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.

The End Of Love

I had a dream
in which I was personally witness
to the wars and massacres
around the world,
to the bloodstained greed and lust
backing these atrocities,
to the races spewing hate against hate
while labeling themselves “victim,”
to the injustices against women
and by women,
to the young men who are left affected
with only one way to express their rage,
to the corporations stealing wealth
from those who have little,
to the public further and further divided
along red and blue lines,
to the politicians standing idly by
and allowing all of this,
helping all of this,
for true leadership skill
or at least an ability to care
is lost on them.
And as I was personally witness
to all of this,
out of the corner of my eye,
I noticed a man beside me,
standing tall.
And I turned and looked
and found that it was Jesus.
Not white Jesus, not black Jesus,
not an invented image of Jesus,
but Jesus.
And as I realized
that Jesus had been witnessing
and weeping over
the cruelty of humans,
I asked Jesus,
“When will you return?
When will you come back
to save us?”
And Jesus turned to me,
the tears streaming
like a river through time and space,
and Jesus said unto me,
“Are you kidding?
They would crucify me.”

Speaking of division along red and blue lines…

Where I Am Published Part Dos (That’s Spanish For “Two”)

Recently, I had a short story accepted for publication in an anthology titled Arizona’s Emerging Writers. Seeing as how, earlier this year, I had a couple of poems published in Arizona’s Best Emerging Poets, I’m beginning to feel like I’m really emerging now.

Okay, not really. My depression won’t let me feel that for long. So, what’s next for me? Well, I’m still having my novel rejected by every agent at least capable of sending a form letter, so maybe I’ll try writing a children’s book. Now, I know what you’re going to say: “But what the hell do you know about children?” That’s a very good question…

…to which I have no answer. But hey, it worked out great for Dr. Seuss. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near as skilled as Dr. Seuss, but…maybe I just need to happen to run into someone I knew in college who now works at a publisher. Maybe that’ll help.

Anyway, if you want to order Arizona’s Emerging Writers, and enjoy short stories from other wonderful writers currently taking up residence in the same state that I am, you can do so at this link:

Happy reading, everyone! 🙂

Guilt Wish

You feel it, don’t you?
One event after the next
The flow of things
One tragedy leads to another
and another

And the mournful
shed their tears
as the destructors
boast their joys
You feel it, don’t you?

The tears, the joys
and every attempt you have made
to change nothing

You feel it…
The curses
The prayers
The loss of air
…don’t you?

Don’t you feel sorry
Don’t you dare

A Predator

What is it?
We don’t know.
It arrived not long ago
in these woods.
Leaves a footprint
that’s not human.
And it’s been killin’.
Killed a grizzly with ease,
from what we can tell.

Where did it come from?
Out there,
from somewhere above.
Some bright lights in the sky
preceded the madness.
It was then that people,
random witnesses,
started talkin’ of this
invisible… thing.
You don’t see what’s movin’,
only that somethin’s movin’.
And when it does appear,
that’s when you die.

What does it want?
It’s been shot at
but still keeps comin’,
pursues as you try to run,
tracks you down
wherever you go.

It’s a hunter.

What does it want?
Your head
as its trophy.