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I doubt I will ever look forward to anything with as much giddy anticipation as the release of Star Wars Episode I.  For those of us raised on the original trilogy, it was to be the crowning moment of our young lives as nerds, when our lifelong faith in the Force would be repaid with an epiphany of awesomeness.  I stood in a quarter mile line in the sun to buy tickets; I stood in a quarter mile line at midnight to gain access to the accompanying line of action figures; I went to the Star Wars Celebration and stood in the lines there.  Somehow, even the waiting was awesome, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything save the movie itself.  So when the movie finally came out I wasn’t disappointed.  My hyped up brain wouldn’t allow me to be. 

But there were problems, lots of problems, and as time went on they only compounded.  I always had to imagine how certain scenes, lines and story elements might have been done differently.  Now, more than a decade out, a few insightful commentaries (mainly the epic and hilarious 70 minute deconstruction over at RedLetterMedia) recently inspired me to take all of The Phantom Menace’s problems into account and try to imagine an alternate Episode one – a reboot, to use the popular term, since fixing the Phantom Menace’s problems would, in my opinion, require more than minor tweaks and edits.   We all know that there is, somewhere, a Star Wars that should have been, and it looks very different from The Phantom Menace.  So, if Episode I were done right, if it were an effective reintroduction to the Star Wars universe with vivid characters, a compelling story and a massive shot of Jedi awesomeness, all wrapped in the foreboding knowledge that dark times lie ahead, what would it look like?  

There are a lot of ways a good Episode I reboot could be done, I’m far from being the first to try, and the summary I came up with is only one possible story line.  For instance, I’ve retained the character of Qui-Gon Jinn, but it’s been pointed out that you could delete him all together as a way to strengthen the development of the more necessary Obi-Wan.  I’ve also not introduced any original characters, although I have eliminated some and significantly modified several (for example, I thought Sebulba was the coolest cg character design from the movie, so I’ve given him an expanded, slightly different role; for Grievous, I’ve kept his identity and back story as a Kaleesh, but provided what I think is a more interesting way for him to become a cyborg.)  Many, maybe most, of my ideas are sourced from friends and things I’ve read and seen on the internet (again a big tip of the hat to the definitive RedLetterMedia review) I’ve just taken them and integrated them into (I think) a fairly well fleshed out plot line.

The things to keep from Phantom Menace are its obvious strengths, which are a lot easier to list comprehensively than its weaknesses, and include

Introducing varied lightsabers and Jedi powers not seen in the original trilogy.

– Podracing.

– The soundtrack.  John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” in particular is one of the best parts of the entire prequel trilogy and one of the few elements of the Phantom Menace that set an appropriately apocalyptic tone.

– Darth Maul.  He was possibly the most effective character in the movie due to his gravitas and general badassery.  Also, you had a serious nerdgasm the first time you saw that double-bladed lightsaber.  But a lot of improvement could be made by giving him more screen time, a little more dialogue, and better building him up as a serious villain by letting him cause havoc throughout the movie, not just at the very end, and establishing him as an almost unstoppable killing machine.

As for the rest of it… go watch the RedLetterMedia review for a full break down of all the movie’s faults in plot, character, story-telling and everything else.  However, there are a few additional issues I want to point out here:

1. The target audience: 

Were R2-D2 and C-3PO so insufficient as comedy relief that Jar Jar, the rest of the Gungans, the silly pit droids, the two headed race announcer, the comically useless battle droids, and all the other gags were necessary?  No. The film’s many childish elements went beyond a simple need to occasionally relieve the dramatic tension.

Fans of the original trilogy who either saw it back in the day or grew up watching it were adults or teens by the time TPM came out.  We knew that the story of the prequels was an inherently dark tale about the rise of evil where the bad guys were going to win in the end, and that’s exactly what we were looking forward to.  But instead of aiming the movie at us, Lucas apparently decided to try ensnaring a new generation by making this foreboding tale about the triumph of evil a kids movie.  This was a mistake.  Having a child protagonist and a host of silly cartoon characters undermined the inherent seriousness of the subject matter, which in turn ensured that the tale wouldn’t work as a comedic movie for little kids.  It should have been aimed at us, with kids still wanting to see it because it was awesome, and counting it a rite of passage when their parents finally let them.  For my reboot I think a teenage Anakin and a PG-13 style and rating is far more appropriate.

2. Episodic villains:

This isn’t just an Episode I problem, but it has its roots there and my reboot tries to address it.  One of the things that undercut the tension throughout the prequel trilogy is the episodic nature of the villains.  I know that Star Wars comes in “Episodes,” but that doesn’t mean that the villains have to come in a “bad-guy of the week” format where they are introduced and killed off in the same movie.  This format leads to poorly developed villains and is the reason why everyone thought “Who’s that guy, again?” when Anakin started fighting Count Dooku in Episode II, and why everyone, myself included, thought, “Why would a droid have a cough?” the first time we saw Grievous in Episode III.  Yoda said something to the effect that Dooku used to be a Jedi, but we never see that, so we don’t really understand what made him stop being a Jedi or why he’s now a bad guy.  Likewise, Grievous is not a droid but a cyborg who still has living organs, something I realized half way through Episode III when they showed a close up of his eyes, but which we all would have known from the start if he had been introduced and developed in any way earlier on. 

This is an epic trilogy, where each movie forms a part of the same story arc, so there’s no reason why Episodes II and III should look like sequels that were slapped together based on the success of Episode I.  The main villains should all be introduced in the first movie and be developed throughout the series. 

3. Needless complexity and non-mysteries:

The Phantom Menace and the other prequels tend to be convoluted but not really clever, tasking characters with investigating “mysteries” that aren’t very interesting and don’t really matter.  Why try to hide from the audience the fact that Senator Palpatine is Darth Sidious when it’s obvious to anyone who remembers the name “Emperor Palpatine” that he’s the bad guy?  I would establish Palpatine’s duel identity and position as evil mastermind from the very beginning of Episode I.  As others have said, the Phantom Menace’s finale is also overly complex.  With no less than four climatic events occurring simultaneously, the frequent cutting between them all prevents any one from really building up tension.  I’ve pared it down to two in my version.

Finally, I don’t know if this is my own thought or if I just heard it somewhere and have conveniently forgotten the source, but if we’re going to have Anakin start out as a slave on Tatooine, why should we introduce a new character (Watto) who’s a small-time junk dealer when there is already an established Star Wars character who

A: Lives on Tatooine,

B: Is known to own slaves and treat them poorly, and

C: Is powerful and imposing enough to be a stumbling block to any Jedi knight seeking Anakin’s freedom?

So in my version, Jabba owns Anakin. This and the rest of my revisions to the plot are things that I think would help Episode I to make more sense and be more awesome.  You may or may not agree, so feel free to suggest amendments or whole reboots of your own. 

Enjoy.