V. I Am Ready to Face the Trials

Anakin and the Jedi Council “You assume too much.”

— Queen Amidala,
The Phantom Menace

Now that I've addressed the general complaints that people have about The Phantom Menace, it's time to get specific. There's the great big problems that people have with the movie (like the fusses over Jar Jar and the midi-chlorians), and there's also a bunch of questions about apparent inconsistencies, contradictions and other minutiae that I've heard repeated over and over. I've rounded up these FAQs, or FWBs (Frequently Whined Bitchings), and endeavored to set the record straight on all of them.

A lot of these complaints and questions jump to false conclusions, or illogically assume that things not yet mentioned or demonstrated in the movies must therefore not exist, or ignore the fact that we've still got two movies full of explanations yet to come. The critics seem motivated by a closed-minded urge to find faults or nitpick story elements where there may well be no problem or error at all. All you have to do is open your mind, search your feelings, let go of your anger, and think.

Questioning the Master’s Judgment

"Jar Jar Binks is a racist caricature that is offensive and demeaning towards African-Americans. The Trade Federation Neimoidians are racist toward Asians. Watto is racist towards Jews/Arabs/Italians."

Bullshit. Bull fucking shit.

That really pisses me off more than just about anything else people have had to say against The Phantom Menace. All I should really have to say in response is this: anyone who seriously believes that Jar Jar Binks is a racist caricature must be racist himself.

But I'm just inviting more contempt if I leave it at that, so I'll elaborate. The same thing happened to a different degree back when the original Star Wars came out. There were people who protested against the movie because there were no black actors in it, except for James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. Crackpot conspiracy theories got concocted out of this, proposing that Star Wars was a white supremist allegory about an ideal world in which black people have been eliminated -- except for the evil Darth Vader, who, in his black mask, his black robes, and his menacing voice provided by a black actor, represented the inherent wickedness of the African-American race. Some protesters even believed that Vader was actually a black character, unaware (as we all were then) that caucasoid Anakin Skywalker was under the mask.

Undeniably, it was an unfortunate oversight that A New Hope had no minorities in its visible cast, which Lucas corrected in the subsequent episodes. But all those accusations about the Vader character being an anti-black emblem in a racist story were all a steaming load of horse crap. Much more than being an insult against Lucas, these charges of racism were a slap in the face of James Earl Jones.

In essence, the protesters were saying that Jones should not be allowed to perform the voice of a masked villainous character, because Jones is black. By that rationale, Jones should limit himself to portraying virtuous African-American characters who reflect in a positive manner on his race. Of course, that's a total crock. There is no other actor on the planet who could have done a better job as the voice of Darth Vader than James Earl Jones. The fact that Jones is African-American is completely irrelevant. And yet some people couldn't get past Jones's race and think of Darth Vader purely as a fictional movie villain. The way I see it, raising objections to the Vader character on any racial grounds is itself an act of racist discrimination.

I think it's just the same situation with Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar is not black, he's a fictional alien being called a Gungan. George Lucas never imagined the character being African-American when he scripted his dialogue, and no one at the Lucasfilm art department or ILM ever thought about the character being African-American when they designed his amphibian appearance. The actor chosen to portray Jar Jar, Ahmed Best, just happened to be black. Furthermore, Lucas originally planned for Best to provide only the physical modeling for the character, and a voice actor would dub the dialogue. But just as Anthony Daniels won himself the voice of C-3PO (whom Lucas first intended to sound like an American used car salesman), Best's vocal characterizations on the set convinced Lucas to let him do the speaking part himself.

Any African-American essence that exists in the Jar Jar Binks character is wholly the contribution of Ahmed Best. So logically, it would seem that if you detect derogatory African-American stereotypes in the portrayal of Jar Jar, it's not George Lucas's fault -- you'd have to blame Ahmed Best. You are therefore saying that Best was wrong to portray a clumsy alien buffoon who speaks pidgin English, because buffoonery and poor language usage are qualities that cast the people of Best's race in a negative light. You are insulting Best's skills as a performer, and telling him he is incapable of playing a certain character solely on the basis of his race. After all, if a white actor had portrayed Jar Jar Binks, there would never have been any race-related controversy at all, would there?

That's why I think that if you say Jar Jar is a racist character, you're racist for saying so. The same goes for the complaints about the Neimoidians and Watto, although those cases are different because the voice actors do not belong to the races allegedly being defamed. These characters speak invented alien dialects that unavoidably bear some resemblances to various real-life accents, which have actually made for linguistic rorschach tests. Protesters interpret the Neimoidians as sounding like some crude American mockery of Asian speech, but Lucas claims they speak with a Transylvanian vampire accent. And critics can't decide whether Watto's speech is offensive toward Jews, Arabs or Italians, but since he's a crooked, money-grubbing slave owner, surely he must be racist towards somebody.

The bottom line from the people who call Lucas and The Phantom Menace racist seems to be this: if your outer-space fantasy movie features alien characters who possess negative or unpleasant character traits (villainy, greed, cowardice, stupidity, funny speech), then those characters may only be portrayed by white or non-ethnic-sounding actors -- or else they will be racist. That is seriously fucked up.

"The midi-chlorians suck! What made Lucas come up with that lame idea? The midi-chlorians ruin the mystical nature of the Force with a bunch of quasi-scientific mumbo jumbo. I thought the Force was an energy field created by all living things, and controlled by the Jedi, but now it's all about these germ things living in your blood?"

There's a whole lot of misconceptions and confusion about those pesky little midi-chlorians. The biggest problem is that people haven't paid close attention to Qui-Gon's explanation of midi-chlorians for Anakin. There's nothing in what Qui-Gon says that contradicts or undermines the nature of the Force as defined in the classic trilogy:

Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life form that resides within all living cells. ... We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians. ... Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force.

Note that Qui-Gon never says the midi-chlorians are the Force. Neither does he suggest that the midi-chlorians create the Force, nor that they are all-powerful beings who are in control of it. All he says is that the midi-chlorians serve as a communication pipeline between "us" and the Force. By "us," Qui-Gon evidently means all sentient beings, not just Jedi.

The Force is still an energy field created by all living things, including Jedi, normal beings, and the midi-chlorians. It just appears that the midi-chlorians have a closer direct connection to the Force than any other life form. They act as a medium -- presumably a neutral one -- that provides sentient beings an awareness of the Force. From the talk about a high midi-chlorian count being an indicator of Jedi potential, we can conclude that the more midi-chlorians a person possesses in his cells, the more sensitive he is to the Force.

Now here's an important point: Qui-Gon never says that the midi-chlorians give a Jedi his power or enable you to use the Force. They just tell you the will of the Force. Maybe the midi-chlorians give Jedi a sort of radar-sense that tells them about the Force, but when it comes to actively using the Force, to move fast or levitate or do a Jedi mind trick, the passive midi-chlorians play no part. That would mean a Jedi still requires his own personal connection to the Force, even if he can't "hear" it without the help of the midi-chlorians.

So what could be the story purposes behind introducing the midi-chlorians into the Star Wars mythology at this point? We can only guess for now, but I think the best bet is that they will have something to do with the Clone Wars. Many people speculate that Palpatine will be genetically engineering an army of evil Sith clones, or something. Maybe the clones will be artificially pumped up with midi-chlorian steroids that make them super-powerful with the dark side. Or perhaps Palpatine will develop an anti-midi-chlorian virus that weakens or wipes out the Jedi in a galactic plague. Who knows? But the midi-chlorians are bound to be important later on, somehow.

Here's one more thing to consider: maybe Qui-Gon and the Jedi are wrong about the midi-chlorians. Events later on may reveal that the Jedi were completely mistaken in their traditional thinking they needed the midi-chlorians to tell them about the Force -- instead, a Jedi must rely on himself to find contact with the Force directly. That would explain why Obi-Wan and Yoda never mentioned midi-chlorians in their later years. So let's just wait and see what happens before we bitch and cry so damn much about the midi-chlorians, shall we?

"Qui-Gon keeps mentioning 'the living Force.' What the heck does that mean?"

The movie never explains what he means by that, and since he's the only Jedi who mentions it, you get the impression it may be an eccentricity in his personal view of the Force, and part of his rebellious outlook. The Jedi Council may not agree that there even is such as thing as the living Force, distinct from the Force as a whole.

The concept of the living Force may be further explored in the next episodes, but Lucas has offered some insight: "The Force itself breaks into two sides: the living Force and a greater, cosmic Force. The living Force makes you sensitive to other living things, makes you intuitive, and allows you to read other people's minds, et cetera. But the greater Force has to do with destiny."

So it seems the Jedi Council is more focused on the aspect of the Force that involves the big picture of the whole galaxy, the future, and everything, while Qui-Gon is more in tune with individual beings and the present. ("Don't center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs.") This shows in Qui-Gon's compassion for others, and Obi-Wan's impatience for getting involved with "pathetic life forms." Qui-Gon's intimacy with the living Force also helps explain why he only senses the good in young Anakin, while the other Jedi fixate on the dangerous potential he represents. The ultimate lesson of Star Wars may be that it's wrong to live our lives concerned exclusively with either the macro or the micro level -- finding balance between the two extremes is the answer.

"So Lucas is saying there can only be two Sith Lords at a time -- a master and an apprentice? What a let-down! Isn't that kind of stupid of them (and risky)? How the Sith can be the biggest bad-asses in the universe and exterminate all the Jedi if there's only two of them?"

An explanation for the two-Sith limit appears in the otherwise worthless novelization by Terry Brooks. Hopefully this bit of history will be told in the next Star Wars movies, because it's really very cool.

The story goes that about two thousand years before Episode I, there was a Jedi who embraced the power of the dark side, and got expelled from the Jedi order. The outcast formed a cult of his own called the Sith, along with other rogue Jedi and new recruits trained in the dark side. The Sith waged vicious wars against the Jedi, hoping to take control of the galaxy, but it turned out that the Sith's worst enemy was themselves.

The Sith Lords were just so incredibly evil that they continually betrayed and killed each other, all of them scheming to be the one with the most power, and so they finally wiped themselves out... except for one lone survivor. Darth Bane, the last of the Sith, went into seclusion and came up with a bold new plan. To quote from the Brooks novelization:

When it was believed all the Sith were destroyed, he emerged from his concealment. At first he worked alone, but he was growing old and he was the last of his kind. Eventually, he went out in search of an apprentice. Finding one, he trained him to be a Master in his turn, then to find his own apprentice, and so to carry on their work. But there would be only two at any one time. there would be no repetition of the mistakes of the old order, no struggle between Siths warring for power within the cult. Their common enemy was the Jedi, not each other. It was for their war with the Jedi they must save themselves.

That's why there's only two Sith Lords -- they're simply too evil to control themselves if there were a bunch of them around. And that, I think, is a pretty damn good reason.

"What exactly is Darth Sidious/Palpatine's big master plan, anyway? Why does he think it's so important that Amidala must sign the treaty with the Trade Federation? If that's what he wants, why does he discourage her from returning to Naboo by saying they'll make her sign the treaty? It doesn't make any sense."

You've got to understand that Palpatine is one smart and crafty little bastard. We have to accept that his plans are a whole lot more complicated than just what we can see happening in The Phantom Menace, and there's no way we can fully understand what all he's up to, at this point. But we can make some guesses.

Palpatine's ultimate goal, we know for certain, is for the Sith to destroy the Jedi and take control of the galaxy. After a thousand years of the Sith being in hiding, Palpatine has decided he's the Sith Lord who'll finally make things happen. Instead of restoring the Sith to their glory through sheer force, Palpatine was chosen to use stealth, deception and politics. Seeing that the Republic has grown weak and corrupt with age, Palpatine has gotten himself elected to the Senate, where he has spent years secretly orchestrating his eventual takeover of the Republic. By being elected Supreme Chancellor, he will be in a powerful position to crush the Jedi through deceit and betrayal, and declare himself emperor.

As The Phantom Menace begins, Palpatine's scheme to become Chancellor is nearing fruition. He has weakened the incumbent Chancellor Valorum by manufacturing scandals and "baseless accusations of corruption," and soon the Senate will oust him and look for new leadership. To bring attention and sympathy upon himself, Palpatine has ganged up with the Trade Federation in a blockade and invasion of his own home planet. When Valorum's government fails to act on the aggression against Naboo, Palpatine knows the situation will make him a favorable candidate to succeed Valorum.

At the outset, Palpatine has little concern for Queen Amidala. She is "young and naive," and "controlling her will not be difficult." All he wants is for her to sign the treaty with the Trade Federation and not interfere with their presence on Naboo. By getting the treaty signed by Amidala, Palpatine would have concrete proof of the illegal invasion by the Federation, and create a sympathy figure out of the innocent, victimized young Queen, coerced into signing away her people's freedom. The treaty would be a smoking gun to crank up resentment towards Valorum and the Trade Federation, paving the way for Palpatine's nomination to lead the Senate.

Unfortunately for him, Amidala doesn't want to play along as passively as he was counting on. She escapes from Naboo and eventually makes it to Coruscant, where she faces Palpatine in person -- a complication he did not want at all. Palpatine realizes that Amidala is much more strong-willed than he estimated, and she's not going to surrender to the Trade Federation without a fight.

Here's where Palpatine shows just how smooth and clever he is. Since Amidala won't cooperate with Plan A, he comes up with a different way to betray her into helping his schemes. He turns her spirited pluck to his advantage, and cajoles her into calling for the dismissal of Chancellor Valorum. This was Palpatine's real objective, anyway -- he probably originally intended to let the Naboo situation fester for a while to get the Senate rife with turmoil, get Valorum ousted, and then arrange for some high-ranking delegate nominate him as the new Chancellor. Palpatine saw the opportunity to speed up the timeline of his master plan, and he made Amidala herself the puppet dignitary with whom he could strike Valorum down. And it worked.

Note that before the Senate hearing scene, Palpatine is trying to persuade Amidala to accept Federation control. But later, when he tries to talk Amidala out of returning to Naboo, he tells her not to go because they'll make her sign the treaty. This is not a plot inconsistency -- it makes perfect sense. In the later scene, Palpatine has already been nominated for the Chancellorship. The treaty is basically irrelevant to him now, since's he's got what he wanted. He's much more concerned at this point about Amidala throwing a monkey wrench in his plans, so he shifts from being pro-treaty to anti-treaty.

That Palpatine is a sly one, I'm telling you. Respect him and fear him.

"Anakin's life as a slave is presented as being way too nice and comfy. Watto seems to treat him and his mother well, and he lets Anakin do fun stuff like podracing. Lucas should have shown Anakin getting beaten and abused as a slave. A more painful childhood would make a better story to explain what turns Anakin turns into Vader."

This is the primary complaint registered by Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News. I think it's a terribly misguided thing to say. First, this argument is built on the apparent suggestion that being a slave isn't such a bad thing, as long as your owner gives you three hots and a cot, and doesn't whip you too often. I believe most people will agree that being the property of another person, under the threat of certain death if you try to escape, is quite enough to qualify as a heavy-duty childhood trauma, even without physical abuse. Also, even though Ani loves podracing, Watto is greedily exploiting the boy and risking his life by entering him in the races. Shmi would define that as abusing her son.

With that aside, it's way too early to make any criticisms about Lucas's handling of Anakin's transformation into Vader. That won't happen until Episode III, and we have no idea how Lucas is going to play things out. How can you rightly complain about a story that hasn't been told yet, just because you think that it's not going to unfold the way you think it probably ought to? That's the height of presumptuousness.

Wait until Episode III is out. If Anakin's fall to the dark side is presented as hinging predominantly on the psychological scars of his childhood in slavery, then you have legitimate grounds to suggest that his life in Watto's junkshop should have been more harsh, for greater dramatic payoff later. But you don't know that yet.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that Anakin will go bad through his own choosing, by giving in to arrogance, self-indulgence or lust for power. His childhood traumas will influence the course of his destiny, but I don't think they'll be the scapegoat. Wouldn't that be kind of a weak and overly tidy explanation of where Darth Vader came from, that he was a slave as a child, so he grows up to be pissed off at the whole universe? I think it will be more like this: Anakin's slavery is an obstacle he overcomes as a child, which fails to crush his spirit; and later he triumphs through these other trials and hardships (in Episode II), which prove just how strong and indomitable this young Jedi is; but then, finally, it's this whole other terrible thing (his own weakness? love? jealousy?) that finally breaks him down: Vader time. Instead of being the cause of his downfall, his slave childhood could provide a contrast and context that amplifies the tragic magnitude of whatever it is that turns him down the dark path.

But all that's just idle speculation. I'd rather wait and see what happens.

An Epidemic of Amnesia?

"If Qui-Gon was Obi-Wan's master, how come Obi-Wan said that Yoda trained him?"

Because Yoda DID TRAIN HIM! As if to clear up any confusion on this issue, Obi-Wan tells Qui-Gon in the opening scene of The Phantom Menace: "But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future." Right out of the chute, the script acknowledges clearly that Yoda did train Obi-Wan, presumably back in the days before Qui-Gon took him as his Padawan. There's no inconsistency in Obi-Wan telling Luke that Yoda was the Jedi Master who instructed him, especially since Yoda is the only one of Obi-Wan's teachers who's still alive. Are you in error when you tell someone about the teacher you had in third grade, but you don't mention that a different person taught you high school algebra?

"How come Qui-Gon is never mentioned in the classic trilogy?"

Quite simply, because the Flanneled One had not invented him yet. But that's no problem, because there was never much of a reason or opportunity for Obi-Wan or Yoda to mention him. Besides Qui-Gon, there must have been thousands of Sith-slaughtered Jedi that Obi-Wan and Yoda could have talked to Luke about, but they probably chose to keep him focused on his training instead of getting him depressed about all those dead Jedi.

"In A New Hope, why doesn't Obi-Wan remember R2-D2?"

Who says he doesn't? Obi-Wan is infamous for keeping many truths hidden in the classic trilogy, is he not? Plus, droids are generally treated as property, not as people (Luke being the notable exception in this behavior), so most people wouldn't keep track of specific droids or get emotional about being reunited with one. A better question would be: Why doesn't R2-D2 seem to remember Ben at first sight? Because he's so much older than the last time Artoo saw him, maybe?

"If he built C-3PO, and he was once friends with R2-D2, why doesn't Darth Vader recognize the droids in the classic trilogy?"

Again, who says he doesn't recognize them? But first, it's important to realize that Vader basically never saw Artoo or Threepio in the classic trilogy. He could have spotted them briefly as they boarded the Falcon during the escape from the Death Star, but his attention is obviously focused on Obi-Wan at that point in time. Vader later shoots Artoo in the Death Star trench battle, but the two characters never again see each other for the rest of the saga after that. And in The Empire Strikes Back, Threepio and Vader appeared together only when Threepio was all in pieces strapped on Chewie's back, and Vader never got a good look at him head-on.

Or, then again, who's to say Vader doesn't know exactly who Threepio is, and the sight of his childhood pal has him weeping silently to himself inside his helmet, while he struggles to maintain his cool Sith bad-ass exterior? Just because the movies do not demonstrate it, that doesn't make it not so!

"When Luke was growing up on Tatooine, wouldn't people recognize the name Skywalker, since Anakin was also from there, and he was known as a podracer pilot? Wouldn't people know who Luke's father was?"

Who says they don't? Maybe the Tatooine old-timers remember him as this hotshot pilot kid who used to race pods, who then vanished never heard from again. Jedi Knights appear to maintain a low profile and avoid personal glory, so it could be that Anakin Skywalker the Jedi Knight was never publicly famous on Tatooine or elsewhere. More importantly, it's probably not publicly known that Anakin became Vader. It may be generally believed that Anakin is dead, and only a select few know who this Darth Vader guy really is. Assuming this, young Anakin's notoriety on Tatooine does not mean that Luke would automatically be singled out on the planet because of his name. Plus, Skywalker may be a common name, anyway. This is an interesting question, but for the real answers, we'll have to wait and see.

Nitpicking and Naysaying

"How do you know Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious are the same person? They might be clones or something."

Nope. They're the same guy. In case it wasn't clear enough for you at the end of the movie, Lucasfilm has officially confirmed it.

"Obi-Wan and Yoda disappeared when they died. Why didn't Qui-Gon disappear?"

Lucas has stated that this will be an important plot point about the Jedi that will be explained in the next two movies. We shall be patient.

"In A New Hope, Obi-Wan and Uncle Owen wore the same style of robes, presumably common dress on Tatooine. But in The Phantom Menace, we see this outfit is what all the Jedi Knights wore. It doesn't make sense, unless Uncle Owen was actually a Jedi."

Well, maybe he was. It has been confirmed that young Owen Lars will appear in Episode II (along with Aunt Beru, as a sexy young babe!), so he could very well be a fellow Padawan of Anakin's at the Jedi Temple.

But even if Owen never swung a lightsaber, we do have an explanation for the apparent wardrobe dilemma. According to the Episode I Visual Dictionary, "Jedi robes are virtually indistinguishable from the simple robes worn by many species throughout the galaxy. This signifies the Jedi pledge to the service and protection of even the most humble galactic citizen."

"If Amidala is the Queen of Naboo, how come she says she was elected?"

We can't presume to understand the politics of a completely foreign planet like Naboo. It's a big galaxy out there, and some planets are bound to have customs that may seem wacky to us. For further illumination, let us turn again to the Episode I Visual Dictionary:

Amidala rules as Queen of the Naboo people at the age of only 14. She was raised by humble parents in a small mountain village, where her exceptional abilities were recognized early in life. Given the best training and pushed to develop her capabilities, she became Princess of Theed, the Naboo capital city, at the age of 12. Amidala was elected Queen upon the abdication of the previous sovereign, Veruna, who had become embroiled in outworld politics after a rule of 13 years. ...

Naboo's monarchy is not hereditary: rulers are elected by their people on merit. Queen Amidala is not the youngest sovereign ever to rule.

"Why did the Queen's starship fly straight towards the blockade during the escape from Naboo? Why not fly through the atmosphere around to the other side of Naboo, then use the planet as a shield for their getaway?"

The blockade had the entire planet surrounded. Assuming there was a less blockaded area that they might have gone through, I think the royal crew was worried that Federation ships would chase them through the atmosphere and shoot them down. Their best chance was to haul ass away from the planet and go into hyperdrive before their shields went out.

"Why does Anakin say 'lasersword'? Is there a difference between a lasersword and a lightsaber?"

Probably not. If you don't count the novels (I don't), the one and only utterance of the word "lasersword" is from Anakin, perhaps because he's just a kid who doesn't know the proper term "lightsaber." But that's just a guess. Wait and see.

"Where did podracing go in the classic trilogy?"

Who says it went away? We only see a very small portion of Tatooine in the classic trilogy. It didn't show us Mos Espa, which may be the only city on Tatooine where there was podracing. Maybe Luke liked to go to the podraces with Biggs, Deak, Fixer and Windy every Boonta Eve, but we just didn't get to learn that in A New Hope. Although he loved to fly his T-16, Luke would not reasonably have aspired to race pods himself, since humans can't race pods... except for this one kid who used to do it, way back when. And Luke, as a kid, was nowhere near as good a pilot as his daddy. Then again, maybe there's a plot twist where Vader asks the Emperor to outlaw podracing across the galaxy because of its painful associations with his childhood. Perhaps the Empire muscled in and took Tatooine away from the Hutts, and Jabba was forced to abandon the glamorous world of organized podrace gambling and sunk into the illicit underworld of spice smuggling, where he could more easily avoid Imperial control. Wait and see.

"How can Boss Nass be a Gungan? He's big and green, and doesn't look anything like Jar Jar and the rest of the skinny orange Gungans."

Hey, think about it: humans are all different colors and shapes and sizes, aren't we? Come on, that's one of the best things about the Gungans -- finally, an alien race where all the individuals don't look like exact clones of each other! If you compare Boss Nass and Jar Jar closely, you'll see that they are not so entirely different. Boss Nass is just older, greener, bigger and fatter, with a head so big and fat that his eyestalks have submerged under the surface of his skin. Imagine if an alien race watched the movie Tommy Boy, and found it incomprehensible that David Spade and Chris Farley were both members of the same species!

"How was Anakin able to fly his starfighter into the hangar of the droid control ship? Shouldn't he have smashed into its shield?"

Nope. At the precise moment that Anakin flew into the hanger, the shield was lowered to allow several droid fighters to fly out into the battle. Take a look at the scene and you can clearly see them exiting the droid control ship just as Anakin is coming in. How did Anakin manage such a feat of exact timing when his starfighter was spinning out of control? It's the Force, stupid.

"There were a bunch of armed Naboo security guards just standing there when Darth Maul appeared in the Theed hangar. Why didn't they shoot at him?"

Let's think about this logically. Captain Panaka and his security forces are smart folks. They've been escorted around the galaxy by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and they've seen what a Jedi does with his lightsaber when you shoot a blaster at him. They've seen Darth Maul briefly on Tatooine and they know he has similar skills. The Jedi have warned the security forces that Maul is probably going to be on Naboo, and they're going to take care of him. Therefore, Panaka's crew didn't even point their guns at the Sith Lord, and promptly got the hell out of the way. It wasn't cowardice, it was the sure knowledge that you'll be instant swiss cheese if you fire your weapon at this guy.

"When Qui-Gon tells the battle droid he's taking the Queen's entourage to Coruscant, why does the droid say, 'Wait... uh... um...'? Droids don't stutter and stammer!"

Who says they don't? We've seen lots of other droids, especially C-3PO, who exhibit humanlike mannerisms and imperfections. Presumably they're programmed that way so people will feel more comfortable when talking and interacting with them. In this case of this battle droid, I get the impression he's searching his data banks for information on Coruscant and any group of people who might be authorized to leave, probably remotely accessing computers on the orbiting Trade Federation ships. For the benefit of the human he's talking to, the droid says "uh" and "um" during the delay.

"If the battle droid army is controlled by the droid control ship, why does the chief battle droid say 'Open fire!' and 'Cease fire!' to the troops?"

That's a better question. I'll go out on a limb and guess that the droid army is programmed to cooperate with living soldiers or independently controlled droids, should there happen to be any fighting on their side. The verbal commands are for the benefit of any such allies. Well, maybe. But anyway, at least this answers the old philosophical riddle: if a battle droid is leading a droid army, and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

VI. It's Not Disrespect, Master, It's the Truth
Nothing's perfect! Here's what I admit could have been better.

Why I Love The Phantom Menace

Cinema