In the first three Star Wars movies, the Jedi and Sith are dwindling embers. What was once a vast, tangled hierarchy of light and dark force practitioners has shrunk to a handful of strange and vindictive old men fighting for control over a few troubled, illiterate children. With the 1999 prequel Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace – set in the heyday of the Galactic Republic – Lucasfilm wanted to show these crusading space mystics in their prime. The opening act of the film is basically a 30 minute long rockstar kneeling down. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn emerge out of the stage smoke and proceed to drop more bodies than they fell in the entirety of the original trilogy, batting blaster bolts without looking down and throwing the force like confetti Are.
The fights in the original Star Wars trilogy hew closer to the duels in the old medieval romance flicks: You can more or less follow every blow. The Phantom Menace redefines Jedi and Sith as crowd-pleasing stunt people and martial artists, their intricate choreography mixing kendo with tennis and some, universe-specific flourishes. At times, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon wield their sabers like feather dusters, letting the heat of the blade do the work instead of thrusting on their muscles. However, the real heroes of these encounters are their adversaries: spindly CGI battle droids designed to be more expendable than Stormtroopers. They’re enemies you can destroy by the hundreds without tipping the ratings boards of any age, or risking a tabloid outcry.
The Phantom Menace is, of course, widely and correctly viewed as the worst Star Wars movie ever made. It’s lore rather than plot-driven, full of racist caricatures, and oddly muted in its delivery, with a roster of otherwise solid actors who seem to be loaded with sedatives before each scene. Lightsaber fights are often called its redeeming feature. Later, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have an epic three-way in the vaults of the Naboo Royal Palace with Darth Maul, the soon-to-be Emperor’s apprentice and wielder of a (gasp!) double-ended lightsaber. But as frantic and impressively staged as these deadly skirmishes are, there’s something lacking here too: a sense of actual dramatic stakes.
As game designer and fight re-actor Craig Page argues in A Beautifully Crafted History of Star Wars Combat, Maul and the Jedi mean little to each other, and it comes out in the choreography, which plays into Luke’s struggles. It’s more about skill than. Vader, a ripe old stew of fear and loathing. For the Jedi, Maul’s characterization begins and ends with Qui-Gon’s remark after their first encounter on Tatooine: “He was well trained in the Jedi arts”. For the viewer, her characterization begins and ends with that tooled-up lightsaber, which empowers her to fight the film’s buddy-cop heroes side-by-side. He’s not an archenemy, but merely the ultimate boss of a production that’s perhaps better understood as an empty, prop-heavy blueprint for generations of Star Wars videogames than as a film.
Those games are of course the later Jedi Knight sequels, Outcast and Academy, which are set long after the events of the prequel trilogy, but capture his more detailed and kinetic vision of lightsaber combat. But if The Phantom Menace has a perfect videogame counterpart, I think it’s Jedi Power Battle, a co-op-friendly beat ’em up starring five Jedi characters, released in 2000 for the PS1. I went. As a teen, I was obsessed with Jedi Power Battles. , partly because a close friend and I discovered it together, but also, I now realize, because it merits the hollow spectacle of The Phantom Menace’s fight scenes. In fact, I think it’s a better feel for some of the supporting theories in the film.
Jedi Power Battle is not a win by any stretch. It’s notorious for its terrifying platforming sequences – the camera never lines up comfortably, and you’re forever knocked out of the air by the Rhodians hiding off-screen. It also commits the familiar Star Wars adaptation sin of having an enemy that can walk away with a direct hit from a lightsaber: comparing and contrasting the ‘realism’ of Jedi Outcasts and the Academy, in which you can accidentally kill a Sith by attacking them. are undecided. But its fixed, whole-room vantage point essentially does a better job of recreating The Phantom Menace’s big brawls than third- or first-person Jedi Knight games. Specifically, it means you can project blaster bolts from behind and send them back to sender—supernatural Jedi intuition redefined as top-down view.
Placing health bars under the character model also means you don’t have to look away from your flamboyant force when they sap their contents (the cause of many humiliating defeats in Jedi Academy PvP). But looking beyond these basic formal conventions, Jedi Power Battle also gets to the heart of something that The Phantom Menace never quite pulled off, which is characterization through dueling style.
In the absence of provocative dialogue performances, the film strains to capture each Jedi’s personality through their choreography. Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard gave Obi-Wan a “business style” with “flashy” touches, for example, to reflect what he learned from the temperamental Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan in turn passed this mildly engaged dueling method onto his own apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who added a generous dollop of frenzy as he succumbed to the Dark Side. Considering the Phantom Menace has that agenda, I don’t make much sense of it: even after Maul kills Qui-Gon everything seems rehearsed and thus beyond what Obi-Wan is “do what the master says” at the end gives an inspiration. But it certainly comes to the fore in Jedi Power Battle, which definitely emphasizes choreography as much as characterization by making combat the primary means of advancing the plot.
The game’s Obi-Wan is all staccato side-to-side swipes and double-handed overhead chops — skilful and a little reckless, exactly as he should be. Qui-Gon is at once overpowering and more of a show-off, his combos involving rolling, over-the-shoulder diagonals—slow, baroque moves that are, nevertheless, the better to catch droids mid-counter— They are speedy. Samuel Jackson’s character Mace Windu cuts an appropriately stoic figure for a big deal on the Jedi Council. He fights with one hand, fighting horizontally and vertically with oblique movements of the wrist. The other two characters are relative nobles, but they still feel like separate individuals. Token girl Adi Gallia seeks out ninja reverse-grips while combining high kicks for emphasis, while glorified pub bouncer Plo Koon wields his saber like a massive frying pan.
Outcast and Academy have far more technical depth than JPB, partly thanks to the diligent theory-crafters of their PvP communities, but I think they’re more like an over-specialized and gloriously ornate variation on Quake than Star Wars. There are fewer stories of, drawing on, a different lineage of different videogame tactics, such as cycling attack animations to block or mislead range, rather than representing silver screen fighting or actual fencing. Even as a single-player experience, they invite you to think of the Jedi you’re controlling more abstractly, as dramatic personas expressed as combos. instead of bundles of moves and exploits to slot together.
If I think I’m reaching out with all this, it’s in keeping with how Star Wars fans have seized on the touch of personality in each film’s fight choreography, making They have been changed throughout the history of the Jedi Saber forms. According to miscellaneous forum lore-searchers and official Expanded Universe contributors, Obi-Wan went back to basics after witnessing Qui-Gon’s defeat, switching to a style called “Soresu” that prioritizes defense and a Awaits the opening. It’s fun to put these not-quite-apocryphal, not-quite-pro narratives against the execution of battle scenes from later tentpole Star Wars shows and movies. I doubt it’s a direct influence, but the idea of Kenobi as a savior who pulls off the match is analogous to the recent Obi-Wan TV show, in which the title character acts as a hermit with his back to the wall. Begins as
One thing that frustrates me about Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and — from what I’ve seen glimpses of — the upcoming Survivor is that they tend to blur those characteristically dichotomous styles into one. Cal Kestis is the essential jack-of-all-Jedis to an open-world Metroidvania in which you slowly acquire every piece of equipment needed to access each area and defeat each enemy. He’s got Darth Maul’s double-ender, Kylo Ren’s crossguard variant from The Force Awakens, and the option of a dual-wield saber, just for kicks. This isn’t a criticism of how well the combat hangs together, and you can certainly focus on one genre by prioritizing specific upgrades. But making Cal an all-rounder also dilutes his personality, and it’s not like he has any charisma. There are very few things worth preserving from The Phantom Menace era, but I think the idea of choreography as characterization is one of them.
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