The Two Obvious Problems With X-Men: Dark Phoenix

SPOILERS AHEAD
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.

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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. 🙂

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.

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.