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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.