Saving Star Wars

I decided to write a couple of posts for Star Wars Day. I was having a conversation earlier this week about movies in general and the idea was brought up that people are just so hypercritical these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to nitpick movies and Cinemasins is one of my favorite YouTube channels.  What I mean by hypercritical is that many people see movies as great or terrible with no in between. I can like things about a movie without liking the movie as a whole, just I can dislike things about a movie but like the overall movie. There are movies that I love and will re-watch over and over again. Does that mean they are perfect? No, no movie is perfect. Every movie has some flaws or plot holes.  So, since it is Star Wars Day, I thought I would highlight things I liked about the individual movies, and some things that I think would have made them better.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The Prequel Trilogy (Episodes I, II and III) get a lot of hate.  I will admit that none of them are my favorite, not even in my top 5.  However, as I said before, that does not mean that there is nothing good about them.  In fact, I feel there are a lot of great characters, and great scenes.

I will start with what I think is great about the movie.  The lightsaber fight between Darth Maul, Qui Gon and Obi Wan is great fun.  John Williams score is well done, as usual.  The fight flows well, and looks amazing.  It is the first time we see a dual blade lightsaber in a movie (previously only seen in the comics). One of my favorite parts about it is the way the Jedi and Sith are portrayed. About halfway through the fight the fighters are all separated. Qui Gon peacefully kneels and allows his mind to focus, highlighting the Jedi ideals of serenity and peace.  Darth Maul on the other hand stares menacingly and paces, highlighting the Sith focus on anger and hatred.  You can tell from Darth Maul’s few lines that he hates the Jedi and takes perverse pleasure in hurting and killing them. I would have made one change, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Another thing I love about the Prequel Trilogy is Palpatine’s plan.  He spent year’s slowly maneuvering things into place and at each stage he could only win.  For example, if the Trade Federation had captured the princess and she signed the treaty then he wins. As Darth Sidious he would have secretly had control, and the Trade Federation would have been his puppet and the money from the trade franchise likely would have funded some future part of his plan. It carries over into II and III. At every point he has arranged circumstances so that he will win, no matter what happens.

If I could, I would make a few changes to the story. I think this would have helped things flow well and make a bit more sense.  The movie has two key weaknesses; Jar Jar and Anakin. I don’t blame Ahmed Best or Jake Lloyd, I know both of them got a lot of hate thrown their way.  The thing is, their characters have value and purpose. I think they were just written wrong.

Jar Jar is a necessary and important character. Yes, I just said that and it is true. He is the character that introduces the other protagonists to the Gungans (who are necessary for the end of the movie) and he adds a little diversity to an otherwise all human and one droid cast. For whatever reason, George Lucas decided to write him as a bumbling buffoon, who was over the top comic relief. The problem is that most of his jokes fall flat because they are too silly. He steps in poop, gets farted on and in a very predictable scene he gets his tongue zapped numb and then gets his hand stuck in a fan.

How do you make Jar Jar great? You make him a criminal. Don’t have him be banished for being the clumsiest idiot in the history of the galaxy. I mean banished for being clumsy? Who thought that was a good plan? Have him be a thief, maybe a murderer. I’d go with thief, because the explanation and/or redemption is easier. He would still meet Qui Gon in the same way and still owe him a life debt, which is how Qui Gon gets him to introduce them to the Gungans.  I would also change the Gungan speech. Less drunk toddler, maybe go for….well ANY other speech pattern. SO, Jar Jar reluctantly takes them to the city, immediately gets arrested and they go before the bosses.  Qui Gon still asks for leniency for Jar Jar and they go on their way.  So, instead of silly and dumb comic relief, he becomes the sarcastic scoundrel of the group. Jar Jar goes from ridiculous moron to alien bad ass.

Anakin is immensely important. I mean not only is he a main character in Episodes II-VI, but his children are main characters in Episode IV onward and even his grandson is a main character in the new trilogy.  Yeah, you NEED to have Anakin.  Now, there is one scene that I think was done perfectly in regard to Anakin.  When Padme say to him “You’re a slave?” and you see his cheerful face turn full of anger and sternly reply “I’m a Person and my name is Anakin.”  There we get our first glimpse of the anger that will one day lead to the rise of Darth Vader.

My recommendations for Anakin are very subtle. First, make him a little more mature for his age, maybe even make him a couple of years older.  I know 10 and 12 years old may not seem like much, but it can make a big difference.  Remember, this is the only child of a single mother who are both slaves, living on a desert planet, owned by a grumpy gambling addict.  He likely has had a rough childhood and should be less innocent and cheerful.  This would also reinforce the anger thing, which should be a part of his character.

The other change is to change the pod race to an actual flying competition. There can still be alien competitors, different, customized ships and all of the excitement and antics.  Have them race through canyons.  It is a callback (call forward?) to Luke racing through canyons on Tattooine. It also makes him a pilot, not someone who drives something that hovers a few feet off the ground.  That way it matches up with Obi Wan’s line in Episode IV about him being a great pilot I would also have him say that he has won some smaller races, but never beaten Sebullba. This speaks more to his ability and helps with my next and final change.

Make Anakin do things on purpose. Doing things on purpose is far more impressive than doing things by accident. Here is how it goes in the movie; Anakin is brought to an occupied planet and is then brought along on a dangerous mission to liberate the palace. He gets told to hide in a cockpit and not leave the cockpit. While trying to find the gun controls he accidently triggers the auto launch sequence.  The auto pilot take him up to the space battle where he narrates the obvious, “This is tense.” And “Spinning is a good trick.” He gets hit and spirals out of control into the hanger of the Command ship where he skids to a halt almost perfectly oriented for a shot at the main reactor. He saves the day, by complete accident.

This works better if he snuck along. He has new friends and wants to help them, so he disobeys and sneaks along.  You may ask how he hides this from Qui Gon. Well, here is your chance to drum up his Force abilities. Have him say he imagined himself being very small, and he was able to reduce his presence in the Force.  I mean he is supposed to be extremely strong in the Force, surely he could do this? So, he sneaks along and steals the final fighter. Using his flying experience he is able to hold his own against the droid fighters and decides to pull a daring move and fly into the command ship.  He is damaged in the attempt and we get a tense scene of him trying to reroute power. He then is able to maneuver into position and take his intended shot.

In Episode IV Luke is able to hold his own against Imperial fighters and uses the Force to take the battle winning shot.  It was skill and ability.  Having Anakin do the same thing by accident isn’t cute and funny, it’s sad and dull.  He isn’t seen as a hero, just someone who is very lucky.

Make Jar Jar a scoundrel, make Anakin more mature and do things on purpose and change the pod race to a canyon race in ships, those changes (in my opinion) make the story flow a bit better, make the characters more likeable and set things up for future movies. Speaking of which there is one more scene I would change. The fight between Obi Wan and Darth Maul would end differently.  You have Darth Maul with the high ground and then in Episode III Obi Wan wins, because he has the high ground and as Anakin does a similar maneuver he gets diced.

Episode I is not my favorite movie, and it is far from perfect. It does however, have value and introduces some good characters and has some good dialogue and memorable scenes. I am not going to nitpick the dialogue, but maybe clean that up a bit too.

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