How To Fix Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

The topic of this post is probably nothing new. People have been sounding off on what is wrong with the prequels ever since the ‘New Star Wars Glow’ wore off Episode 1 and all of us, collectively, realized that the troubling feeling in our guts whenever we watched the movie was the fact that it was, after all, a bad movie. I and my friends (most notably my friend Matt M and I) have discussed at length how to fix the prequels and make them good movies – an edit, if you will – and, seeing as the films are getting released again in MoneyVision…err…I mean ‘3D’, now seems as good a time as any to give you my theory for how to make the movies better. I’ll probably write one of these as they are released, just for the hell of it.

Here we go:

Meesa the symptom, not-a the cause!

Step 1: Stop Complaining About Jar-Jar

Yes, Jar-jar sucks. We all know he sucks. We all wish he weren’t there. Jar-jar isn’t the problem, though. There are plenty of annoying characters in actually good movies and we forgive them and still like the movie just fine (think Roger Rabbit, C3P0, Billie from Temple of Doom, Data, etc.). Why can’t we forgive Jar-Jar?

We can’t because there is no other interesting characters to watch!

Qui-Gon Jinn is exhaustingly boring, Obi Wan is a rebel with nothing and nobody to rebel against, Amidala is like a piece of talking furniture, and Annakin is played like a kid dragged out of central casting and asked to play, well, a kid. Jar-Jar is put in the movie for comic relief, right? But we don’t need or want comic relief in this film because there is no dramatic tension to be relieved.

The Solution: We need to change up the characters, and badly. Here’s my suggestion, as follows:

  1. Obi Wan should be a bad Padawan – rebellious, defiant, and headstrong. How do we make this work? Simple: It is Obi Wan, not Qui-Gon who wants to bring Annakin back to Coruscant. It is Obi Wan who pleads the case before the masters. It is Obi Wan who somehow convinces Qui Gon this is the right move. This, incidentally, gives Obi Wan even more to be miserable about later. Obi Wan is about improving the Jedi, see? He’s going to make things better, save the galaxy, etc. It’s a tragic flaw.
  2. Qui Gon should make bad choices. He should be wrong about things, and in such a way that, in the end, he chooses to defer to Obi Wan’s judgement. He should be indignant until, in the end, he dies humble and contrite before his former student.
  3. Amidala should be attracted to Obi Wan. Yes, I said it. This episode needs a little sexual tension, even if it is one-sided. Having a love triangle to play with later isn’t a bad idea, either. Obi Wan is cool, after all, and Amidala, though a queen, is a teenage girl. Teenage girls love cool bad-boys with magic swords – it’s a law.
  4. Annakin should be older and angrier. If he’s a character in The Goonies, he should be Mouth and not Mikey. Make him eleven, give him a chip on his shoulder (he’s a slave, after all – we can reasonably infer his innocence is shot). Have him appeal to Obi Wan – Obi Wan sees the same rebellious spirit he has. He’s a powerful proto-jedi already teetering on the edge of the Dark Side.
  5. Yes, no Jar-Jar. We’ve already got R2-D2 and Amidala/Obi Wan/Annakin to play with if we want to make things light. The Gungans can stay, though.

Step 2: Nobody Cares About Trade Embargoes

Economics-based conflicts play poorly in a space opera. I get it that Palpatine wants to spark a war that allows him to buy a private army, but that doesn’t mean he needs to spark it over a trade imbalance and legal technicalities. It lacks tension for the audience and doesn’t sustain the kind of heart-stopping action the movie needs.

The Solution: The species occupying Naboo wants it for its natural resources – notably it’s biomass. They’re strip miners, loggers, and so on and feel that the Naboo haven’t been taking their pleas seriously. With Darth Sideous backing them up, they finally have the balls to go over and take what they want. If you want to demonstrate that the Trade Confederation are bad guys, have them clear-logging forests, draining Gungan swamps, building giant, ugly droid factories and forcing the people into labor camps. There – evil – we get it.

Step 3: Better Understood Action 

Many of the action scenes in The Phantom Menace, while well choreographed, aren’t all that much fun. Why? We don’t care about the outcome. I’ve written about this before , and much of the problem ought to be amended by having better characters, but there are still things that can be fixed. Here, in order, is how I’d run the plot:

  1. At the start, the Jedi go directly to Naboo where the Trade Federation’s Controller Ship has landed to host a parley between Amidala and the Directors (or whatever they’re called). It is, of course, a trap. When the poison gas pours into the room, the only way to save Amidala is for Obi Wan to seal his lips over hers and breathe for her (bingo – cue infatuation of a young girl for a handsome hero somewhat older than her). What follows is a mad-cap race through the city to the water, where they barely escape (insert CGI robot villains here) by taking the risky course through the Planet Core (over Qui Gon’s objections). We then meet with the Gungan and Amidala/Qui Gon have to negotiate a ship to escape the planet.
  2. The escape from the planet goes pretty much the same as before, and we wind up at Tatooine. Here Darth Maul is hunting them the whole time and tries to assassinate Amidala. Maul outsmarts Qui Gon and almost gets her, save for the intervention of a young slave who is curiously strong in the force. Obi Wan advocates for his release and, eventually, Qui Gon is convinced after he meets Annakin’s mother. Cue Pod Race for kid’s freedom and then Touching Goodbye (unchanged – Schmi Skywalker is the best part of Episode 1, kid you not). There is no mention of metichlorians, cause who the hell cares *why* the Force works?
  3. Go to Coruscant, cue drama with Annakin/Obi Wan/Qui Gon. The backdrop is with Amidala/Palpatine. Have Obi Wan explain that he and Amidala can never be together (silly girl). Suddenly Coruscant becomes more interesting, doesn’t it?
  4. Return, cue big fight. This is roughly unchanged, but sees our characters finish their now-existent arcs: Annakin finds his calling, Obi Wan is (finally) given power, but at the terrible price of his Master’s death, Amidala, hurt by Obi Wan, gives them a hero’s send-off, and Yoda pronounces his terrible prophesy.

See? The movie really isn’t that bad if you just give your characters something to do for a reason. These changes also set things up for the next two movies, too – we’re telling a tragedy here, so we need to work on building pathos. Anyway, there’s my .02, for what they’re worth. Not much, I know, but hey, a guy’s entitled to his opinions, right?

I’d go see this movie, anyway. There’s no way Lucas is getting $15 from me to watch his dull version again. I saw it four times when it came out and twice since then – I’m done.

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on February 12, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. you had me at “MoneyVision”…

  2. Auston, this is not at all a bad way to recast the movie—in fact, I was able to imagine it on the little movie-screen in my head and I have to say that it’s pretty much the film we had all hoped for. The only small disagreement I have with you on this is about Qui-Gon’s characterization. I really think Qui-Gon needs to be the most noble figure in the whole proceeding…but his nobility must be challenged by the rebel Obi-Wan (whom the council has saddled him with to keep him out of their hair).

    So, keep Qui-Gon as the Phil Jackson/Zen Master of the Jedi (he’s a winner but he’ll never be on the council because he’s not *establishment* enough). His nobility is tested, though, when hotshot Obi-Wan pushes him to get angry-slave Anakin into the Order—and Anakin should be the same age as Padme (seriously? Naboo elected a 14 year old as queen, they totally deserve a droid army smack-down) so that your love-triangle would make even more sense…she’s totally not into dating immature high-school guys but totally mature college guys.

    Qui-Gon *is* looking for the fulfillment of the prophecy (though, I’ve got to say Lucas has no idea how prophecy actually works) but doesn’t see it in Anakin–who despite being strong in the Force is inept because his captivity to fear keeps him from harnessing his anger to use the Force very often or very well. If Anakin had been discovered earlier in life, he’d probably been snatched up by the Jedi, but it’s really too late and Qui-Gon is not the sort of guy who takes short-cuts. He’s also been around long enough to know that the council will never buy that Anakin is the ‘Chosen One’. He’ll liberate the kid, his sense of justice demands it, but that’s all. He’s already got to deal with Obi-Wan.

    Obi-Wan, who is trying to graduate from being a 25 year-old padawan, knows that Qui-Gon desires to be accepted by the council. Obi-Wan and Anakin should actually be friends—or at least Obi-Wan should think so (especially while he’s torn between Jedi glory and Padme who is totally into him). Anakin shouldn’t actually like Qui-Gon but should respect him b/c he knows Qui-Gon could mop the floor with him. Overconfident Obi-Wan reasons that if he can get Anakin into the Order as the ‘Chosen One’ then he’ll finally get to cut that silly braid off. He realizes that the council would never let him into their chambers let alone listen to him, so he and Anakin play on Qui-Gon’s desire for acceptance by the council. They convince him that if Anakin is the Chosen One he’ll need training *and* oversight by the Jedi. The council can be convinced of this *and* they’ll be so grateful to Qui-Gon that they’ll actually give him a seat on the council. The Tatooine heat and the murderous zeal of Darth Maul gets to Qui-Gon and he acquiesces. It kind of makes sense, why would Darth Maul even be on Tatooine if not to murder the ‘Chosen One’!!! Obi-Wan may be right…about Anakin…about a nice air-conditioned room in the Temple on Coruscant. The buddies high five, Obi-Wan steals a kiss from Padme (and Anakin who wants to be just like Obi-Wan is crushed to discover it), and R2D2 makes funny noises.

    The council doesn’t buy any of this for a second–they ironically say the same things to Qui-Gon that he’d said to Obi-Won. They note approvingly of his freeing Anakin, but chastise him for suggesting he’s the one to bring balance to the Force when he so obviously won’t. In any event, the more pressing matter is the strip-mining of Naboo and the liquifying of Gungans into axle-grease for droid tanks. Qui-Gon, despite having been publicly chastened by the council, is still the best man for the job *and* is still an old-school Jedi who follows orders. Obi-wan is pissed but still a padawan (he’s not quite the rebel he thought he was), so he goes with his master. Anakin is free but has no where else to go–he’ll die on Naboo taking out as many droids as he can…if his blaster (yeah, that’s right he’s packing a blaster) should discharge in a friendly fire incident with Obi-Wan, so be it (this is the kind of teenager who would actually grow up to murder a planet).

    As you wrote, the final battle and remainder of the film plays out pretty much in the same way. However, instead of a little kid with no flight-training inadvertently saving the day by accidentally destroying the droid command ship, we’d actually see Anakin come into his own as a fighter-pilot. Now he’s not just an angry slave…he’s a war-hero (that is a hero of something that actually plays out like a war).

    My favorite scene of the movie is the brief moment when Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul are separated by the force fields. I’d keep it as it is: Qui-Gon meditating and Darth Maul skulking back and forth just ready to straight-up murder the Jedi. Obi-Wan should be ready to chew the corner off the desk–he’ll show the Sith what’s up. Qui-Gon fights with graceful ferocity but Darth Maul gains the upper hand b/c he’s had it the whole time. Obi-Wan comes unhinged and slices Darth Maul in half. This isn’t really helpful, b/c interrogating
    the Sith might have been, you know, a good idea. Obi-Wan almost slips to the Dark Side, but horrified pulls himself back from the edge. It’s his fault that Qui-Gon is going to die. Qui-Gon urges Obi-Wan to *keep looking* for the Chosen One. Though speechless Obi-Wan nods, he’s finally turned the corner and will become the responsible Obi-Wan…the one who could wind up on the Council where his Master never could. The mantle of nobility is passed to Obi-Wan and the pathway to Alec Guiness is straight and clear.

    At the end of the movie, Yoda and Mace Windu decide to admit Anakin b/c they realize they need to keep an eye on him—though officially it has something to do with him being a hero (and by the way, this whole thing is Yoda’s fault b/c he trained everyone who ever went rogue or messed up). Obi-Wan gets to graduate from padawan, but because this resulted from Qui-Gon’s death he breaks it off with Padme b/c he’ll never see someone he cares about hurt again and he’s resolved himself to carry on Qui-Gon’s quest. Anakin swoops in to comfort her before being shipped off to Coruscant. End of movie.

    Next time the trio is altogether again (next movie) is when a newly bearded Obi-Wan comes in from some obscure mission to find Anakin ready for his field-training as his padawan. Padme is conflicted, she’s with Anakin now but she really is into bearded dudes…

    • I agree with a lot of that, and Qui Gon should be the most noble, certainly. He should just be wrong. Heck, there should be a scene where Obi Wan, in a fit of passion, accuses Qui Gon of being the reason he’s still got the braid: “You’re a bad teacher, master! I mean, look at *me*!”

      • Yes, I see what you’re saying. It’s tricky. Because Lucas does such a poor job with characterization that if you actually attempt to make a character consistent in his/her development within the story as we already have it, it breaks ten other things. For example: what is the deal with teenagers on Naboo running the show but on Coruscant adults are still made to dress like kids? You fix this in either direction and it breaks everything else in the prequel ecosystem. It’s maddening!

  3. That, my friend, is the wonderful, magical world of editing. It isn’t easy.

  4. I totally agree about little “Ani” being older, more mature, and less innocent. After being traded and forced to slave around all day in the merciless sands of Tatooine, you would think he would be more Angry Ani and less Pollyanna…It’s just a HUGE shock to go from little Ani in TPM to a hardened, emotional wreck in AOTC…

    • I know, right? Plus, it makes the love story in Attack of the Clones downright creepy. I mean, yeah, I’m married to a woman four years my junior, but if I met her when she was eight and I was twelve…ick…

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