Bloated with political plot, CGI noise, and far too many characters to follow, the film lacks the emotional depth we've grown to connect with from all three original Star Wars films. We strain to feel attached to any good or bad character. Is the villain of this film emotions? Is the actual "phantom menace" the looming dangers of...consciousness? We're given a lot of stoic characters and plenty of warnings about the consequences of deeply felt feelings. Master Yoda warns that little Anakin Skywalker is "too fearful" to be a Jedi, Queen Amidala employs an expressionless public persona, and the one character who lets loose is Jar-Jar, the universally detested clown.
It's worth amplifying the emotional wisdom of Qui-Gon Jinn, who exemplifies a Jedi Master willing to question the Jedi Council and gently push back on their overly-structured and rigid organization. His explanation of the Force (once you get past the midi-chlorians) offers us valuable teachings. He explains that when we "quiet the mind" we are able to "hear" other parts of our selves, our intuition, bodily sensations, insights. This "mindfulness" based approach has truths and benefits. Qui-Gon is able to be in the moment, to savor and be curious about the present, espousing the philosophy to "feel, don't think." But where these lessons in emotional growth should matter the most seems to be in his relationship with his Jedi mentee, Obi Wan Kenobi, a relationship that is lacking sentimentality throughout the story.
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