Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And now for something completely nerdy.

I'm almost embarrassed to have written this, to say nothing of posting it. But it's something that's nagged at me for a long time now.

If you're like me, you grew up loving the Star Wars trilogy. Whether these were brilliant movies or merely clever bits of candy that came along at just the right time for people of a certain age, is beside the point. Certainly they've had more sheer sticking power in most of our minds than, say, Gremlins or The Last Starfighter. Having to wait for three years to find out what happens to Han Solo, and speculating as to whether Darth Vader was really Luke's father and who was "the other one" that Yoda mentioned, were defining elements of my later childhood.

For better or worse, Star Wars was really important to a lot of people, myself included. Which is why it was such a bitter disappointment when the long-awaited second trilogy opened in 1999 with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

I can't describe how utterly awful it was, or the sinking feeling I got as I sat through it, waiting for it to stop sucking, and realizing ten minutes from the end that it wasn't gonna happen. And--and let's get this out of the way--it wasn't just because I was an adult and seeing it through adult eyes. I've heard that before and it's a cop-out. The second trilogy in general, and The Phantom Menace in particular, is completely incoherent and unsatisfying from a story standpoint. Coming from someone who is so often trumpeted as a master of Campbellian mythic structure, it's baffling and inexcusable. It's all the more frustrating when you consider that Mr. Lucas had a filmmaker's dream setup to work with: complete creative control, bankrolling it out of his own pocket, no studio suits interfering and telling him to change stuff, a compelling and established backstory, and the dead certainty that no matter what he came up with, hundreds of millions of people would go and see it.

If the original Star Wars trilogy is characterized by childlike wonder and endless possibilities, then the second surely represents the bitter disappointment of adulthood. Take the long arc that goes from knowing in your bones that you will grow up to be Batman, to realizing you're a balding and divorced desk jockey and your best years are behind you. Compress it into two hours and that was The Phantom Menace.

Look, I don't want to wallow here. The point is this: The fact that the prequel trilogy was so badly executed kind of ruined the whole franchise for me. It used to be, I could watch the first Star Wars film--yes, even as an adult!--and hear Ben Kenobi tell the story of how Darth Vader turned evil and killed Luke's father, and feel like I was having a tantalizing glimpse into a story that had yet to be told, in an immersive universe of wonder and mystery and endless stories. Now I watch that scene and all I can think of is the utter narrative trainwreck, complete with cringeworthy dialogue, zero-dimensional characters and flat-footed pseudoscience, that is the Phantom Menace. A tale of sound, fury and CGI, signifying nothing.

So I wrote this to calm my own mind, and so I could imagine that there's a coherent backstory behind the films that I loved as a kid and still do. George Lucas couldn't tell that story so I did. If you feel like me, you might enjoy this.

This treatment/story edit of The Phantom Menace
is intended to stick to the original story and characters, as much as possible, while making characters and motivations and events and storylines make sense. If you're an aspiring screenwriter yourself (and if you are, God help you) this might be a useful reference for how to go over a wretched, sinking mess of a tangled storyline and turning it into something that makes some kind of sense.

Patton Oswalt said, on this general subject, "I don't care where the things I love come from--I just love the things I love." To which I would add, when someone else stomps all over them, I feel perfectly justified in taking them back and fixing them.

1 comment:

  1. i read the treatment, and, though i have blocked out my experience of said film, i enjoyed your reworking of it.

    i think, measuring the story a young man comes up with, who has no means, versus the story an older man comes up with, who feels powerful and is rich, you are bound to see a gaping, GAPING discrepancy between the two stories. Gaping.


    Thus said, he could have done so much better, by himself or with the help of others.

    i.e. anything like your treatment of the existing story.