Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
STEP THREE: Shitcan The Phantom Menace.
That’s right. Just triple-click that paragraph and delete the fucker. Not a goddamn fucking thing happened in that movie we needed to see …
… but …
… That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few decent moments in it. Let’s retain the pod race and its underlying intention – a spectacular example of Anakin in action – in a modified form. But more than the pod race, my second-favorite moment in Phantom Menace – besides the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul, which I’ll address in step four – is when Qui-Gon is haggling with Watto over whether he can take both Anakin and his mother with him if he wins their wager over the pod race – and uses the Force to cook the “chance cube” Watto rolls to determine which one he gets to take.
What a great moment! And it ties directly in with another beef I have with Phantom Menace:
EXCITING FACT: Qui-Gon was not originally a character. It was just Obi-Wan. Lucas split the two characters no doubt to set up the dramatic scene at the end of Phantom Menace where a dying Qui-Gon makes Obi-Wan promise to train Anakin as a Jedi – even though Lucas had already established in two other movies that Jedi vanish when they die.
Listen to a podcast version of this essay!
Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake: Lucas fucked up. He made a lazy choice – splitting a character that didn’t need splitting and winding up with two watered-down characters as a result. And then to cover it up we got that half-ass ass-covering scene at the end of Sith where Yoda tells Obi-Wan that his former master – who should have been Yoda, considering that’s what Ben fucking said to Luke on Hoth – has discovered a way to communicate with them from the dead.
So, apparently, a dead Qui-Gon taught Obi-Wan how to instantly merge with the Force during his exile on Tattooine?
Or should Lucas have just kept Obi-Wan as one character in Phantom? He should have, because Obi-Wan is the Han Solo of the prequel trilogy. He fulfills this role largely due to MacGregor’s performance, but Lucas did some good writing here, too. Take the scene at the beginning of Attack of the Clones where Ben and Anakin search for an assassin in a bar on the surface of Coruscant. Remember the bit where Obi-Wan used a Jedi mind trick to turn away “deathsticks” being sold by Mouse from the Matrix movies? That moment stands as one of Lucas’ best moments in the whole prequel trilogy, because it’s not only funny, but it’s also a great detail. Obi-Wan – a Jedi knight who is on duty – casually throws around his sacred power to do nothing more than tell a black-market skag to fuck off; and he doesn’t even make eye contact when he does it. While writing a simple laugh moment, Lucas evoked the same Ben Kenobi who chopped off Buttface’s arm in the Mos Eisley Cantina (“This little one’s not worth the effort”), and with the Ben-that-shoulda-been (Qui-Gon) in Phantom Menace who cooked the die with Watto.
Let me stress this: Obi-Wan’s character would have benefited greatly from making him the kind of bullheaded maverick who would decide he had found the messiah, and then stick to it no matter what the Jedi council said. Lucas’ decision to split Ben’s motivation between him and Qui-Gon smacks of the same pussified, gutless thinking that caused him to make Greedo shoot first – somewhere along the line, he got too old and too scared to actually give some of his heroes dark sides.
But back to Darth Maul. Clearly, he is one of the elements of Phantom Menace I’d like to save from the shitcan, which dovetails neatly with …
STEP FOUR: Shitcan Count Dooku and give that character, his role and all of his responsibilities to Darth Maul.
We’ve heard a million geek laments over how Lucas killed off the best character in Phantom Menace. I echo all of those laments, and I further question Lucas’ thinking with the whole Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus charcter. Here follows a list of my questions and concerns with the good count:
QUESTION: Why would Darth Sidious/Palpatine choose an 80-year-old man as his new apprentice after Maul died?
QUESTION: For that matter, how was Darth Tyranus 80 years old and still a mere apprentice?
CONCERN: “Count Dooku” is a retardo-fuckingly stupid name. Even thinking the name makes me giggle.
In any event, replacing Dooku with Maul would bolster our new trilogy with the wonderful presence of Ray Park, whose behind-the-scenes character work turned Darth Maul into a killing machine reminiscent of Greek tragedy and the samurai tradition. (His character work also revealed once again that Lucas is a hack who stands on the shoulders of greater talents.) There’s a lot to praise about Park’s performance in Phantom, but I will single out his slaying of Qui-Gon as his finest moment. Maul runs him through, holds the thrust, then retracts his blade in one sweeping movement, gliding his palm along the hilt of his lightsaber in a gesture that can only be called reverent.
Lucas didn’t tell him to do that – Park did all his homework on his own.
So, by deleting Phantom, dumping Dooku and reviving Maul, we’re now left with a trilogy that begins with what is currently episode II, Attack of the Clones. Let’s start imagining how things would pan out differently.
Clones opens fine. We’d start with the great chase through the skyways of Coruscant. Great. Ben winds up in the bar on the surface. Fine.
Then he chases the assassin out in to the alley, and here’s where we head into “non-suck” territory: Ben confronts the assassin, blah blah blah … but then he hears something familiar – the whoongy-whoosh sound of lightsabers.
Ben explores deeper into the underbelly of Coruscant, and he discovers Anakin – a teenager – fighting in underground lightsaber duels with other kids his age who are skilled with the Force, though not Jedis-in-training. Ben senses that Anakin is strong with the Force, and pulls him aside. He examines his lightsaber, which Anakin built himself.
“You know this would have blown up in your hand,” Ben says.
“Not until tomorrow,” Anakin says – or some such freaky, soothsaying, “look at me, I’m the messiah” nonsense.
My point is this: There was no need to show Anakin as a child. It not only saddled us with a child actor in the central role for the entire first movie, but it removed any chance of developing the romance between Anakin and Padme until the whole entire second movie. And this isn’t a TV series, where, say, Joss Whedon can take an entire season to fuck around and develop a relationship. Lucas only had three movies, and they’re done!
Starting Anakin older and placing him on Coruscant would also solve a few more problems – and raise one interesting conflict, in my mind.
First, Anakin simply can’t be from Tattooine. Or if he is, they can’t hide Luke there. Or they have to change someone’s name. I mean, really. Obi-Wan and Yoda decide to hide Luke on Anakin’s home planet, with a bunch of Skywalkers, when Anakin, a recently christened Hitler, is from Tattooine, and his name is Skywalker? Wouldn’t that kinda be the first place the Empire would look if they were going to look for Anakin’s long-lost kids?
My solution: Anakin is from Coruscant, and his name is Anakin Starkiller – a nod to Lucas’ first draft name for the character, anyway. Then, when they decide to hide Luke on the remote desert planet Tattooine, they change his name to Skywalker.
Furthermore, making Anakin a societal dreg would add some nice conflict between our newly brash Obi-Wan and the Jedi council. This skater punk is the chosen one? Making Anakin a skag would also jump-start the move toward the dark side – he would already be clad in all black when our movie began.
As far as the events of the current episodes II and III, I really have no huge beef with them, but seeing as how we’ve deleted Lucas episode I, this leaves us with another whole movie to fill!
Guys, this was another great blunder by Lucas: he short-shrifted the rebel alliance in the prequel trilogy. True, this mistake was borne of a good intention; no doubt Lucas wanted the symmetry of having Anakin – the lead character for the overall six-film cycle – fall in episode III and redeem himself in episode VI.
But he should have been paying attention to his story, not to any high-toned literary aspirations. To wit, let’s recap our new trilogy:
EPISODE I: The Chosen One. Formerly Attack of the Clones, except now we fold in the pod race sequence and turn it into an underground, urban street race with pod-like vehicles. Hell, think of this sequence like The Fast and the Furious with the Force. And most important, it is during this sequence that Ben sees Anakin use the Force in some amazing way – repairing his vehicle on the fly, say – and that convinces him that he’s the chosen one.
Not fucking goddamn fucking midichlorians. (Our new, revamped episode I of course features no Gungans and no Jar-Jar.)
Our new episode I will also retain the basics of Anakin’s romance with Padme – Obi-Wan assigns Anakin to be her bodyguard – but suffice it to say, we’ll get them into some more trouble on Naboo, and write some better dialog.
Doesn’t anyone here realize that the entire middle act of Empire is a big caesura, and that’s why it works so fucking well? It’s an intake of breath before the manic final act, and it gives Luke time to train with Yoda and Leia time to fall in love with Han – all while they’re on the run, all while they’re doing something. That’s why it works.
I also propose this change to the end of our new episode I: Anakin knocks up Padme. I mean, he just knocks her up – and that motivates them to get married by movie’s end.
EPISODE II: Revenge of the Sith. Formerly episode III. Let me repeat that this is still the best of the prequel trilogy … and sometimes it’s so good it breaks my heart, because by fucking up and doing a few things right, Lucas taunts us with the movie that coulda been.
Case in point: Midway through Sith, we see Anakin and Padme standing atop their respective towers on Coruscant, looking out over the city at sunset and yearning. Golden, magic-hour, Michael Bay light saturates the image, and queer music keens in the background. Right after that scene, Anakin brings about the murder of Mace Windu and converts to the dark side.
It’s Lucas’ finest hour since he decided to make Darth Vader Luke’s father.
I hate this scene, guys, because I love it. The Lucas who made this scene is the same Lucas who made THX-1138. It’s brilliant, visual storytelling. It shows, not tells, and it makes me ask, where the fuck has this Lucas been for the last six years?
The other details of Revenge of the Sith I would more or less leave intact, though I would change one huge detail: While our episode II would end with the conversion of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side, it would not see the full-on, total birth of Darth Vader in the giant suit of armor we know from the original trilogy. Furthermore, I would tone down the special effects of the lightsaber duel between Anakin and Ben at the climax of the movie. Don’t get me wrong – Lucas was certainly aiming high with this sequence, what with its sweeping battle on moving lava skiffs – but Lucas should have stayed out of the way of this fight. We’ve known for years that Obi-Wan defeated Anakin in a duel by a volcano, and that’s what precipitated his physical change to Darth Vader; we didn’t need all the huge effects that got in the way of what should have been a more spectacular and human battle.
On that note, let’s dovetail this with Ray Park and what Lucas doesn’t understand about special effects. Oddly enough, the worst of the six Star Wars movies, Phantom Menace, also features the best lightsaber duel. The duel in Empire packs more dramatic punch, to be sure, but the duel in Menace wins simply because of its wonderful acrobatics and for how it showed us something truly new – the two-blade lightsaber. When I first saw Darth Maul’s saber in the trailer, I got giddy thinking about all the new kinds of evil Jedis we would see in the new movies. Surely, there would be legions of dark Jedis (“Sith” in geek parlance), with all kinds of unique weaponry. I imagined lightsaber sai blades and short swords – who knew what was in store? And then with Ray Park, we saw this wonderfully terrifying and athletic foe. Surely we would see more of him?
Nope on both counts. All we got was Christopher Lee’s head digitally placed onto the body of a stunt actor – though I think the hilt for Count Dooku-Dooku-Dooku’s saber was curved. That’s neat. I guess.
So what am I getting at? We loved Darth Maul and Ray Park because we were watching a real person doing real things onscreen. You’ve heard it a million times before: interesting characters beat special effects any time; Lucas just never listened.
Tied to that futuristic-looking chair-thingy and gagged with a reflexo-fillo polymer, you’re probably wondering what will happen in our new episode III? We deleted your first episode, and now we’re left with a whole entire other movie to do stuff in? Whatever shall we do with this extra time?
Just listen …
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.