Have Camera, Will Shoot Turtles (In A Good Way)

In the grand tradition of Black Friday, I took part in the annual event of standing in line at a local retailer for the simple action of buying a product that is on sale, likely at its lowest price of the year. Now, you’d think that the title of this blog post has already given away that I bought a camera on Black Friday. Not really. I bought the camera, a Nikon D3500, during a Black Friday sneak peek Target held at the start of November. What I stood in line for an hour, before my local Target opened its doors, to purchase was nothing more than an SD card on which my shiny, new camera could save its photos (I couldn’t find an SD card on sale during the Black Friday sneak peek, so I ended up waiting almost a month before even unboxing my Nikon D3500. Hey, it’s like I say: If you’re gonna be cheap, at least dedicate yourself to it).

Thank God it was a cloudy day with a hint of a chill. No way would I have stood in line that long if the sun had been out and about and bearing the weight of its heat on me. So yes, I’m so glad Black Friday – the start of which now takes place on a Thursday, probably because Americans aren’t confused enough as a whole – happens in late November when the weather sits in that Goldilocks zone that I so prefer.

Anyway, now armed with a camera that isn’t my six-year-old, 3.2-megapixel cellphone, my first real foray into the world of photography, I felt, had to be ruled by turtles. I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so of course turtles are always swimming around in my brain somewhere. Thankfully, the school I attend – and sometimes wonder why I still attend – has a small turtle pond. I ended up taking 18 shots and filming one video, just to take my camera out for its maiden voyage. Below, you’ll find 7 of those photos, that my newfound excitement for this new ability to capture clear photos has pushed me to share.

Thank you for viewing and have an excellent day! 🙂

Choosing Ground

Addiction can be stronger than the will
to survive,

and it’s as if he wants me addicted
to his society
and their self-righteous ways.

Then I’ll do whatever he wants me to do
just because my addiction to what they call
becomes more important than my own will,

and like a drug addict
that uses any money he can gather to buy
his next hit instead of his next meal,
I’ll go to them with an empty tummy
and demand they put food in my belly.

But it’ll be the food they choose to feed me,
and though something deep inside me
knows what I’m eating is poison,
I’ll eat it anyway,
because though it’s killing me, it feeds
my addiction and allows my addiction

to live

even as I die.


Not in frame of anyone’s sight
Only in shadow of All Hallow’s light
Lost and found in masks of fright
Defined not in day nor by night

The will to be, a welcome end
Daily life a what not when
While the why escapes the bitter bend
Of transformation to descend

Over head, the boastful crown
Skewed fingernails, painted frown
Excitement hides behind the brown
And other pigments training down

Old souls cater to the new
Spirits gather, the happy few
Dinner served as words imbue
Lifting smiles, grifting views

But under moon’s monstrous glow
A finale plays a tune’s dark foe
Thin the bustling, no more in tow
Back to rustling sleep demons go

“And Then This Happens” Storytelling Starring Hellboy (2019)

SPOILER ALERT! This post contains spoilers for the 2019 release Hellboy, and while it’s arguable that calling the movie awful could come across as a compliment, I’m going to encourage you to see the movie anyway. So, if you have a local library that carries DVDs or Blu-rays, then check it out, or stream it on Netflix, if only to see a great example of bad writing.

Did you see it? Good. But uh, yeah, I told you it was terrible, and I feel as if I owe you an apology for wasting two hours of your life. Well, they’re not really wasted if you learn something, right?

Anyway, I like to say that if you want to become a good writer, then get plenty of experience with bad writing and understand what makes it bad and how to fix it. In the 2019 film Hellboy, there are plenty of examples of bad writing that I could go over, from the unneeded and awkward-sounding opening narration to the following scene’s dialogue (during a shot of Hellboy driving a van) that’s not only unnecessary but is highly cringe-inducing in the obvious way that it attempts to set up the next scene by passing along information to the audience, information that’s essentially given in the next scene already (or could be inserted quite easily). Not to mention, that scene, a confrontation between Hellboy and a friend, who disappeared on Hellboy under mysterious circumstances, takes place in a public wrestling ring, a completely wrong setting for such a private matter, especially considering that Hellboy is supposed to stay hidden from the human world. So, right from the start, this movie has problems, lots of problems. What I want to focus on, though, is the problem of “and then this happens” storytelling, which you can see a lot in just the first 40 minutes of Hellboy.

First, King Arthur slays an immortal witch then cuts her to pieces to bury the pieces separately. Then Hellboy confronts a friend, who seems to have turned into a giant vampire bat, and kills him. Then a hag, who wants revenge against Hellboy, tells someone we don’t see, who wants revenge against Hellboy, to reassemble the immortal witch. Then some well-dressed English gentlemen ask Hellboy to help them kill a few giants. Then a lady explains Hellboy’s origin story to Hellboy (complete with flashback) for seemingly no reason at all, you know, other than to let the audience in on where Hellboy came from. (It’s not information for Hellboy, because someone should’ve given him this information already, sometime while he was growing up.) Then a warthog man, whose voice allows us to recognize him as the beast we didn’t see the hag talking to, busts into a temple and kills everyone and steals a chest containing the living head of the immortal witch. Then Hellboy accompanies the well-dressed English gentlemen on the hunt for the three giants. Then the gentlemen betray Hellboy and try to kill him, because Hellboy is a monster, and they fight monsters. Then the giants kill the gentlemen, and after a brief interruption to show the warthog man gathering the parts of the witch together, Hellboy fights and kills the giants (rendering the betrayal unnecessary since it doesn’t contribute to the story, and without it, Hellboy simply ends up in a circumstance – the gentlemen dead while he alone must fight the three giants – that he could’ve been in anyway without the betrayal). Then as Hellboy falls unconscious, after the battle, a van pulls up and a young woman walks up to him. Then while in the woman’s apartment, the woman reveals to Hellboy that he knew her a long time ago when she was a little girl. Then some other people invade the young woman’s apartment to recruit Hellboy into the mission of stopping the witch from being put back together. The people are led by Hellboy’s human “dad,” but of course the dad doesn’t just knock on the door and walk into the apartment because that wouldn’t allow for someone to bust through the window because… action.

And the story finally starts (if we can call that a good thing; I mean, it does get worse).

But until then, we have scenes that have a lot of “and then this happens” storytelling, which is understandable in that the motivation given for the hag and warthog man’s actions are weak, and Hellboy is stuck with unneeded filler until he’s approached to stop the witch. If the storytelling was strong, we would see one scene lead into the next scene which would feed into the next scene. I know I like to use Star Wars as an example, but if you watch that movie, you see that the Empire overtaking the Rebel ship leads to Princess Leia hiding the stolen plans with the droids, which leads to the droids boarding an escape pod to Tatooine so R2-D2 can get the plans to Obi-Wan Kenobi, which leads to the Jawas finding the droids first and selling them to a farmer, which leads to the droids landing in the hands of Luke Skywalker, which leads to R2 leaving in the middle of the night to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, which leads Luke to go after the droid, which leads to… you get the point. One thing leads to the next thing which leads to the next thing, and that’s what you want to see in your storytelling. Every step is necessary and contributes to the story.

So, how do we fix Hellboy?

We cut the shit we don’t need, we get down to the basics (only adding anything that contributes to the story), and we find out how we can answer the big question we need to answer to get the story rolling.

To start, do we need the vampire bat guy? No. Do we need the hag who wants to free the witch because… reasons? No. Do we need warthog man? No. Do we need the well-dressed, English gentlemen who betray Hellboy? Well, that’s something we can work with, especially since we need to answer the big question, “How does the immortal witch get free?” However, since the English gentlemen are well-intentioned – they fight monsters – that gives us an opening, since Hellboy, in their eyes, is a monster.

So, what if, after cutting the witch into pieces, King Arthur has Merlin place a spell on the witch, sealing her power, so she can’t enter any human’s mind and have them find her and put her back together? After however many years, though, the witch is finally able to find a mind that she can connect with: Hellboy’s. Because Hellboy is from Hell, making him not human, that makes the terms of the spell null and void on him and his mind enterable. During his sleep, she warns him of the humans coming to slay him. Hellboy discusses this dream with his human dad, who has difficulty comforting Hellboy as he can’t imagine what it’s like to appear different and instantly be feared by people so much that they have a desire to kill him if they were to discover his existence. This is where the well-dressed, English gentlemen can be useful in the story.

The witch is torn to pieces, a spell placed on her, leading the witch to search for a mind she can enter, so she can get some help. This leads to her discovering Hellboy’s mind, which leads him to become doubtful of whether he can live with humans much longer as she warns him that humans, monster hunters, have discovered his existence (let’s say they witnessed him fighting three giants they were hunting) and are coming to kill him. This leads to Hellboy preparing for the battle, and as the witch told him, the English gentlemen come to kill him, which leads to Hellboy killing them first, which leads to Hellboy feeling guilt for having to kill them. His guilt can be shown in a scene with his dad in which Hellboy expresses his exhaustion and confusion:
Hellboy: “Is this how it’s always going to be? I have to kill people who are just trying to protect their own kind, same as what I’m doing for them?”
Dad: “That specific group of people were the monsters, not you.”
Hellboy: “How do you know? How do you know the world doesn’t feel the same as them about me? How do you know there wasn’t a part of me that wanted them to come, a part of me that’s been aching to show the world what they see me as and pay them back for not appreciating who I was?”
Dad: “Was?”
Hellboy: “It’s hard, dad. It’s hard to be what you want me to be.”
Dad: “I simply want you to be the man I raised you as, the man you are.”
Hellboy: “I’m not a man. All you did was make me forget that for a while.”
Dad: “If not a man, then what are you?”
Hellboy: “I don’t know.”
This leads to the witch coming back to Hellboy in his dreams to take advantage of his confusion and offer him a sweet deal: Hellboy tracks down her parts and puts her back together, and she makes him human. Thus begins Hellboy’s quest to retrieve the witch’s body parts as Hellboy’s dad begrudgingly partners up with the remaining members of the well-dressed, English gentlemen’s club to stop Hellboy from making a huge mistake. This gives the dad a meatier role in the story in that he now becomes caught in the middle of the gentlemen’s pursuit of Hellboy and desire to kill him and Hellboy’s fight for survival and identity.

Now, we have a story with one scene leading to the next scene, leading to the next, and so on. We also have a story that is strong in its answer of how to free the witch as well as strong in character motivations which makes the conflict building from those motivations strong as well. Not to mention, with this outline, we get to explore Hellboy’s mind and what it feels like to be considered a monster by those one is sworn to protect and how those feelings can make one susceptible to actions that are supposed to calm the fears but instead only exacerbate them. Humans fear monsters so judge them and hunt them down. Hellboy fears being judged as a monster so takes steps that end up freeing one. Only by facing their fears can humans find the strength to cooperate with Hellboy, and only by facing his fears can Hellboy find enough trust to eventually partner with those who wanted him dead.

This is the type of story I prefer, one that travels a discernable path rather than saying to me, “And then this happens… and then this happens… and then this happens…”

Following the Story, with Alita: Battle Angel

Spoilers ahead for Alita: Battle Angel! Check out the movie first, if you haven’t yet seen it, then come back and read this post.

Ready? Here we go…

Alita: Battle Angel pulled me in, walked me through its world, introduced me to it characters, and hinted that more lay ahead and elsewhere.

Then the writer(s) just had to interrupt this sense of discovery with scenes that amounted to nothing more than an excuse to insert action. I really wish filmmakers would stop doing that, acting as if the audience is so ADHD that they can’t sit still without an action scene dropped into the film every so often. It interrupts what could be a well-told story.

As I said, Alita had me in its world. I enjoyed how Alita was found by a doctor, rebuilt, and saw everything around her with new eyes, and brought us into her world through her questions and the answers given to her. She found a friend and was introduced to a sport, Motor Ball. She was told about a city in the sky that the people on the ground are barred from visiting, and it felt as that was where fate would take her on this journey. Rather than follow the story, however, Alita suddenly turns the doctor into a bounty hunter, her friend into someone who captures people with cybernetic implants to forcefully remove the implants and sell them, and Alita into a hardened warrior on a mission. There are also scenes that make sure the audience knows exactly who the bad guys are and that they’re after Alita. These scenes are so forced and badly done that I wonder if they’re even from the same writer(s) of the discovery scenes.

In Alita’s story of discovery, the better part of the film, there are a couple of obvious missed opportunities. First, when Alita and her friend are talking about the sky city, her friend mentions that if he was strong like her, he would climb up to the city. Now, you’d think that’s would Alita would do, because it’s where she wants to go. Instead, the movie diverges from this path to have Alita follow the doctor and find out that he’s a Hunter Warrior, spurring her to want to be a Hunter Warrior as well for no reason that I can recall. I think the story, and Alita’s character, would’ve been better served by her sneaking out at night to attempt to climb up to the sky city. If she almost makes it but ends up failing, then the consequence of this action may be a negative affect on her relationship with the doctor. Perhaps he’s beginning not to trust her or maybe he ends up wanting to follow her the next time she leaves with her friend.

When her friend takes her to a Motor Ball competition, this is where another opportunity to follow the story presented itself. Her friend tells her that the Final Champion of the Motor Ball competition is taken up to the sky city. What if this information inspires Alita to enter the Motor Ball competition, seeing as how the doctor’s ex-wife is involved in the sport? Now, we would have Alita trying again to make her way up to the sky city. This would be following the story. Instead, we get Alita registering to become a Hunter Warrior, entering a bar where Hunter Warriors gather, and giving them all a speech about how they all need to come together and join her in a battle against the bad people, and of course the Hunter Warriors laugh at her, she challenges them to fight her, and it’s all nothing more than an excuse to insert an action scene that’s really devoid of any developed stakes.

Later in the film, they get back around to Alita wanting to go to the sky city, and her friend convinces her to enter the Motor Ball competition, but by then, I was wondering why she didn’t just enter earlier when she found out that becoming a Final Champion earns her a free trip to where she wants to go.

I would’ve enjoyed this movie far more if the doctor had remained a doctor, someone who was a part of Alita’s “ordinary” world, and I would’ve enjoyed seeing Alita’s discovery of the extraordinary world hovering high above her head. There’s a wonderful part of the story that had the doctor rebuilding Alita using the cybernetic body he built for his daughter (who died some time ago), and at one point, Alita makes it clear that she is not his daughter. That would’ve been a far more interesting dynamic to build Alita’s discovery and quest around: the relationship between Alita and the doctor.

Do you know what makes The Karate Kid such an interesting and memorable film more than 30 years after its release? It’s not the karate. It’s not the fight scenes. It’s the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. That is what holds that movie together and makes it what it is. Everything else in the film is built around that relationship, and we can see that the writer(s) followed that story from beginning to end. If Alita: Battle Angel had gone this route, we would’ve had a special movie on our hands. The movie certainly starts on that story path, but it’s a shame that the story just isn’t followed.

Shazam! and Unfocused Writing

Shazam! spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, do see it, then come back and read this. But really, watch the movie first.

Okay? Good. Let’s get on with this.

So, I recently saw the movie Shazam!, starring the guy from the show I really liked (Chuck). Overall, I thought it was okay, but the way the movie was structured kind of bothered me. The final battle bothered me as well. Alright, I didn’t think the movie was okay, but I wanted it to be okay. I did genuinely enjoy the parts of the movie; I just didn’t enjoy the parts together.

What do I mean by this?

To start, the movie tries to be too many things at one time. It tries to be the story of a child, Billy, looking for his mother. It obviously tries to copy the Tom Hanks film Big. It attempts a plot twist when it’s revealed that Billy’s mother abandoned him. It then tries to be a story about family and togetherness (stealing an element from the Fast and the Furious films but not executing it as well). The story tries to include a few elements, and that’s where it falls down, because it ends up focusing on none of these elements, and each element simply distracts from the other, since they really don’t fit together. For example, when the story finally comes back around to Billy searching for his mother (an act you’d think he’d commit to the moment he was given the Shazam powers, since he was shown as super intent on finding his mother up to the point that the wizard summoned him), it feels more like the writer was saying, “Oh right, we have to wrap-up that ‘finding his mother’ subplot really quick.” There was just no payoff to the whole thing (remember when I talked about payoffs or lack thereof?).

Essentially, it seemed as if the writer simply used the reveal that Billy’s mother abandoned him as a Get Out of Jail Free card. It doesn’t work, though, because it’s not a payoff; it wasn’t an aspect of the story that was explored. If adults had been telling Billy that his mother abandoned him, and Billy didn’t believe it and continued searching for his mother throughout the film, then Billy discovering that he was told the truth all along would be a payoff. It would’ve shown Billy that he was wrong, and the adults were right, and maybe he should’ve listened to them, and had he listened to them, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into so much trouble. That would’ve added to the growth of his character. Instead, what we got was a subplot that was abandoned so the film could emulate Big for a while, then we were returned to the subplot to be told that it didn’t really matter anyway, and it ends up being this situation of Billy now calling the people he was currently with “family,” because they were there for him for how long? I mean, you’d think Billy, never wanting to be with any foster family before, would simply realize that he truly is alone and simply move on and attempt to be on his own (especially since he had the Shazam powers at that point). It’s just poor execution, and that’s something we see far too often, these days, in films.

So, how would I fix this?

Well, rather than having Billy finding his mother in this first Shazam! film, I would’ve put that off to the next film, the sequel. Also, I would’ve shown right from the start that Billy’s mother abandoned him, and he knew it. Him searching for his mother would’ve been more about finding the answer to why he was abandoned, more about Billy trying to discover his self-worth.

Also, I wouldn’t have shown Billy doing anything that painted him as a troublemaker. Yes, he trolls the cops and locks them in a store, so he can give himself an opportunity to use the computer in the police car to find his mother, but instead of Billy stealing the cop’s lunch with a grin, I would show Billy as tearing open the bag and biting into the sandwich as if he was starving. Essentially, I would show that the only reason Billy does anything wrong is because he feels he has to, not because he’s having fun. He eats the cop’s sandwich to survive, and that’s all, and I’d also have the cop recognize this and comment, “The kid must be starving.” This is a point in which we could start to feel Billy’s plight: He runs away from foster homes and tries to survive on his own as he searches for his mother. It’s hard on him. He doesn’t eat for certain periods of time. In short, I wouldn’t show being a runaway as something that’s fun.

This attempt at lightheartedness early in the film also creates a problem with the wizard searching for someone who is pure of heart. How is Billy a great person worthy of the Shazam powers if he smiles while stealing a cop’s lunch? Sure, Billy saves his foster brother from a couple of bullies, but I have to wonder how many people that cop has saved from criminals, and I have to wonder if that would make the cop more pure-of-heart than Billy. So, right there, the film stumbles in getting across the idea that Billy is someone more worthy of Shazam powers than most anyone else. Also, what is the film saying about humanity when the wizard casted the spell to find someone pure of heart back in the 70s (if I remember correctly), and forty years later, there aren’t very many people who have reported being taken by a wizard and offered powers. The whole start of the film and explanations for what’s going on and why is definitely something I’d look into changing, if I rewrote the script, especially since Billy’s foster brother, under the current conditions for being granted the Shazam powers, would be a better candidate for the powers than Billy. Perhaps a fix for this would be to remove the foster brother as a target for bullying in the film and have the bullies target a kid Billy doesn’t even know.

So, what else went wrong with this movie?

I feel like the movie didn’t execute its theme very well. It had this theme of family and what that really means, but by attempting to subvert our expectations with the reveal that Billy’s mother abandoned him, the movie doesn’t allow Billy the chance to really act on this information other than to have Billy accept his foster family once he knows his mother couldn’t raise him. It’s like a quick fix of, ‘His mother explains what happened, so Billy accepts his foster family now.’ The film would’ve benefitted from an ending that has Billy only saying that he’ll try to accept his foster family, because Billy should still have little to no reason to trust anyone. To me, a willingness to try to fit with his new foster family, after years of not trying with other families, would show Billy finally opening his heart back up, which would be a gigantic step in itself for someone who feels abandoned and alone all his life. Today’s writers (and/or film studios) tend to want events to move a bit too quickly though, which is why Billy ends up as part of a happy family at the end of the film. To me, however, the whole thing feels forced.

So, what would I have done?

When giving Billy the Shazam powers, I would’ve had the wizard warning Billy to take care of obtaining power that could turn him into the monster he is using the power to fight. That would’ve melded well with the subplot of the bullies constantly picking on Billy’s new foster brother. The film could’ve shown Billy using his power to beat up the bullies, shown Billy able to have them begging for mercy, and given us a reason for the bullies being bullies, which could’ve had Billy coming to an understanding that people aren’t born evil, something or many somethings happen along the way to either steer them in the wrong direction or keep from holding them on a good path. Perhaps while the bullies are begging for mercy, Billy’s foster brother, the target of the bullying, could ask Billy not to hurt the bullies anymore. Maybe Billy’s foster brother acts as Billy’s conscience (or, as suggested earlier, if the bullies are targeting a kid Billy doesn’t know, then the kid could act as Billy’s conscience in this particular situation) while Billy is coming to grips with all of this power he now wields, and with this newfound understanding that no one is born evil (even the mother who committed what Billy feels is the evil act of abandoning him), Billy could grow, since now, he would learn something that he didn’t know before, something that would add to his character and to his ability to both possess the Shazam powers and be responsible for them.

This idea also melds well with the idea of the villain’s father essentially abandoning him (I would make a few adjustments to the villain’s story as well, so it’s clear that the father abandoned the boy after the accident, perhaps sending him away to live somewhere else while his brother was groomed to be heir to the corporate empire), and this is where we could see the split between Billy and the villain, as the villain doesn’t have a warning or people around him who care enough to keep him on a more righteous path. He doesn’t have a Jiminy Cricket to guide him. Instead, his desire to prove his self-worth by obtaining the power to overthrow his father as head of the company, no matter how many people he hurts in the process, is what paints him as the villain. That would be the main difference between the protagonist and the antagonist, not only how each character reacts to similar stimuli but how the people around each character colors their reactions. If the movie went with this type of sociological approach, we would’ve had a film that shows that life isn’t simply an individual process; there are many people involved in the shaping of a single person even though that individual is also responsible for themselves.

If Shazam! had removed the attempted twist in the story, from the beginning, we would’ve seen two children in similar situations: the villain with a father who abandoned him and Billy with a mother who abandoned him, and we would’ve seen how they each deal with those situations differently and why. Instead, a game is played with the audience by depriving the audience of important information, and the story suffers for that. It misses an opportunity to show the villain seeking self-worth by finding the wizard and obtaining the power he needs to overthrow the father who abandoned him and reflecting that in Billy’s seeking of self-worth by finding the mother who abandoned him to discover why he was not good enough to hold onto.

Focusing the story of Shazam! on Billy’s (and the villain’s) abandonment would’ve given us a tighter story, especially with a removal of the section of the film that attempts to emulate the movie Big. Instead, Billy should be depicted at trying to get a handle on his powers by himself, with perhaps his foster brother wanting to involve himself in whatever is troubling Billy. This can lead to the foster brother discovering Billy’s secret, but at this point in the story (a single movie), I wouldn’t go beyond that. I wouldn’t have anyone else in the foster family know that Billy has the Shazam powers, and I wouldn’t have the other foster children given Shazam powers as well. Not yet, at least. It’s all too much, too soon. A story should be given time to progress, characters time to interact and develop (How much time does Billy spend with his foster family before deciding that giving them powers would be a good idea?), and subplots should be explored with proper setups that lead to proper payoffs.

Unfortunately, Shazam! essentially boils down to a story of what feels like separate parts rather than a single journey: Billy trying to find his mother, then Billy and his foster brother as they have fun with Billy’s powers, and finally, Billy giving his powers to every child in the foster family. You know what would’ve been great though, as an element of the final battle? What if Billy didn’t think of giving his powers to anyone else, and his foster brothers and sisters simply drew the demons away to give Billy the chance to defeat the now mortal villain? What if the foster children got involved in the fight against the villain on their own, risked their lives, without powers, to help Billy, and after the battle, when Billy asked why they would do that for him, his foster brother responded, “Because it’s not the powers that make someone a hero,” with his oldest foster sister adding, “It’s the fact that we care about you.”

What if this is how Billy discovered that his greatest power is caring, not only his caring of others but also others caring of him?

The Two Obvious Problems With X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Go watch X-Men: Dark Phoenix before reading this. Thank you! 🙂

One movie franchise that hasn’t been treated well by its writers is the X-Men series of films. The first two entries, X-Men and X2: X-Men United, are a solid pair of comic book movies, but once we got to X-Men: The Last Stand, things began taking a turn for the worse, so much so that the fifth entry in the series (not counting the standalone Wolverine films), X-Men: Days of Future Past, was meant as a soft reboot to wipe away the problems of the movies previous to the first soft reboot, X-Men: First Class. Yes, it’s a mess, and yes, even the Wolverine side series was affected by the X-Men soft reboots, since they take place in the same cinematic universe. And while First Class and Days of Future Past were okay enough, let’s not even get started on how bad X-Men: Apocalypse was. After all, this post is about the seventh entry in the series, X-Men: Dark Phoenix. More specifically, we’re going to discuss the two most obvious problems in the writing.

The first problem is the jump in track that seems to occur in the film. The movie starts off well enough but goes off-track the moment the aliens become the enemy. This movie was strongest when the enemy was what was inside Jean Grey, the Phoenix powers and Jean’s inability to control them. I would’ve preferred the blonde-haired lady, rather than an alien attempting to take control of Jean, be like the consciousness of the Phoenix powers, someone who only Jean can see and hear, someone influencing Jean’s turn against everyone by whispering in her ear how no one really cares about her or how everyone is against her. She could show Jean proof of this through the lies told to Jean by others with the best of intentions. This would’ve made Jean’s drastic shift in behavior a bit more sensible as we would’ve gone on that shift with her rather than have to sit and watch as she went mad over Xavier lying to her about her past. By the way, the line in one of the trailers concerning Jean saying, “When I lose control, bad things happen, but it feels good,” wasn’t present in the movie, which is a shame because Jean finding pleasure in the bad behavior she was exhibiting through the physical expression of her pain could’ve been explored and made things more interesting in terms of how the X-Men could possibly get her back or whether she had already mentally crossed a point of no return.

This would’ve been a great angle at which to approach the story, one with a psychological edge to it that maybe some viewers could relate to, and it would’ve preserved what I feel is the strongest part of the storytelling of any good X-Men film, which is the exploration of the fact that life isn’t black and white but gray, with actions that may have good intentions behind them but can be misinterpreted by one side or another. X-Men: Dark Phoenix does a solid job of this for a while, before it degrades into a simple story of the aliens being the bad guys while Jean just becomes good again for seemingly no reason other than the writer wanted her to be good again. Yes, the blonde-haired lady turns on Jean to steal some of Jean’s Phoenix power (with no explanation as to how it’s possible for this to occur, since the Phoenix powers were said to be drawn to Jean and no one else because only Jean could contain them), but again, this is merely where the writer decided to make the aliens the clear bad guys so that Jean could be good again despite all the terrible things she had done up to that point in the film.

The second obvious problem is that the message at the end of the movie contradicts the first part of the movie. Like Captain Marvel, Dark Phoenix attempts to pass along a message that being emotional is okay. The problem with this message stuck onto the end of the film is that no one had a problem with anyone being emotional throughout the film. Men were emotional, and women were emotional. Jean’s fury stemmed from an out-of-control burst of layered emotions that had laid dormant for a long time. In short, after young Jean’s car accident, in which she caused the death of her mother and estrangement of her father, Charles Xavier used his mind powers to make Jean forget the accident was her fault. His intention was good enough: Because Jean was so powerful, Xavier needed to put a cap on that power, and the quickest way to do that was to spare her the pain she’d feel from knowing the truth. However, this wasn’t Xavier wanting Jean not to be emotional; it was Xavier wanting to help her gain control of her emotions and her powers as a result, so she could avoid being a danger to those around her. What Xavier never got around to, though, was bringing those memories back out so Jean could deal with them responsibly, without causing harm to anyone. This is why Jean went berserk as the Phoenix powers tore down those walls Xavier placed into Jean’s mind, Xavier’s good intentions leading Jean on a road to Hell. The film, however, mixes this up with an idea that it’s not good to be emotional, taking a complex issue and simplifying it far too much for the sake of… I really don’t know why this was done.

Unfortunately, the movie never gets around to Jean dealing with her pain. I guess it would be difficult to fit years of therapy sessions into a two-hour film. Yes, there was a turning point when Xavier had Jean read his memories to discover why he did what he did, but he already explained why he did what he did, and she didn’t care before, so why would she care now? To me, it would’ve made more sense for Jean’s realization to have come from an internal connection she makes herself – going off my idea for the film, maybe Jean begins talking back to the Phoenix consciousness as they start to come to a balance of emotional expression between them (Jean sees the need to open up and express more while the Phoenix realizes the importance of not expressing so much that physical pain is caused to others) – rather than through an external source. It would’ve been nice to see some sort of light turn on in Jean’s eyes, even a pinpoint light at the end of the dark tunnel she was in, showing that not only could she contain the Phoenix powers physically but mentally as well. Maybe she convinces the Phoenix to give Xavier an opportunity, with their permission this time, to build those walls back up in her mind, at least in part to aid her in her new quest to find peace within the truth of the tragedies she caused when she was a child (and throughout the film). As it was though, by the end of the climax, all that happened was Jean realized that being emotional isn’t bad, and suddenly, she could control her powers. It was as if the writer(s) didn’t know how to bring the events of the film to a satisfying conclusion that made sense in relation to the first part of the movie.

Overall, the film has a nice start to it and even feels like a classic X-Men film for a while. But potential story threads are dropped for no reason, such as Mystique (Raven) starting to have a falling out with Xavier but being killed before anything could come of it (Beast starts having a falling out as well, but nothing comes of that either). In this, Dark Phoenix falls into the mess of the X-Men film franchise. The events of the movie, which chronologically takes place before the first X-Men movie, don’t lead the characters into their proper places for that film. Mystique is very much alive in X-Men, and thanks to the soft reboots, we have no idea how or why she joined Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants in time for the start of X-Men. We also have no idea why Xavier never sent the X-Men out into space, culminating in Jean absorbing the Phoenix powers (even though she already showed that she had Phoenix-like powers in X-Men: Apocalypse) that seem to have come from somewhere else in the other timeline. Yes, it’s a mess. It’s as if you either have to watch the first three movies, skip X-Men Origins: Wolverine (because Sabretooth so obviously wasn’t Logan’s brother in the first X-Men movie), and finish with the second Wolverine film followed by Days of Future Past and Logan, or watch First Class, skip Days of Future Past (since it references the first few X-Men movies), and continue with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix (or skip Apocalypse to remove the idea that Jean already had Phoenix powers), though you’d have to leave out Logan, what I feel is the strongest film in the franchise by far, because, though he makes cameos, Wolverine’s story is never told in the rebooted timeline.

Yes, it’s a mess.

Thankfully, though, Dark Phoenix is the final entry in the X-Men series of films. With Disney’s purchase of the Fox film studios and all film and television assets, the X-Men franchise will eventually be reimagined by Marvel Studios, which will hopefully be a good thing. But all in all, even with everything that has gone wrong with Fox’s series of X-Men films, I have to say that it’s been an enjoyable and interesting ride, to say the least. There is a part of me that wishes Disney didn’t buy Fox simply because it would’ve been fun to see what the movie after Dark Phoenix would’ve looked like. Would watching the continued mess of the franchise have become more fun than the actual stories in the series?

What did you think of X-Men: Dark Phoenix? What did you love? What did you not love? Leave a comment below. I want to hear from you. I really do. I’m not just saying that.

Sleep Spell

Awake in her mind,
she lay still
while soft dreams and visions
flew through and past her
as soft clouds fly
across the mountaintops.

And where do the mountains
meet the sky?
How deep does she dive
to her mind’s eye?

Her fingertips glide
across petals
stretching mellow perfumes
and vibrant shades
over vast green fields.

Her playful smile,
fresh as the playful rain,
dances with the hum
of the hummingbird’s wings,
though shy in the presence
of secret things.

And what are those secrets
the mountaintops hold?
Silent in her slumber,
may she be so bold?

Bold in her curiosity
of what lay still,
what awaits discovery
at the whim of a will.

In Celebration Of Star Wars… How To Remake The Star Wars Prequels

I like the Star Wars prequels, I really do. George Lucas has such an extraordinary imagination and showed us a lot of great things that could only come from a galaxy far, far away. However, enjoying something shouldn’t stop us from using our own imagination to change it, in our own minds, and wonder what it would be like if we made it. After all, the Prequel Trilogy isn’t perfect, with flaws that can be fixed. For example, most of the story that takes place in the prequels is contained in Episode III, which is why that movie feels so bloated while the first two movies feel as if they don’t have a lot of story to them. This can be fixed by plotting out the trilogy so that the story is spread among the three films more evenly. So, in celebration of Star Wars, I now present my version of the Star Wars prequels.

Using my previous post as a template for Episode I, my re-imagining of the Star Wars prequels would focus more on the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin. With Anakin a teenager and Obi-Wan around a decade older, in my remake, it would be more natural for Obi-Wan to befriend Anakin while on Tatooine and lean on him during the difficult tasks Obi-Wan must complete, especially as Anakin would be at an age when he feels a strong pull toward going out to adventure and proving himself (like Luke in A New Hope), making Anakin want to help Obi-Wan as much as he can (in my version, Anakin is a skilled mechanic and pilot, which are tasks he commonly performs for his owner, Watto). Plus, with Padme around, of course Anakin would be wanting to impress her at every turn, becoming deaf to his mother’s warnings of trying to obtain too much, too fast (foreshadowing Anakin’s inevitable fall to the Dark Side).

After witnessing Anakin showing hints of Force ability (“He can see things before they happen”) and feeling how unusually strong Anakin is with the Force, Obi-Wan begins teaching Anakin the ways of the Force, to aid Anakin in the podrace Obi-Wan enters Anakin into as they make a deal with Watto that allows Obi-Wan to acquire Anakin’s services for the day. The council would not approve of Obi-Wan training Anakin, but as Qui-Gon said to Obi-Wan in my previous post, “The council is not here.” Obi-Wan must do what he can to fly the queen off Tatooine and to Coruscant, and bolstering Anakin’s ability to use the Force is vital in accomplishing that goal. Plus, Obi-Wan enjoys having a friend and wants to see his friend do well. Obi-Wan and Anakin have the Force in common, and this is what brings them together.

In my remake of Episode II, rather than Obi-Wan training Anakin as his Padawan, I would have Anakin as a full Jedi Knight already, with Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting together throughout the film. Whereas before we saw the start of their friendship in a time of crisis, now we see how that friendship has blossomed and how well they fight as a team, how well they know each other’s tendencies and decision-making processes. Having the two be more equal, but with Anakin still learning while Obi-Wan has things down, having had a full decade more to train, their inevitable clash in Episode III won’t seem so lopsided, though Obi-Wan carries an advantage as he is more in tune with the Force. In my Episode II, Obi-Wan is close to becoming a master while Anakin still has moments of failure, and that troubles Anakin as Anakin believes he should be further along than he currently is because he is so strong in the Force, but though Anakin is sometimes jealous of Obi-Wan’s ability, he doesn’t blame Obi-Wan for his own failure; he blames himself and adds more pressure on himself. After all, Anakin is the Chosen One, prophesized to bring balance to the Force. He will be the most powerful of the Jedi, yet he feels far from powerful at times, and it’s Anakin’s self-driven nature, his outsider mentality among the Jedi, that leads him to search for a quicker path to gaining more power, which opens the door for Palpatine (as he petitions the Senate to build an army to fight a growing Separatist threat to the Republic, a threat born about a decade ago when Palpatine began meddling in the affairs of an outlying solar system) to begin influencing Anakin’s training as Anakin begins confiding in Palpatine about what he’s heard about his mother’s death and the fact that the Jedi wouldn’t allow him to return to Tatooine to take his mother away from the desert planet.

Anakin: “The Jedi only told me everything happened as it should. They rebuked my desire to free my mother by assuring me that her fate was to fall in love with a local farmer who would purchase her freedom. And they excused her death at the hands of Tuskan raiders by calling it her destiny. They said I should see it as a lesson in detaching myself, as showing me the importance of their teachings, how life goes on as it will, how one person’s death doesn’t stop the galaxy from spinning or stars from forming. The stars die as well, they said. What really matters is the light a star shone while it was alive. But I don’t see how it matters. If a person’s light is so significant, then why can’t we hold onto that person for as long as possible? If the Jedi just let me go back to her, I could’ve prevented my mother’s death.”

Palpatine presents himself as an outsider as well, which comforts Anakin not only in his need to express his feelings concerning his view of the Jedi but also in Anakin’s need to express his feelings concerning Padme.

In the original Episode II, Padme’s life is threatened because she’s a senator who is against the formation of a Republic army, but as the film moves forward, Obi-Wan’s investigation of events leads away from a potential assassination of Padme to the revelation of the existence of the clone army. In my Episode II, the assassination attempts are not connected to who is for or against the Republic army. Instead, it’s the Separatists who are threatening the Republic Senators with harm as a method to terrorize Republic planets into submitting to their terms of not supporting the Republic in the brewing war. While a few assassination attempts have succeeded, and a few planets have conceded to the Separatist demands while others debate concession, one assassination is somewhat successful in that Senator Padme Amidala is injured and falls into a coma. As Padme’s life hangs by a thread, Obi-Wan and Anakin are charged with discovering who is behind the threats to the Republic Senators. Anakin, though, has trouble keeping his mind on the task at hand, as he can’t shake thoughts of Padme’s condition. He confides in Palpatine who, while noticing how much Anakin cares for Padme, decides to reveal a bit of his true nature as well…

Palpatine: “Do you remember what you told me of your mother and how the Jedi excused her death as an unavoidable fate? As you said to me, your mother’s light could’ve lived on. Padme’s light can live on. Anakin, did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?”

Yes, rather than this scene of Palpatine informing Anakin about how Anakin can save Padme’s life appearing in Episode III, it would be in my version of Episode II (remember, we’re stretching out the story across the trilogy: first is the foreshadow, second is the temptation, and third is the fall). This is when Palpatine tells Anakin of the power to save those he loves from dying and the fact that this power cannot be learned from a Jedi. Together, Palpatine and Anakin use their power to wake Padme from her coma. Grateful, Anakin promises to keep Palpatine’s secret while Palpatine further enforces Anakin’s confusion as to which side is good and which is bad.

Anakin: “Why would you do this? The Sith don’t save lives.”
Palpatine: “That’s what the Jedi want you to think.”

Now that Padme is awake, she requires protection from the Senate guards as Anakin joins Obi-Wan on a discovery that leads the duo to a Separatist planet, where they find the source of the threats to the senators, Darth Maul – the Sith Lord who killed Qui-Gon Jinn and defeated Obi-Wan in their previous battle and has since made a deal with the Separatists: “I will force the Republic to its knees if you help me purge the Jedi from the existence they no longer deserve for protecting such a corrupted system.” Meanwhile, the Jedi worry about Anakin’s ability to save Padme with the Force. Believing Anakin, alone, performed this feat, they wonder how powerful Anakin can become. After which, Palpatine reveals to the Jedi that he went ahead and ordered a small army of clones, without Senate approval, as he puts it, “strictly as a precautionary move to guard against a possible Separatist attack, of course.” This revelation comes at an opportune time, when the Jedi need the clone army to aid them as they attack the Separatist planet on which Obi-Wan and Anakin have been captured. Padme accompanies the Jedi and clone army. “Anakin saved me. Now, it’s my turn to save him.”

A ferocious battle ensues; Obi-Wan and Anakin are separated, and by the end of the film, Anakin makes a crucial decision to compromise his morals in exchange for helping the Jedi and the Republic win the day. At least, Darth Maul tells Anakin that he’s compromising his morals by helping the Republic and the Jedi win. Though Darth Maul has taken his hand in a lightsaber battle that ends with Maul mercifully allowing Anakin to live, showing Anakin that the Sith aren’t the murderers the Jedi make them out to be (which is part of Palpatine’s plan to turn Anakin to the Dark Side), Anakin considers that perhaps Maul is right. While others celebrate the victory and prepare for the next battle in the newly dubbed Clone War, Anakin feels a weight on his conscience and wonders if the responsibility of being the Chosen One will require him to sacrifice more than his own beliefs for what he’s been told is the greater good. It doesn’t help him that Palpatine, after assuring Anakin that Darth Maul is acting under his own volition (having left Palpatine’s apprenticeship to seek riches of his own), waters the sprouting seeds of doubt Anakin has developed in his view of the Jedi.

Palpatine: “The Jedi are afraid of you, Anakin. They always have been. They’re afraid of your power.”
Anakin: “What other, greater power could the Jedi be withholding from me?”
Palpatine: “Would you like to find out?”

My Episode II ends with Padme interrupting before Anakin can answer Palpatine’s question. Palpatine excuses himself while Padme thanks Anakin, again, for saving her life, a thank you that he returns as she assisted in saving his. They gaze into each other’s eyes and finally share a kiss, the start of their secret romance.

Yes, the secret romance between Anakin and Padme would not be shown in Episode II. Instead, we only see their attraction toward each other here and there until the kiss at the end. Their romance then blossoms between Episode II and Episode III, though marriage and living together are not a part of it. At the start of Episode III, we see that Anakin and Padme are secret lovers, and part of what troubles Anakin and what keeps him from seeing the Jedi as all good is the fact that Anakin must hide his relationship with Padme from his best friend, Obi-Wan, for fear of the consequences that would be imposed on him by the Jedi High Council.

Does Obi-Wan suspect something? You bet. But he allows the relationship, for the time being, as even he is not sure how to handle a delicate situation that could result in him losing his best friend. While Anakin has developed an attachment to Padme, Obi-Wan has developed an attachment to Anakin that could be just as dangerous. Anakin is not the only one the Jedi are now wary of, but there is no time to concern themselves with such matters as the Clone War is in full swing, and the Jedi have allowed themselves to become the soldiers they swore they would never be, a “temporary” compromise for the good of the Republic, no different than the compromise made by the Senate to vote emergency powers to Chancellor Palpatine and allow certain freedoms removed from all citizens of the Republic to protect them from potential terrorist acts by the Separatists. Everyone is surrounded by feelings of instability, and though the Jedi won’t admit it to themselves, their fear of a bad outcome to it all is growing as the number of Jedi in the galaxy has dwindled, lost to the extensive fighting.

As the Republic borders on winning the war, though, Darth Maul leads a Separatist fleet to Coruscant in hopes of capturing Chancellor Palpatine to strike a fatal blow to the Republic in the Clone War. However, when Maul confronts Palpatine in his chamber, Palpatine asks if Maul has gathered the Separatist leaders into one place. Maul informs Palpatine that the Separatist leaders are hiding on the volcanic planet Mustafar. “You have done well, Lord Maul,” Palpatine says to him. “You have been invaluable as my apprentice.” Stealing Maul’s lightsaber and stabbing him with it, Palpatine growls, “But I have a new apprentice now, one far more powerful than you.” It is then that Anakin stumbles onto the scene, asking if the fighting can now stop. Palpatine uses this opportunity to twist Anakin further against the Jedi as he tells Anakin that the Jedi only want to keep fighting.

Palpatine: “You have the power to end this war, Anakin, you always have, but the Jedi won’t allow it. The Republic has all but won, but they need this war. The Jedi are said to be the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, but have you noticed there has never been peace throughout their reign? There is always a conflict, a reason for them to exist. If there ever truly is peace, then people can ask why the Jedi would be needed, why they simply couldn’t fall into myth. We have the power, Anakin, together. Join me. Help me eliminate the Jedi for good. Once they are gone and the Sith take over, we can crush all conflict in the galaxy, and we will finally have peace.”

After Palpatine explains to Anakin that the Separatist leaders are gathered on Mustafar and that Anakin has an opportunity to end the war and stop the Jedi, Obi-Wan stumbles onto the scene and is informed by Palpatine that it was Anakin who slayed Darth Maul. Anakin asks Obi-Wan if the fighting will stop now that Maul has been killed. Obi-Wan wishes the war could stop, but there are still pockets of Separatist resistance that must be dealt with. As Palpatine offers Anakin a glance that basically says, ‘See? I was right,’ Obi-Wan tells Anakin that there’s a new assignment to engage the last of the resistance. Palpatine gives Obi-Wan the news that he is sending Anakin to Mustafar, where a Separatist regime is strengthening its numbers. Obi-Wan agrees that Anakin should go to Mustafar first, and when he leaves, Palpatine informs Anakin that, sadly, Obi-Wan can no longer be trusted and that Anakin must kill his former master.

Palpatine: “It is the only way, Anakin. The path to the power of the Dark Side requires sacrifice, but the gains are far greater than you could ever imagine. This is your destiny, Anakin. Your former master betrayed you, betrayed the Republic, as have all the Jedi. They let your mother die. They wanted to let Padme die. They refuse to bestow upon you the power that even their own prophecy foretells. I can feel your anger toward them. Use it. Give in to your hate. Strike down your former master, and your journey toward the Dark Side will be complete. Then as my apprentice, you will have the power you desire as you hunt down the last of the Jedi.”

While saying goodbye to Padme, Anakin lets slip that he’s going to end the war and that soon they will be able to love openly, without fear of consequence from the Jedi. Not understanding what Anakin said, Padme catches Obi-Wan as he and Yoda are about to leave on their missions and asks them what Anakin meant. As the Jedi prod Padme into confessing the hidden romance, Palpatine, believing that Yoda and Obi-Wan are with their clone troops, as the other Jedi are with their clone troops, unleashes Order 66 and turns the clones against the Jedi. With the Clone War and the Jedi coming to an end, Palpatine declares victory within the Senate and promises that the corruption within the Republic that led to the Separatist movement will no longer be tolerated. In the best interest of the Republic and its people, Palpatine announces the Republic’s reorganization, declaring himself Emperor of the Galactic Empire. With his order that any remaining Jedi are now enemies of the Empire and will be executed on sight, Yoda flees the Jedi temple, assisted by Bail Organa.

Anakin, having killed the Separatist leaders and officially ended the Clone War, is confronted by Padme and Obi-Wan. Furious that she’s chosen to side with Obi-Wan against him, Anakin Force chokes her, and she falls unconscious. Obi-Wan pulls his lightsaber. Anakin pulls his lightsaber. The battle of the heroes begins.

It all ends with Obi-Wan severely injuring Anakin and leaving him as Obi-Wan can’t bring himself to killing his former Padawan, best friend, and brother. Palpatine senses Anakin is near death and travels to Mustafar to find him, promising to rebuild his body, so he can take revenge on his former master.

Palpatine: “This will be your transformation, my apprentice. You will no longer be weak. You will no longer be hesitant. You will no longer be a mere man. Henceforth, you will be… Darth Vader.”

Obi-Wan receives a message from Bail Organa’s ship, and he and Padme, now conscious, meet up with the ship and board it to talk with Yoda and Bail. Yoda explains that the Sith have taken over the galaxy while Obi-Wan speaks of his failure to kill Anakin. As Obi-Wan declares that everything is lost, since Anakin will soon become too powerful to defeat, Yoda mentions that there may yet be hope. “What do you mean?” Bail asks, desperate for any chance that Palpatine can be removed as emperor. “Hope there still lives in the Skywalker offspring.” Padme never got a chance to tell Anakin that she’s pregnant, and now Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Bail form a plan to hide Padme and Anakin’s offspring from Anakin and the emperor.

Essentially, the Star Wars prequels should be a gradual change for Anakin that we all must watch as it occurs. By the time Obi-Wan and Anakin face-off in their duel, it should be apparent that Anakin has been seduced by the Dark Side, not simply shoved into it. He should be hesitant until that duel with Obi-Wan, when Anakin has turned. Anakin should not be killing children right away, and until their duel, Obi-Wan has to believe that Anakin hasn’t crossed the line, that Anakin can still come back. While he confronts Anakin, we should feel the guilt Obi-Wan places on himself for not preventing Anakin’s fall from happening, that guilt we feel in Obi-Wan’s voice as he explained Anakin’s fate to Luke in A New Hope. And if you noticed, I don’t have Darth Vader in my version of Episode III, Luke and Leia aren’t shown being born, Padme’s pregnancy isn’t showing, and Padme doesn’t die. I connect the Prequels to the Original Trilogy without trying to fit everything together nice and neat as if we have to see everything. We don’t. When Leia talks about her mother in Return of the Jedi, I want to know that there is another story out there that can maybe be told.

So, that’s it. That’s my version of the Star Wars prequels. If you’ve read this whole thing, please leave a comment, so I can congratulate you on making it this far. You are truly amazing. 🙂

How Removing A Character Can Make A Story Stronger Part 2 – Revisiting The Phantom Menace Re-Imagining

Not too long ago, I wrote a piece on how I would re-imagine one of my favorite films, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In it, I showed how removing a single character, Qui-Gon Jinn, early in the film can affect the story as a whole, transforming the film into a hero’s journey for Obi-Wan Kenobi. For this piece, I’ll show how removing another character completely from the movie can open the way for other, greater ideas to come through. I hope it doesn’t seem as if I’m picking on this character – that is cliché after all – since I do like the character, but sometimes we must kill our darlings for the benefit of better writing. That character is none other than…

…wait for it…

…Jar Jar Binks.

Now, I understand why George Lucas didn’t ever read through his script and wonder if he could cut Jar Jar. After all, Jar Jar was initially intended to play a much meatier role in the Star Wars prequels, a role that was significantly diminished after fans reacted with hate toward the loveable but seriously flawed Gungan following the release of The Phantom Menace. In fact, some twenty years later, it’s now speculated that Jar Jar would’ve eventually been revealed as the great evil behind the plot to elevate Senator Palpatine to Emperor status by the end of the third film. This is known as the Darth Jar Jar Theory. If you’ve never heard of it, then click on this highlighted text for a video describing the theory in detail. Personally, I love the Darth Jar Jar Theory and wonder how the story would’ve played out had Jar Jar been… well, the phantom menace.

This write-up, though, is about removing Jar Jar from the film. So, let’s see what happens when we remove Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

The first thing we have to do is ask ourselves a simple question: What did Jar Jar contribute to the story?

As far as Episode I is concerned, Jar Jar accomplished two important tasks. First, he introduced Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to the Gungan people, helping the two Jedi receive a transport to Theed, the Naboo city the Trade Federation was about to invade with the intention of capturing Queen Amidala. Second, Jar Jar subtly provided the queen with an idea to use the Gungan army to retake Theed. His mention of the army to the queen, while on Coruscant, is what inspires the queen to return to Naboo as she now believed there was a chance to realistically confront the Trade Federation’s droid army.

Okay, now that we know how Jar Jar contributed to the story, we can remove Jar Jar and ask ourselves how to make those events happen without him.

Let’s start with the transport to Theed. Do we even need the Jedi to require a transport to Theed? I mean, the Gungan leader Boss Nass, in The Phantom Menace, told the Jedi that the fastest way to Theed, from the Gungan city, was through the planet core, which means that the Trade Federation landed their invading army on the other side of the planet. This doesn’t make sense. Why would the Trade Federation land their army halfway around the world from their target then drive, halfway around the world, to their target? (It’s like someone didn’t bother saying to the Trade Federation’s leader, “You have ships. Why don’t fly there? …be a lot faster.) If the Trade Federation lands their army within a reasonable distance from Theed, then Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan wouldn’t need a transport. They would simply have to reach the city to find the queen before the Trade Federation troops do (which, honestly, would’ve helped keep up the pacing of the film; rather than meeting Jar Jar and getting distracted by their meeting with Boss Nass, the Jedi could’ve been in an exciting race that had them trying to get to the queen before she surrendered). This means that we don’t need Jar Jar to help them acquire a transport, which means that we don’t need Jar Jar. The character can be cut from the movie, for now, which is a move that allows us to improve the pacing of the film at this point.

Jar Jar’s second contribution is whispering into the queen’s ear while on Coruscant, letting her know that the “Gungans have a grand army,” which gives her the idea to use the Gungan army to take back the planet. Removing Jar Jar from the movie here would require a bit of a rewrite of the story, but I think we could have a stronger story if we do this, and the way to do this would be to use one of the Jedi – there are two of them, after all – to do what Jar Jar does in the film: that is, introduce us to the Gungans and lead the queen to their secret meeting place.

Beginning at the part of the film when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan free the pilots in the hangar and have the queen board her ship for a daring escape from Naboo, the two Jedi can be split up. As Obi-Wan heads up the ramp to board the ship, he could turn back to Qui-Gon and notice that neither Qui-Gon nor Captain Panaka intend to evacuate…

Obi-Wan: “You’re not coming?”
Qui-Gon: “I’m going to stay behind and free anyone else that I can. I will help the Naboo fight.”
Obi-Wan: “The odds are well against you, and the council would not approve.”
Qui-Gon: “The council is not here.”
Captain Panaka: “For as long as I can remember, there’s been talk of mysterious creatures who hide themselves in the swamps. Perhaps we can find them and bring them to our side, even up the odds a bit.”
[On the ramp, behind Obi-Wan, Queen Amidala appears.]
Queen Amidala: “The Gungan army is a myth, Captain. It may have once existed, but no one’s reported seeing even a hint of the army for millenia.”
Captain Panaka: “I must try, your highness.”
Qui-Gon: “And I will assist him. If they exist, we will find this Gungan army.”
Captain Panaka: “We will fight back, my queen. I promise you that.”
Queen Amidala: “Good luck, Captain.”
Qui-Gon: “Obi-Wan, it now falls on you to escort the queen safely to Coruscant. You are fully capable, my young Padawan. Follow the will of the Force.”
Obi-Wan: “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Qui-Gon: “This invasion is wrong. The Trade Federation must be stopped.”
Obi-Wan: “May the Force be with you, master.”
Qui-Gon: “May the Force be with you.”

Now, with this change, with this act of splitting the Jedi onto different paths, two important things happen. First, Obi-Wan will become the lone Jedi escorting the queen to Coruscant. With the ship damaged in the escape from Naboo, needing repairs that require the ship be set down on Tatooine, it will be Obi-Wan who discovers and befriends young Anakin Skywalker, setting the stage for their friendship to come. Second, Qui-Gon and Captain Panaka will be the characters who lead a small band of Naboo rebels into the swamps, where they will eventually discover the Gungan civilization.

This change allows us to add an air of mystery to the Gungans that carries for a good part of Qui-Gon’s side of the story. It also makes it so that we can switch between Obi-Wan’s story and Qui-Gon’s story, giving us an A and B plot to follow (with contrasting environments). As Obi-Wan seeks a way to repair the queen’s ship and get her off Tatooine and back on the way to Coruscant (leading to Anakin helping them through a podrace) while just narrowly escaping Darth Maul’s attempt to capture the queen (made all the more tense by Maul engaging with an inexperienced Obi-Wan in a lightsaber battle on Tatooine, which means that Obi-Wan running away from the fight would be necessary and add more to the drama of their inevitable second clash at the end of the film), Qui-Gon and the Naboo rebels search the swamps for the mythical Gungan army while evading the Trade Federation forces hunting them.

Following these two stories gives us opportunity to avoid any lulls in the storytelling that can come from inserting filler into a single plot just to make sure we achieve a two-hour runtime (which is actually a problem with The Phantom Menace), and we can sync the stories so that the Gungan army is finally discovered after Queen Amidala has made her plea to the Senate and moved for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum.

As an aside, we now have a good opening for why the Jedi High Council won’t send more Jedi to aid the Naboo against the Trade Federation. First, since Qui-Gon remained on Naboo, Obi-Wan must talk with the high council, himself, and inform them of the situation. The high council disagrees with Qui-Gon’s action, so they refuse to send any Jedi as Jedi are keepers of the peace, not soldiers in a war. The high council want to allow the conflict between the Naboo and Trade Federation to settle as it will. They do, however, support Obi-Wan’s decision to return to Naboo to find Qui-Gon and, together, begin searching for the Sith Lord who attacked Obi-Wan on Tatooine while attempting to capture the queen. In other words, Obi-Wan proposes the idea of him returning to Naboo, and the high council agrees. He’s not ordered to do it; he wants to do it. This new take on the scene with the Jedi High Council brings Obi-Wan out of the shadow of Qui-Gon Jinn and shows us a spark of his leadership ability. The movie would now reinforce the idea that Obi-Wan is coming into his own, pushing himself in his transition from Padawan to Jedi Knight.

Now, while awaiting the results of the vote of no confidence, the queen could receive a message from Panaka informing her that not only are the Gungans real but they’re not terribly happy about having been found. The queen can then order Panaka to hold his position while she returns to Naboo to negotiate with the Gungans personally. Carpooling (shippooling? transportpooling?) from Coruscant, the queen, Obi-Wan, and new friend Anakin Skywalker are reunited with Qui-Gon, Panaka, and what remains of the Naboo rebels. Of course, R2-D2 is in there somewhere as well.

With that, the Gungans are introduced to us, the queen has a reason to leave Coruscant as she wishes to persuade the Gungans to help her win back Theed and ultimately Naboo, and best of all, we get to see that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan versus Darth Maul fight that is the stuff of legend.

Overall, we now have a story that chronicles the adventures of two Jedi who each do their part to save Naboo from the invading droid army of the evil Trade Federation. I feel this idea is far better than the movie we have now simply because I don’t care for seeing Obi-Wan sitting on the Tatooine sidelines, doing nothing, for way too long. Okay, so he checks Anakin’s blood for a medi-chlorian count, but other than that, he really does nothing. It’s kind of sad.

So, there it is, we have a stronger film, and all we did was cut one character: Jar Jar Binks.

Again, I like Jar Jar, and I enjoy Episode I as it is (even though I do poke fun at it sometimes). However, I like to consider possibilities created when a character is removed from a story, and I think it’s good for a writer to consider those possibilities, as well, when reading through and revising their own stories. Can this character be removed from the story? What does that character contribute? How can those contributions be handled without the character? What changes would be necessary? Asking these questions can aid you in knowing your story and characters a bit better, and sometimes, asking these questions can lead you to crafting a stronger story.

So, what do you think? Would you remove Jar Jar from The Phantom Menace? If so, how would you alter the story to make up for that removal? Can you or would you remove someone who may not really be a vital character in a story that you’re writing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. 🙂