Fixing the Prequels: The Phantom Menace (conclusion)

part one
part two
part three
part four
part five
part six
part seven
part eight
part nine

(The entire series can be read by clicking the Post Label at the bottom of each individual post in the series.)

And now we come at last to the end of The Phantom Menace. The final battle is, of course, the best executed portion of the entire film, owing as it does to George Lucas’s skills at film editing. But there are some changes I’d make herein, mainly dealing with two particular fronts: Anakin’s conduct in the battle, and Jar Jar’s.

Remember, when last we’d left, I’d shifted things so that Anakin isn’t being brought knowingly into battle but has instead stowed away, unbeknownst to Qui Gon or Padme. I think this was important to show just how impulsive Anakin can be, and also to better illustrate how this kid ends up being in the middle of a major battle. In the film, Qui Gon just takes Anakin along, which always seems a little weird to me.

We’d first open on the green field outside the city, where the Gungans have mustered. This is where I’d have the whole sequence with them take place pretty much as is in the film, with the starting of their shield and then the arrival of the droid armies. This has always been one of my favorite sequences in the film, with the impressive sound design of the droid tanks and the giant droid carriers. I’d also keep Jar Jar’s admonition of a few Gungan warriors to stand “Steady, steady”. That always struck me as a good indicator of Jar Jar’s development arc, and it fits with my reworking him as a failed warrior become actual warrior.

Now we cut to the streets of Theed, where the Queen and her troops are moving into position, along with the Jedi. After she signals Captain Panaka, the good Captain begins his work by creating a diversion by detonating a bomb inside a speeder. I’d have more explosions go off, all over the place, enough to totally confuse the battle droids who would then be taken by surprise by the attack of Panaka’s men. While this is going on, the Queen leads her contingent into the main hangar, where they plan to launch some of their fighters.

As this fight begins to take shape (I like Nute Gunray’s reaction in horror that the battle is taking place right outside the palace), especially in the hangar bay, that’s when Anakin and R2 would arrive, probably by emerging through an air duct or some other kind of clandestine passage. They’d pop up in the middle of the battle, maybe from a hatch in the floor, and have to scramble for safety while blaster fire erupts all over. I’d have the battle in the hangar bay be a pitched struggle for a bit, with explosions all over the place, and with Anakin and R2 desperately trying to avoid getting fried. Then, as the Naboo pilots start getting in the fighters and lifting off, Anakin would notice a ship that’s hasn’t been taken:

ANAKIN: Artoo! There’s a ship no one’s taking! We’ll be safe in there!

Artoo whistles as Anakin takes off for the vacant fighter, and then follows. The boy ducks blaster fire and explosions as he races up the boarding ladder and hops into the cockpit; meanwhile, Artoo moves into position beneath the astrodroid port, which activates, magnetically lifting the droid into position.

ANAKIN: We’ll be a lot safer in here, Artoo!

A sudden explosion overhead sends a shower of sparks cascading over the ship and into the open cockpit. Anakin brushes them all off.

ANAKIN: We’re almost safer, anyway.

He presses the button to close the cockpit cover, which also activates the ship’s power systems.

ANAKIN: Uh-oh….

I basically like everything that Anakin does from this point on, for a while. The only big change I’d make is to keep everyone from knowing he’s there: no more Qui Gon telling him to “Stay in that cockpit”. I’d also make it so Anakin is a bit more of a decision maker; when the destroyer droids roll in and pin down Padme and her soldiers (I’d include a good establishing shot showing that the destroyers have the Queen and company pinned down), I like how Anakin uses his ship’s superior firepower to blast them. But I’d have him show a bit of anger here:

ANAKIN: They’ll get butchered! Artoo, power up this thing!

Artoo beeps in protest.

ANAKIN: Do it!

Now Artoo does as he’s told, and the ship’s engines and power systems come to life. Anakin grabs the control stick and rotates the ship to point at the destroyers, whereupon he blasts them with the ship’s cannons.


Artoo suddenly whines. The ship’s thrusters fire, sending the craft up and out of the hangar bay and into the Naboo sky.

ANAKIN: What are you doing, Artoo?!

Artoo says something; the translation appears on a screen in the cockpit.

ANAKIN: Autopilot? I didn’t engage any autopilot! Where is it taking us? Just hold on!

Anakin slips a pilot’s helmet on over his head as the ship powers for space.

Amongst all this, Darth Maul makes his impressive entrance. Frankly, I wouldn’t change a single thing about this whatsoever. For the most part, the entire Jedi versus Sith Lord battle works wonderfully. No changes here.

(By the way, there’s a wonderful little blink-and-you-miss-it thing in the early going of the Jedi swordfight. When Darth Maul is backing up and uses the Force to throw some object at a control panel, thus opening the doors to the energy transfer facility beyond, Obi Wan comes into the frame on the left, following the Sith Lord – and he’s got this almost swaggering saunter as he does, and he twirls his lightsaber jauntily, as if he’s not quite taking this guy all that seriously yet. I like how this shows, in some tiny way, Obi Wan’s youthful brashness that he would later cite when addressing Yoda in TESB.)

So, Anakin’s flying into battle, the Queen is trying to fight her way to the Viceroy, two Jedi are engaging a Sith Lord, and the Gungans are fighting the droid army. George Lucas gets quite a pot boiling here, and for the most part, I like just about all of it. The only changes I’d make for a while here are pretty cosmetic in nature:

:: I’d play up Anakin’s wild and impulsive nature in the space battle. I like his wide-eyed approach to the battle when he finds himself in the middle of exploding ships and blaster fire, and I like his observation that “this autopilot’s gonna get us both killed.” I’d have Anakin do all sorts of wild maneuvers with his ship, really highlighting the fact that he’s supposed to be a great pilot. In the original script, at one point he does something with the ship that Artoo doesn’t like, and when the droid says something, Anakin responds, “I know this isn’t pod-racing!” I like that line and would keep it in there. However, I’d ditch “Let’s try spinning! That’s a neat trick.” I’d like to see him use his wild piloting skills to bollix the droid fighters, maybe even making one or two of them crash into their own ships as they try to compensate for his wild maneuvers.

:: Meanwhile, the battle between the Gungans and the droid army also works pretty well. Jar Jar, though, tends to bumble his way through the whole thing, and I’d rather see him doing some of the things he does by design. By this point, Jar Jar shouldn’t be completely bumbling his way through everything: he’s found a bit of his self-confidence and his ability and is starting to exercise them both. Toward the end of this sequence, he is forced to run back toward the droid army while his fellow Gungans flee; I’d change this to have him make a purposeful decision to charge on his own:

The Gungan army is now fleeing toward the swamps, with the droid army in hot pursuit, led by four TANKS.

JAR JAR: Wesa never get away in time!

TARPALS: What you wanna do?

JAR JAR: Anything!

Jar Jar leaps onto a passing wagon that is loaded with blue energy balls, where he opens the wagon’s back, letting the balls all roll out onto the ground, where they tumble toward the droids at great speed. Two of them crash into the tanks, causing them to go haywire and crash into one another. Jar Jar is thrown into the air by an explosion and lands on top of a battle tank which is swerving this way and that as it levels laser blasts at escaping Gungans. Captain Tarpals rides up alongside and holds out a hand.

TARPALS: Jump, Jar Jar! Jump!

JAR JAR: Mesa gotta stop this thing!

TARPALS: Use this!

He tosses a blue energy ball to Jar Jar, who catches it just as the top of the tank pops open and a battle droid sticks its head out.

DROID: We’ve got a passenger!

The droid lifts his blaster, but Jar Jar tosses the energy ball at him, where it drops into the open cockpit of the tank and explodes, disrupting the tank’s energy systems and causing it to swerve wildly off course. This allows more Gungans to escape, but Jar Jar falls off the turret to the ground as the tank rolls over on its side some distance away. Captain Tarpals rides up to Jar Jar and holds out his hand.

TARPALS: Jar Jar! Up!

But before Jar Jar can leap onto the back of the beast, they are surrounded by battle droids who cover them with their weapons.

JAR JAR: Oh no….

Tarpals hands Jar Jar the weapon he claimed from him earlier [in my rewrite, not in the existing movie].

TARPALS: Yousa gonna need this.

Something like that. Even though the Gungan cause is pretty much doomed, I’d play up Jar Jar’s heroics a bit, especially as contrasted with Anakin’s.

:: About the only change I’d make to the lightsaber battle between the Jedi and Darth Maul would be to provide a little bit of indication as to what’s going on and where they are. Those cascading energy doors are pretty cool, but they seem a bit arbitrary, don’t they? I’d have Maul use the Force to open them, maybe having a computer screen flash the words “Energy Doors Opening”, and then close them as he sees fit once he’s all the way inside. Basically, I’d have Maul use them as a means of ensuring that he only fights one Jedi at a time.

(By the way, the shot with the three combatants, separated by the energy doors, is one of those brilliant shots George Lucas never gets any credit for. Each combatants acts, silently, in a way completely in character: Obi Wan stays standing, waiting a bit impatiently; Qui Gon kneels to calmly meditate; Maul paces back and forth like a caged animal. I love that.)

:: Back to Anakin in space. When his fighter goes out of control and skids to a halt inside the Trade Federation cruiser, I’d alter the scene a bit. The problem is that to many viewers of the film – not so much to me, but I can see their complaint – Anakin’s successful resolution of this problem looks pretty much accidental. So:

INT: Federation cruiser – landing bay.

Anakin’s fighter skids to a halt in the middle of the bay. A dozen stunned battle droids stare at the newly arrived ship.

INT: Anakin’s ship – cockpit.

Artoo whistles nervously, and Anakin reads the translation on the screen: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

ANAKIN: Yeah, me too.

Anakin tries to activate the ship’s power, but the switches do nothing.

ANAKIN: We must have overloaded or something…oh no.

Outside, the battle droids are now approaching the ship, blasters drawn. Anakin sinks down into his seat as far as he can possibly go.

ANAKIN: Try and stall them, Artoo! I’m gonna try to hotwire this thing.

He opens a panel, behind which are about a hundred cables and wires.

ANAKIN: I can fix this…I can fix this….

INT: Federation cruiser – hold

The Battle Droids form a perimeter around the ship.

DROID 1: I don’t see a pilot.

DROID 2: Ship’s damaged. Maybe the pilot got blasted into space.

DROID 1: You! Astrodroid! Identify yourself!

Artoo beeps and whistles; the battle droids look back and forth at one another.

DROID 1: Does anyone understand that?

DROID 2: We need that protocol droid.

Meanwhile, inside the ship, Anakin is busily splicing wires together.

In the film as released, Anakin’s ship crashes on the Federation cruiser, and its systems are overheated – and all Anakin has to do to escape this dire situation is sit there and wait while the ship cools back down, whilst the battle droids do nothing at all. I’d much rather have him be an active agent here, doing something himself to enable his own heroics. I’ve always been surprised that Lucas didn’t go this route, since he established earlier on in the Pod Race that Anakin is such a cool customer that he can repair his own racer while actually flying it.

(And what Star Wars fan wouldn’t want to know what “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” sounds like in Astrodroid language?)

Next, as in the film, we’d cut to the Gungans being defeated…then Padme and others being captured and taken to the Viceroy…then Obi Wan’s battle with Maul, ending with him dangling above a reactor pit…and back to Anakin:

INT: Federation cruiser – hold.

DROID 1: I say we just blast him.

DROID 2: You always want to blast things.

DROID 1: We’re battle droids, and we’re here on the ship during a battle.

INT: Cockpit.

Anakin’s still working on the circuits….

ANAKIN: Conduit to main batteries…transfer circuits on line…Artoo, do we have power?

Artoo beeps. Anakin reaches up and presses the main activation button, and the ship’s control panels light up.

ANAKIN: Wizard! We’re up and running!

He pops back into the pilot’s seat.

DROID 1: Hey! There was a pilot in there after all!

DROID 2: Little short for a pilot.

DROID 1: Never mind! Blast him!

But it’s too late: Anakin has the ship’s shields back up, and the battle droids’ blasters are useless against them. Then Anakin returns fire, blowing the droids apart.

ANAKIN: Let’s get out of here, Artoo!

He grabs the control stick and brings the ship around, but something catches his eye….

ANAKIN: Wait! Those blast doors – why would they have blast doors like that in a cargo hold, unless…Artoo, lock in two proton torpedoes!

Artoo whistles compliance. Anakin depresses the firing switch. Two brilliant white torpedoes streak forth from the ship, one of them blasting a giant hole in the blast doors, the other shooting through the hole, into the REACTOR CHAMBER beyond, and blasting the ship’s main reactor. Almost immediately a giant explosion takes place, bathing the place in flame.

ANAKIN: Ha ha! I knew that was a reactor chamber! Full power, Artoo!

INT: Federation cruiser – series of holds.

Anakin is threading the tiny ship through the series of holds, toward the exit, as the explosions spread behind him.

ANAKIN: Now THIS is podracing!

[I love that line. -Me]

I’d play the rest of this out as it happens in the movie: the Naboo pilots rejoicing, even though they don’t know which of their number has pulled off the victory. Then cut back to the throne room in the Naboo Palace, where the Queen would seize the blasters concealed in her chair and hold the Viceroy at gunpoint. In the original script, the Viceroy says something defiant here as well; I’d restore that thusly:

INT: Theed palace – throne room.

PADME: Now, Viceroy, we shall discuss a new treaty.

NUTE: We shall do nothing of the kind. In minutes my battle droids will break that door down and you will still have lost.

TC-14: Viceroy, I am detecting no signal from the ship.

[Yeah, I’d spare TC-14 from being destroyed along with the Federation cruiser. I liked TC-14.]

NUTE: What did you say?!

Almost immediately they hear the sound of destroyer droids rolling in…but instead of stopping and unfolding, they keep rolling until the smack into the wall and then topple to the ground, useless. Panaka listens to something over his radio.

PANAKA: All jamming has stopped…the battle droids are all deactivated.

Nute glances at Rune, who shakes his head.

RUNE: I told you this would not work.

PADME: Viceroy! About that new treaty.

And back to the Gungan field, where they discover that the droids are now dead in the water (so to speak), and back to the reactor pit for the final moments of Obi Wan versus Darth Maul. I’ve always liked this last bit, and I’d keep it as is. Especially Qui Gon’s farewell to Obi Wan.

In the original script, at this point this little scene takes place, which I like a lot:

INT: Theed – Central Hangar – Day

Ric Olie and the other pilots gather as they exit their ships after landing.

BRAVO TWO: That pilot flew into the hold, behind their shields, and blew their reactor from inside!

BRAVO THREE: They don’t teach that in the academy.

One last ship flies into the hangar and makes a fairly awkward landing. RIC and the other pilots run over to assist the last pilot to arrive.

RIC OLIE: Wait a minute – we’re all accounted for! Who’s the last pilot?

The ship’s cockpit pops open, revealing ANAKIN.

ANAKIN: Am I in trouble?

His only response is a series of slack-jawed stares.

OK. We’re almost done. Palpatine arrives on Naboo in a very well-done scene (for such a hated movie, this flick sure does have a lot of pretty good scenes in it), including his wonderful line to Anakin, “We shall follow your career with great interest.” Then Obi Wan meets with Yoda. I’d include Mace Windu in this as well, for the final major bit of alteration I’d make in the film:

INT: Palace – anteroom.

OBI WAN sits in the sunlit anteroom with YODA and MACE WINDU.

YODA: Done well you have, Obi Wan Kenobi. Considered your actions, we have.

MACE WINDU: It is the will of the Council that what you have done here far exceeds anything you might have undergone in the Trials. Thus we confer upon you the title of Jedi Knight. You are the first battle-confirmed Jedi Knight in almost three centuries. Congratulations, Master Kenobi.

OBI WAN: Thank you, Master Windu.

YODA: But more to say, have you?

OBI WAN: I was not the only one who proved my worth in this battle.

Yoda and mace exchange glances.

OBI WAN: In truth, we would not have secured victory for the Naboo had young Anakin Skywalker not done what he did.

YODA: Considered that, we have. But still: grave danger do we fear if trained as a Jedi is he.

MACE: The Force is stronger in him than in anyone we have ever encountered. He may not be able to control it.

OBI WAN: But if he is the Chosen One?

MACE: That remains to be seen.

OBI WAN: It would surely be more dangerous to leave him untrained when he is already tapping into the power of the Force at his age. And I gave my word to Qui Gon. I will train him.

YODA: Claim him as your Padawan, do you?

Obi Wan nods.

OBI WAN: Qui Gon believed in him. I believe in Qui Gon.

MACE: Then train him. But be mindful.

OBI WAN: I will, Master. I will train him as well as you all trained me.

YODA: Qui Gon’s defiance I sense in you. Your Padawan the boy shall be.

Obi Wan exits, leaving Yoda and Mace alone.

MACE: There is no longer any doubt. The mysterious warrior was a Sith Lord.

YODA: Returned, the Sith have – and sense their return, we have not.

MACE: We must learn how it is that their chain has been reformed after it was broken.

YODA: Always two there are: a master, and an apprentice.

MACE: And if this one was the apprentice, then who is the master?

Now we cut to Qui Gon’s funeral pyre. Obviously, I relocate the exchange about the Sith returning to the earlier scene, leaving the funeral almost entirely dialog free – except for the exchange between Obi Wan and Anakin, which is fine to me.

All that remains is the very last scene, the triumphal parade through the streets of Naboo. I genuinely can’t think of anything to change about this, so I’d leave it alone completely. I like the ceremonial joining of the Naboo and the Gungans, I like the grin Anakin – now a Padawan – gives to Padme, and the grin she gives him in return. I like how TPM ends on a note of triumph, with no one realizing just how short-lived this victory will be. And it’s always impressed me how Lucas suggests that bad things, very bad things, can find their genesis in moments of triumph.

IRIS OUT to Credits.

So, what final thoughts? Over the course of revisiting The Phantom Menace, I’ve actually reaffirmed my original conviction that the movie simply isn’t as bad as everyone thinks it is. Yes, it’s got flaws, but as I’ve always thought, the main storyline is solid and despite those flaws, there’s a lot of very good stuff in this movie.

And with that we take our leave of The Phantom Menace. In a while I’ll start the task of fixing Attack of the Clones. Until then, may the Force be with you!

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1 Response to Fixing the Prequels: The Phantom Menace (conclusion)

  1. teflonjedi says:

    Nicely done!

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