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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fixing the Prequels - The Phantom Menace (part five)

part one
part two
part three
part four





And here we are again, taking stock of The Phantom Menace. When last we left our heroes, they had escaped Naboo and were now en route to Tatooine seeking repairs to their ship without which they'll never make it to Coruscant. They are unaware that the true menace behind the Trade Federation's invasion of Naboo is actually a pair of Sith Lords, who are even now working to figure out where they've escaped to.

So, let's jump right into it. In the movie, we cut from the awful scene between Jar Jar and Padme (which I replaced in the last installment with a scene between Obi Wan and Padme) directly to the landing on Tatooine. Instead, I'd move the later scene between Darth Sidious and Darth Maul, on Coruscant, to this point.

EXT: CORUSCANT – SKYSCRAPER – BALCONY

Darth Maul walks along the balcony beside his master, the shrouded Darth Sidious.

SIDIOUS: You have done well, my apprentice. The tracking information you discovered makes clear the direction the Jedi took the Queen, and the sensor data indicate that their hyperdrive had been damaged. Therefore they will be seeking repairs, and there are only three systems on that heading where they might have gone. Inspect each system until you find them. Kill the Jedi, and bring me the Queen.

Darth Maul bows his acquiescence.

SIDIOUS: The Jedi have never suspected that the Sith have returned, but the time has come to reveal ourselves. At last we shall have our revenge.


Here's something I've always thought about TPM: Darth Maul should never speak. He only has two or three lines in the entire movie, and those are dubbed by some actor with a fine British accent, and it frankly clashes with his appearance. Maul should be as mysterious as possible, and it would help immensely if we never hear his voice at all. So all of Maul's dialog? Gone. He's all about the body language.

So now I'd cut back to the Queen's ship landing on Tatooine. I like this entire sequence, really, and I'd only make a couple of cosmetic changes:

:: The shot of the ship approaching Tatooine from space should make a bigger deal out of the planet's twin suns. That's the iconic nature of Tatooine, and the suns vanish from the screen too quickly.

:: I like Jar Jar's complaint that the sun is "doing murder on mesa skin", but I'd move it to later in the Tatooine sequence, after he's been in that sun for a while.

One thing I've always liked about the sequence in the film is the way Captain Panaka looks less than enthusiastic himself about the Queen's "request" that "her handmaiden" accompany Qui Gon and Jar Jar into Mos Espa. I would only add a bit of reflection on Qui Gon's part: after he initially refuses to take her, and Panaka says "The Queen wishes it, she's curious about the planet", I'd have Qui Gon look at Padme for a long moment and have her return his stare, unflinchingly. Again, suggesting that there's more to this handmaiden than meets the eye. And then it's off to Mos Espa.

First off, let's get this out of the way: I'm a Jar Jar fan, but there should be no stepping in bantha droppings. I'm far less bothered by that than by the flatulent eopie later on, but still, while my version of Star Wars isn't about to turn the franchise into a gritty space opera version of The Matrix or Blade Runner, I'm not going to keep potty humor around.

However, Qui Gon indicates before they leave for Mos Espa that "This spaceport is not going to be pleasant", so I'd make it actually unpleasant. There doesn't have to be a whole lot here, but little glimpses of stuff here and there to make clear what kind of place they're entering. Maybe two pilots beating the stuffing out of a third who owes them money, or a drunken spacer leering at Padme, or beggars in the streets. Stuff like that. The script even says that they pass 'dangerous looking citizens of all types', but little if any of that reaches the screen. I've always been a bit surprised that Lucas didn't do any of this kind of thing, because it's always been clear in his movies that he knows his Westerns, and Western tropes tend to play a large role in various Star Wars films. (I wouldn't go so far, as some would, to claim that the original ANH is a Western with spaceships instead of horses, but it definitely has some Western-style stuff going on in it.)

Anyway, Qui Gon, Padme, R2, and Jar Jar go into a junk dealer's shop and meet Watto. Qui Gon tells Watto what he's looking for, Watto says he's got just what Qui Gon needs, and he and R2 follow Watto out back to do some haggling, leaving Padme and Jar Jar in the shop, where Watto's slave boy keeps them company. This, of course, is Anakin Skywalker, and he's meeting the only woman he'll ever love.

So here's where it starts. What would I change about this scene? Only one tiny thing: when Anakin asks Padme if she's an angel and she says, "What?", he tells her this:

ANAKIN: An angel. I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the Moons of Iego I thimk. They are the most beautiful creatures in the universe.


In the script, Anakin goes on:

ANAKIN: (continued) They are good and kind, and so pretty they make even the most hardened spice pirate cry.


I actually like the entire exchange that comes after this. Anakin's a boy with dreams and talents, and he also has an eye for beauty. It fits nicely that at the heart of his eventual fall into the ultimate ugliness lies one of the most beautiful women in the Galaxy.

As a brief aside, for all the vitriol tossed George Lucas's way as a director, he handles this scene really well, I think. What really helps is that Anakin's question, "Are you an angel", comes out of left field; he just says it, matter-of-factly, meaning every word of it. There was no earlier moment in which he walks in, looks at the radiant girl, and gasps; there's no "meet cute" here. Just a confident boy who doesn't know that he's not supposed to be this confident about anything, who starts talking.

Oh, and I'd leave in the bit with Jar Jar messing with the stuff in the shop and getting in trouble; I like how Anakin and Padme are talking away, completely ignoring Jar Jar's attempts to juggle machine parts.

Qui Gon fails to strike a deal with Watto, and he heads on his way, dragging the others with him. While Watto says something to the effect of "I'm the only dealer in this town with the parts you need," it would have been nice to see a quick montage of Qui Gon dragging his companions all over Mos Espa, from dealer to dealer, confirming this for himself. Toward the end of the day, they'd be heading back to the ship, dejected and wondering what to do (here's where I'd have a noticeably sunburned Jar Jar complaining about the Tatooine suns, along with Qui Gon's conference with Obi Wan via comlink, with Obi Wan's quip about selling the Queen's wardrobe), when they'd come across Anakin again.

(Oh, I almost forgot: yes, I'd ditch Anakin's "yippee". That just doesn't work.)

Now, I'm not wild about the bit with Jar Jar sneaking a bite, and then having said bite flying across the cafe and landing in Sebulba's soup. That was just a bit too slapstick for my tastes (at least, for my tastes in a Star Wars movie), so I'd have something else happen. Maybe Jar Jar could accidentally wander into the path of Sebulba's speeder, causing the alien to swerve out of the way and hit a building or something. Anyway, the rest of this works fine too.

Anakin takes his new friends to his home, in order to shelter them from the coming sandstorm. Again, I like the ensuing sequence, although the initial part is a bit hard to follow, what with Anakin jabbering excitedly to Padme while Qui Gon's trying to introduce himself to Shmi Skywalker. That needs to be ironed out and directed better, I think; I'd have Anakin wait patiently while Qui Gon introduces himself, and then I'd have him sent away by his mother in one of those "We grown-ups need to talk" moments.

Next we learn that Anakin Skywalker actually made C-3PO. I know that this vexes a lot of SW fans, but I'm not one of them. I kind of like the ominous tone this fact lends the line in ANH when Threepio, being lowered into the oil bath, says, "Thank the Maker!"

Meanwhile, back on the Queen's ship, a transmission comes through from Naboo. It's the governor, Sio Bibble, with news that things on Naboo are getting very bad. "The death toll is catastrophic! You must contact me!" Obi Wan sees this for a trick, an attempt to establish a trace by their enemies, and orders them not to respond at all. I would just change it thusly, a little bit:

BIBBLE: (static-garbled) ...cut off all food supplies until you return... the death toll is catastrophic... we must bow to their wishes, Your Highness...Please tell us what to do! If you can hear us, Your Highness, you must contact me!

The Queen, terribly nervous, glances at Panaka.

PANAKA: Open a channel for response!

OBI WAN: No! Open no channel. The transmission is a trick. If we respond, they will be able to trace the transmission and learn where we are. Send no reply, no transmission of any kind. I know it will be hard, Your Highness, but you cannot respond.


Now we cut back to dinner at Anakin's, where Qui Gon begins to hatch his crazy scheme to get engine parts out of Watto after all: he'll appeal to the junk dealer's love of gambling. This whole scene is very nicely done; I particularly like Liam Neeson's delivery of the line "I wish that were so" when Anakin claims that nothing can kill a Jedi. The only change I'd make here? Well, yeah: Jar Jar's frog tongue. This actually does serve a narrative purpose – it establishes what Qui Gon's just said about Jedi reflexes allowing Anakin to fly a pod racer – but really, by this time we should have a pretty good idea as to what Jedi reflexes are capable of, right? Out that goes.

So it's night at Casa Skywalker, and Qui Gon would speak with Obi Wan on the commlink. Obi Wan tells Qui Gon about the transmission, asks what if the Naboo are dying, and Qui Gon replies, "Either way, we're running out of time."

This is where we cut to Coruscant, and Darth Sidious talking with Darth Maul. As noted above, I'd replace this scene with another conference between Sidious and Nute Gunray on Naboo:

EXT: NABOO – PALACE GROUNDS.

NUTE stands on a veranda with RUNE and a captive SIO BIBBLE as a Droid Captain reports. Behind him, several more droids hold three Naboo guards captive.

DROID CAPTAIN: These men have been caught inciting resistance among the citizens of Naboo.

NUTE: Execute them, Captain.

DROID CAPTAIN: Yes Viceroy.

The droids take the men away.

BIBBLE: You cannot kill us all, Viceroy.

NUTE: I trust it will not come to that.

DOFINE comes rushing up, holding a holo-projector.

DOFINE: Lord Sidious, Viceroy.

NUTE: Ah.

He takes the projector and activates it, causing a hologram of SIDIOUS to appear before them. BIBBLE is highly perplexed.

NUTE: Lord Sidious. The occupation goes well.

SIDIOUS: As well it should, Viceroy. And soon victory shall be ours. My apprentice, Darth Maul, has traced the Queen's ship to Tatooine, a system in the Outer Rim. He is on his way there now. When she returns, you will force her to sign the treaty.

NUTE: It shall be done, My Lord.

SIDIOUS fades; NUTE turns to BIBBLE.

BIBBLE: Who--

NUTE: So you see, Governor, the end to this affair is near.

Bibble now looks fearful.


And after that, we return to Tatooine, for the first hint of something that would vex Star Wars fans more than any other thing in TPM, with the sole exception of Jar Jar Binks. So, in our next installment, we shall discuss Midichlorians. Until then, may the Force be with you!

2 comments:

jason said...

Continuing to enjoy your rewrite, although we differ on handling some of the small details. I would make Anakin a bit older, for example, maybe 10 or 12. Also, I like the bit with Jar-Jar's tongue at the dinner table, although I agree with ditching the other slapsticky bits with the bantha poo and Sebulba. Love the darker version of the Naboo occupation; it's more grown up than the filmed version without being inappropriate for younger viewers, the same tone as the original SW.

I look forward to seeing what you do with midichlorians. Personally, I find them too problematic to leave in -- I prefer the mystical explanation of the Force -- although I have heard some good arguments in favor of them and what George was possibly trying to say with them.

Punning Pundit said...

The easiest way to fix the midichlorians would be to simply make them a _byproduct_, rather than a cause. Easy, does what George wants to achieve, and doesn't piss anyone off...