Star Wars Episode 1 is often considered the worst movie in the series. There are plenty of reasons why, but others have talked about it much deeper than I have any desire to. Besides, after watching movies like Turks in Space, Brazilian Star Wars and the Holiday Special, I vowed to never complain about the Star Wars prequels again. So instead, let’s think positively about The Phantom Menace and what could have made it a better movie.
I’m going to do this in three categories and not in any particular order. First, I’ll talk about how the characters will be changed, then I’ll talk about groups and places, and then I’ll touch on the story itself. I won’t necessarily touch on every problem, but I will touch on the worst and the most obvious.
For added challenge, I am not allowed to remove any major characters, plotlines or locations – I am only allowed to change them. That means no removing Jar Jar Binks, no removing the feud between the Naboo and the Gungans and no removing the concept of the droid control ship. This is partly because I believe that there is no such thing as a bad character, there are only writers who fail to make those characters interesting. As bad as the Phantom Menace is, there’s a good movie hidden somewhere in the first Star Wars prequel. Let’s find it.
(This teaser image needs a spoiler alert)
Anakin – Might as well start with the central character of the entire series. The problem with Anakin in Episode 1 is that his actor couldn’t act very well at his young age. That doesn’t mean he can’t act now (I wouldn’t know) but it’s hard to find an actor that can pass as a nine-year-old that can successfully portray a major character. Yes, you needed him to be mature for his age. You needed him to be unnaturally skilled with something. Here’s the solution: make him 13 instead of 9.
As a 13-year-old, it makes more sense that he can podrace, learn to pilot a space ship, and can build droids. It’s still impressive for his age, yet it’s more believable at the same time. It also makes more sense that Yoda would say that Anakin is too old to begin his training, while most nine year old boys haven’t started puberty yet. Random possible addition – introduce him before the royal naboo ship lands on tatooine for repairs.
(C3P0 has a new look. Buy our new toy!)
R2D2 and C3P0 – Because Anakin is a slave, have him build R2-D2 instead of C3PO. Having a translator help his mother around the house sounds pointless considering she only really talks to her master and the other slaves. Isn’t it possible that most of the slaves speak the same languages anyway? Maybe Anakin’s mother isn’t that good at repairing machines, and R2 could do it for her when Anakin’s not around. After all, they wouldn’t have the money or resources to hire a mechanic.
C3P0 could instead be the Naboo Senator’s dedicated translator. This way, Padme would receive the droid after she becomes a senator in episode 2, and after the republic falls to the empire, C3P0 isn’t needed by the senators anymore. Won’t someone in an intergalactic government have more use for a universal translator than any slave could? I’ve talked about this enough, let’s move on.
Padme/Queen – Let’s be frank, Padme is way too young to rule an entire planet at 14. Heck, 14 is young even for a handmaiden considering many developed country won’t let people work a real job until their 15. Have Padme 16 instead of 14, and she’s a handmaiden whose wise beyond her years and actually helps the queen make decisions at times. The decoy idea isn’t bad, and you can still build a plot twist out of Padme being a decoy for the queen. This also makes her a good choice for a very young senator in episodes 2 and 3, having help united the naboo and the gungans (more on that later). Also, if Padme is 16 and Anakin is 13, it’s more likely that they’ll fall in love later. Now there’s only a difference of three years of age, instead of five like in the current prequels – that can make a huge difference in believability, even if some real people get married to spouses that are more than 5 years apart in age.
Also, I get that she’s a queen, but tone down the outfits. Queen Amidala has way too many various outfits in this movie – most of them weird. A hair bun is one thing, but giant hair hornes with golden bracelets is too much.
Viceroy – The leaders of the movie’s villains shouldn’t be nearly as cowardly as they are. Make them more menacing, actual fighters or smarter at least. Their accent gets a bit cartoonish after a while, tone that down a little. That’s all there is to say about them really – they’re decent villains ruined by their cowardice and incompetence.
(I’ll just pointlessly annoy you for the next 2 hours, okie day!?)
Jar Jar Binks – Now for the tough one. I remember watching a video of someone doing this same sort of thing, except he removed Jar Jar Binks altogether. I can respect that, but considering George Lucas still put him in episodes 2 and 3 (and Return of the Jedi with the DVD and Blu Ray versions) that could be a challenge. Not to mention that his then six-year-old son named Jar Jar Binks. So what do you do with such an annoying, out of place character?
First of all, tone him way down. He shouldn’t be banished for being clumsy, that’s just dumb. He can still be a klutz, but there has to be more to him. Make him a visionary of sorts; he wants to unite the humans and the gungans of naboo, but most gungans want none of that. Instead of being banished, he has placed himself in exile as he feels he doesn’t belong. He and the Queen work together to unite the people of Naboo after they realize the Republic Senate won’t help them. Also, he shouldn’t be a racist joke, and he should be able to laugh at his own clumsiness. Right there, you can still have your comic relief, but it can be intelligent through minor clumsy moments and cultural misunderstandings between the naboo and the gungans.
Make him more useful as well. As a self-exiled gungan, he should learn some great survival skills and even tracking skills, which the Jedi can use to find the captured Queen. Jar Jar can be a good character, he just wasn’t handled properly. That leads to the next section.
(This field battle is really dumb, and kind of pointless)
Gungans – In order to care about the Gungans, we need to learn the very basics of their culture and how they differ from the Naboo humans. You can do that through Jar Jar, but here are some ideas about how to expand on them. Make the Gungans a tribe based culture. They often fight between tribes, which is why they have a large army. Boss Nass is the leader of the most powerful tribe, and the gungans all join forces after the trade federation starts attacking them.
Gungans vs. naboo – As the movie stands, there’s no reason why the Naboo and the Gungans don’t like each other. Let’s give them a reason. The gungans are native to naboo while the humans aren’t. They colonized the planet for farming. After 20 years or so they met the gungans. Like Native Americans, this eventually leads to war. After the war, they decided to take different parts of the planet and stay away from each other. Since the Gungans are amphibious, they take the swamps and slowly move underwater. This would take no more than 30 seconds to explain, and you could replace most of Jar Jar’s pointless scenes with exploring this feud deeper through conversation. This also makes Padme’s young admittance as a senator more believable since she helped unite two races with history of war.
Naboo – We also need a reason to care about Naboo as a planet if it’s the main subject of the movie. Make it the galaxies biggest fresh food supplier as most of the planet’s surface is farmland. Boom, done!
Trade federation – They shouldn’t be the trade federation; a trade federation would actually benefit from taxing trade routes. Make them terrorists instead – this could hint at fractures within the republic, which would foreshadow the separatists in episode 2. Perhaps they are from a planet that is directly harmed by the trading taxes since they rely heavily on imports and exports to function. Maybe they tried to get Naboo to join them, considering Naboo is big on trading as well. Because Naboo didn’t want to join them, they occupy Naboo and try to force them to join their cause. Again, this would hint at the separatists in Episode 2.
(Why do the bad guys in Star Wars always have mass produce the weakest equipment out there?)
As for the Battle Droids, their inclusion isn’t a problem, but something has to change so that they don’t completely rely on a droid control ship. Maybe have it so this signal helps co-ordinate the droids and boosts their intelligence. When the signal is on, they co-ordinate better, aim better and function smarter in general. Turn the signal off and they act as mindless attack drones that simply cannot function intelligently. In short, after these towers are disabled, the Naboo and the Gungans easily wipe out the rest of the droids.
Obi wan – I didn’t put this in the characters list because this has more to do with the story. Obi Wan should be the main character of episode 1. Perhaps the Phantom Menace’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t really have a main character, just a bunch of characters that have equal importance. Instead of Qui Gon, Obi Wan heads out on Tatooine. He is supposedly more skilled with what needs to be done on the desert planet, and Qui Gon stays behind as a body guard for the queen since he is more skilled and experienced. Padme is sent to keep an eye on Obi Wan and Jar Jar stays behind to talk to the queen more about his ideas of peace.
This is a suggestion more than a fix, but maybe Obi Wan should be the one interested in taking Anakin off of Tatooine. Being the apprentice that he is, he feels he is ready to be a Jedi and sees Anakin as a possible first apprentice, while Qui Gon is more resistant at first. This could also be a part of Obi Wan’s development towards becoming an extremely wise Jedi in the future. It’s worth thinking about at least.
(The podrace isn’t bad, but there’s so much emphasis on it that it becomes a distraction.)
Naboo – Like I said in the last section, we care about Naboo because they’re a major source of food in the galaxy. The republic is underestimating the problem through its corruption and hints of the separatist movement. Palpatine is using this to gain power, although we only have hints of that. By the time the jedi arrive on naboo, the invasion has already begun, showing that the situation is worse than they thought. This now becomes a rescue mission instead of a peace/surveillance mission.
Politics – This is tricky because politics can be boring, but they are important to the story and play into how Palpatine takes control. We need a general idea of how they work. Maybe the republic is kind of like the UN except any participating planets need to abide to its rulings. They don’t have total power, but they have more power than the UN. They act as a balancing force in the galaxy, which can be turned into a more powerful governing body when the war with the separatists begins. They have their own army, but it’s nowhere nearly powerful enough to enforce galactic peace – they’re only powerful enough to take on one planet at a time. They leave most of the peacekeeping to the more powerful planets.
Final battle – First of all, scratch the field battle completely. The gungans instead join the main Theed battle. It’s also worth considering scratching the space battle and instead the terrorists have signal towers around the planet. Without those towers, the droids are very stupid and are wiped out easily (like I suggested earlier). This would still give Anakin the opportunity to use a space fighter to help win the battle of Naboo by using the force to find them, showing his potential as a Jedi while using his piloting skills. It’s also much less confusing keeping track of two battles instead of four, especially for what is chronologically the first Star Wars movie.
(This is the closest Episode 1 comes to redeeming itself – awesome fight!)
Also, Darth Maul should survive because the trilogy is in desperate need of a constant villain that you can see, and Darth Maul is awesome. This gives Obi Wan a focus outside of Anakin for the sequels –a driving force where he can later show mercy, proving that he has become wiser as a Jedi.
There are likely more improvements that can be made, but this post is long enough already. I’ll probably do this with the other prequels eventually, but my next nerd journal will be about Mass Effect, my favourite modern game series.