With a title as grandiose as that, it is easy to predict reactions from those who do not want their beloved franchise besmirched. As someone who has loved the franchise since I was a toddler, it was difficult to come to terms with some of the more problematic issues that take place within the ‘first’ Star Wars movie. Opening one’s mind to see the bias or prejudice attitudes taken by a series is a hard task, mainly because one would not want to ruin a nostalgic childhood memory, which, with the veil of egalitarianism still on, is simply an absent minded space adventure containing mindless action and crude jokes. However, when pulling off that veil, and being bale to analyze the film with newfound knowledge of racism and bias, it is clear there are several key figures which are obvious caricatures of different races, and even though the movie is decades old, perpetuating those characters, especially to children, will only serve to hinder societies journey in becoming more accepting and culturally accepting.
Without going on a mind-numbing rant discussing the multiple grandiose failures of this film, whether it is the writing, the directing, the pacing, the tone, or the acting, let me simply summarize the key characters and the stereotypes they enforce. Throughout the film, there are two main alien species who are presented are perceived by many to be offensive representations of certain races through their mannerisms and actions. Jar-Jar Binks, the most hated character in all of Star Wars, is a member of an alien race called the Gungans. People cannot decide if Jar-Jar, and the Gungan race, represent either a racist depiction of those native to the Caribbean islands, with their accents and speech patterns being a caricature of how many believe people native to the islands speak, or if Jar-Jar is a character who represents a sort of one-man minstrelsy, depicting black people as ‘stupid’ or ‘rash’ through many of his actions during the film, due to the connection being made between his species and people from the Caribbean islands. The second species to be discussed actually required less analysis in order to be connected to a racist stereotype. This alien species is referred to as the Neimoidians, with their species being one of the main antagonists of The Phantom Menace. The Neimodians have been metaphorically ripped to shreds for being obvious representations of Eastern Asian stereotypes. This is not only due to the clothing they wear, being long tunics, similar to those seen in historical depictions of Chinese royalty, but also due to the quick, stunted way in which the aliens communicate in English. This quick, stunted way of speaking is often used to further racist stereotypes of how people from Eastern Asia present themselves when attempting to speak in English or interact in American culture.
These caricatures and racist depictions matter in a much larger scale than simply understanding that those responsible for the creation of this film were either too ignorant or too oblivious to see the obvious problematic nature of these characters. Seeing these characters presented in one of the most famous movie franchises in history matters because many people love Star Wars and will love Star Wars for most of their lives. And many of the people who love Star Wars the most are children. George Lucas and the creators of this film had the opportunity to create new species of intelligent life forms in whatever ways they wanted. However, instead of using their imagination to envision new forms of life and creatures who’s biology and societal norms are fascinating and intriguing, the creators simply opted to take racist stereotypes, remove the color of their skin from the equation, and place these stereotypes within alien bodies, keeping their offensive mannerisms the same. Children growing up watching these films will internalize these alien’s behaviors as acceptable, given they ae included within the behemoth of a franchise such as Star Wars, perpetuating racial humor and stereotypes to a young generation, possibly changing the way they interact with people while they are developing into young adults. However, depicting them as aliens, separate from the human species, is possibly even worse, given that distinction between ‘human’ and ‘those who talk in a certain way’ could lead to racial biases being developed if children are not educated on stereotypes and stereotypical depictions of certain racial groups. Children need to learn that stereotypes are not acceptable, and portraying people in such a way is not entertaining or funny, but incredibly hurtful to large groups of people, rather than being tossed into juggernauts of movie franchises for cheap laughs from ignorant people.
In conclusion, just don’t watch The Phantom Menace. It is a cinematic failure at best and a movie that perpetuates stereotypes and racist behavior at worst. Rather, watch the original Star Wars movies, which are far more entertaining, and movies that avoid all manners of racist stereotypes or racial demonization, even though they were released as early as 1977.