" that, so screw it.  Anyway, Darth Maul also got to be named Darth, so that means he's bad, right?  And he got a menacing music cue.

However there is second part of the formula that Lucas fucked up completely, which is you have the villain do something bad so the audience doesn't like him.  For example

That was only second time we had seen Vader.  The first time was when he entered the rebel ship and the troops snapped to attention.  The next time we see him, he outright murders a prisoner. Villainy established. This scene was made by a competent film maker who was temporarily inhabiting George Lucas's body.

After he is introduced, Darth Maul has a few scenes where he just wanders the fuck around before his first fight scene with Liam Neeson.  They draw light sabers simultaneously and just go at it.  (*Trying to beat up hippy doesn't go over badly with everyone you know.  It was the national pass time when I was a kid.*) They were clearly equal combatants entering into ritualized combat because they had to.

Think of it in terms of two samurai from warring clans who encounter each other and immediately begin combat.  There is nothing particularly evil about either one of them.  They are just going to fight because they are required to.  It's who they are. Evilness is not established at all.  There was nothing to show Darth Maul as a bad guy other than some warpaint.

I mean if you can't have him kill Anakin's mother because she has to be raped to death by the Sand People in the next movie.  At least let him murder a  Gungan or two. Jar-Jar Binks would have worked nicely.  And there would have been some damn point to having a "cartoon bunny rabbit that steps in the poopy" around in the first place.

The second time we see Darth Maul there is again an immediate ritualized duel. One that the Jedi knights (two against one mind you) make absolutely no effort to de-escalate.

So no,  Darth Maul is not any good as a villain.   But due to some good enough fight choreography, he was the thing that sucked the least in the whole movie.

You have no idea what drives Darth Maul.  You have no notion of his origin story.  You have no clue if he is even capable of any other emotion besides being angry. You don't know for certain that he has ever done anything evil.  Presumably he has but you don't know.

However a film maker named Vi-Dan Tran decided to correct that on a shoestring budget.

Proceed no further without watching the film.

*****SPOILER ALERT  **********

*****SPOILER ALERT  **********

*****SPOILER ALERT  **********

*****SPOILER ALERT  **********

This short is interesting, Tran unlike Lucas, is still familiar with "show, don't tell"

First of all.  Tran had Parks performance down to a T.  Not just the fight arrangement but also hand gestures and arm movements.  You'd swear that Tran was Ray Parks.  That took work, time and study on his part.  This was not your average fan film.

These events clearly take place sometime before Phantom Menace.

The team of Jedi that are investigating a MacGuffin signal that lead them to Darth Maul's planet have a sense of doom over shadowing them from the start.  We know that Maul was unknown to the Jedi, at the time of the Phantom Menace, so we also know these guys aren't getting home.

Which touches on something else.  Thanks to Lucas' intellectual laziness and the fact that he had by 2001 banished anyone from his life who was capable of saying, "George this is a really bad idea."  He had turned the Jedi from what had presumably been a voluntary calling by people in their late teens into an involuntary conscription of young children, entering into a career of  monastic celibacy and lifelong war.  The Jedi were  janissaries.  They were the Slaves of the Force.  At least the Sith appeared to have a choice in the matter.  The Jedi clearly didn't.

So as a result I felt some sympathy for these guys.  I knew from the start Maul was going to kill them and they never had a choice about taking up the profession of arms.  Particularly the girl.

The actress did her job and evoked feelings of sympathy and protectiveness.  As any reader of this blog knows I hate the idea of women in combat. 

And then the really good part happened.  Darth Maul acted.  And the actor did so without saying a word.  He used his face to tell the whole story.  Maybe Maul had been kidnapped as a child too.    There were feeling of regret and hesitation on display.  As well as the dying embers of his compassion being blown briefly into flickering life.  Maybe he had never had a chance to know or give or ultimately ever receive love.

When Darth Maul does, "the bad thing" and kills the girl.  You feel sympathy for him.  He can't go back and he is now just as doomed as the Jedi Knights that are dead at his feet and you know it.





Slagenthor said...

Damn right. Couldn't agree more.

Cataline Sergius said...

You are quite welcome.

Unstinting praise is always welcome here.

Johnny said...

I don't know that I would agree with every particular criticism you have, but you are surely right in general. Assuming that the Darth Maul clip was the beginning of a movie it was an awkward business. Nicely choreographed and all that, but the people who did it don't have a feel for what they are presenting.

The homage scene to the three way standoff from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was really awkward.

Plus a movie has to obey its own rules. Is the babe an effective warrior or is she the innocent victim. They can't seem to decide and have it both ways.