Fixing the Prequels – The Phantom Menace (part three)

part one
part two

Continuing our re-imagining of The Phantom Menace, we are now at the droid invasion of Naboo and the rescue of the Queen.

Before I begin, a couple of points that have occurred to me since I posted the first two installments of this series:

:: The words “Roger Roger!” should never be uttered by a battle droid or anybody else. First, “Roger” as a response to a command is way too Earth-reminiscent for a Star Wars movie. Second, “Roger Roger!” makes me think of the classic scene in Airplane!. You know the scene I mean. All we need is a droid named “Oveur” and we’re all set.

:: In comments to the last post, Jason makes the point that the Gungan’s use of a pidgin form of English doesn’t work; he’d just give them an alien tongue of their own and use subtitles, the way most alien species in Star Wars are handled. I suppose that’s a fair point, but for the most part, the pidgin thing never really bothers me (except in places where it gets too hard to understand), and if we subtitle the Gungans, we’d have to explain how everyone understands them or have protocol droids standing around to do translating or whatever.

OK, onto the movie. The droid army has landed in the forests of Naboo and are now advancing on Theed, the capital city. This whole sequence is pretty effective, I think, except that we don’t really get a sense of the population of Naboo. This is actually a more generic problem I’ve always had with TPM; there’s just not that much of a sense of the Naboo society. As the battle droids and their machines enter Theed (the capital city of Naboo), we should see the citizenry being rounded up and taken to the “camps” that the droids refer to. Now, this being Star Wars and all, this doesn’t have to be a Schindler’s List type of thing; it doesn’t need to feature brutal violence a la the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. But there isn’t that much sense of a forced invasion in the finished movie. There should be some shots of battle droids rounding up normal people, forcing them out of their homes, little kids being forced apart from their friends and toys, and the like.

There’s a brief shot of Queen Amidala standing at a window watching sadly as the droid armies enter her city. At this point, I’d add something like this:

Queen Amidala watches as the droid armies approach the palace. In the distance, her citizens are being rounded up and led away. A transport approaches, and Nute Gunray disembarks. Captain Panaka comes up to her from behind.

PANAKA: My Lady, we must take you into hiding.

AMIDALA: I will not go into hiding. My fate will be that of my people.

PANAKA: My Lady, please.

AMIDALA: Go, Captain. I will come when I am ready.

Panaka recognizes that he will not win this argument and leaves. Amidala turns to one of her handmaidens, who is standing nearby.

HANDMAIDEN: Your Majesty?

AMIDALA: We must do what we discussed before. We have very little time.

HANDMAIDEN: I will serve you well, My Lady.

And then we’d cut to the Bongo emerging from the water, in the middle of the river.

Seeing this the first time, we of course wouldn’t know what plan the Queen is hatching, but it would establish that there is a plan. Thus, in the third act of the film when the Queen reveals that she has been “hiding in plain sight” all along, using her handmaiden as a decoy, we’d already be prepared for it: the old idea of Anton Chekhov’s that the gun that is fired in the third act needs to be on the mantelpiece in the first act. Also, from a standpoint of character, we’d get a hint that maybe this young girl of a Queen isn’t quite as naïve and overmatched in the face of superior force than we’ve been already led to believe.

OK. The two Jedi and Jar Jar arrive in the middle of Theed and come ashore. In the original script there’s some stuff about their narrow escape as their sub is pulled over a waterfall (this was actually filmed and can be seen as a deleted scene on the TPM DVD). No, I wouldn’t restore this; it doesn’t really add much. I would add a small bit of dialogue after the Jedi have come ashore:

OBI WAN: We’re too late, Master. The droid army is already here.

QUI GON: We must still find the Queen, and if she is already a prisoner, we will free her and take her to Coruscant. (turns to Jar Jar) Go in peace, Gungan. Your debt to me is paid.

JAR JAR: But where will mesa go? Mesa does not know–

QUI GON: (waves hand) You will go someplace else.

JAR JAR: Mesa go someplace else.

Jar Jar wanders off; Qui Gon and Obi Wan run off in another direction.

QUI GON: In a large city like this, the largest streets will lead to the Palace. That is where we must go.

There’s a scene where the Queen and her entourage are escorted as prisoners out of the Palace; Nute Gunray says something like “In time the suffering of your people will compel you to sign the treaty.” All I’d change here would be to add something to Gunray’s line like, “You should have given us permission to use your trade routes when you had the chance. Now you will all pay a heavier price.” I’d only add that in order to give some small idea as to what the dispute here is, in the first place.

We would then see the Queen’s entourage being led away from the Palace, while they would be shadowed by Qui Gon and Obi Wan, who are waiting until they reach a perfect secluded place to spring their attack. Before they attack, I’d have them observe the approaching party using a pair of macrobinoculars, mainly because the view through macrobinoculars is one of those iconic visuals of the original trilogy. And I’d have an exchange like this:

OBI WAN: The Queen – she is a child!

QUI GON: She is young, but hardly a child. Judge her not by her age, young padawan…she is the same age you were when you accompanied me against the uprising on Ord Mandell.

OBI WAN: Yes, master.

Why do this? Well, it would disarm the whole “They elected a teenager to rule their whole planet!” thing a bit, and even better, it would predispose the audience to take Anakin Skywalker more seriously when we meet him later on.

When their attack on the droids finally comes, I’d have them jump down from the balcony as in the movie, with Qui Gon leaping forward to engage the battle droids on his side of the fight. Meanwhile, Obi Wan would do the same – and, referring back to his failure earlier (see previous post) to seal his lightsaber before going underwater, he’d try to ignite his saber only to see the blade flicker and fail. I’d have the action sequence progress then with Qui Gon doing his “tiptoe through the battle droids” thing, but with Obi Wan having to evade blaster fire and fight the droids without the benefit of his lightsaber. He’d use the Force to toss one droid into another, to dodge laser blasts, and the like. He’d have to think fast, of course, and get creative with the Force, and maybe he’d even be overmatched at first before he gets his bearings and figures things out until Qui Gon saves him:

OBI WAN: I am sorry, Master.

QUI GON: You did well using the Force, young Padawan. Just have more care in the future. The Force will guide you. Always trust it.

SIO BIBBLE: [this is the white-haired governor guy, one of the Queen’s main advisors] Who are you?

QUI GON: I am Qui Gon Jinn, and this is my apprentice, Obi Wan Kenobi. We are the Ambassadors, sent by the Chancellor to force a settlement.

HANDMAIDEN: (the same one as before) The Chancellor sent Jedi Knights as his ambassadors?

The Queen silences the handmaiden with a glance.

PANAKA: Your negotiations have failed, Ambassador.

QUI GON: Our negotiations never took place. The situation here is far more explosive than even the Chancellor predicted. Your Highness, we must take you to Coruscant and meet with Chancellor Valorum.

PANAKA: Leave Naboo? With the Queen gone, the Federation army will only tighten their grip on the system!

OBI WAN: There seems to be little we could do to prevent that, even if we stayed.

QUI GON: If the Federation takes you, they will destroy you.

SIO BIBBLE: They wouldn’t dare!

PANAKA: They need her to sign a treaty to make their occupation of Naboo legal. They can’t afford to kill her.

QUI GON: They have dared much already, sir. They have dared to blockade your system’s trade routes, and they have dared invade a fellow sovereign system of the Republic. Their actions are not those of a powerful Federation embroiled in a simple trade dispute with a small and peaceful system. There is no logic to what they have done here, unless something else is at work that we do not yet know. Your Majesty, my feelings tell me they will destroy you if you stay.

The Queen glances at her handmaiden, who nods.

HANDMAIDEN: We go where you go, Majesty.

AMIDALA: Then we will go to Coruscant and plead our case with the Senate.

Sio Bibble nods.

SIO BIBBLE: With you at his side, Senator Palpatine may be able to convince the Senate to help us.

QUI GON: Do you have a ship?

PANAKA: In the main hangar. This way.

He gestures to a passage that leads through a tunnel beneath a larger building. However, as they begin to move, two battle droids emerge from the shadow and level their blasters at the party.

BATTLE DROID: Freeze! Hands up, prisoners.

Qui Gon’s lightsaber is in his hand instantly, but even as he ignites the blade and moves forward, a giant stone flowerpot drops from a balcony above and crushes the battle droids. All eyes look up to the balcony to see a grinning Jar Jar, who has pushed the flowerpot from its ledge.

JAR JAR: Hello!

Jar Jar drops nimbly to the pavement.

JAR JAR: Mesa tried to find my way back to the forests, but mesa got lost…and then mesa heard fighting, and since wesa Gungans are warriors–

QUI GON: Well done, my friend. You may be a warrior yet, and I see now how hard it truly is for anyone to banish you.

Jar Jar grins.

QUI GON: Now, your ship, Captain?

PANAKA: Grab their weapons. This way.

His men take up the blasters of the dead battle droids; the currently weaponless Obi Wan grabs one too. Then they run off into the city.

I like how Lucas has one of the handmaidens speak up in his original scene, a bit out of place; this ends up making sense later on when we learn that she is the Queen after all. I’d emphasize that, just a little, by having it happen more than once. Also, note that there’s a reason now for Jar Jar to be tagging along, and he’s even proven his worth a little. (Also notice how he’s always getting cut off in mid-sentence.)

I also like how Lucas made the situation on Naboo rather confusing, putting the Jedi off their game a bit because of the seeming lack of a point behind what’s going on.

Now we’d cut to the hangar bay, where the Queen’s entourage would enter, led by the two Jedi:

PANAKA: We need to free those pilots.

OBI WAN: (brandishing blaster) I’ll take care of that.

Qui Gon approaches the battle droids guarding th ship’s entrance, while Obi Wan approaches the droids guarding the captive pilots.

QUI GON: I am an ambassador to the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. These people are under my protection, and I am taking them to Coruscant.

BATTLE DROID: You are under arrest!

The fight would take place pretty much as in the film, but with Obi Wan using the blaster he’s commandeered instead of his lightsaber to dispatch the battle droids guarding the pilots. Ric Olie, the head pilot, would start warming up the ship’s engines as the others board. Then, as Qui Gon and Obi Wan stand at the bottom of the entry ramp, keeping an eye out for other battle droids, I’d add this exchange just before they board the ship themselves:

OBI WAN: No destroyer droids. This is going well.

QUI GON: Droids are slow to react to the unexpected. The blockade ships will be ready for us, though. Come.

They turn to board the ship, but just before doing so, Qui Gon turns back to his apprentice, takes the blaster from his hand, and tosses it aside.

QUI GON: When we’ve escaped into hyperspace, please fix your lightsaber. You’re a Jedi, not a Corellian.

OBI WAN: Yes master.

And then the ship would blast off into space.

In our next installment, we meet some really important folks: Darth Maul, R2-D2, and a kid named Anakin Skywalker who will have an important role to play in the entire Star Wars tale. Also, in the next installment we’ll fix the single worst scene in Star Wars history. Tune in!

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3 Responses to Fixing the Prequels – The Phantom Menace (part three)

  1. Anonymous says:

    So far so good, but one minor change I’d make in Jar Jar’s protestation before being set free in the city would be to take out the “does”. For the character “Mesa not know…” is more suited to the way he speaks in the rest of the films.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Coming along nicely. I like your efforts to set up the decoy and also explain more of what the “trade dispute” is all about. And Obi Wan using the blaster is a nice touch, foreshadowing of his use of one to defeat General Grievous (or would you rewrite that, too?) as well as showing his willingness to improvise when necessary. I really like Ewan MacGregor’s portrayal of Obi Wan, especially the occasional glimmer of roguishness. I have a theory that Obi Wan understood Han Solo much more than Luke would have believed, because he remembered what he himself had been like as reckless young man.

    Oh, and I agree completely with showing ordinary citizens being rounded up and/or abused by the Trade Fed. That was something that really bugged me TPM… all this talk about the suffering of the people, but nothing to hammer the point home. In TESB, we saw Cloud City citizens going about their lives in the early scenes, then later running for their lives after the Empire begins taking over. In TPM, we don’t see any citizens of Theed at all, only royals and the queen’s retainers.

  3. Roger Owen Green says:

    The words “Roger Roger!” should never be uttered by a battle droid or anybody else. First, “Roger” as a response to a command is way too Earth-reminiscent for a Star Wars movie. Second, “Roger Roger!” makes me think of the classic scene in Airplane!. You know the scene I mean.

    Or sounds like my wife calling me from the second floor while I’m watching TV on the first floor.

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