Re-Imagining Captain Marvel (The Importance Of Set-Ups And Payoffs)

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN MARVEL AHEAD! I RECOMMEND SEEING THE MOVIE BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER. YES, I RECOMMEND SEEING THE MOVIE. IT’S ACTUALLY PRETTY OKAY. GO SEE IT! NOW!

This post will not at all discuss the SJW versus anti-SJW controversy surrounding the film. Frankly, I’m tired of all that useless shit. What I’m going to talk about here is simply how I would’ve changed the film, hopefully for the better, had I been a script doctor or at least seen a rough cut of the movie. Everything I mention below will be issues that could’ve been addressed in post-production (editing) and already scheduled re-shoots.

First, my opinion of Captain Marvel is that I found it a bit flat. The action scenes lacked energy, and since Carol could already use her powers, which were already enough to stave off any threat, I didn’t feel a sense of danger or urgency throughout the film. Even though the film told us, through flashbacks, that as a child she was consistently called a failure, we weren’t shown an adult Carol Danvers who really felt that all her efforts may be inadequate in the situation she finds herself in, and this is where the film fell down, in my opinion. In fact, adult Carol was depicted as a fighter pilot who didn’t at all seem like a failure.

So, how do we fix this?

I would’ve begun Captain Marvel with the scene of her crashing through the Blockbuster Video, arriving on Earth, and yes, I would have written her, at the start, with a cliché memory loss. This would have immediately placed Carol in a vulnerable position, and the movie could’ve had an interesting angle to it if we were discovering who she was, along with her, as she battled through and survived the various challenges placed in front of her while on Earth.

So, the scenes of Carol on the Kree planet, in my mind, were best suited as recent memories shown later in the film, to relate her story to us, rather than as a try at establishing her character at the beginning of the film. For example, the scene that has her sparring with her squad leader, Yon-Rogg, would’ve made for a nice memory that would lead us down a path of believing that he’s a good guy, which is what the film did as well. The difference is that, in my version, he would’ve been a stranger to her the moment she first saw him while on Earth, and she would see him as that good guy from what she can remember.

See, I would’ve had both Kree and Skrull leaders attempt to approach Carol, on Earth, once they found her. Yes, the Skrull would initially chase her, and she would run from them, obviously, but they wouldn’t fire a single shot at her, not if she was not firing back, which she wouldn’t because without her memory, she wouldn’t have awareness of her power. This would ground her as someone who must survive with what she currently knows she can do, like the rest of us. The discovery of her power will come later as the mysteries of who she is and who is chasing her and why are solved.

For now, though, the Skrull chase and the Kree squad attempt to intercept the Skrull as if they’re trying to save Carol from the Skrull threat. This puts Carol between two sides, and as she’s wearing the same type of suit as the Kree, this leads her to wonder if she’s on their side. Her memories of Yon-Rogg are of the two of them sparring and him offering her advice and words of wisdom concerning control of the power she holds inside. She also has memories of hanging out and laughing with the other squad members. Of course, as she’s met Nick Fury by now, Fury would advise her not to put her trust in anyone until she, herself, can remember the truth. As Fury would put it in my version, “Even our own incomplete memories can betray us.”

My version of Captain Marvel would play out the same as the original film in the sense that Carol would recall Dr. Lawson and work alongside Fury to find her as Carol believes Lawson can tell her what’s really been going on. Carol then has a memory of Maria, her fighter pilot friend, who Carol finds. When Carol meets her, though, she turns out to be Talos, the Skrull leader, in disguise. Having heard Carol explain that she has amnesia, Talos reveals himself to Carol, attempting to gain her trust. He explains the situation and reveals his connection with Dr. Lawson. However, this still doesn’t convince Carol to join his side. Instead, Yon-Rogg finds the hidden refugee ship in Earth’s orbit, and the attack on that ship is how Talos brings Carol to finally agree to come with him and help stop the attack.

With Carol boarding the ship and becoming aware of the Skrull refugees, Yon-Rogg and his team turn on Carol as they invade the ship with the intention of personally wiping out the Skrull refugees. Everything plays out the same as the film now, only Carol comes to realize her full power potential not by a sudden change of heart about the device stuck to her neck but by finally remembering who she is, who she has been all this time, who she can be without the AI and Yon-Rogg advising her to hide her power so as to seem like a normal member of the Kree squad. This would’ve been revealed in her final memory before she realizes her full potential, and Yon-Rogg, when confronting her, would tell her that it was for her own good, to hide her from the Skrull, because he knew they would pursue her once they surmised the origin of her power. The huge space battle, now, would be a true payoff to a set-up of Carol’s memory loss not allowing her to know that she has this power inside her that others have restrained her from for what she would now understand is their own benefit. It wouldn’t be a matter of simply pulling a device off her neck that she obediently wore because her powers were bad for some reason. Hiding her from the Skrull would be a good reason for the Kree to keep her from displaying her powers in battle and train her to fight without her powers. Otherwise, why wouldn’t the Kree have had Carol wipe out the Skrull, using her powers, because the Skrull were evil, according to the Kree?

It shouldn’t be a matter of, “People are holding me back, and now I know better,” that changes Carol. That’s not terribly interesting. Instead, I feel that a bout with full memory loss would’ve given Carol the opportunity to see others from a fresh perspective and decide who she wants to be once that truth is revealed. I also would’ve made the Kree/Skrull conflict more gray instead of black and white. With a gray conflict, Carol’s choice of which side to back becomes much more difficult. She has to decide if saving the Skrull refugees is the right thing to do considering the evils committed by the Skrull. The fact that the movie paints Talos as an innocent victim really subtracts from what could’ve been a tough decision for Carol. Heck, maybe Carol wouldn’t take either side and simply do what she can to stop the fighting.

In addition, one major difference my version of Captain Marvel would have with the original film is that Carol would fight Yon-Rogg without use of her powers, as he challenges her to do (because she could never beat him in a sparring session without using a small bit of her powers). Having to fight Yon-Rogg would allow for Carol to be hesitant and unwilling to fight. It would open the door for Carol to be depicted as someone who doesn’t want to harm her now former squad leader, the man who was her mentor for such a long time, even through his goading of her and swings he takes at her to incite her into battle against him. This is the moment that not only would she have realized the full potential of her power in the space battle that had just taken place, she would also understand, through this journey she has been on, that she is more than her powers and that she doesn’t need to rely on them: She is strong and capable on her own.

This is the major point that I feel the film was missing, and while the writers seemed to want to place such a message into the movie, I’m not sure they knew exactly how to do it which is why the film felt flat. As I’ve said to other people, I think the movie lacked set-ups and payoffs. One set-up would be Carol unable to defeat Yon-Rogg in their sparring sessions because she uses her powers as a crutch, and the payoff would’ve been, at the end of the film, rising to the challenge of fighting and defeating him without her powers. This is the type of thing that the film lacks, set-ups and payoffs, and had the movie included them, I feel the movie would’ve been more interesting as a result. It would’ve given us a real journey to follow Carol on, especially if there were mysteries to her that both she and the audience could discover together. It would’ve allowed us to think about what she’s learned on that journey. Our takeaway from the film, as viewers, would’ve been what makes her a hero and how we can use that to reflect on ourselves to find what makes us heroes, as well, in our own daily lives.

Anyway, that’s my slight revision of Captain Marvel. Did I enjoy the movie? Yes. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it can use a bit of improvement. No movie is perfect, and that’s actually a good thing. It allows us, the viewer, to use our own imagination to discover how we would change the film for what we feel is the better. This is a wonderful way to interact with movies and exercise our ability to re-imagine. 🙂

So, what do you think? Do you like my version of Captain Marvel? Is there anything you would change about the film? If you say, “Get rid of the cat,” I will throw popcorn at you. Really. If you say that, popcorn is so being thrown in your direction.

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How Too Much Dialogue Can Get In The Way

In my previous post, I discussed the infamous, “Why did you say that name?!” line in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and how removing it changed the interpretation of the scene and brought sense to it. Now, we’re going through more dialogue to see how too much dialogue can actually bog things down a bit. The scene in question occurs before the big showdown between heroes, when Superman, having saved Lois once again, as if that’s not routine for him, flies up to the rooftop holding Lex Luthor, Jr.’s helipad, where Superman confronts Lex about Lex’s recent misbehavior.

Lex: Boy, do we have problems up here. …the problem of evil in the world, the problem of absolute virtue.

Superman: I’ll take you in without breaking you, which is more than you deserve.

Lex: …the problem of you on top of everything else, you above all. ‘Cause that’s what God is. Horace. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El… Clark Joseph Kent. See, what we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Joe. ‘Cause God is tribal; God takes sides. No man in the sky intervened, when I was a boy, to lift me from daddy’s fist and abomination. I figured out way back: If God is all-powerful, then He cannot be all-good, and if He is all-good, then He cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud you are, with their eyes, the blood on your hands.

So far, so good here. We’re getting Lex’s motivation, which is fine.

Superman: What have you done?

Lex: And tonight, they will. Yes, because you, my friend, have a date across the bay. Ripe fruit, his hate. Two years growing, but it did not take much to push him over actually: little red notes, big bang, “You let your family die!” And now, you will fly to him, and you will battle him, to the death. Black and blue. Fight night. The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world. God versus man. Day versus night. Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham.

In the above paragraph, we have a bit of grandstanding repetition that isn’t necessary. It doesn’t add anything, so we cut it, and in doing that, we give more emphasis to what remains, which now isn’t getting lost among the extra stuff. There’s still some grandstanding, but it’s in that Goldilocks zone: not too little, not too much. (Just a note: I crossed out the unneeded parts so that if you want to skip over them to get a sense for how the dialogue works without the extra stuff, you can do that.)

Superman: You think I’ll fight him for you?

Lex: Yes, I do. I think you will fight, fight, fight for that special lady in your life.

Superman: She’s safe on the ground. How about you?

The crossed-out question muddles up Superman’s first sentence. Asking, “How about you?” makes me wonder if Superman is asking Lex if Lex is safe, on the ground, or safe on the ground. It’s unclear exactly what Superman is asking Lex. I know it’s supposed to be some kind of threat, but it’s not well-worded.

Lex: Close, but I am not talking about Lois. No, every boy’s special lady is his mother. [Lex displays photos] Martha, Martha, Martha. The mother of a flying demon must be a witch, and the punishment for witches – What is that? – that’s right, death by fire. [Lex deals photos onto the ground; Superman kneels to look at them]

The, “Martha, Martha, Martha,” repetition can be cut since it adds nothing to what Lex is saying. It seems as if the writer only wanted to prime the audience for the big “Martha” reveal later (Superman and Batman both having a mother named Martha). Besides, Lex says “Martha” plenty more times in the next paragraph. Also, Lex calling her a witch and saying she’s going to die by fire isn’t necessary as, only seconds after showing Superman the pictures, Lex lays out the terms of the deal, saying that Martha will die if Superman doesn’t fight Batman.

Superman: Where is she?!

Lex: I don’t know. I would not let them tell me. [Superman is about to shoot his heat vision at Lex] Nuh-ah-ah, if you kill me, Martha dies, and if you fly away, Martha also dies, but if you kill the Bat, Martha lives. [Superman stands down his heat vision threat] There we go. There we go. And now, God bends to my will. [Helicopter flies in for a landing] Now, the cameras are waiting at your ship, for the world to see the holes in the holy! Yes, the almighty comes clean about how dirty he is when it counts. To save Martha, bring me the head of the Bat. [Helicopter lands] Mother of God, would you look at the time. When you came here, you had an hour. Now, it’s less. [Cue dramatic music with choir as camera rotates around Superman as he stands]

In this last paragraph of Lex’s dialogue in this scene, we have more grandstanding and more repetition that can be cut. It does nothing to help the scene and, I feel, only hurts the scene and hurts how we view Lex as a character.

By the time we finish this scene, we’re tired of hearing Lex talk; we just want to get to the fight already. However, that’s not the feeling we should have at the end of this scene; we should leave this scene with a feeling of dread over what Lex has done, not with a wish that the scene didn’t go on for so long (The amount of time I cut from the scene turned out to be 1 minute and 12 seconds). In short, this scene is weaker because of the superfluous dialogue. So, we cut it down to essentials, which strengthens the scene by giving us just enough of what we need to get the point across without throwing too much at the audience and possibly tiring them. If you finish a scene and feel that you want less of that scene, then it’s probably a good idea to cut it down, so there’s less of that scene, which is what I did here. In my re-edit, Lex stays on point, doesn’t fall into needless repetition, and ends on a strong piece of dialogue that circles back around to connect with what Lex was talking about at the start of the scene. We don’t need to see Lex grandstanding and flying away on the helicopter. We don’t need to see Superman stand while the music attempts to lend an epic feel to the scene. All we need is a strong end to the scene. We can assume that what happens afterward is Lex leaves and so does Superman.

In addition, while the epic music was used to try to strengthen the end of this scene, it really doesn’t work as well as it’s supposed to. Ending on a good line of dialogue would have been the better option. Instead, there is too much dialogue, with the best line to end on getting crowded into the mix somewhere. However, we want that good line to stand out and be what the audience remembers as they go into the next scene. Concerning this scene, you just have to ask yourself which line is stronger, which line shows Lex to be the power-hungry, absolute, evil villain that he is, which line leaves you with chills as you anticipate what’s going to happen next:

“When you came here, you had an hour. Now, it’s less,”
or
“And now, God bends to my will.”

So, what do you think? Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Am I making any sense at all still? Do you agree with my assessment of this particular scene and the changes made to it? Is there anything else you would change? I’d love to hear your opinion.

How Removing One Line Of Dialogue Can Totally Change A Scene

I have a firm love/hate relationship with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While I love Batman, and Superman is a favorite character of mine, I’ve always felt that the story in the film is so completely flawed that it needs a complete re-imagining. No, that’s not what this particular blog post is about (although I may do a re-imagining sometime in the future). Instead, what I want to discuss is editing and how removing one line from a scene can change the scene for the better. I think you know which line I’m talking about here.

Yes, the infamous, “Why did you say that name?!” line that launched a thousand memes. I cringe every time I hear that line. It’s just so bad that it makes me wonder how it got past the writers, director, producers, actors, and editors. My guess is that they weren’t willing to experiment and see what the scene would be like without that line. Luckily, I’m more the adventurous type.

So, I took that scene and did a couple of small edits to remove the dialogue in question. Actually, along with, “Why did you say that name?!” I ended up removing Superman saying, “Find him,” because Superman doesn’t say who “him” is which means Batman wouldn’t know who to find after killing Superman anyway, and Batman asking, “What does that mean?” because Batman’s confusion feels out of place among the rage. Oh, and I also edited out Lois saying, “It’s his mother’s name,” because that just made Superman look like a little child. I cringe every time I hear that line, too.

When I played back the edited clip, I found a bit of a transformation, small but important. In the original film, the trigger (stimulus that initiates a change in behavior) for Batman is the name Martha, made clear by Batman continuously asking, “Why did you say that name?!” The name Martha, on its own, doesn’t make sense as a trigger, though, because it’s a name Bruce has likely heard thousands of times since his mother’s death. I can imagine how ridiculous it would be for a younger Bruce to be channel surfing, come upon a show that starts with the host saying, “Welcome to Martha Stewart Living; I’m Martha Stewart,” and Bruce yelling out, “Why did you say that name?! What does that mean?! Those cookies look so delicious!!!!!” In addition, I’ve heard it argued that once Batman discovers that Superman has an Earth mother, that makes Batman see Superman as human rather than alien. This is also ridiculous as, human mother or not, I doubt Batman would suddenly alter his perspective so drastically from the truth – Superman is not from Earth – that he would embrace Superman as a friend. Realistically, given his mental state, Batman would likely see Superman’s human mother as a sort of traitor to her species.

However, removing the line, “Why did you say that name?!” makes another line, said by Superman, into the trigger: “You’re letting him kill Martha.” Rather than the name Martha as the trigger for Batman, the trigger now becomes the idea that Batman is allowing Martha to die, which makes sense when you factor in Batman’s memories of when he was a child, and all he could do was allow his mother to die. The very reason he became Batman was to prevent people from dying, to do what he could to stop this type of tragedy from happening again. This is what snaps Batman back from his raging desire to kill Superman, and it feels better, within the scene, that what stops Batman from killing Superman isn’t who Superman is but who Batman is, and I think this line of reasoning fits well with the apology Batman offers Alfred not long after the end of the fight. It shows that Batman remembers who he is now and why he’s Batman, which is what Alfred was arguing with him about throughout the film.

So, that’s what occurred, for me, when I removed one simple line from a scene that needed help. I’m thinking of doing a second blog post, concerning the scene before the Batman/Superman fight in which Superman confronts Lex Luthor, Jr., to show how too much dialogue can weaken a scene. Maybe I’ll have that one up sooner rather than later. Until then, tell me what you think. Does my cutting of the line, “Why did you say that name?!” make sense? Do you find my reasoning to be sound? Should Superman have won that fight? If you say yes to that last question, we’ll be friends forever. 🙂

Revising Thanos

I think Thanos is one of the top two villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ron Perlman’s acting makes Thanos a believable character, and there are a few emotional moments in the film that define the character and pull us, the audience, into the story, not letting us go until we sit in awe at how the story ends. That said, as much as I love this movie, I have to wonder if Thanos’ plan in the film makes sense.

In The Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos explains that his homeworld, Titan, was like many planets: too many mouths and not enough to go around. From this, we can gather that Thanos is simply talking about food. Okay. Good start. Next, Thanos says that he offered a solution to the extinction of the people on Titan, an extinction likely due to starvation. This solution was killing half the people on the planet in a random selection to ensure fairness among the rich and poor. Thanos was called a madman, and what he predicted came true. What did he predict? We don’t know. He possibly predicted that people would starve, and the planet would become depopulated and desolate. Then again, if the problem was a lack of food, and some people were starving to death, doesn’t that solve the problem? At some point, the survivors are going to have enough food to live. Also, why would the planet become desolate? With fewer people on it, planted food can grow, animals can breed freely, and life can begin to flourish again as more food becomes available for the larger population that is coming. So, unless there was a much larger problem on the planet that Thanos isn’t telling us about (for example, plant life was dying out for an inexplicable reason, causing a major disruption in the food chain), his story simply doesn’t make sense. It’s vague with an intention that the audience will accept it at face value and fill in the blanks on their own, in whatever way works for them. In addition, Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the population on every planet doesn’t make sense.

What would make sense? Starting with Thanos’ background, the problem has to be about more than simply a lack of food. Like I said, that problem eventually solves itself, given the natural cycle of life on a planet. Thanos’ prediction could not have come true. So, the problem would have to center around events connected to a lack of food or other resources. For example, if there were rich and poor people on Titan, and food became scarce, wouldn’t the rich people attempt to buy up as much food as possible to store it for themselves? If that happened, and the poor people discovered this, wouldn’t the poor people inevitably rise up in desperation and attack the rich people to take all the food they’re hoarding? Who on Titan would allow themselves to simply starve and die? A survival instinct would have to kick in at some point, right? So, perhaps Thanos’ prediction could have been war, bloodshed, people going crazy and killing each other. That would be Thanos’ reason for wiping out half the population at random, to avoid the conflict.

However, would killing half the people on the planet even be a viable solution? Yes and no. Of course, at first, fewer people would have more food. As those people had children, though, the population would boom again. On Earth, it took 1 billion people only 200 years to multiply into 7 billion people. Given this, if Thanos went to a planet of 7 billion and left 3.5 billion alive, it would only take a few generations to restore that 7 billion number. In other words, wiping out half the population yields an extremely temporary result. Thanos would be able to rest, but not for terribly long as he would have to continue to cut populations in half every so often. If the Infinity Stones make Thanos immortal, then snapping his fingers every few generations would be his forever job.

So, what should be Thanos’ plan? For a moment, let’s skip past the solution of simply doubling all the resources in the universe. If the Infinity Stones can make half the people in the universe disappear, then surely, they can make double the resources appear out of nowhere. Given Thanos’ background, though, it’s more likely that Thanos would be a Robin Hood type.

We know that Thanos eventually found a way to get off Titan. How did he do this? Did his people develop spaceships and leave the planet? If so, didn’t the first people to leave come back with food for everyone remaining? Let’s assume there were so few people that everyone left at the same time. Well, somewhere out in the universe, Thanos and his people discovered an abundance of food on another planet. If the planet was uninhabited, then his people could settle on that planet and his story ends there. If the planet had a civilization already on it, though, then perhaps Thanos and his people had to fight that civilization for food. The other civilization wouldn’t share, I guess. Now, if Thanos’ mind is on the other populations in the universe and making sure they don’t suffer as his people suffered, then his solution, now, would be putting together an army to steal from the richer planets and give to the poorer planets, as his people did with this other civilization they encountered. Wiping out half the population on every planet wouldn’t be a solution for him anymore since he now possesses the ability to travel to resource-rich planets and acquire food for the populations that need it. He could use their resources to build cargo ships specifically for transporting food and other resources to planets in need. In fact, he could help other populations build their own spaceships and start their own shipping lines between planets, so they could take care of themselves. Teach a man to fish, right? Also, some of the people from the poorer planets Thanos feeds can maybe show their gratitude toward him by joining his growing army. Perhaps this is a demand Thanos makes.

How could this connect with Thanos wanting the Infinity Stones? Perhaps upon hearing of the Infinity Stones, Thanos decides that his operation would be far easier to carry out if he could simply snap his fingers and magically move resources from rich planets to poor planets. (Again, let’s set aside the idea of simply creating more resources.) Now, if this was Thanos’ plan, then how would it look for The Avengers if they were trying to stop Thanos from an equal distribution of wealth that would end all starvation in the universe? Suddenly, the Avengers could seem like total assholes.

This wouldn’t be difficult to fix, though, as the motivation for the Avengers could be that they don’t trust Thanos with the power of the Infinity Stones. Captain America could even say, “Who can we trust with the power of God other than God?” Maybe Tony Stark responds, “Some people don’t even trust God with that power,” to which Dr. Strange could say, “Thanos is one of them, apparently.”

With these changes, we now have a proper motivation for Thanos that sensibly springs from his background, which now has more explanation and depth to it, and we have a possible conflict within the Avengers, initially, with some of the Avengers maybe thinking it’s not a bad idea to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Of course, that line of thought could be overruled by the “power of God” argument.

So, what do you think? Does Thanos’ plan, as it’s given in Infinity War, make sense? Do my changes to his plan make sense? What do you think his plan should’ve been? Feel free to drop me a comment below.

The Fix Awakens, or, How To Respect First-Time Moments In Storytelling

Early next year, I will be taking a class called Digital Video Editing, to learn how to use Adobe Premiere, and since today is the third anniversary of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I figured it would be cool to imagine what changes I would make to the film. This is a movie that has a lot going for it, but there are some not-so-good elements that weigh it down.

For example – and this is the biggest change – I would remove every instance of, what I call, Rey’s Mary-Sueness. In the film, Rey knows everything about everything and can do anything. This is why she’s an uncompelling character: She doesn’t learn and grow as the film progresses; she’s just perfect to the point of having the ability to use the Force without training. So, what I would do is ground her and make her into someone who doesn’t know everything and can struggle because of that. One scene in which this can be done is the scene in which Rey, using a blaster for the first time ever, misses one shot at a Stormtrooper then never misses ever again when firing at other Stormtroopers. I would have Rey taking that first shot, missing, then running away into the forest as the Stormtrooper continues firing on her. She wouldn’t shoot any Stormtroopers. With this alteration, rather than a Mary Sue who can do anything, Rey instantly becomes someone who can struggle. In addition, when she’s running for her life, there would be a genuine fear for her safety since Stormtroopers are firing at her, and she can’t shoot worth a damn. She can’t fight back. All she can do is run and hope to get away.

Don’t think I’m just picking on the ladies, though. There’s a definite Gary Stu moment Poe has in the film. During the First Order attack near Maz’s place, on Takodana, Poe shoots down six TIE fighters, a group of Stormtroopers on the ground, then another four TIE fighters within a whopping sixteen seconds! That’s just way too unrealistic for me to stomach. That feat of Gary-Stuness would have to go.

Another change to make to The Force Awakens has to do with the character of Kylo Ren. In short, I want him to wield an intimidating tone throughout the film. He can’t do that if Poe is comically asking him, “So, who talks first? Do you talk first? Do I talk first?” He can’t do that if he’s throwing temper tantrums. He can’t do that if he’s taking off his helmet for Rey while he has her held prisoner, which leads me to other major errors made in The Force Awakens: first-time moments.

The first time Kylo takes off his helmet should not be for Rey; it should be for his father, Han Solo. They have that moment between them in which Han is trying to convince him to come back to the good side. There’s plenty of history there between Kylo and Han, so there’s plenty of reason for Kylo to take off his helmet for Han. On the other hand, there’s no history between Kylo and Rey. She’s just another prisoner he wants to intimidate and extract information from. He shouldn’t remove his mask for her. How much more weight would that moment of removing his mask have had if the first time we saw it was with his father who was trying to save him?

Also, the first time Finn ignites Anakin’s lightsaber should not be against some random Stormtrooper who calls him a traitor. This is a legendary lightsaber with tons of history behind it. The first time we should see this lightsaber ignited is when Finn stands against Kylo Ren. That would be more symbolic since Kylo Ren is from the Skywalker bloodline, and Kylo, like Anakin, turned to the Dark Side. How much more weight would that ignition of Anakin’s lightsaber have had if the first time we saw it was when Finn faced off against Kylo Ren, someone with a lightsaber of his own?

Not to mention, the first time Rey uses the Force should be when she Force pulls that lightsaber away from Kylo. She shouldn’t be using the Force throughout the movie, especially in instances in which she overpowers others – such as Kylo as he’s mind-probing her or the Stormtrooper she Jedi Mind Tricks into releasing her – especially since she’s untrained (which directly connects to Rey’s Mary-Sueness). I feel it’s okay for her to use the Force with that Force pull because a) It’s only a Force pull, and Luke can do one without much training at the start of The Empire Strikes Back and b) Rey seems shocked that she accomplished the Force pull. In the context of the original film, though, her surprise seems unwarranted since she was able to use the Force previously to perform much greater feats. How much more weight would Rey using the Force have had if the first time we saw it was in a critical moment when she needed it most?

Speaking of Rey’s first moments, I feel that a wonderful first moment for her was completely messed up. When the Millennium Falcon lands on the grassy, water-filled planet Takodana, we get a nice shot of Rey jogging out and standing there to admire the beauty, but the film cuts away from this almost immediately to give us an unnecessary scene between Han and Finn. I would love to have seen Rey just smiling and playing in the grass and feeling the plants and running her fingers through the water, whipping her hand back-and-forth to make ripples that run across the stretch of the lake, before Han interrupts her to get her mind back on the mission. This is a girl who has lived, all her life, on a desert planet, and she doesn’t act like it.

Anyway, that’s what I’m looking to do now: video editing, and it’s fun to think about the changes I would make to films that I feel could’ve been better. Are there any films you enjoy but still have an urge to change, if you could? What films would those be, and how would you alter them?

Re-Imagining Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (The Effects of Removing a Character)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, RedLetterMedia released its Plinkett review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Admittedly, I was a bit defensive, at first, because of how much I love The Phantom Menace and its display of the Jedi in their prime, as George Lucas would say. Burying my feelings, however, allowed me to see that even though this is a beloved film of mine, it is also deeply flawed. Although I don’t agree with every point made in the Plinkett review (For example, the reviewer claims the movie has no protagonists; this is incorrect as the problem is that the co-protagonists, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan simply lack clear motivation), it does a lot to show why the story of The Phantom Menace really could use a touch-up. While I didn’t care for the review simply calling characters boring, as this label does nothing to explain why the characters are uninteresting, I did appreciate all the questions the reviewer asks about the story, the characters, and motivations or lack thereof. Anyway, let’s dive straight into my re-imagining of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

First, let’s address the Trade Federation, since they are the main troublemakers at the beginning of the film. To start, the reason for the Federation blockading and invading the planet of Naboo is murky at best. According to the Star Wars Wiki, the blockade and subsequent invasion occurred as a response to the Senate passing a law that levied taxes against the Trade Federation in previously established Trade Free Zones. Did anyone get that just by watching the film? I would guess not. (Heck, I didn’t know that until I looked up the Trade Federation on the Star Wars Wiki while writing this.) All the film’s opening crawl states is, “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.” This, however, does nothing to tell us who the dispute is with or give us a key detail about the dispute. It also doesn’t explain why the Trade Federation invade Naboo and capture the queen, or why they want her to sign a treaty that would give them control of the planet. Why would they need control of the planet when the blockade has stopped shipping, which is their goal? We don’t even know why the Trade Federation is following the advice of Sidious. So, I would simplify the reason for the invasion of Naboo, so the audience can have a quick explanation through an exchange of dialogue, possibly between Trade Federation leader Viceroy Nute Gunray and Darth Sidious.

Viceroy: “Our show of force has failed, my Lord. The queen has pledged not to sign the new treaty we offer, and two Jedi await my presence to engage in negotiations.”
Sidious: “Reinforce your blockade, launch an invasion on the Theed Royal Palace, and hold the queen and her people hostage until she does sign.”
Viceroy: “But the Senate will not recognize a treaty signed under duress, especially since the deal far more favors the Trade Federation. The Naboo representative will object and call for re-negotiation.”
Sidious: “Let me worry about the Senate. The Naboo are weak. Capture the queen, make her sign, and you will have the greater wealth you seek, minus my price. Once other planets see your willingness to force them into your desired trade deals, they will fall into line. Your prosperity will be beyond imagination.”
Viceroy: “And what of the Jedi?”
Sidious: “The chancellor should not have brought them into this. Kill them immediately.”
Viceroy: “But my Lord, is that legal?”
Sidious: “I will make it legal.”

So, with that exchange, we’ve established that the greedy Trade Federation wants to negotiate more favorable trade deals for themselves, starting with Naboo, and that Sidious is all too willing to help them, for a price, which tells us about the relationship between the Federation and Sidious. In addition, we’ve established that the Trade Federation conflicts with the Senate, which assures trade deals are fair to both parties, limiting the amount of money the Trade Federation can make in their business. So, here we have clearly established the motivation behind the Trade Federation’s blockade and invasion of Naboo as well as the Trade Federation needing Sidious to help them with any trouble they may have with the Senate, which is why they follow his orders. Also, if you caught it, I threw in a nod to the Viceroy not knowing the identity of Sidious: “The Naboo representative will object.” Remember that, in The Phantom Menace, Sidious is really Senator Palpatine, the Naboo representative.

Now, on to the Jedi. To be blunt, Qui-Gon should die at the beginning of the film, and Darth Maul should kill him. While fighting the Battle Droids and Droidekas (aka Destroyer Droids), Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan do a Force run to reach a bay door before it closes. Obi-Wan slides under, and just as Qui-Gon is about to make the same slide, he halts to a stop as he’s stabbed by a flaring red lightsaber. He stands face-to-face with his killer, a demon-faced Darth Maul who is angrily pleased with his surprise kill. Obi-Wan helplessly looks on while Darth Maul detracts his lightsaber and allows Qui-Gon’s body to slump to the floor while the bay door slams to a shut, separating Obi-Wan from his view of the tragedy that has befallen his master. Now, Obi-Wan has a clear motivation for staying close to the Naboo queen as she battles the Trade Federation later in the story: He wants to find Qui-Gon’s killer and bring him to justice, similar to how Luke, in A New Hope, found reason to follow Ben Kenobi on a damned fool adventure against the Empire after Stormtroopers murdered his aunt and uncle. This also thrusts Obi-Wan into a leadership position that he may not be ready for. It was Qui-Gon who was going to lead them down to the planet to find the Naboo queen – who Qui-Gon suspected would be the main target of the invasion – and escort her to safety. Now, with his mentor dead, Obi-Wan must go on this quest himself, and now, this story is starting to feel more like a hero’s journey.

So, at this point, once Obi-Wan has made his way down to the planet, the monumental question then becomes this: Do I keep Jar Jar Binks in the story? It’s no secret that Jar Jar is a character despised by a segment of Star Wars fans. Personally, I’ve always been okay with Jar Jar; the only problem I have with him is that he’s overexposed. A character that is clumsy and goofy isn’t a bad character, but when the clumsiness and goofiness is used too often and even takes center stage in the final, epic battle, that can cause some annoyance for the people in the audience who want a more serious take on amphibious-type aliens called Gungans fighting an army of robots. So, do I keep Jar Jar Binks?

Yes. However, Jar Jar will not be clumsy and goofy, and he wasn’t banished from the Gungan city. He’s simply a Gungan, and his path crosses with Obi-Wan’s as the invasion of Naboo is underway. After Obi-Wan saves his life, Jar Jar serves as Obi-Wan’s guide through the forest, to the Theed Royal Palace, which isn’t half-a-planet away but rather less than a few hundred kilometers away. (Why would the Trade Federation start an invasion from the other side of the planet? Good catch, Plinkett!) Obi-Wan and Jar Jar find the 17-year-old queen (rather than 14-year-old as in the actual film), and as Obi-Wan fights through the initial wave of the invading force to whisk the queen away from Naboo on her ship, a few of the freed Naboo pilots board fighters to escort the queen’s ship through the blockade, at least until the final fighters are destroyed as the queen’s ship narrowly survives the final surge of enemy fire within the blockade, the damage sustained by the ship forcing Obi-Wan to suggest limping to the planet Tatooine for repairs.

Now, we get to the question of why, in the actual film, Qui-Gon didn’t simply trade the queen’s ship for a smaller ship with a working hyperdrive. While that’s never addressed in the film, I figure it would be good to have a small exchange of dialogue, perhaps between Obi-Wan and Captain Panaka, concerning this very subject.

Obi-Wan: “Do we have anything to barter?”
Panaka: “Not in the amounts we need for a new hyperdrive, unless we can trade our ship for a smaller transport.”
Obi-Wan: “Without a hyperdrive, this ship isn’t worth much more than its shell. It’s unlikely any dealer out here would trade for even a junker solid enough to get us all the way to Coruscant.”

Easy fix, right? From here, the story plays out like the movie, for the most part, with Obi-Wan, Jar Jar, and Padme – the queen’s handmaiden 😉 – setting out to find the parts they need to repair the ship. With Obi-Wan not on the ship to warn against an action of sending out a signal that can be traced, someone on the ship directs a distress call to Coruscant, a call that is intercepted by Sidious. This fixes the mystery in the actual film of how Darth Maul completed a trace after Qui-Gon had told Obi-Wan not to allow anyone to respond to messages that were likely bait for a trace. Anyway, Obi-Wan and company find a dealer, Watto, who happens to have a Force-sensitive slave named Anakin. Obi-Wan shows a subtle attentiveness toward the 14-year-old boy (rather than 9-year-old as in the actual film) as Obi-Wan has never felt such a strong presence before, not even with Yoda. Do you notice how I’m not mentioning midi-chlorians at all here? That’s on purpose. We want to hold onto the mystic nature of the Force that was given to us in the Original Trilogy. To continue, as Obi-Wan heads outside to deal with Watto, Anakin and Padme talk for a bit, but their conversation doesn’t start with Anakin asking, “Are you an angel?” I’m sorry, but I cringe every time I hear that, especially with how the young actor delivers the line. Instead, Anakin can be staring at Padme (not a creepy stare but a curious stare), trying to think of a way to strike up a conversation with this attractive girl, without sounding awkward. We can still use the “angel” bit; it just has to sound like a less cringy pick-up line.

Padme: “Why are you staring?”
Anakin: “Oh… You… remind me of an angel.”
Padme: “A what?”
Anakin: “An angel. I’ve heard traders passing through talk about them. They say angels are the most beautiful creatures in the galaxy.”
Padme: (offended) “Creature? Thank you?”
Anakin: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I mean, I don’t see many… like you…”
Padme: “It’s okay. I’m sure you don’t get off-planet much. I mean, you’re a slave, right?”
Anakin: (offended) “I’m a person.”
Padme: “I’m sorry… uhhh…”
Anakin: “Anakin.”
Padme: “Anakin. I’m Padme.”
Anakin: (smiles) “Well, Padme, now that we’ve got our awkward greetings out of the way…”
Padme: (smiles) “…and insulted each other pretty well…”

From that dialogue, you can see how they’re a bit awkward toward each other and even have a moment of playfulness at the end. They’re from two completely different worlds and don’t really know how to talk to each other at first, but after trading offenses, they do end up on the same page. That, I feel is a nice start to Anakin and Padme showing a bit of interest in one another. This is why Anakin is older in my re-imagining of the film, because a 14-year-old Padme becoming closely tied to a 9-year-old Anakin, as in the actual film, doesn’t sit completely right with me. So, in my version, the two are more of U.S. high school age, with Padme (17) a more experienced senior and Anakin (14) an unrefined freshman. This way, they are old enough to have an initial spark of attraction that builds in the next film.

So, with the introductions out of the way, how about the events surrounding the podrace and Anakin’s eventual freedom from slavery? First, at the dinner Anakin and his mother host for Obi-Wan, Jar Jar, and Padme, when Anakin and his mother speak with their guests about slavery’s existence on Tatooine despite the Republic’s laws banning slavery, Anakin can tell Obi-Wan and Padme that he’s a pilot, and Watto doesn’t know. Anakin trained in secret, with a plan to find his and his mother’s detonator implants, remove them, and steal a ship to fly away from Tatooine forever. This change makes it more realistic for Anakin, later in the story, to jump in a Naboo fighter and become a key player in the space battle to destroy the Droid Control Ship. This change also plays well with Ben Kenobi’s recollection of Anakin in A New Hope, when he says that Anakin was already a pilot when he met Anakin.

Okay, let’s set up the podrace. I like the idea of Anakin building his own pod, but I think the terms of the “team-up” with Watto should be altered a bit. I mean, in the actual film, it was a bit complex, and when the race was over, Watto was sad that he lost “everything” betting on the race even though, according to the terms of his agreement with Qui-Gon, Watto was to keep all the money Anakin won by coming in first place. So, in my version, the terms of the agreement must be different and more simply explained.

Watto: “The boy tells me you want to use him in the race.”
Obi-Wan: “You will be compensated for his services to me.”
Watto: “And how will you enter the race with no pod or entry fee?”
Obi-Wan: “I have acquired a pod in a game of chance…”
Watto: “I hope you didn’t kill anyone I know for it.”
Obi-Wan: “…and I’d like to sell my ship to you, for the entry fee and one day of the boy’s services.”
Watto: “I thought you wanted to fix your ship.”
Obi-Wan: “When Anakin wins the race, I’ll have the money to buy it back, plus the parts I need to fix it.”
Watto: “I suppose you expect me to show you enough courtesy to give you the money now and collect the ship later, after you lose.”
Obi-Wan: “It would save you the trouble of towing my ship just to have to give it back.”
Watto: “Hmmm… I like your confidence, and if you try to swindle me, you can be sure the Hutts will know about it. You have a deal, outlander. The moment you’ve lost, your ship will be in my possession.”
Obi-Wan: “You don’t think Anakin can win?”
Watto: “Don’t get me wrong; I like the boy. He has won races and money for me, but he’s never won a race Sebulba was entered in. So, I don’t bother to enter the boy in every race, not one with Sebubla anyway. Sebulba always wins, and he will win this one too, I think.”

With this change, we’ve simplified the terms of the agreement: Obi-Wan is selling the queen’s ship to Watto in exchange for the entry fee to the race as well as Anakin’s services for the day. Obi-Wan intends to win the race and use the first-place money to buy back the ship plus the parts he needs to fix the ship. Simple, right? Also, in the actual film, there’s a question of why Watto would spend the money to enter Anakin into races that Anakin always loses when Watto always bets on Sebulba anyway because Sebulba always wins. So, in my version, Watto makes it clear that Anakin has won races but never against Sebulba, which is why Watto isn’t entering Anakin into this race himself, clearing the way for Obi-Wan to enter Anakin. With this change, Watto’s behaviors concerning his entering Anakin into races and his constant betting on Sebulba, a different racer, make sense as they are now separate behaviors based on Watto’s analysis and developed strategy for maximizing his profits from his podracing activities. Also, now we know that Anakin is skilled enough to win a race. Having it so Anakin has never even finished a race, as stated in the actual film, while mildly humorous, is an unneeded further stacking of the odds against Anakin. It’s enough that Anakin has never beaten Sebulba. We don’t need Anakin to pull off a miracle right now; we’re only in the middle of the film.

Now, to keep things simple, in my version of the film, there is no second bet. In the actual film, before the race, Qui-Gon makes a bet with Watto that Anakin will beat Sebulba, wagering his pod against Anakin and his mother’s freedom, which Watto negotiates down to only Anakin’s freedom. In my version, discussion of Anakin’s freedom doesn’t come until after Anakin has won the race. When Watto tells Obi-Wan that he lost everything in his bet on Sebulba, Obi-Wan reminds Watto that he will reimburse Watto for the entry fee and Anakin’s services and have the sale from the parts he needs to fix the ship. Watto is still unhappy, though, and mentions that he will still have to sell one of his slaves to make a payment on a debt he owes. Obi-Wan offers to use the rest of the first-place prize money to buy Anakin and his mother’s freedom. Watto replies that the money Obi-Wan will have left, after buying back and fixing the ship, will only be enough to buy one slave. Obi-Wan chooses to buy the boy. Watto objects, accusing Obi-Wan of wanting Anakin for himself because Anakin can win races, and money, for him. Watto then offers to sell the boy’s mother to Obi-Wan, to which Obi-Wan responds, “I’ll take the boy,” as he reaches for his lightsaber. Watto relents, “Take him.” Obi-Wan bows, showing as much respect as he can to Watto, not feeling entirely right about the course of action he took to free Anakin. As Obi-Wan turns and leaves, Watto asks to no reply, “There is something special about the boy, isn’t there?”

Once Anakin is freed and says goodbye to his mother, we now have Obi-Wan sensing danger and encouraging Anakin to race to the queen’s ship. In the actual film, Darth Maul catches up to Qui-Gon and Anakin and engages in a fight with Qui-Gon. My re-imagining, is a bit different, starting prior to the podrace when we see Darth Maul arrive on Tatooine. He doesn’t arrive alone, as the Trade Federation has supplied him with a small battalion of Battle Droids. Later, as Obi-Wan and Anakin are within sight of the queen’s ship, Darth Maul speeds ahead of them and leaps between them and the ship. Obi-Wan and Maul ignite their lightsabers as they face each other, their angry gazes awaiting the inevitable clash. Obi-Wan now has his chance to fight Qui-Gon’s killer and instructs Anakin to run to the ship as he (Obi-Wan) distracts Maul. Anakin takes off, but as Obi-Wan and Maul close the gap between them, the Battle Droids appear from over the small hill and open fire on Obi-Wan, who turns to defend himself. Maul also spins, so he can defend the laser blasts coming from the queen’s ship, Panaka and a few of the Naboo soldiers laying down covering fire as they urge Obi-Wan to hurry back. Reluctantly, Obi-Wan races to the queen’s ship and hops onto the ramp, deflecting blaster bolts with his lightsaber as the ship lifts off. He backs inside as the ship gains altitude, staring down Darth Maul, both men fearless as they know their time to finally meet in combat will soon come. This ‘almost fight’ between Obi-Wan and Maul serves as a buildup to their inevitable confrontation in the film’s climax, teasing the audience enough to make them really want to see that duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul.

Now, we’re on Coruscant, and while the queen goes on with her business as shown in the actual film, in my version, there must be a change with Obi-Wan and the Jedi High Council because, frankly, Qui-Gon is dead, unlike in the actual film. In my re-imagining, the Jedi also initially express doubts that the subject in question is a Sith Lord since the Sith have been gone for so long; however, there is one other matter that requires resolution.

Obi-Wan: “Send me to track down this Sith Lord. I will discover the nature of their return.”
Ki-Adi-Mundi: “You? Alone?”
Yoda: “Slain, your master is. Need another, do you not?”
Obi-Wan: “I can be a Jedi Knight. I am ready to face the trials.”
Yoda: “Our own council we will keep on who is ready.”
Mace Windu: “You will remain on Coruscant for now, Obi-Wan. That is all. May the Force be with you.”

Of course, Obi-Wan doesn’t move when excused from the chamber, which sparks Yoda to ask if Obi-Wan has something more to say. Obi-Wan then informs the high council of Anakin and asks for the boy to undergo a test to discover his Force potential. The council agrees. Later, after the queen has testified before the Senate, called for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, and expressed her intention to return to Naboo to take back the planet from the Trade Federation, and after the Jedi High Council has tested Anakin and informed Obi-Wan that Anakin is too old to begin training and, therefore, will not be trained, the high council gives Obi-Wan the green light to go after Darth Maul.

Mace Windu: “The queen is returning to Naboo. If this Sith Lord is in league with the Trade Federation, as you say, that is likely where he’ll be.”
Obi-Wan: “Then I will find him.”
Yoda: “Obi-Wan. A Padawan, you merely are. Dangerous this is.”
Mace Windu: “A full Jedi Knight should accompany you.”
Obi-Wan: “If that is what you feel is best. But I understand the danger, and I am willing to face this Sith Lord alone.”
Mace Windu: “Very well then. Bury your feelings, Obi-Wan. You control your fear, but do not give in to the anger you feel for Qui-Gon’s killer.”
Ki-Adi-Mundi: “That will lead you to the Dark Side.”
Yoda: “If return to us you do, a Jedi Knight shall you be.”
Obi-Wan: “What of Anakin?”
Mace Windu: “He cannot stay here in the temple. He’s not one of us.”
Obi-Wan: “Not yet.”

Okay, now we’ve established more feeling toward this upcoming duel. The Jedi High Council isn’t sure if Obi-Wan can take this Sith Lord by himself, and have expressed their concerns, but they use this as an opportunity to test Obi-Wan’s abilities and worthiness to becoming a full Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan is clearly facing a trial now. On his hero’s journey, so far, he had to overcome the sudden death of his master and mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, and he has had to take over Qui-Gon’s duties of leading the mission to rescue the queen and escort her, safely, to Coruscant, which unexpectedly included having to find a way to acquire the parts needed to fix the queen’s ship while on Tatooine. With that mission over, Obi-Wan has a new challenge: find and defeat the Sith Lord without falling to the Dark Side. So, now we have more weight given to Obi-Wan on his journey. He is clearly the central character who must overcome obstacles and grow to face the challenges in front of him. By removing Qui-Gon from the story, early on, we have established Obi-Wan as the hero in the hero’s journey.

Sometimes, removing a character from the chess board and seeing what changes occur with the other characters as a result is the best way to strengthen another character and the story at the same time. This is what happened when George Lucas removed Anakin Skywalker (appearing as a Force ghost) from the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back, opting to merge Anakin with Darth Vader to form a single character. Suddenly, the story option that became the heart of the Original Trilogy opened up as Darth Vader became Luke’s father. And as I’ve shown here, a single alteration of killing Qui-Gon at the start of The Phantom Menace, rather than at the end, offers many changes that strengthen the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi and gives us, the audience, someone on a journey who we can follow.

Unfortunately, I have to end this re-imagining of The Phantom Menace here as this write-up has become much longer than I thought it would be (and I’m sure you have better things to do than reading my thoughts on a movie all day). In short, though. the remainder of the story can play out pretty much the same, except we no longer have the Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan versus Darth Maul duel. While that is my favorite duel in the whole Prequel Trilogy, I would sacrifice it to get an emotion-filled duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul (with his double-blade lightsaber), one that really makes me feel like Obi-Wan slicing Maul in half, at the end, is satisfying to the point of making me exhale, as if I’ve been through a major battle with Obi-Wan and can now relax.

Oh, there is one more big change I would make. Following the battle, Yoda would not tell Obi-Wan that the high council has agreed to let Obi-Wan train Anakin. Remember in A New Hope when Obi-Wan tells Luke that he thought he could instruct Darth Vader in the ways of the Force as well as Yoda? That should be addressed at the end of The Phantom Menace when Obi-Wan refuses to allow Yoda to talk him out of taking Anakin as his Padawan learner.

Yoda: “Agree with you, the council does not. Skywalker’s training, we will not allow.”
Obi-Wan: “This boy holds the potential for an unspeakable amount of power…”
Yoda: “Keep him close to us, we should? Hmmm?”
Obi-Wan: “We cannot allow him to fall under the influence of the remaining Sith, and he can help us. He is the Chosen One. I will train him, without you, if necessary.”
Yoda: “Believe you can instruct the boy well, do you?”
Obi-Wan: “Yes.”
Yoda: “Very well. To the council, I will speak. The wisdom of this decision, I will assure them of. Your apprentice, Skywalker will be.”

Re-Imagining Black Panther

Back in April, I did a sort-of film critique of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in which I re-imagined the story of the film. I didn’t state why I made the alterations to the story that I made, like I should have, and I really don’t feel like going back and editing a blog post that no one who has already read it will take time out of their busy schedule to go back over. So, for this re-imagining of Black Panther, I’m going to take my failure from the Last Jedi post (“The greatest teacher, failure is.”) and state what I believe the story of Black Panther could do better and why. This discussion, by the way, is written as if you, my wonderful readers (I’d say “both of you,” but I think even that would be stretching the truth more than a bit), have already seen the film and are familiar with the characters. I hope you enjoy it.

First, I’m going to take a minute to describe the story of Black Panther from Killmonger’s point of view, since, to me, this is as much Killmonger’s movie as it is T’Challa’s, especially considering the strength of Michael B. Jordan’s acting in this film. This is no different than The Dark Knight as both Batman and Joker’s film.

To start, Killmonger is in a museum to help his partner, Klaue, steal an artifact made of vibranium. Klaue intends to sell the vibranium to a U.S. agent, Ross, for diamonds. The exchange goes awry when T’Challa and his crew interferes, and Klaue is captured by T’Challa and Agent Ross. Killmonger then busts Klaue out of the holding facility, with no vibranium or diamonds to show for their trouble. Killmonger then kills Klaue and escorts Klaue’s body to Wakanda as an offering to W’Kabi, an influential Wakandan whose father was killed by Klaue. So, the question now becomes, from Killmonger’s point of view, if that was the plan – kill Klaue and walk into Wakanda with him to gain the support of a full Wakandan – then why even do the whole ‘steal the vibranium to sell it for diamonds’ thing in the first place, which led to Killmonger having to go through the trouble of breaking Klaue out of the facility? Why buddy up with Klaue when the idea, from the start, was to kill him and take his body to Wakanda?

So, from Killmonger’s perspective, halfway through the film, this movie has been nothing but filler up to this point, with an antagonist who lacks motivation for his actions. There isn’t even an addition to Killmonger’s knowledge or a shift or transformation in his character that leads him to alter his original plans or motivation. At this point in the film, Killmonger lacks motivation for his behavior toward Klaue.

If, after breaking Klaue out of the facility, Klaue told Killmonger how to get into Wakanda, then we could assume that Killmonger was helping Klaue so that Killmonger could eventually gather the information he needed to execute his plan. As Killmonger already has everything he needs since the start of the film, however, his relationship with Klaue is pointless. Killmonger could’ve simply killed Klaue at the beginning of the film, perhaps as Klaue was attempting to steal the vibranium artifact from the museum, which would present a mystery to the audience since Killmonger would show up and kill Klaue, not to steal the vibranium for himself but to drag Klaue’s body out the door with him, leaving the vibranium behind (which would show that Klaue’s body is a prize more valuable to Killmonger than the small chunk of vibranium).

A bit later in the film, Killmonger could’ve walked into Wakanda just in time to challenge T’Challa before T’Challa was officially crowned king. Killmonger already knew he could get into Wakanda, and he knew that the ritual to crown a new king was taking place. All he had to do was simply walk into that ritual and throwdown with T’Challa. By having Killmonger challenge T’Challa after the ritual, the film creates another glaring flaw: T’Challa’s motive for accepting the challenge, in the film, is weak. If T’Challa wins the fight, he gains nothing, but if he loses to Killmonger, then he loses the throne, and Wakanda will be under the rule of an obviously unstable person. This is why Killmonger’s special challenge to T’Challa, after T’Challa has already become king, is a bad story decision, even if it’s stated in the film that Killmonger has a right to challenge. This comes across as nothing more than an attempted quick story fix, though, as it’s also said that T’Challa can deny the challenge. With his knowledge of Killmonger’s background, given to him by Agent Ross, T’Challa should know that accepting the challenge is a terrible idea, leading him not to accept it. Heck, he literally said to Killmonger that his job is to make sure that Wakanda’s vibranium doesn’t fall into the hands of someone like Killmonger. That means T’Challa, by his own admission, wasn’t doing his job, as he defined it, when he accepted Killmonger’s challenge. The only reason he does accept the challenge is to move the plot forward, as it is written, and when an event in a story occurs ‘because plot,’ then the story is weak and should go through some changes to make sure there’s a sensible flow from one event to another.

Backing up a bit, another instance of ‘because plot’ is when Agent Ross wakes up from his injury, fully healed, and is told the secrets of Wakanda. It would’ve been easy for T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, to keep Ross unconscious if the idea was to make sure he didn’t discover the secrets of the real Wakanda. However, for story purposes, Ross had to awaken, so he could inform T’Challa (and the audience) of Killmonger’s background.

Anyway, in my mind, Killmonger should’ve challenged during the official ceremony that took place near the start of the film, when no one else wanted to challenge, when every citizen of Wakanda was happy to have T’Challa as their king because they were happy with his father, who they considered a benevolent ruler. This is when Killmonger could’ve gone after what the Wakandans believed. He could’ve told everyone attending the challenge ceremony what happened to his father, that the king everyone thinks is so great took from Killmonger the father he would never have a chance to know. With this, Killmonger could rock the foundation of Wakanda in two ways: delivering the truth of the former, beloved king and beating T’Challa to take the Wakandan throne.

The story could then split between T’Challa’s recovery and expressions of doubt and Killmonger exploring his past and what motivates him to do what he’s doing with the Wakandan technology. Killmonger’s vision of his father could’ve been more in-depth, taking the time to allow the audience a chance to relate to Killmonger and his life struggles. By removing the filler from the first half of the film, we would now have time to delve into Killmonger’s recent background (eliminating the need for Agent Ross’ explanation) and history. We could explore Killmonger’s non-Wakandan side, his mother and grandparents, the fact their ancestry can be traced directly to slavery (something I felt was missing from the film). Killmonger can also express anger for the past:

Killmonger: “Yeah, the slaves were freed but freed to what? To open hatred? To lynching? To have to fight for the right to be treated like something that’s barely a human being? People say things are better, but are they really? Are injustices really okay when the oppressors pretend to be your friend?”

This exploration of the slavery angle would be a set-up for the payoff to come after Killmonger is defeated by T’Challa. The line of dialogue Killmonger says about being buried in the ocean with his ancestors is a wonderful line; it just doesn’t have a proper set-up in the film. The scene at the end, in which he speaks of his father promising to show him the beauty of Wakanda one day, could’ve been related to the audience through Killmonger touring Wakanda (as weapons and supplies are prepared for shipment around the world) to see the beauty for himself as flashbacks of young Killmonger with his father play out. This would allow Killmonger to show softer emotions that the audience can connect to and give him an opportunity to wall those emotions when others approach him.

Also, during the exploration of Killmonger’s motives, perhaps a couple of the Wakandan tribes could band together to try to remove Killmonger from the throne, as they see him as an outsider threatening the status quo. As the new Black Panther minus the suit (I’ll get to that later), though, Killmonger would crush this coup attempt, giving the audience an opportunity to see how truly unmerciful Killmonger is toward anyone who stands in his way, placing Wakanda in a state of martial law. This stark contrast to the peaceful Wakanda we saw at the start of the film, pre-ceremonial challenge, as well as Killmonger’s brutal and heinous use of the Black Panther powers compared to T’Challa’s restraint and self-control, would serve as visual reason for why Wakanda needs T’Challa as its king.

In addition, throughout this time, while Killmonger is making plans and preparing to send Wakandan weapons out into the world, Okoye, the top guard to the king, could debate whether she is loyal to the throne or loyal to the person on the throne. This is when she could realize the difference and become an informant to T’Challa (more specifically, to his sister Shuri and girlfriend Nakia), since T’Challa’s family, at this point in the story, is in exile as they tend to T’Challa’s injured body and spirit. Of course, once they learn of Killmonger’s developing reign of terror over Wakanda and his plans to send Wakandan weapons all over the world, it’s up to Shuri and Nakia to convince T’Challa, who doesn’t believe he can be the rightful ruler of Wakanda now that he’s been beaten by a superior foe, to return to the fight:

Shuri: “The issue is no longer about your father and his. This is about the world, the balance of power and who wields it. Do you trust Killmonger to wield that power?”
Nakia: “Do you trust the world he will create?”
Shuri: “Because if you do, if you will not become the Black Panther to fight him, then I will.”
T’Challa: “You are not a trained warrior, Shuri. You will die.”
Shuri: “I would rather die than live in that world. What about you?”
T’Challa: “I would die to protect you, both you and Nakia, but I cannot raise a hand against the rightful king.”
Nakia: “That love you have for Shuri, that you have for me… I want you to show that love to the world. But I don’t need you to die protecting me. I need you to create a better world we can all live in together.”
Shuri: “We can say for certain that Killmonger does not intend to create a better world. His world will be chaos, more suffering, more death.”
T’Challa: “Then we must fight him. I must fight him.”

I would also change the setting of the final battle, not having it take place in Wakanda. I think it would be more interesting if T’Challa was too late in stopping Killmonger from boarding a plane and taking off. From a distance, T’Challa, in his Black Panther suit, would challenge Killmonger, but as the suits were stolen by Shuri while Killmonger underwent the ritual to gain the powers of the Black Panther, Killmonger, lacking a suit and aware of his tremendous disadvantage, would simply say, “I decline your challenge,” and board his plane. Exclaiming, “The challenge never ended,” T’Challa would find his own vehicle, and as Killmonger noticed his enemy tailing him, he would decide to take T’Challa to his old neighborhood, where T’Challa’s father killed his father, where T’Challa would have to face the ghosts of his past. The final battle wouldn’t be a huge, epic fight, it would be a more personal struggle, one in which a juiced-up Killmonger challenged a juiced-up T’Challa to fight without the Black Panther suit. “When your father killed mine, he had an advantage. Is your cowardice gonna equal your father’s?” As T’Challa removes his Black Panther suit, the fight would ensue, and with all the destruction these guys lay on each other and the environment around them (and the falls they survive, crashing through windows), there would be a clear contrast between the non-juiced fight at the beginning of the film and the juiced fight happening now.

As the setting has changed, Killmonger, while dying, will watch the sunset from the neighborhood in which he grew up. He could reminisce about his father’s stories of sitting on a specific mountain, admiring the beauty of a Wakandan sunset, adding a layer of tragedy as Killmonger is aware that he will never see another beautiful Wakandan sunset for himself. Once he died, though, T’Challa would transport Killmonger’s body back to Wakanda and bury him up high on the mountain Killmonger related to him in the story, the sun setting as T’Challa offers a respectful salute to his fallen, fellow soldier. The film could still wrap up with T’Challa revealing the real Wakanda to the world.

Okay, that’s it. So, what do you think? Do you like my version of the story? Do you prefer the original? If there’s a movie you want to suggest I tackle for my next re-imagining post, let me know. Also, don’t misunderstand me when it comes to Black Panther: I enjoy watching this film. It’s one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films. When I watch a movie, though, I always ask myself what I thought could’ve been better and what I would’ve done different and why, then I allow myself to re-imagine.

Re-Imagining Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I always say that if I don’t like something, I should have something I think is better in mind. Obviously, there are other little details to fill in, such as the roles of Hux, C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8, but with that said, here’s my story of how I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi should’ve gone. I hope you enjoy. 🙂

When Luke receives the lightsaber from Rey, he closes his eyes and hears Obi-Wan say, “She will be trained.” This is to echo Obi-Wan saying the same of Anakin in The Phantom Menace (and we all know how that turned out). Obi-Wan then says, “She must know the truth,” to which Luke responds by opening his eyes, and after a flash of Luke in Return of the Jedi throwing away his lightsaber, Luke does the same with Anakin’s lightsaber. Shocked, Rey asks, “Why did you do that?” With a soft stare displaying the layers of wisdom in his soul, Luke replies, “You must forge your own path, find your own way. You will never see your way forward if you are always looking behind, to the past.” Walking ahead of her, Luke whispers, “Ben, she will not be a Jedi… like her… grandfather before her.” This is a subtle hint to the darkness Luke senses in Rey, her anger toward… he’s not sure. The Dark Side clouds everything. All he can see is that she is hiding a shadow of anger that could be used to draw her to the Dark Side, similar to how Kylo Ren was drawn to the Dark Side, away from Luke.

Yes, Rey is a Kenobi, and Luke doesn’t want her to know. In fact, he refuses to train Rey when she asks, making the classic excuse that she’s too old. Instead, he takes her up on her offer to return with her to join Leia, whose fleet is under attack (no slow bombers, though; I promise). Leading the attack is Kylo, who Snoke has ordered to kill his mother. Only then will Kylo have the strength to complete his training. With Snoke’s massive ship in the background providing weapons fire on other ships in the Resistance, Kylo’s ship speeds near his mother’s ship and from his cheek drops a single tear as he wrestles with himself. Teeth gritting, he shuts his eyes, lets out a breath, and massages the trigger just enough to launch the assault that delivers the final blow to the ship Leia is on, the explosion reflected in his drenched eyes. From hyperspace, the Millennium Falcon and a single X-Wing enter space to find they are too late, a grieving howl from Chewbacca echoing the pain in Luke’s heart. “This is Luke Skywalker. I am taking command of the fleet,” is Luke’s message broadcast to all ships before he orders a full retreat to a set of coordinates he sends to the Resistance ships. Snoke has won the day, and all Luke can do is run away.

That’s the set-up for the rest of the film, in which key questions raised in The Force Awakens are answered, such as who Snoke is and where he came from, how Snoke lured Ben Solo to the Dark Side (I’m thinking Ben was underperforming in his training, leading to thoughts of failure and jealously toward Luke and his own parents for how celebrated they all are as warriors who defeated the mighty Empire). Essentially, the film would then continue on with Snoke training Kylo, giving us a look at Dark Side training, making Kylo much stronger and an even greater threat than before. Spliced with this is Rey begging Luke to train her. “I want to help you, to help the Resistance. You can’t beat both Snoke and Kylo by yourself. They’re too strong. It will take the both of us together. Please, Luke, you have to train me.” But Luke is filled with doubt. “I can’t take the chance of Snoke turning you as well. If that were to happen, then all hope will truly be lost.” Eventually, Rey convinces Luke to show her how to make a new lightsaber, so she could at least stand a chance at defending herself against Kylo were they to meet again. Knowing Rey is already good with a staff, Luke instructs her in building a double-bladed lightsaber. “You got lucky against Kylo the first time,” Luke says. “You need a weapon you have complete familiarity with.”

After practicing with the double-bladed lightsaber (’cause, you know, that would be cool to see in the movie), Rey sneaks away to go after Kylo herself, believing the Force will empower her again, if need be. Once Finn and Poe realize she’s gone (Let’s say Luke didn’t sense her action because he was distracted by the grief he’s still feeling for Leia and Han.) and tell Luke she’s missing, Luke takes a part of the fleet to meet Snoke’s ship in battle, with Admiral Ackbar in command and Poe leading a squadron of X-Wings with Chewbacca and Lando (He’s back!) in the Millennium Falcon offering support. “Didn’t think I’d ever see the day I’d be flying this old bird again,” Lando comments. Luke and Finn sneak aboard Snoke’s ship, Finn showing off his anti-Stormtrooper aim while Luke thrashes through anyone stupid enough to put themselves anywhere near his lightsaber. In Snoke’s throne room, Snoke attempts to convince Rey to join him, and he reveals that he was using the Force through her during the events of The Force Awakens. He wanted to show her how powerful she could be if only she submitted to his training. He promises her the power to find her parents and to take revenge on all those who hurt and terrorized her while she grew up on Jakku (Rey had a tough life, yo, and now we see why she has a great potential for bursting out in anger.). Without him, Snoke reveals, Rey is powerless.

As Snoke motions for Kylo to attack Rey, she ignites her double-bladed lightsaber, and round two is on. But this time is different. Rey can only struggle to match the strength of Kylo’s strikes. And Kylo uses the Force to push her around, all while Snoke taunts her, asking her if she’s yet ready to join him, to no longer be weak. Realizing that she has nothing left, that she can’t win, Rey turns off one blade of her double-bladed lightsaber and holds the other blade near her, like Obi-Wan Kenobi did when he allowed Darth Vader to cut him down. But just as Kylo is about to deliver the death blow, a shadowy figure Force runs in from the background, and a green lightsaber halts Kylo’s strike before his red blade can make contact with Rey. “That won’t happen again,” Luke says, remembering how Rey’s grandfather had died the same way. As Rey falls out of the way, Finn sprinting up behind and dropping to offer her care, Luke and Kylo battle hard, Kylo’s hate now apparent to Luke as Snoke laughs at the sight of what he has accomplished. Though Kylo is far more powerful than when he left Luke, he still has trouble matching Luke’s skill. Valuing his apprentice, for now, Snoke uses his Force power to disrupt Luke, causing Luke to stumble or pushing Kylo into a dodge of Luke’s lightsaber. Eventually, Kylo is able to gain the upper hand, until an explosion rocks Snoke’s ship. The battle with the Resistance ships is still taking place outside, and the Millennium Falcon along with Poe’s X-Wings have managed to deliver a critical strike to Snoke’s ship. In the confusion, Finn opens fire on Snoke, distracting him enough to allow Luke to Force push Kylo, grab Rey and Finn, and get the hell outta there!

So, then we have Luke, Rey, and Finn escaping Snoke’s ship on a shuttle just before the ship jumps away, the Resistance having dealt a blow to Snoke’s ego. But all isn’t well as Snoke has proven that he and Kylo can overpower Luke, that Luke cannot be the only hope for defeating the First Order. As Rey trembles in his arms, tears flowing for her almost deadly mistake, for her trust in a power she now knows only came through her by Snoke, Luke assures Rey that next time will be different, that next time she will not face Kylo Ren in fear. “When next we encounter them,” Luke says, stirring Rey’s teary-eyed confidence, “you will be a Jedi.”

Roll credits. 🙂

With a soft stare displaying the layers of wisdom in his soul, Luke replies, “You must forge your own path, find your own way. You will never see your way forward if you are always looking behind, to the past.”

Writing Tip: Get The Villain Right

I recently watched a documentary that featured a quote that I feel hits the mark in a few different ways.

“I’ve always asserted myself as a villain because villains are always the more interesting characters in any story that I grew up reading and because the villain in any walk of life is the person who refuses to follow blindly and always wants to question things, and for me, art is supposed to be a question mark, so I’m merely asking questions.”
– Marilyn Manson, from the 2006 VH1 documentary Heavy: The Story of Metal

First, the quote speaks of villains in stories, showing why I believe the villain is actually the most important part of a story, which is why I personally find that Marvel movies tend to be forgettable, because they put the emphasis on the hero while the villain takes a backseat (really, though, I watch a Thor movie to see Loki, not Thor, and I’ll never forget Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight). To me, it’s the villain who holds everything together while we follow the hero on his/her journey. It’s the villain who makes the journey possible and necessary, so, in my not-so-terribly-humble opinion, a strong villain is needed for a strong story.

The second part of the quote talks about the nature of the villain. The villain is the one who doesn’t do what he/she is supposed to do but instead does their own thing for their own benefit. A villain can be seen as someone who wants to bust the status quo and shake up the world. Think about that the next time you hear about protests over issues such as minimum wage or lack of healthcare; remember that the current minimum wage or current lack of healthcare are the status quo, and the protestors want to bust that status quo for their own benefit, which, to the side wishing to preserve the status quo, makes them the villains. Also remember that corporations that strive to pay employees as little as possible and push to give people as little healthcare as possible are doing this for their own benefit, making them the villains as well, even though each on the opposing side sees themselves as the hero. This kind of makes me wonder if this world is mostly villains up against villains. Sure, we have our real heroes – those who sacrifice their time, effort, and even lives for the good of others – but I feel there’s a lot more villainy going on than people tend to realize or want to acknowledge.

Finally, the above quote discusses art and how art poses questions. I feel it’s important for art to ask questions, especially uncomfortable questions. A comfort zone is a safe zone, one in which risks are not taken and challenges are not faced. With fiction, in order to escape this comfort zone, uncomfortable questions should be asked, the status quo defied, and the mindset of villainy brought to the forefront, a mindset that bathes the truth we don’t want to see in a twisted light we have been raised to believe isn’t right or moral.

This is how to create an interesting villain, and, to me, this is the most important aspect of creating a strong story. It’s the villain who makes the hero stronger. If the villain isn’t done well, then what makes the hero a hero except for our predetermined images of what a hero is?