A couple things for you this week. The first is a quote which was sent to me via T.X. Watson. It reads,
My friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden has pointed out to me that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is actually a very pretty movie, and if you switch the DVD to Italian and pretend it’s opera, it’s rather enjoyable, too (this only works if you don’t speak Italian).
As someone who has done plenty of Episode I bashing myself, I think this does pose a great opportunity to have a discussion about that rather ill received movie.
Firstly, the special effects of the movie were very good over all. I have a personal disinclination towards CGI, but I've also seen much worse, and there were definitely pay offs--particularly the space battles. The pod race was pretty sweet too.
The biggest flaws with it were probably the animated characters such as Jar-Jar Binks, who has his own list of problems[1. Which has led to him essentially being scapegoated for the all the reasons why Episode I sucked.]. The puppet characters had the real look of being in the scene, even though they kind of made Yoda creepier than I think they should have. By a lot. I mean, he's downright scary[2. After much review, I've decided the reason for this is that the puppet they used in Episode I had entirely too large a brow, as well as too wide a mouth, as compared to the Yoda we knew from our childhoods. The result makes his face look more like Gollum and less like kindly old Yoda. Furthermore his eyes are just kind of cracked out, and its disconcerting.]
The costumes were what you'd want from a sci-fi space opera, as well, from the regal dress of the Naboo[3. Because I'm big on footnotes today, I will remind my readership here that the adjective for "Naboo" is "Naboo", not "Nubian" which is the adjective form of "Nubia", a different planet entirely though in the same sector of space. Confusingly in Ep. I they mention that their ship is of Nubian design, which is true; it was made on nearby Nubia.] royal court, to the simple dress of the Jedi, to the Trade Federation and their preferred garb. It creates a rich picturescape for the imagination.
And lastly, Coruscant was a sight to behold, after having imagined it in book after book[4. I had already begun reading the X-Wing series by the time I'd seen Ep. I.], it was great that they got it so utterly right.
The plot of Ep. I wasn't the worst plot, either. I will point out that the book, based directly off the screen play, is a great and fun read, which I would recommend to anyone who wants to enjoy this particular story[5. The same goes for the other two prequel movies, particularly Ep. III, which I think is one of the best SW books ever.]. There were many things that contributed to why Ep. I was a let down, and cartoonishly racist depictions of human cultures via alien species aside,
I think the biggest thing was this had to follow the greatest trilogy ever made[6. Don't think I'm hating on Back to the Future or Lord of the Rings. They are right there, and LotR didn't exist yet anyway, so SW had a nolo contendere going into Ep. I.].
Now that I've rambled at length in response to something that wasn't a question, a question:
Kristal T. asks:
"How is a lightsaber made?"
The process of building a lightsaber is, as you might expect, long and complicated. It is worth noting, however, that many have been made under less than ideal circumstances, sometimes in only a couple days, sometimes using only materials at hand. In the case of the latter, the lightsaber can often be unstable and even dangerous if it doesn't have a properly tuned focusing crystal.
But I get ahead of myself. When a student of the Jedi or Sith is ready--a determination made either by their own ambition and circumstance or their Master--then they must acquire one of the special focusing crystals that allow the lightsaber to have a self terminating blade. For the Sith, this step is much easier, for the red crystals they use are actually made synthetically, and aren't a naturally occurring variety. Also, they are actually more powerful.
For the Jedi, the path often involves traveling to one of the few planets where particularly useful and Forceful crystals are formed: Adega, Ilum, and Dantooine. However, just about any crystal can be used, as long as the Force user building the device properly meditates and alignes the structures of the crystal to resonate with the force and focus the blade just so--failure to do so can make the device explode or kick off hard radiation. The reason for seeking out these crystals is the superior quality of the blades one can make with them. The most sought after lightsaber focusing crystals are shards of the Kaiburr crystal, and produce the best blades possible.
The rest of the construction process is fairly unique, as each Force user will make the blade which compliments them the best. However, all will have an internal power source and a superconducting loop which takes the energy put into the blade and recycles it with only insignificant energy loss unless the blade is actually cutting through something, at which point energy is transferred to that thing.
A lightsaber can have as few as one focusing crystal, but it was not unheard of to have a lightsaber with as many as three. Depending on the arrangement of the crystals, this can affect the size, shape, and color of the blade. Some lightsaber wielders even added knobs or switches to change the length of their blade mid combat. One such blade was wielded by Corran Horn.
There are also variants such as the double lightsaber, the lightwhip, and the lightsaber pike. (There are dozens to be found on the lightsaber page, linked here and earlier.)
That's all I've got for this week, and I hope to post again next week. If you have a question you'd like answered, or and idle wonderings about Star Wars, shoot your questions to email@example.com, and I'll see what I can do.
May the Force be with you, always,
-Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek