Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fixing the Prequels: The Phantom Menace (part eight)

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

Returning to repairing The Phantom Menace, we're still on Coruscant, but not for much longer. Qui Gon and Obi Wan stand before the Jedi council to hear the decision on Anakin's future. Initially, the Council decides to reject Anakin as a Jedi pupil. I like this scene, but I like how it reads in the original script a little bit more. Here's how that works, with a few alterations of my own:

YODA: Correct you were, Qui-Gon.

MACE WINDU: His cells do contain a high concentration of midichlorians.

KI-ADI: And the Force is indeed very strong with him.

QUI GON: Then he is to be trained.

The Council members look at one another....

MACE WINDU: No. He will not be trained.

Anakin's eyes fill with tears.


MACE WINDU: He is too old, and there is too much anger and fear in him.

ANAKIN: (angrily) I am not afraid!

KI-ADI: Silence, young Skywalker.

QUI GON: He is the Chosen One. You must see that.

YODA: Clouded his future is, masked by his youth.

QUI GON: I will train hem, then. I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan learner.

Obi Wan looks on with surprise.

YODA: An apprentice you have, Qui Gon. Impossible to take on a second.

MACE WINDU: The Jedi code forbids it.

QUI GON: Obi Wan is ready.

OBI WAN: (stepping forward) I am ready to face the Trials.

YODA: Ready, are you? What know you of ready?

QUI GON: Obi Wan is headstrong, and he has much to learn of the Living Force. But he is capable. There is little more he can learn from me.

YODA: Our own counsel we will keep on who is ready, Qui Gon. More to learn, Obi Wan has. He still reckless.

QUI GON: No less so that was I, when I faced the Trials.

MACE WINDU: Now is not the time for this. Young Skywalker's destiny is clouded and will require much meditation to discover. But for now, the Senate is voting for a new Supreme Chancellor, and Queen Amidala is returning home, which will put pressure on the Trade Federation. This could widen the conflict.

KI-ADI: And draw out the Queen's attacker.

MACE WINDU: Accompany the Queen back to Naboo, and discover the identity of the dark warrior. This is the clue we need to unravel the mystery of the Sith.

YODA: When settled the situation is on Naboo, decide young Skywalker's future, we will.

QUI GON: I will keep him in my charge. He has nowhere else to go.

YODA: Correct, you are. Keep him safe, but train him not!

MACE WINDU: Protect the Queen, but do not intercede if it comes to war until we have the Senate's approval. May the Force be with you.

One thing that's always bugged me about TPM is the way Qui Gon takes Anakin, a ten-year-old kid, into a war zone. Of course, this all turns out well, but he has no way of knowing that. The original script turns out to partially address this problem, which seems to be a recurring theme as I do these posts; to reiterate a point I've made before, I really do think that George Lucas tends to shackle himself a bit too strongly to his pre-conceived notion of a proper running time for his movies. My version of TPM would be quite a bit longer, but I don't think any fans would have complained about that, had certain things in the story been handled more deftly.

Anyhow, the next scene is on the landing platform, where the Queen's party is getting ready to launch. I like the bit where Obi Wan tries to talk Qui Gon out of his insistence on training Anakin, and Qui Gon's response that it's merely Obi Wan's point of view, presaging Obi Wan's later bit about point-of-view to Luke in ROTJ. I'd revise the whole scene just a bit:

QUI-GON, OBI-WAN, and ANAKIN stand on the landing platform outside the ship. Anakin is mainly trying to stay out of the way. Technicians bustle about, preparing the ship for liftoff.

OBI-WAN: It is not disrespect, Master, it is the truth.

QUI-GON: From your point of view....

OBI-WAN: The boy is dangerous...they all sense it. Why can't you?

QUI-GON: His future is uncertain, Obi Wan, as are all futures, including yours and mine. The Council will decide Anakin's future...that should be enough for you. Now get on board!

OBI-WAN reluctantly boards the Naboo spacecraft followed by ARTOO. A shuttle arrives, bearing the Queen's party. CAPTAIN PANAKA, SENATOR PALPATINE, TWENTY OR SO TROOPS, GUARDS, and OFFICERS walk briskly toward the ship, followed by QUEEN AMIDALA, PADME, EIRTAE, and finally, JAR JAR. AMIDALA and her HANDMAIDENS stop before the JEDI.

QUI-GON: Your Highness, it is our pleasure to continue to serve and protect you.

QUEEN AMIDALA: I welcome your help. Senator Palptaine fears the Federation means to destroy me.

QUI GON: I promise you, My Lady, we will not let that happen.

Anakin steps forward a bit as the Queen's party moves by, hoping to catch a glance from Padme, but she and the Queen are busily holding a whispered conference, and she moves past Anakin and onto the ship without even noticing that he's standing there. Anakin looks a bit crestfallen.

QUI GON: Anakin! Come on board, my boy.

Anakin follows Qui Gon onto the ship. Last to board are JAR JAR and Artoo.

JAR JAR: Wesa goen home!

EXT: Space – Coruscant.

The ship blasts away from the planet and disappears into hyperspace.

Yup, the conversation about the midichlorians is gone from this scene. I'm getting there, but I always thought that was a very odd place to have that conversation in the first place: "Sure, kid, we're about to lift off and fly back to a war zone, but let me take a minute to explain the nature of the Universe to you." So we'll get there in a bit.

Next is a brief scene between Darth Sidious and the Federation guys on Naboo. I'd change this as follows:

INT: Sith spacecraft – meditation chamber.

DARTH MAUL kneels in his dark meditation chamber before a hologram of DARTH SIDIOUS.

SIDIOUS: So the Queen is returning to Naboo after all. This is not what I predicted, but it will work out in our favor. I can use her actions on Coruscant to my advantage. She has changed the political will in the Senate, but she is turning into a random element who cannot be trusted. I will instruct the Viceroy to destroy her when she arrives, but you shall have your way with her Jedi warriors. The Council has become arrogant. It is time for them to feel the wrath of the Sith.

Darth Maul bows as the hologram fades from view.

EXT: Space.

The Sith spacecraft arcs toward the surface of Naboo.

At this point, in the film, the Queen arrives back on Naboo. However, we need to do something first:

INT: Queen's ship – main hold.

Qui Gon walks past a sleeping Obi Wan, and he stops to glance into a small room where ANAKIN sits, staring at a computer screen.

QUI GON: You are reading about Tatooine?

ANAKIN: There's not much here. I suppose that's because it's not much of a planet.

QUI GON: There is never any predicting which worlds will shape history, Anakin. My own homeworld isn't much more impressive than yours, at first glance.

Qui Gon sits down beside the boy.

QUI GON: You handled yourself well before the Council.

ANAKIN: They talked about me like I wasn't even there. And they're not going to let me become a Jedi. I can't go back home because I'm free and my mother is still a slave. So what will I do?

QUI GON: You will do what we all do: you will trust the Force to guide you.

ANAKIN: Everyone was talking about destinies and blood and "midichlorians". I don't even know what those are.

QUI GON: Well, that is a question that even the Jedi have not settled. Midichlorians are a microscopic life form that exist within all living cells, for the most part. There are only a handful of species in the Galaxy we know of whose cells do not contain them. They live in me, they live in the Queen, in Jar Jar – everyone. They live in you.

ANAKIN: But why are they so important?

QUI GON: Finding people who could become Jedi Knights used to be a matter of instinct. We can sense the Force, and we can feel when we are in the presence of someone who is strong with it. That is what led me to you: I can feel the Force strong within you, as strongly as I have ever felt it with anyone. The problem with relying on intuition, as we did in the past, was that sometimes we were wrong. We would train people as Jedi who simply weren't powerful enough, or who weren't strong enough to control the Force. The danger of temptation by the Dark Side was always present. But two hundred years ago, a Jedi scientist discovered that people who are strong with the Force are also host to much greater concentrations of midichlorians in their blood. He could not explain why this was so: are the midichlorians attracted to the Force, or created by it? Why do some individuals with very high concentration of midichlorians in their blood – Naboo's own Senator Palpatine is one – fail to show any aptitude at all for the Force? And it didn't help matters that this particular scientist disappeared while on an expedition to a secret planet which he thought to be the birthplace of the midichlorians. Much of his research was lost, and our own scientists have followed his footsteps ever since. And ever since we have used blood samples more than our own intimations of the Living Force to seek out Jedi padawans.

ANAKIN: You say that like it's a bad thing.

QUI GON: The reliance on midichlorians has its own problems, Anakin. Even those who put great importance on them cannot agree if were are communing with the Force ourselves, or if we are communing with the midichlorians who are in turn communing with the Force. Also, having a high midichlorian count does not necessarily mean that a person is strong with the Force, so much time has been wasted trying to train people who could not become Jedi at all. Naboo's own Senator Palpatine has an unusually high midichlorian count for a human, and he has never shown the slightest aptitude for the Force. And there are some who believe that the reliance on a simple blood test to choose Jedi means that in a very real way the Jedi have turned away from the Force itself, and have stopped relying upon it to lead us in the way we are supposed to go. My own teacher believed this, and he eventually left the Jedi order because of this disagreement. It is an issue that divides the Jedi to this day.

ANAKIN: What do you believe?

QUI GON: I prefer to trust the living Force. It has never guided me wrong. I only took your blood sample to convince those on the Council who disagree with me on such matters.

Anakin shakes his head.

ANAKIN: I thought the Jedi knew everything.

Qui Gon smiles.

QUI GON: Again, I wish that were so.

OBI WAN sticks his head in the door.

OBI WAN: Master? We are entering the Naboo system.

QUI GON: Thank you, Obi Wan.

He turns back to Anakin.

QUI GON: Anakin, we are heading into a dangerous situation. This planet is at war. We will take you to someplace safe, and you must stay there. I will leave the droid, Artoo, with you. He is resourceful, as able a droid as I have seen.

ANAKIN: Does he have a high midichlorian count, too?

Qui Gon laughs.

So that's what I'd do with regard to the midichlorians. I wouldn't strike them entirely from the record, but I'd make them more ambiguous, and thus a part of the background story of why the Jedi have started to fall on hard times. A point that sometimes gets lost is that the Prequel Trilogy does not present the Jedi at their greatest, in their glory, but in a time when they are sliding toward failure, and that they don't even know it until their fate is already sealed. Positing a division within the Jedi, over something fairly esoteric like midichlorians, would help that notion along.

(By the way, I really like that little aside I throw in there about Palpatine having a high midichlorian count but no apparent Force skill. And the disappearing scientist? There could be a tale there. Maybe the secret planet is Dagobah...and maybe he was killed by Darth Plagueis....)

The truth is, I was never bothered all that much by the idea of the midichlorians. I know that many Star Wars fans actively detest the whole idea, thinking that sticking some sort of half-baked scientific basis for The Force utterly negates all of the pleasant mysticism of the Original Trilogy, but I don't think it has to be seen that way at all. The problem is that the midichlorian thing in the PT never really goes anywhere, other than to add a bit of nomenclature to something that didn't really need it. That being the case, I assumed from the outset of their mention in TPM that Lucas had something in mind, someplace he was going with all this midichlorian stuff. It turned out that he didn't. My supposition is that Lucas was somehow influenced by all those episodes of Star Trek's various series in the 1990s, when everything always ended up being explained by a careful appeal to the Subatomic Particle of the Week.

Actually, that's not entirely fair to Lucas, who has long been interested in Eastern religion and mysticism. Now that I think it over, I suspect that the whole midichlorian thing reflects some of the attempts over the last few decades by various thinkers and writers to showcase parallels between Western science and Eastern mysticism (in books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters). So I don't have a philosophical problem with Lucas's attempt to blend science and mysticism in the PT per se, but I do have a story problem with it. It doesn't really help move the story along, and it could have.

That's probably a good place to leave off for now. The next installment will likely bring my examination of TPM to a close. Stay tuned, Star Warriors!


Anonymous said...

I sort of figured he was going someplace with the midichlorians after all, after the scene in Revenge of the Sith where Palpatine tells Anakin about Darth Plagueis and his rumored ability to create life, and that he, Palpatine, learned everything Plagueis knew. If this is supposed to mean that Palpatine (or Plagueis) created Anakin, that *almost* excuses both the midichlorians and the virgin birth. That is, I'd like to assume that the midichlorians are the hand-wavey biological means by which one of them was able to cause a virgin birth, midichlorians are able to act as mystical sperm.

(If it's Palpatine, that lets us have the nice symmetry between Vadar as Luke's father and Palpatine as Vadar's, in a mystical sense.)

This page seems to imply others got the same idea about the point of the midichlorians.

Of course, there's no reason they can't serve that story purpose and yours too. I like your scene.

Anonymous said...

Hm. Well, I'm already on record as a midichlorian detester, for exactly the reason you mention: I prefer the completely mystical explanation of the Force offered in the original trilogy, and felt the "scientific" explanation was a retcon that didn't need to be made. Not to mention that it's terribly reductive and more than a bit elitist. We were told in the original trilogy that the Force is created by all life, and presumably all life can tap into it to one degree or another (I've always thought Han Solo was probably pretty strong with it to be able to pull off his incredible piloting stunts, whether he was conscious of it and/or wanted to believe or not). But in TPM, it's presented as a trait specific only to certain individuals, like eye color, which transforms the Jedi into something akin to a "master race." I sure don't like the implications of that, Sam I Am.

However, I must admit that your version solves many of my complaints with the idea. I like the uncertainty you introduce into the concept (i.e., not all Jedi scientists agree that midis are important, not everyone who has high concentrations of them has Force abilities, etc.), and the potential impact of your version on the backstory is both considerable and fascinating... for example, could the Jedi scientist who disappeared in fact have become Darth Plagueis (or a Sith predecessor)? Did his research form the basis of the life-extending knowledge Palpatine tempts Anakin with in ROTS? Those are fun ideas to think about. And Palpatine's deception (i.e., no demonstrated Force abilities) would clear up why the Jedi Council never figured out that Sidious was right there in the neighborhood.

So, I guess I'll grudgingly admit that you're right about the midis -- they could've worked, if only George had gone somewhere with them. (I suspect they, like Jar Jar, were intended to play a much larger role but George drastically curtailed their presence in AOTC and ROTS after the fans reacted so negatively to them in TPM.)

I still reject the virgin birth concept though. That's always struck me as silly. I prefer to think Anakin's father was a navigator on passing spice freighter who won a night with her in a gambling match with Watto, and Shmi was always embarrassed by the one time she got pimped out. But that's just my cynical mind... :)

Juanita's Journal said...

Do you honestly think you can "FIX" the Prequel Trilogy? Do you honestly think you're a better writer than George Lucas?

God! The arrogance of all this!