STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
For me, it was an exciting time. Born in 1985, I’d missed the whole Star Wars saga; so when they were re-released as special editions in 1997, I saw them fresh and new. Over the course of a few months, I went to see each one as it was released a little bit apart from one another. I saw A New Hope with my Dad, who after all those years of not seeing it found himself watching it like it was a brand new release. I saw The Empire Strikes Back with one friend, who fell asleep halfway through and was oblivious to me sitting next to him, close to tears, as Han was encased in Carbonite and Chewie yelled out in pain. And I saw Return of the Jedi with another friend who, unlike me, had grown up watching the films on VHS and loved them anyway.
Soon after, I got the gold and black VHS boxset for Christmas, and soon after that there were the first talks of a prequel film set thirty years before A New Hope, dealing with a young Darth Vader and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi…. I was thrilled.
I remember seeing the teaser poster (above) and being amazed that they had decided to take the story back that far. When you thought of them detailing the early life of a young Darth Vader, you imagined a Jedi Knight. You didn’t expect them to start off with him as a young kid, like eight or nine years old sort of kid. That surprised me.
At some point I remember the theatrical trailer coming out, showing a very cleverly edited version of the film which made it appear to be an action-filled extravaganza promising to top all of the films that had come before it. I was really excited to see it, as were so many millions of other Star Wars fans.
Now, everyone turns a lot of hate on The Phantom Menace, but I don’t think it was an actual failure. It had a lot to offer, and it had obviously gestated in Lucas’s mind for a long time. As he pointed out, he didn’t think that even ILM had the capability to film what he had in his mind until he saw Jurassic Park and realized that motion picture special effects were at the point where they could realistically portray a living being. I think it has some stand-out sequences.
The opening scene on the Trade Federation Battleship.
Freeing the Queen, in a flurry of lightsabres, and R2’s moment of heroism as they’re flying away from Naboo.
The Pod Race.
The little lightsabre skirmish with Darth Maul in the desert.
The space battle at the end.
The lightsabre battle between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul.
In actual fact, I feel that the sabre fight between Kenobi, Jinn and Maul has to be up there with the sabre battle from Empire and Jedi as it deals with genuine emotion and real consequence. In Episode II, Lucas delivers an aesthetically pleasing battle, but it does not offer much in personal stakes or emotional content, and seems more an excuse to bring in Yoda and show ‘what the little frog can do.’ In Episode III, we get what is meant to be a fight between brothers, seemingly come out of nowhere. It has no proper build-up, and seems to just happen. That might just be my take on it, but I think he could have done so much more with it. Had it a real epic battle. But anyway, this is Episode I, so I’ll save that one for later!
This might be the most hated of the prequels, for its silly Jar Jar character, and comedic leanings (aiming for the younger audience) but of all of them I feel it’s the most thought-out. Lucas had given the themes and motifs of the film genuine thought as they’d batted about in his head over the years, and to me it shows. It is almost a mirror to A New Hope, in the way that the plot unfolds, and especially apparent in the end scene (what I jokingly referred to for my A New Hope post as the ‘wedding scene’).
I think that the real mistake Lucas made was not starting with Anakin as a teenage, and already undergoing his training, or just about to start it. By having him be a kid, he didn’t give himself enough room to tell the story he needed to, rushing the revelations in Episode III. Perhaps he should have started with Qui-Gon tutoring Anakin and Yoda tutoring Kenobi (he stated in Jedi that Yoda had instructed him). Qui-Gon dies, Obi-Wan is given the challenge of completing Anakin’s training. This could have happened in Episode I, with Palpatine and his apprentice behind it all. I would not have killed off Maul, either. I’d have kept him about for II and III. All of this should have taken place to the backdrop of a giant inter-galactic war. The Clone Wars. Instead of building up to the Clone Wars, why not throw us in (much like he did in A New Hope) and slowly reveal the intricacies and details of the conflict as he went along?
In Episode II, I would have had Anakin courting Padme (but not getting married – it’s too neat – they should’ve just been in love) and the ascension of Palpatine to ruling the Galaxy as supreme ruler and Emperor, much to the disgust of the Jedi’s who denounce him. Palpatine might then have declared the Jedi’s enemies of the Galaxy, and the real hands behind the Seperatist movement. His slight friendship with Anakin might have strained Kenobi and Anakin’s friendship, but not to the point of breaking. I’d have had Kenobi told about their love for each other, and possibly Kenobi or Yoda sensing that Padme was pregnant.
Then in Episode III, I would have had Anakin take on Maul, killing him without mercy, against the Jedi code. Kenobi would see this, and share his concern with Anakin and later Yoda. Then, it would be revealed that Padme is due to give birth and I’d have Padme give birth in secret, for fear of Anakin behind dispelled from the Jedi order. Later, she and the children would be captured by Palpatine (really bringing a sense of circular repetition to the story, with Palpatine encountering the children at such a young age) and Palpatine. Later, when Kenobi and Skywalker confront the Emperor to rescue Padme and the children, Palpatine would twist it that Kenobi is the Father of the children, and how Kenobi has wanted Padme for himself the whole time. This would result in the already frayed relationship between the two coming to a head, in front of Palpatine (much like the end of Jedi) but this time with Anakin choosing to strike down Kenobi – making the turn to the dark side by indulging in his rage and anger. Remember Yoda’s words: “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”
Somehow, though, Kenobi would manage to outwit Anakin and rescue the children. Something would happen whereby Padme died, seemingly as a result of Kenobi’s deception, and him stealing the children. Perhaps Padme would reveal that they ARE Anakin’s and not Kenobi’s. Kenobi and Yoda would hide the children, as the rest of the Jedi order is shown being hunted down and slain by Darth Vader.
Then I would have shown an aged Kenobi (though younger than he appeared in A New Hope) watching over a young Luke from afar, on Tatooine.
That’s my own take on how I would have handled the story. Everyone has their own opinion.
For me Episode I is Lucas showing he is still an adept film maker, and a thoughtful one. It has some fine sequences, and he does a pretty good job in kicking off the saga. In Episode II and III he got a little lazy. But then, with The Phantom Menace making for one of the top grossing films of all time, perhaps at that point he could afford to be.