Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fixing the Prequels: The Phantom Menace (part seven)

part one
part two
part three
part four
part five
part six

Heading back into The Phantom Menace, we now head into what's always been my favorite part of the movie, the Coruscant sequence. I get the feeling sometimes that I'm alone in my fondness for this part of the movie specifically (in addition to my more general sense of aloneness in liking the movie at all in the first place), but I genuinely think the stuff on Coruscant is well done, interesting, intriguing, and involving. So there.

Just after the good guys escape from Darth Maul on Tatooine, we cut to Naboo, where the droid army reports to Nute Gunray that they are ready to begin searching for the underwater villages of the Gungans. I'd leave this, possibly throwing in a bit more illustration of the hardships being faced by the Naboo. Maybe we could have a short bit where two Palace Guards note that they haven't yet heard from the Qaueen or Captain Panaka, so their resistance movement can't proceed quite yet.

Now we're back to the Queen's ship. One of the film's most effective scenes, in my opinion, is the short exchange between Anakin and Padme in the cargo hold. It's a very well executed scene, especially the way Padme plays the Governor's faked distress signal, which she would really only do if she was actually the Queen. This is yet another example of a good scene that many TPM detractors seem to ignore.

Next we finally arrive on Coruscant. The opening shots of Coruscant are really beautiful, and I'd highlight it by eliminating the dialogue as the ship comes in for its landing. Ric Olie, the pilot, tells Anakin that the entire planet is one big city, and points out Senator Palpatine's shuttle. None of this is necessary; I'd simply have Anakin gazing with slack-jawed wonder, and maybe some fear, at the spectacle of a planetwide city as the ship approaches the landing bay. After the ship lands, I'd have Qui Gon lean over to Anakin and say something like, "From Tatooine to Coruscant is quite a change, Anakin. But you need not be afraid." To this point Anakin's been brave and confident, but I'd start to show that weakening a bit in the face of the grandeur that is Coruscant.

After landing, we have the introduction of Queen Amidala to Chancellor Valorum and so on, with the knowing wink from Padme to Anakin. We don't know it yet, but this obviously means that the "Queen" here is the double, which seems partly odd, but I'm fine with it. I honestly would change almost none of what comes after. Many fans feel that there is too much concern in the PT with politics, but frankly, the politics of the Republic are one of the things that make me love the PT as much as I do; Lucas really gave the story a different focus in these films, as opposed to the fairly simplistic Rebellion-versus-Empire dynamic of the OT.

So what would I change then, if anything? Well, when Qui Gon reveals his suspicion that the boy he's brought from Tatooine may be "the Chosen One", I'd alter the dialogue a bit:

QUI GON: With your permission, Master Yoda – I have encountered a vergence in the Force.

YODA: A vergence, you say?

QUI GON: The boy I brought here from Tatooine, the one whose actions saved us there. He is a very strong child, with enormous will, and his reflexes are such that he is able to control a pod racer. And his blood cells have the highest concentration of Midichlorians I have ever seen in any life form. He may even have been conceived by the Midichlorians.

MACE WINDU: You are citing the Midichlorians, Master Jinn?

QUI GON: The Council and I have disagreed in the past on these matters, but I cannot deny what I have seen. Anakin Skywalker is unique. The Force is extremely strong with him. [Pause] I believe he may be the Chosen One.

YODA: The Chosen One? Restore balance to the Force, you believe he will?

KI-ADI: [this is the Jedi Master with the cone-shaped head] Not all of us are convinced that the Force is out of balance, Master Jinn.

QUI GON: It was the Living Force that brought me to Anakin, Master Ki-Adi. I was meant to find him, of that there can be no doubt. And I was attacked by a Sith Lord on that world as well. If the Force were in balance, the Sith would not have returned.

MACE WINDU: We are not yet certain that the Sith have returned, Master Jinn. Remember that. These are dangerous matters.

QUI GON: Then, Master Windu, I request that you test the boy.

Silence for a moment as everyone digests this.

YODA: Trained as a Jedi you would have him, then?

QUI GON: He may become the most powerful of all Jedi, at a time when the Dark Side is rising again. Yes, I would train him, with the Council's blessing.

The council members look back and forth from one another. Then:

MACE WINDU: Bring him before us, then.

Qui Gon bows and exits. Mace exchanges a concerned look with Yoda.

One constant refrain of the PT is that the Jedi, for all their outward confidence and bluster, are almost always wrong, almost always one step behind, and it leads them ultimately to ruin. It gets missed, sometimes, and here I'd draw a sharper line underneath the real divisions within the Jedi ranks, and highlight their disagreements. Plus, I'm setting up the later inevitable discussion of the Midichlorians.

OK, so Anakin goes to visit Padme to say goodbye, since he expects to become a Jedi Padawan now. Instead, Padme is "on an errand"; only the Queen is there, preparing for her appearance before the Galactic Senate. She tells Anakin "I am sure her heart goes with you". Later on, of course, we'll learn that this actually is Padme, but she can't reveal herself yet. No, I do not think that Padme spends the entire film hiding in the background while her body double plays the part of the Queen. I think, through most of the Coruscant sequence, that Padme is actually doing the part of the Queen herself. She'd have to. She couldn't allow her body double to do these tasks.

Now we turn our attention to the Galactic Senate itself. Again, a lot of fans find this scene terminally boring, but I was utterly fascinated by it, first by the sheer visual of it all, that immense rotunda that focuses attention on the Chancellor on his central rostrum. I would, though, add in some of the original material from the script that was probably left out for pacing reasons. Some of this stuff makes more clear the procedural type of thing that goes on in the Senate, and it also makes more clear the fact that Palpatine is manipulating events to a certain (great) extent.

PALPATINE: If the Federation moves to defer the motion...Your Majesty, I beg of you to ask for a resolution to end this congressional session.

AMIDALA: I wish I had your confidence in this, Senator.

PALPATINE: If we fail to convince the Senate to stop the invasion here, then we have no choice but to force a new election for Supreme Chancellor. I promise you there are many who will support us, many who hold no love for the Trade Federation and who may fear to be next in line if their invasion succeeds. This will be our only chance.

AMIDALA: Surely the Chancellor will carry our motion.

PALPATINE: Remember, Your Majesty, the Chancellor is greatly weakened now. He is too distracted from his true duties and will be of no help.

VALORUM: The Chair recognizes the Senator from the sovereign system of Naboo.

The Naboo congressional box floats into the center.

PALPATINE: Supreme Chancellor, delegates of the Senate. A tragedy has occured on our peaceful system of Naboo. We have become caugt in a dispute you're all well aware of, which began right here with the unfair taxation of trade routes, and has now engulfed our entire planet in the oppresion of the Trade Federation.

A second box rushes into the center of the Senate. It is filled with Federation trade barons led by LOTT DOD, the Senator for the Trade Federation.

LOTT DOD: This is outrageous! I object to the Senator's statements!

VALORUM: The Chair does not recognize the Senator from the Trade Federation at this time. Please return to your station.

LOTT DOD reluctantly moves back to his place.

PALPATINE: May I present our recently elected leader, Queen Amidala, who has come to Coruscant at great personal risk to speak on our behalf.

Queen Amidala rises to the microphone.

AMIDALA: Honorable representatives of the Republic, distinguished delegates, and Your Honor Supreme Chancellor Valorum, I come to you under the gravest of circumstances. After weeks of refusing to allow the Trade Federation to seize control of shipping in our system, and after resisting a forced blockade of our planet, the Naboo system has been invaded by force. Invaded...against all the laws of the Republic by the Droid Armies of the Trade...

LOTT DOD: I object! There is no proof. This is incredible. We recommend a commission be sent to Naboo to ascertain the truth.

VALORUM: Overruled. A commission can serve no purpose other than delay.

Amidala glances at Palpatine, who holds up a finger and mouths, "Wait."

LOTT DOD: Your Honor, you cannot allow us to be condemned without reasonable observation. It's against all the rules of procedure.

A third box representing Malastare moves into the center of the room. AKS MOE, the Ambassador, addresses the convention.

AKS MOE: The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate from the Trade Federation. A commission must be appointed. It is the law.

VALORUM: The point is....

He is interrupted as VICE CHAIRMAN MAS AMEDDA hastily whispers into his ear. Palpatine, in turn, whispers to the Queen.

PALPATINE: Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum's strength will dissapear.

That sort of thing. The scene should convey a bit more strongly the level of dysfunction in the Galactic Senate, but for the most part, it's a scene that I like very much to begin with. I know that a lot of people find the political stuff boring, but I've never been one of them.

As an aside, it's interesting to consider the implications here of how the Republic functions in the first place. It's tempting to see it as something like the United States or Great Britain, as far as the functioning of a central parliamentary body, but if that were the case, TPM would thus be based on the equivalent of North Carolina blockading Wyoming. Clearly the Senate has much less power than we might otherwise suspect, and equally clearly, the people of the Republic are likely increasingly frustrated with this state of affairs, which makes Palpatine's rise to power all the easier.

Anyway, back to the film. After Chancellor Valorum realizes that he is about to be swept from power, we cut back to the Jedi Temple, where Anakin's testing is being done. Qui Gon and Obi Wan have a conversation that strongly implies that Qui Gon has in the past defied the will of the Council, and that he may be doing so again with regard to Anakin. This is a nice little scene; nothing needs changing here. Then we're into the Jedi Council chamber, where Anakin is meeting with the Council.

I've never been able to decide if I like the little bit of testing that the film shows. Mace Windu is holding a screen which flashes by some images which Anakin has to try to identify simply by using the Force. This works well enough, I suppose, although it seems a bit too much like a standard ESP test than something more mystical, more "Jedi" in nature. But Anakin doesn't use a lightsaber yet, so it's not like they can have him fight some remotes. I don't know. After this, there's a bit of quizzing, in which the Jedi Masters indicate that Anakin misses his mother and fears losing her. I like quite a bit of this, although I'd stretch it just a bit. (Also, frankly, this is one scene were Jake Lloyd falls short a bit. He needed a stronger directorial hand in this scene, especially when he's supposed to show a bit of frustration when Yoda points out that he is afraid to lose his mother.)

YODA: How feel you?

ANAKIN: Cold, sir.

YODA: Afraid, are you?

ANAKIN: No, sir.

MACE WINDU: Afraid to give up your entire life for the hard path of a Jedi? Afraid to possibly give your life itself?

ANAKIN: I – don't think so, sir.

YODA: See through you, we can.

MACE WINDU: Be mindful of your feelings.

KI ADI: Your thoughts dwell on your mother.

ANAKIN: I miss her.

YODA: Afraid to lose her, you are.

ANAKIN: (a little angry) What's that got to do with anything?

YODA: Everything! Fear is the path to the Dark side of the Force. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

MACE WINDU: To be a Jedi is to set aside love and family. You will not be able to see your mother again, and you surely already know this. Your fear springs from it.

ANAKIN: I am not afraid!

YODA: The deepest commitment, a Jedi must have. The most serious mind. Much fear, I sense in you.

ANAKIN: I am not afraid.

YODA: Perhaps you should be.

Note the echoing of a line from The Empire Strikes Back, following a similar exchange when Luke Skywalker insists that he isn't afraid of becoming a Jedi, either.

Next we cut back to the Queen's apartments, after a brief series of effects shots depicting sunset on Coruscant. This brief effects sequence, lasting no longer than ten seconds, is one of the most beautiful sights in any Star Wars film. After this comes a very short exchange of dialogue between the Queen and Jar Jar Binks. This little bit here is exactly what I always though the film needed with respect to Jar Jar: less of him being Mr. Whacky Hijinks, and more of him just being a character. Nevertheless, I'd revise and extend this material a bit, in keeping with my original intent of focusing upon Jar Jar's status as a "proto-warrior".

INTERIOR: Palpaltine's quarters – twilight.

QUEEN AMIDALA walks in and moves to the window, where she gazes sadly upon the glittering cityscape. JAR JAR, who had been dozing in a chair, snaps awake.

JAR JAR: Mesa not sleepin!

AMIDALA: It's all right. I didn't mean to disturb you.

JAR JAR: Oh. Disen okeydey.

Jar Jar comes to the window as well.

JAR JAR: Disen maken me think of Otoh Gunga, when de lights stretch out into the undersea.

AMIDALA: It is beautiful, in a way.

JAR JAR: Yousa thinken yousa people gonna die?

AMIDALA: I don't know.

JAR JAR: De Naboo are too peaceful. Gungans no going without a fight. Wesa warriors. Is dat why you no liken us?

AMIDALA: It's more that we just don't know you.

JAR JAR: Maybe den when disen being over, wesa be friends.

AMIDALA: Perhaps.

At this point, Captain Panaka enters with Palpatine, reporting that Palpatine is one of three Senators up for election as Chancellor. I like this scene, especially Palpatine's openly naked ambition, as he plays his part very well as a minor Senator who has not expected to be this close to seizing the leadership of the Republic itself. Also interesting is his reaction to the Queen's decision to return to Naboo; clearly he has expected her to remain on Coruscant until the dispute on Naboo is resolved, now that she's arrived in safety on the Galactic capital.

I'll have more to say about this in the next couple of installments, since we're reaching the final act of TPM, but it's always interested me how Palpatine is willing to adapt his plan all along, at every point where he needs to. It's hard for this film to make it clear, since he's operating in the shadows as Darth Sidious, but Palpatine throughout the PT keeps his eye on the prize and never allows himself to get sidetracked, all the way to his naming himself Emperor.

And that's where we'll stop for now. Next time, we'll wrap up Coruscant, head back to Naboo, and finally address those pesky Midichlorians. Tune in!


Anonymous said...

Jaquandor, I'm much more ambivalent about the prequels, and about Phantom Menace in particular, than you, but I agree that the Coruscant sequence is one of the most interesting and strangely undervalued bits of the film. No where in the original trilogy did we ever see a truly urban environment -- Cloud City, in my mind, is more of a small town, certainly compared to the planet-wide city of Coruscant -- and the VFX folks really did a bang-up job of showing us something entirely new and really visually beautiful.

I also like the Jedi Temple and Senate scenes, because I always wanted to know more about the culture of the fabled Old Republic, how things worked in Obi Wan's "more civilized age," and that's what these scenes provide. It annoys me that so many fans are interested only in the fight scenes ; I know the title includes the word "wars" but there's a lot more to this setting if you're willing to look around.

I think you're doing a fine job of making a so-so movie much more impactful -- Qui Gon's words to Anakin when they land would've been wonderful to see, and I like your tweaks to the testing scene especially. Lucas either instructed or allowed Jake Lloyd to play Annie far too sweetly, and he really needed to show some fire, some impatience and frustration with what he was being asked to do. It would've echoed Luke's frustration in Empire, as well as setting up the impetuous and reckless behavior Annie shows in the other two prequels, and which, of course, leads to his fall. And including a little more Ki-Adi Mundi was a good idea on your part -- in the movie, it appears that Yoda and Mace are pretty much calling the shots, without much input from anyone else. And I've always thought Ki-Adi looked like a cool cat.

Midichlorians though... I'm really curious to see what you intend to do with those damn things, which I personally consider to be the worst idea of the prequel trilogy. Maybe of the entire saga...

Matt said...

The scene in the rotunda got me to thinking of something that might be a plot hole. When there is clamor about sending a 'commission', hasn't Valorum already sent a commission in the form of two Jedi, who were nearly murdered by the Trade Federation? Wouldn't Jedi testimony be enough to convince the Senate? Or would Palpatine's lackeys merely turn it against the Chancellor because they were sent 'in secret' to resolve the dispute, without the Senate's procedural approval?