TPM’s major showpiece was the Boonta Eve pod race. It’s like the big showstopping musical number right before intermission. It’s Lucas at his very whimsical, bizarre, and entertaining best.
We know the stakes are high. The heroes all need Anakin to win to get off-planet. Anakin needs to win not only to help his new friends but also to win his own freedom (though he doesn’t know it yet). If that’s not enough to put on the young boy’s shoulders, the kid has never finished much less win a race before.
It’s not a soapbox derby either. It’s a very dangerous race where extreme speeds, topography, unpredictable vehicles, Tusken Raiders, and cheating competitors guarantee some casualties every time.
But along with all of this tension and drama is a great deal of goofy humor throughout the scene: whimsical and silly-looking aliens, the hard luck of Ben Quadinaros, the even harder luck of Ratts Tyerell, flatulent eopies, a pit droid getting sucked into an engine, Fode and Beed the two-headed commentators, the Jawas yelling “utinni,” etc.. It’s “Ben Hur” meets “Spongebob Squarepants.”
Of course, the scene also allows Lucas to indulge in one of his favorite things ever, racing. Races are in several of his films, going back to his student days. If it involves speed, Lucas is there. He lives for it and it shows throughout the scene.
This scene is largely built on editing and on ILM’s visual effects. The latest in effects for that time, ILM combined model work with new digital effects. John Williams’s music doesn’t kick in until toward the end, just as it’s down to the wire between Anakin and Sebulba. Otherwise the only score is the sound of the racers’ engines.
The drama and comedy culminate in a victory for Anakin and his friends, set to Williams’s soaring score. We know it’s another step down Anakin’s path to his destiny but for that moment, he’s on top of the world.