Today I happened to see two movies whose central characters were child soldiers. I watched:
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Star Wars The Phantom Menace (1999)
Beasts of No Nation
I watched this understanding that it had Oscar buzz but its main disqualifier was that it was released through Netflix. It opens with the childhood whimsy where the main character is trying to sell an empty TV to locals selling it as an imagination TV. They later move on to cut down a tree branch to block the road and demand a toll to passing cars for them to move it out of their way. Soon after the war comes to their small town and all the men except the young boy is massacred the young boy runs into the jungle where he falls into Idris Elba's batalion. The young boy is taken in with the promise he can get revenge on the men who killed his family. He is indoctrinated and forced to execute a prisoner which endeers him to Idris Elba's character and given a rifle.
I was very impressed by this film. It's about the loss of a childhood in a warzone. It's about the war games kids play and the brutal reality of living them out. I was impressed by the acting, the scenery, and I was impressed by where the movie goes. It gets questionable in the middle of the film whether it is going to be a movie about fathers and sons and strained relationships until Idris Elba flat out says it and the boy realizes this is the situation he is in and rejects it. The boy doesn't kill the father figure, he walks away. In the end the message of the story aside from showing the true effects of a war outside of the world wide news cycle is that talking about emotional scars can help.
This movie moves into my favorite dramas of last year discussion, falling just behind Sicario. I was glad to see this subject in film and I hope less dramatic films in the future also take it up. I have high hopes a Black Panther Marvel movie will be about the character taking power in Wakanda as a George Washington- style idiological guerrilla fighter, and the difference would be that he would be a character that saves the child fighters and brings peace to his country. It might be a little heavy for a comic book movie but I think it would be a cool way to do a political/war story in a superhero movie.
Star Wars Phantom Menace
I rewatched this for the first time just a couple of years ago when it was rereleased in 3D. I went in understanding younger Star Wars viewers had a soft spot for this movie, so despite my fading memories of it not being so great I assumed those feelings might have been because of the vast cultural feelings of the movie being a pile of burning trash that I decided I would give it the benefit of the doubt. It was far worse than I remembered. In all the Star Wars craziness the last few months I wanted to give it another look and this viewing, with far lower expectations, found a movie that wasn't the worst thing I ever saw. The worst thing I have ever seen is possible Transformers 2 and this does not have the same dullness to it.
Jar Jar is bad. All of the CG characters are disasters. All of the other actors are doing fine jobs for their skill levels and it was quite apparent the problem was with how they were directed to act. I doubt the federation actors slipped their asian steriotype accents into the film at the same time the actor portraying Jar Jar went with whatever the hell he went with. Little Orphan Ani is annoying but he's not really much of a part of the movie compared to the main Jedis. It was interesting to notice the climax was set like many other climaxes of Star Wars movies but it has some nice wrinkles to it. The forcefield lightsaber fight has great drama to it and the red tint on the characters looks great. I was very happy to see much of the scenery in this movie looks amazing, but saddened that all of the CG characters are especially uneven and don't seem to be in the same movie as the human characters. I'm sure this is a movie that could be recut, re-edited and use a little green screen work to re-do the whole movie and make it good. It's not really all that far off, for as bad as it is.
After seeing Beasts of No Nation and the struggle the boy has over "the worst sin he could ever do" in killing a man, it's very weird to see Ani flying into space and fighting in the dog fight while killing androids. Yes, they're "just robots" but in the Star Wars universe androids have feelings, get hurt, get tortured and make friends so killing a Star Wars android is pretty close to killing a living thing, if not the same, and little Ani yells "woo hoo!" This experience as a child soldier hardly seems to be an event that leads him into darkness and those events see to hit him as a teenager or later. Yes, the boy in Beasts smiles during some of the killing, but he is detached, and it stays with him and pains him to make him think he will never be a child again, and Ani calls out "now that's podracing!"