In AOTC, Anakin returns to Tatooine to find his mother, Padmé and Artoo in tow. He is disobeying his orders to remain on Naboo with Padmé and she goes along ostensibly to make sure he’s not “technically” in trouble, but of course it’s also because she is in love with him.
Anakin first finds Watto in Mos Espa. Watto, wearing a nifty hat, at first doesn’t recognize his former slave. The odd thing about their meeting is Anakin first addresses him in Huttese and helps him fix a troublesome piece of what looks like a pit droid. It seems almost affectionate, as though Anakin is acknowledging that tie with Watto and at the same time is hoping that would remind Watto of who’s addressing him.
Watto realizes he’s speaking with a Jedi and then recognizes that it’s Anakin. Watto tries to be friendly, even affectionate with Anakin, like an uncle who hasn’t seen his nephew in a long time. He even has the nerve to ask Anakin for his help to go after some deadbeats. But Anakin becomes intimidating. He dispenses with pleasantries (to borrow from his later alter ego Vader) and demands to know where his mother is. Watto starts to seem uncomfortable as he reveals Shmi was sold. Anakin speaks softly but his “I’d like to know” is delivered like a Mafia enforcer looking for the guy who owes him protection money. Watto gets the message and goes to find the location of the Lars homestead.
One amazing thing about this scene is to see how the dynamic between Watto and Anakin changed from TPM to this awkward reunion in AOTC. Here is one moment in the film where Anakin’s growth into a young man served to his advantage. He’s no longer Watto’s property; the Toydarian no longer has Anakin’s fate in his hands. Anakin is tall and casts an imposing figure over his former master. Plus Anakin is a trained warrior. The body language and tone of the scene seems to reflect Anakin saying, “You don’t scare me anymore. I can swat you like the flies all around here.” This is an empowering scene for him and it’s interesting to note that Padmé is there beside him as this is happening.
At the same time, Watto clearly had some affection for Anakin and in a weird way, Anakin seems to have a teensy-tiny soft spot for Watto as well. It’s not as though Anakin took out his lightsaber, held it to Watto’s throat, and demanded Shmi’s whereabouts. Watto had better thank his lucky stars he didn’t encounter Anakin as Darth Vader!
Watto doesn’t get enough credit as an achievement of CGI. I always found him believable and loved his characterization. Hayden Christensen does a fine job interacting with Watto and expressing Anakin’s conflicting emotions.
Plus there is the visual feast of Mos Espa, a place teeming with animals, aliens, people, and droids. There’s something about Lucas’s visuals that make a place come alive. Mos Espa always make me think of Moebius’s comic art, which served as inspiration for the PT. Completing it is John Williams’s score reflecting an ancient and exotic culture.