Friday, June 27, 2008

Under the Hood: Star Wars, Episode One

So at this point, my computer refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Internet, which means I can't surf the web, check my email, or illegally download Doctor Who. (I'm typing this on my room-mate's computer; he will be handling the illegal-download duties this week.) But you didn't come here to hear about my problems, you came here to listen to me yammer about random stuff!

A few years back, I found myself discussing the Star Wars prequels with a friend I've unfortunately lost touch with. We were talking about how much they sucked, to be specific, and how easy it would be to rework them into something better. We came up with plans for revised versions of all six movies (as we pretty much took it as a given, even back in 2002, that Episode Three wasn't going to be a classic.) Today, I'm going to share with you our views on what needed to happen to Episode One, the Phantom Menace!

First, the story needed to begin in mid-battle. We never see the droid troopers in battle against anything other than Jedi for the first three-quarters of the movie, and the Jedi basically school them. Which makes the battle droids appear weak and unthreatening (and their spindly design and comedy voices don't help.) So our Episode One opens with the Trade Federation fleets (and needless to say, our Trade Federation aliens would have their own language, with subtitles) attacking the peaceful planet of Naboo (except that Naboo would probably have a less silly name in our version.) Droid soldiers (who would look more like the droids in Episode Two, with stockier bodies and deeper voices) overwhelm the Naboo soldiers, and all appears lost...

Until two Jedi arrive. Qui-Gon Jinn and his rebellious student, Obi-Wan Kenobi, show up to negotiate (and if necessary, enforce) a peace. The Trade Federation are expected to toe the line--the Jedi are, after all, respected for over a thousand years as the peacekeepers of the Republic. (There's a hint of something unsavory about this, here. Many of the species outside of the Republic, on the Outer Rim, are immune to Jedi powers, and there's definitely an undercurrent of an idea that maybe the Republic was founded when the Jedi kicked out the people they couldn't control. But Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are decent men, even if Obi-Wan is a bit of a hellraiser.)

But this time, the Trade Federation refuses to kowtow. They instead take the unprecedented step of attacking the Jedi, insinuating that they have the patronage of something darker, more ancient, something that even the Jedi must fear. Qui-Gon is worried and wants to find out more, but first, he and his apprentice have to fight a world of killer robots, free Queen Amidala (who isn't elected, because Queens tend not to be) and get back to Coruscant, the capital of the Republic to warn everyone.

For two Jedi, this is easier than it looks. They get the help of a native of the planet, whose name isn't Jar Jar Binks, who isn't clumsy, and who is actually useful in a fight. Think an amphibious version of Chewbacca, rather than the CGI mess we got. Sort of if the Creature From the Black Lagoon was a nice guy. But we'll continue to call him Jar Jar here, just to make it clear who we're talking about. They save Jar Jar, and Jar Jar repays the favor by helping them rescue the Queen and get everyone off-planet.

The Trade Federation give chase. Conversations with their secret master, Darth Sidious, make it clear that this is just the first step in a plan to split the Republic apart, and he needs Naboo's resources to make it happen. It's clear that while the Trade Federation isn't afraid of the Jedi anymore, they're very afraid of him. The Jedi's ship gives the Trade Federation the slip by escaping past the Outer Rim, into the frontier territory controlled by the Hutts, but their ship is damaged and they must put down for repairs on a backwater planet. (Not Tatooine. No Tatooine until the end of Episode Three, that's my motto. This is another part of the Hutt territory, a few systems away from Tatooine.)

While the Queen's people are fixing and Qui-Gon is meditating, Obi-Wan sneaks off. (Hellraiser, remember?) He winds up meeting an orphaned teen just a year or so younger than him (say, seventeen to Obi-Wan's eighteen), who's in the middle of an illegal swoop race with a bunch of alien bikers. (For the non-Star Wars literate, swoops are to the speeder bikes in 'Return to the Jedi' as Harleys are to those little crotch-rocket motorcycles.) The teen, one Anakin Skywalker, is racing for money, and wins...and as a Jedi, Obi-Wan can tell that this kid is using the Force to help him race on a scale that staggers Obi-Wan's imagination. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon winds up having his meditation interrupted by a force of one hundred armed guards, sent by the Hutts.

While all this is going on, Darth Sidious sends his apprentice, Darth Maul, to apprehend the Queen personally should the Trade Federation fail. Maul lands on the planet, and begins seeking his quarry out...and the first thing that attracts his attention is an apocalyptic bar fight between several dozen disgruntled alien bikers convinced that Anakin was cheating, and Anakin and Obi-Wan, who become instant friends while slicing, dicing, and shooting aliens. But Darth Maul is watching them...

The Hutts, meanwhile, have summoned Qui-Gon to ask him exactly who this "Trade Federation" is that's just landed a battlefleet right above their planet, and why they want this Queen. (They're not angry. The Hutts merely sent a hundred armed men to fetch him merely as a sign of respect for his abilities as a Jedi. To send just one armed goon would be a grave insult.) Qui-Gon explains the situation, and while the Hutts have no interest on either side, the Trade Federation's presumption and demanding attitude alienates them.

A major battle follows. In space, Hutt battleships fight the Trade Federation's forces, and the Hutts fight dirty. On the planet, Qui-Gon returns to find that Obi-Wan and Anakin have dragged a whole army of lowlifes to their hangar. He gets everyone on board the ship and prepares for lift-off, when Darth Maul shows up. Maul cuts a swathe through the angry mob, and very nearly through Qui-Gon as well. He's very well-trained, and uses the Dark Side of the Force in a way that hasn't been seen in centuries...not since the founding of the Republic, in fact.

Qui-Gon holds his own just long enough to get to the ship, which takes off and weaves its way through the space battle, finally getting clear of the planet and jumping into hyperspace. Next stop, Coruscant! ...where Queen Amidala finds little sympathy for her cause in the gridlocked Senate. Her personal Senator, Palpatine, manipulates her into putting him forward as a candidate for Chancellor.

That night, Obi-Wan goes to see Amidala in her quarters. (Because, y'know, grrrrowlll! Jedi are discouraged from forming relationships, but it's not forbidden.) He finds her there, but he also finds Darth Maul. A lightsaber duel follows, with Obi-Wan handling Maul better than Qui-Gon, but still not well enough. The two combatants trash the room, slowly destroying power couplings and lighting fixtures over the course of their fight so that the room gradually darkens, eventually lit only by their twin lightsabers. Then, Maul manages to disarm Obi-Wan, and the room is lit only by one saber, gradually inching down towards Obi-Wan's face...

And then, behind Maul, there's the trademark sound of lightsabers turning on, one after another after another until the entire Jedi Council stands illuminated. In the center of them stands Yoda, who's not wielding anything. He's just staring at Maul with a little scowl on his face. Maul sees that, and runs for it. He slices open a wall and jumps out into Coruscant hover-traffic, leaping from car to car until he's just a spot in the distance.

With that, Amidala decides to return to her homeworld. She's no safer on Coruscant than anywhere else, and Jar Jar has pledged the help of his people against the droid armies. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Anakin decide to accompany them--Anakin wants to become a Jedi, and although Yoda insists he's too old to begin the training, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are both open to the idea. (Yoda, meanwhile, warns Qui-Gon that the power, the darkness he felt in Maul is reminiscent of the ancient warnings, the legends of the Sith. He urges the utmost caution. If the Sith have returned, dark times may lie ahead for the entire galaxy.)

The heroes' forces run the blockade surrounding Naboo, and Queen Amidala allies herself with the Gungan armies for a showdown. They free many of the captured Naboo pilots and a handful of ships, and Anakin volunteers to help fly a risky assault on the Trade Federation's co-ordinator ships (which enable their droids and starships to act in unison.) He's hoping the Queen will be at least a little impressed with this show of bravery...after all, grrrrowlll!

Gungans fight droids (more competently than in the movie, which made it look like a sort of Special Olympics of war), Anakin heroically destroys the co-ordinator ship, and Darth Maul battles both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon dies, Darth Maul dies, but even without the co-ordinator ship, the Trade Federation's forces are overwhelming, and defeat seems certain...until Chancellor Palpatine arrives with the Republic's forces to save the day! Huzzah!

Or, at least, sort of huzzah. Qui-Gon is dead, and without him, Anakin's dream of becoming a Jedi seems stillborn. Not to mention, the captured Trade Federation leaders mention a further Sith Lord in the shadows, the master to Maul's apprentice, one they only know as Darth Sidious...and on mentioning his name, they immediately drop dead in agony. Yoda fears the worst. Even with all his misgivings, though, he cannot deny Obi-Wan his ascension to Jedi Knight. And as a full Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan may take an apprentice. He chooses his fast friend, Anakin Skywalker. And at the awards ceremony, Amidala delivers a kiss that makes it pretty clear that she, too, chooses Anakin.


Dylan Todd said...

Okay, I'm building that time machine so you can rewrite these babies. I'm looking forward to Eps 2 & 3.

magidin said...

Save this; when they remake them in 25 years, you're top of the list for the "update"...

Kate Holden said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome! I'm really looking forward to reading what you do with episode 2!

Austin Gorton said...

For me, the biggest improvement you made was upping Anakin's age.

Do that, and it takes away the problematic age difference between him and Amidala, and eliminates a lot of the cutsey-poo-ness of Episode I.

While I understand that Lucas wanted Anakin to be good and innocent in Ep I, I never understood why he wanted that.

A teenaged, powerful, well-meaning but with a hint of darkness would have worked just as well to setup the character and also established a tighter parallel to his whiner son when we get around to Ep IV.

Anonymous said...

Well done!

One more reinforcement to the popular internet saying:

"The only person who should be forbidden to touch the Star Wars sagas these days

is George Lucas."