Fixing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
A little info on what this new blog series is going to be about. I am a Star Wars fan, and as like any other Star Wars fan, I have had to wrestle with the existence of the prequel trilogy. Because lets face it, they are not well-made movies. And even as Star Wars stories they are also extremely defective. And yet the core of the story isn’t really that bad, and could be worthy of the story that it tries to complete if only some changes were made.
So that’s what these posts will be doing: suggesting changes. I will be pointing out how I believe these movies could have been fixed to make them more palatable as real entries into the Star Wars canon. So imagine with me a scenario where these movies get a do-over, where we get to remake them with the advantage of hindsight. Its a way to vent my frustration as a Star Wars fan, and just a fun exercise. If you are not a fan of the series, this may not be for you. If you are, I hope you find it interesting.
Lets move on to The Phantom Menace:
Jar Jar and the Gungans
Lets get the obvious out of the way first. Jar Jar is the poster boy for the failings of the prequels, but why? Because he brings a level of silliness to these films that SW fans are simply not accustomed to. He steps in crap, gets numb tongue, and speaks so that you cannot understand him. He also doesn’t really provide much to the story other than introducing the Gungans as a whole, which isn’t really that important. This character needs to be toned down considerably. I know many people would like him removed altogether, but he could add an interesting alien aspect to the film if he was just re-imagined a little. Or… maybe its easier just not to have him at all.
The Gungans have many of the same problems. I mean, the main guy shakes his head and spits slobber. Really? I like the look of the underwater city, and I like the idea of these two races having to join together to defeat a common enemy. But the Gungans are just so silly… Now, George Lucas’ defense for Jar Jar and the Gungans is that he says this is a kid’s movies, and that the Star Wars movies have always been for kids. Okay sure, but they’ve never been THIS kind of kid’s movie. They’ve never been this juvenile, and trying to make it so now just completely clashes with the other films.
Acting and Dialogue
I really don’t understand why Lucas had the actors play so stiffly. Its really brings the movie down. The worst offenders are Natalie Portman and Sam Jackson, but Ewan McGregor ain’t too hot either. The only one who is able to develop his role into an actual character is Liam Neeson. Everyone else is a cardboard cut-out. Lucas needs to just let them own their characters and make them unique, so we as an audience actually feel something for them.
And lets face it, the script needs a total overhaul, preferably by someone who knows how to write naturally flowing dialogue. Most of these lines are so bloody clumsy my forehead hurts from all the slapping.
Queen Amidala/ bodyguard decoy
This was such a stupid aspect of the plot that needed to be removed entirely. It added nothing and it just made things unnecessarily confusing. There was simply no need for it. Just have Padme join the Tatooine expedition as the queen, its fine. Or, leave Padme as the handmaiden. She doesn’t NEED to be the queen just because she’s a central character.
I’m not gonna rag on the kid’s acting, cause… he was a kid. But I can criticize the way the character was written. This is Anakin Skywalker, the man who would one day become Darth Vader. The entire concept of the prequels is centered around this character turn. But what we get here is a sweet, innocent kid, and they bend over backwards to make him seem altruistic and purely good. But this kid is gonna be Vader. There should be SOME seed of something that would one day turn him. And the mostly likely characteristic to use would be ambition. Show some of the kid’s ambition which would later lead to his corruption and quest for power.
For example, the way that Qui-Gon finds Anakin is really random happenstance. Maybe there could be some way that Anakin seeks him out instead. Another opportunity is during the space battle at the end of the movie. Instead of going through the ridiculous premise of Anakin being taken to the battle by autopilot, make it his decision to join the fight. Have him take ownership and show some of the cockiness that would eventually destroy him.
As for him being a slave, that’s fine. I quite like the idea. But it could have been handled a little more deftly. For example, during the dinner scene Qui-Gon says that his mission isn’t to free slaves. But why not? Doesn’t that seem like exactly the kind of missions the Jedi should be on?
Okay, come on. Anakin building C-3P0 was a stupid idea. I’m fine with Anakin being a gifted pilot, clearly that comes from the Force. But he needs to be some expert builder too, something that never comes up again in any other movie? Just because he’s a beloved character, it doesn’t mean Threepio needs to have some wacky, shoehorned origin story. So dumb…
This movie needs a better villain. All its got is the Emperor before he was an emperor who is either in hiding or only shown via hologram, and Darth Maul. And lets face it, Darth Maul as a character is pretty much non-existent. We know nothing about him, we have no concept of his background or what drives him. And he’s not menacing in the least. The only thing frightening about him is his make-up, but otherwise he’s simply not threatening. Nothing in the way he acts or speaks gives any sense of danger. He needed a lot of work in order to make him an effective villain, other than the conceptual design of his physical appearance.
The Senate Story
A lot of people bitch about how there’s too much politics in episode 1 for a Star Wars story, and especially how much of a bummer the opening scrolls were when we start with a trade dispute. I’m not one of those people. I’m okay with seeing the senate that existed before the Empire, and I’m okay with starting small, since this is supposed to be the beginnings of the larger story-line. Actually, I think the Senate part of the story needed to be focused on more.
I think most people’s issues aren’t with the fact that the senate stuff exists, but that its not interesting. It would work if they made it interesting and put a little more effort into writing how Palpatine is able to take power over the entire political body. After all, that, along with the introduction of Anakin, is the only real reason this story exists within the larger scope of the overall story. Its an important point, so spend more time and storytelling effort.
I also very much dislike the Jedi council, but this is something I will go into in a lot more detail when I review Attack of the Clones. But an ESP test? Really guys?
Now we come to what I find to be the most egregious offense committed by this movie. For some reason Lucas felt it was necessary to introduce midicholorians as some sort of symbiotic bacteria that is responsible for the force. Seriously? You just took all mystery and power from this concept that was so well-built in the original films. The force should be some be some inexplicable energy which lets our imagination and wonder define it, not some quantifiable measurement. Remember that scene where Yoda explains the force to Luke, being between the tree and the rock? Or when he uses the Force to raise up the X-Wing? Yeah, this idea just vomits on all of that. Disgusting. These need to be erased from the consciousness of all connected to the Star Wars universe.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for The Phantom Menace. Lets face it, in order to make this movie a worthy entry, it would need a lot of work. But the kernel of the story is still worth working with. If only…