Fixing the Prequels – The Phantom Menace (part two)

part one

As we continue fixing The Phantom Menace, we have reached the point where Qui Gon and Obi Wan have escaped death on the Trade Federation ship and are sneaking down to the surface of Naboo. There’s a scene where Queen Amidala speaks to Nute Gunray, and this scene is followed by the Queen conferring with her highest counselors. I would change none of this. I like the mystery here as it’s unfolding: the Queen’s belief that the ambassadors have arrived and commanded the Federation to make settlement, while the Federation insists that the ambassadors have never arrived. Likewise, the scene in the Naboo throne room is well done, and I’d leave that alone completely. Where I’d start tweaking things is when we reconnected with the two Jedi.

Remember, Qui Gon and Obi Wan have stowed away on separate ships and plan to meet somehow on the planet surface. Nute Gunray warns his battle droid captain that the two Jedi are no longer aboard the ship in orbit, and that they are therefore almost certainly stowing away. This sets up a bit of sneaking around for the Jedi, but this sneaking around didn’t happen onscreen, which is a bit of a pity. In reality, the original script has things going slightly differently as was filmed. As the droid army ships land, we see Obi Wan pop his head out of a pond, look around, and then disappear again beneath the water. Then we’d cut to the Viceroy warning the droid captain that the two Jedi have escaped the orbiting ship and are therefore likely on the planet. And after that, we meet Jar Jar Binks.

Okay. Before getting to specifics, let’s discuss Jar Jar in general. Basically, Jar Jar is probably the single most hated facet of the prequel trilogy. While I never hated him – in fact, I rather like him – he’s got some serious execution problems. He gets a bit too much screen time, and he’s almost uniformly the goofy screwball for the entire time, not getting a moment where he can just stand there are quietly talk until late in the movie, by which time it’s too late. So that’s a place to begin with fixing Jar Jar.

It’s also interesting to note that Jar Jar isn’t just along for the ride; he has a definite character arc, mainly in TPM but also in the remaining PT. Jar Jar is the annoying kid who screws up a lot, but who has a lot of heart and ends up doing fairly well by himself and by his people. Where Lucas errs, then, is in not showing us early enough that Jar Jar has quite a bit of potential.

When we first see Jar Jar, he’s among the creatures running wildly in fear away from the giant droid army transports that are literally plowing their way through the forests of Naboo. Qui Gon is among these creatures, and finds Jar Jar directly in his way. Jar Jar, panicking, grabs onto Qui Gon and falls down, dragging the Jedi master to the ground with him, where they lay still as the droid transport moves right over the top of them. How to make this better? Well, I’d show a dispirited, lonely Jar Jar wandering lonely through the woods, searching for food – maybe he’d find a worm and reject it for taste – when he’d suddenly note an animal running by…and then another…and another, until it’s a full-fledged stampede. Then he’d see Qui Gon coming.

After the droid transport passes, I’d revise the ensuing dialog a bit:

QUI GON: You almost got us killed! Are you brainless?

JAR JAR: I spake.

QUI GON: The ability to speak does not make you intelligent. Now get out of here!

JAR JAR: No! No…mesa stay with you. Mesa help. Mesa Gungan. Wesa warriors.

QUI GON: That won’t be necessary. Now go…

At this point, Obi Wan comes bursting out of some nearby vegetation, closely pursued by a battle droid on a floating attack vehicle. Qui Gon quickly dispatches the battle droid, and attention once again turns to Jar Jar. However, in the shooting script, there’s a bit that answers the question of why Obi Wan didn’t just destroy the battle droid himself. It seems that he got his lightsaber soaked and now the battery’s dead. I like this, and I’d keep it. Here’s the gist of what I’d do:

QUI GON: I see you’re wet…did you seal your lightsaber before going under?

OBI WAN: (sheepishly) I forgot, Master. I was near to being discovered, and —

QUI GON: Indeed.

He takes Obi Wan’s lightsaber and tries to ignite it; the blade fizzles and shorts out.

QUI GON: It’ll dry out in time, although it won’t work perfectly until you replace the crystal. Remember, Padawan, this weapon is your life.

OBI WAN: Yes, Master.

Reading through the shooting script, I find a lot of little touches that I really think would have enhanced the final product. I wish that George Lucas had been a bit more willing to indulge longer running times in the PT. Another benefit of including this bit would be to presage an exchange in the next film, and to further establish the teacher-student relationship between Qui Gon and Obi Wan.

Anyway, we move on to Jar Jar’s statement that the Jedi should go to the Gungan city, the hidden city. Here again I’d have Jar Jar point out that the Gungans are warriors. In fact, I’d drive this point home, the idea being that Jar Jar’s big problem is that he’s a failed warrior in a civilization of warriors. Other than that, I’ve always liked the entire bit with Jar Jar first saying that the Jedi should go to the Gungan City, then saying that he can’t take them there because he’s banished, and Qui Gon and Obi Wan manipulating Jar Jar’s fears to convince him to take them to the Gungan City after all: “Do you hear that? That is the sound of a thousand terrible things headed this way.” “And if they find us, they will smash us, crush us, and grind us into oblivion!” I like that exchange a great deal.

So we’re at the lake where Jar Jar points out that they are going underwater. Here again I’d have Jar Jar point out that the Gungans are warriors, maybe in noting that the Jedi shouldn’t expect a warm welcome – something like, “Gungans are warriors and no liking strangers, so don’t expecting a warm welcome.”

And as long as I’m going into detailed stuff about TPM, I frankly think that the first sight of the Gungan city, as they swim over an underwater cliff and see all those golden bubbles hanging there before them, is one of those beautiful sights that fill each of the Star Wars movies. That’s one of the visuals that makes me a Star Wars fan.

The scene with Qui Gon and Obi Wan requesting aid of the Gungan rulers doesn’t really work as well as it should. First of all, that facial tic of Boss Nass’s – the one where he suddenly shakes his head and wobbles his jowls back and forth – needs to go. I’m not really sure what that’s all about.

Second, the scene should play the differences between the Gungans and the Naboo up a little more, and again, accentuate the “warrior Gungans” thing a bit more:

OBI WAN: When the droids have taken control of the Naboo, they will come after you.

BOSS NASS: Wesa no think so. They not knowing wesa are here. And wesa warriors! We can fight them if they come.

OBI WAN: But you and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one happens to the other. You must see this.

BOSS NASS: Dissen not true. Wesa no need the Naboo, wesa no care about the Naboo, and the Naboo no care about us. Yousa must leave now.

QUI GON: (waves his hand) Then speed us on our way….

And so on. When we get to Qui Gon’s intercession on Jar Jar’s behalf, I’d again alter the dialogue slightly:

QUI GON: What’s to become of Jar Jar Binks?

BOSS NASS: Hesa been banished three times, and hesa come back each time! So hesa to be punished.

I especially like here the benevolent smile Boss Nass gives when he indicates that Jar Jar is to be “punished”, followed by Jar Jar’s swallow of fear. The rest of this scene plays out all right, and then we’re into the whole transit through “the planet core”.

Now, I know that they’re not really going through the planet’s core. And I have no problem with that, OK? So no complaining about that. The entire underwater sequence of TPM has actually always been one of my favorite parts of the movie, and the only changes I would make would be mostly cosmetic. Jar Jar, for example, talks too much through the whole sequence.

There’s a line in the script that isn’t heard in the movie; Obi Wan asks of Qui Gon something like, “Master, why do you keep dragging these pathetic life forms with us?” I don’t know why that line got cut, since its echoing line later on the movie (on Tatooine) is still present. I suspect that it makes Obi Wan too much of an egoist jerk, but I’d rather that line have stayed. As they pilot the sub away from the Gungan City, something like this:

JAR JAR: Through the Core? In a bongo? Dis is nutsen.

OBI WAN: Why do we always end up with some pathetic life form tagging along with us?

QUI GON: All life is bound by the living Force, young Padawan, and even the strongest Jedi needs allies.

JAR JAR: Where we going?

QUI GON: You’re navigating, aren’t you?

JAR JAR: I no go through the Core in just a bongo! We get crunched dere!

QUI GON: Well then, the Force will guide us.

The sub steers into a deep hole, followed by a giant fish.

OBI WAN: Why were you banished, Jar Jar?

JAR JAR: Dis a longo tale but small part be…mesa clumsy.

OBI WAN: You were banished because you were clumsy?

Jar Jar looks sadder and sadder.

JAR JAR: Mesa never be Gungan warrior now.

In the actual script (and the film), Jar Jar goes on to describe some of the clumsy things he’s done. The problem is that it’s hard to understand what he’s talking about in the first place (what’s a “heyblibber”?), and it only serves to fill up some time while the big fish looms behind them. I think it works better if it’s just left at Jar Jar being clumsy, something we already know, and the unexplained nature of his banishment serves to better underscore his disappointment in himself (enhancing his character arc) and the manner in which he’s not representative of most Gungans.

Anyway, now the big fish attacks. I’d like to have seen this drawn out slightly before the even bigger fish attacks the big fish, freeing the sub. That said, Qui Gon’s sage observation that “There’s always a bigger fish” is a good line.

There’s a brief scene next on the bridge of the Trade Federation ship, where Nute Gunray reports to Darth Sidious that the invasion is going well. But he omits any mention of the Jedi who escaped, and when his second-in-command points this out, Gunray replies, “No need to report that to him until we have something to report.” I like this scene, and wouldn’t change anything about it.

Back to the sub, where they’re cruising along through the water when they lose power. I’d add an observation here as to the cause – “The smaller fish did some damage before the bigger fish got him, Master” – and then let it play out as in the movie. I like Jar Jar’s shrill panic, especially when the get the lights back on and find that they’re right in front of some other beastie. In fact, I’d have milked that a bit, and had Jar Jar’s shrieking go on a few seconds more before Qui Gon conks him out with the Jedi Nerve Pinch. (Well, that’s basically what it is, right?) However, instead of having Obi Wan say “You overdid it” – was Qui Gon not supposed to conk Jar Jar out? — I’d have Obi Wan simply say, with great relief, “Thank you!” For freakishly obsessive Star Wars fans, this would echo a similar moment between Han Solo, Princess Leia, and an incessantly-talking C-3PO in The Empire Strikes Back.

After they’d escape the second beastie to another bigger fish, I’d like to hear something like this:

QUI GON: We’re getting closer to the Naboo City. I can feel it in the Force.

OBI WAN: Good. I don’t know how many more bigger fish are going to save us, down here.

JAR JAR: (moaning from his sleep) Are wesa dere yet?

So there we have it: a beginning to the redemption of Jar Jar Binks. Next time, we’ll look at the invasion of Naboo, the rescue of the Queen, and the beginnings of Padme’s subterfuge.

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One Response to Fixing the Prequels – The Phantom Menace (part two)

  1. Anonymous says:

    This rewriting stuff is fun… hope you don’t mind me chiming in with all my pet theories and such.

    I’m not a big Jar-Jar fan myself, but I’ve never understood the depth of the animosity directed at him either, aside from the fact that, because he’s an entirely new creation that has no apparent relation to the original films, he’s a convenient scapegoat for disappointed fanboys to hang their hurt feelings on. Couldn’t be mad at the Jedi characters, because we love Jedi, right?

    That said, I think there are two major problems with him, especially in TPM: he doesn’t really have much of an arc during the course of the movie, and his pidgin English dialect.

    You’re already reworking his arc a bit, although I suspect you’re going to take it in a very different direction than I would. I’ll reserve comment until you get there…

    As for the dialect, I think the easiest way to solve this problem — and to deflect the ludicrous accusations that G. Lucas is a racist — would be to have the Gungans speak among themselves in their own language with subtitles, the way Greedo and Jabba did. This would demonstrate that they are not brainless twits, and the pidgin would make sense because English (or Galactic Standard or whatever) is obviously a second language for them that they haven’t practiced much. Perhaps it’s even physiologically difficult for them to pronounce our curiously dry landspeak or something.

    Oh, and you’re absolutely right about Boss Nass’ facial tic. WTF? It never adds up to anything. Lose it…

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