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An obnoxiously large

(101k .wav) audio greeting

from the Author.

May 28, 1999   
    
How I Would Have Saved Episode I from Mediocrity

Eight days ago I drove home at 2:30 a.m. grateful to my brother who had scored the premiere tickets to Episode I, but irritated with George Lucas for keeping me up late on a "school night".

I can hear it now, "Oh god. Do we have sit through yet another Episode I tirade?!"

Well, here at days we're not big fans of whining. So instead of simply complaining about what we didn't like, we're becoming part of the solution.

This is how I would have saved Episode I from mediocrity.

"But Naze...it's just a movie...why are you so obssessed with Star Wars?...how can you expect Phantom to be as good as Episode IV?...those special effects were amazing!...you're expectations were way too high...get a life...only the "true" fans love it...it's just a movie..."

People, these are just excuses for poor film-making. There were some wonderful moments in Episode I, but these were fleeting, the type you get from good fireworks and memories resonant of better times. And trust me, unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last 4 weeks, audiences everywhere are filing Missing Characters reports with the movie police.

It's about the Kenobi, stupid. Where to start? Always with the purpose. What should this film accomplish? As with any movie, I want the audience to care about the characters. A good story requires a focal point, a protagonist. Episodes IV-VI are Luke's story. In Episode I, Lucas never commits. Ironically, he doesn't act on the advice from his own screenplay; he doesn't focus. In his desire to make Episode I about every character, he fails at all of them.

It's a difficult choice, but the movie should be mostly about Obi Wan. His life has a strong dramatic arc that will take us through Episodes II and III.

Secondly, because everyone knows how the story eventually turns out, I have to engage my audience on as many levels as possible; I want the audience to feel that they have come away with deeper insights into the Star Wars galaxy, especially the crux of the conflict: Jedi versus Sith. The temptation of the Dark Side must be alluring and real.

Freedom of Speech. Remember Leia laying in to Luke & Han during the escape? How about Luke's first lesson in the Force on the Millenium Falcon? Of course you do. Because these are moments when the characters reveal themselves through their words. This time George picked a great cast and then never gave them a chance to talk. In my Episode I, Obi Wan & Qui-Gon discuss the mission and then become side-tracked by a reminder of an embarrassing mistake Obi Wan made in training. Qui-Gon chides his padawan kindly and then reveals his own failings as a padawan. We learn more about where they come from and we care more about them because we identify with characters that have screwed up. When the pair are ambushed and start wacking akimbo, the contrast between their humbleness and their mastery in the Force will sweep us into the drama and carry us forward.

Where's the fire? George: James Cameron made a little 3 hour movie called Titanic. It did pretty o.k. at the box office. Trust me. If Episode I ran for say, 160 or 180 minutes instead of 130 you would be praised, not cursed. Guess what? You wouldn't have to add one more special effects scene.

Crazy little thing called love. Episodes IV through VI are fueled by the tensions generated by the Han/Leia romance and by the scoundrel versus earnest pupil. What we need here is a little sexual tension. But let's face it: the whole Anakin/Amidala thing is way too weird to even think about for their ages. Which leaves us with our protagonist, Obi Wan, and an appropriate love interest. An Obi Wan/Amidala frisson has interesting implications. A little banter, a little repartee, a little flirtation. That's all I'm talking about. Just enough to get Obi Wan a little hot and bothered. In later episodes when Anakin becomes Kenobi's padawan and later mates with Amidala you've got a mild jealousy factor to fan the flames of conflict.

Or. What if Obi Wan is fooled by Amidala's hand maiden disguise? Amidala hand maiden could flirt with Obi Wan where as Queen she really can't. Then in her disguise she makes a jokingly disparaging remark about the Queen, to which he reluctantly concurs. Hmm? Are we feeling some real possibilities here people?

Xenocide! (I won't kill Jar-jar. I won't kill Jar-jar. I won't...uh, sorry.) We've got a major problem with the alien beings of Episode I: They are cartoons, not characters. Jar-jar is a one-note tune. (Too bad the first note sucks so bad. The die hard fans on opening night laughed maybe once at the Animated Miscalculation.) The king is a big, stupid blowhard (with a heart of gold!). The humming bird wings on Anakin's "owner" are completely distracting. All you can think of when you're looking at them is how ridiculously impossible it would be for them to function. George, these are the kinds of decisions that make us wonder whether you are imagining great stories or Toys-R-Us royalties.

Solution? Ah, yes. Fewer aliens and more people. Jar-jar's screen time is cut in half, his dialogue by two thirds (and cut to 0 if he can't get his diction to a point where the audience can understand him). Clip the humming bird wings. Make that guy either more hateful or more likeable. The result? More interaction and energy from the actors. The ability to reshoot scenes later without having to toss out hundreds of effort weeks on the animation that was custom fit into the original take.

Snakes & Snails. My sweet 6 year old son, Jack, has more of a dark side than young Anakin, the future Dark Lord of the Sith. We need to see a glimpse into some of that childhood cruelty and more explicit examples of Ani's powerful connection to the Force. In the pod race, Anakin's nemesis plays nasty tricks that nearly kill the little guy. How about if Skywalker reacts instinctively after the third or fourth provocation by reaching out with the Force causing his rival to crash? We understand his reaction and yet we see a weakness, a small opening for the Dark Side.

(Oh, by the way, in my version, Anakin's mother actually cries when she has to let her newly freed only son leave with strangers. For gods sake, if you can't make the audience weep with a scene like this, you are cinematically tone deaf.)

Forcing the Issue. We need to get a lot bigger bang for the buck out of the Jedi Council scene. Try this: All supplicants to the Council stand on a disk in the middle of the ring of seats. The Council collectively levitates the disk with the Force as they weigh the merits of the request/candidate/whatever. Anakin becomes impatient (as little boys do) and exerts his prodigious natural connection to the Force and momentarily depresses the disk -- a feat without precedent. The Council is stunned, dismissing the boy and then engaging in a heated discussion about his fate. Here we learn more about the Council members.

Yoda has a bad feeling about Anakin but isn't quite able to articulate it. The Samuel Jackson character warns the Council what may happen if they don't step in and guide the boy -- with such natural ability he would be particularly susceptible to seduction by the Dark Side. The debate escalates. Clearly the Jedi are somewhat rattled. At this point Yoda uses the line from the movie, but this time not directed towards the boy but as an admonishment to his fellow Council members: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to s u f f e r i n g". In the preview this line jumps out. In Episode I the line clanks badly because of the context; he's admonishing a little boy for being afraid for god's sake! Change the context and you've got a pure winner.

Qui-Gone? Let me get this straight. Qui-Gon just loses the duel? Excuse me. In Taxi Driver things just happen. In the Star Wars milieu things happen for a reason; Jedi Masters don't just lose duels.

I want a better ending.

The battle droids arrive en masse as Qui-Gon and crew arrive on Naboo. The combined forces of the Jar-jar people and the Nabooans (yes, in my version the humans actually participate in the defense of their planet) are outgunned and outnumbered by the feared battle droids (my battle droids actually wreck stuff and kill people). There's no way they're going to win, but they'd rather die on their feet than live on their knees. Anakin with his affinity for technology suggests that the droids are getting their command from a remote station. Obi Wan seizes on this and makes his case for a solo run to the space station where he'll deactivate the central control (an excellent foreshadowing of his Death Star mission in Episode IV). Clearly conflicted at letting his padawan go, he accedes after imagining the blood bath that will happen if he doesn't let Obi Wan try.

Anakin breaks away from his light escort of soldiers and stows aboard Kenobi's transport. Qui-Gon stays with Amidala and a squad of soldiers.

Up on the space station Kenobi is foiled in reaching the droid controls and on the edge of losing his cool. Anakin (still in the ship) blasts a massive hole into the secured area (scaring the hell out of Obi Wan) that sets them on the path to the power supply of the communcations grid that transmits the droid commands.

Back on Naboo, Qui-Gon and Amidala's group is ruthlessly ambushed, most of the escort is taken out. Qui-Gon and Amidala are hunted until they are cornered. The greatest light saber duel ever commences.

After deactivating the power supply, Kenobi and Anakin escape from the space station (which doesn't blow up) but are hit by an enemy fighter. They crash land in a great palace courtyard, smashing into a wall, shaking the structure.

The battle droids didn't completely shut off but no longer fight as an army, allowing them to be defeated through several ingenious tactical maneuvers by the combined forces defending Naboo.

Meanwhile, the duel has been extraordinary. Amidala shoots at Maul with her blaster, hitting him once. After a bit she gets another clean shot, but Maul deflects the shot back at her, hitting her in the shoulder. Jinn takes two minor hits but is clearly wearing down as he manages to split his opponent's light saber staff. The building shakes.

Qui-Gon takes a bad hit to the leg and makes his last defense of the Queen. Darth Maul mocks Jinn and the Jedi for failing to preserve the antiquated Republic, which will fall before their eyes. Jinn responds coolly, wisely. Maul makes a series of vicious attacks aimed towards reaching the Queen. Qui-Gon cannot stop all of them but in attempting to do so takes a fatal blow.

Off camera comes an anguished cry, "Nnooooo!!" Obi Wan hurls himself at Maul and the duel continues until Kenobi emerges victorious but bloodied.

People, I tell ya. It would have been glorious.

Episode I confirms what we began to suspect when Return of the Jedi was released: Lucas has succumbed to the Dork Side of the Force. He has lost sight of the mythic grounding which made Episodes IV and V so compelling.

The twin ironies are these: like Vader, Lucas commands total control over his enterprise which is not subject to question or dialogue, which in part results in his downfall. And unlike Luke, who realizes he is becoming part man, part machine like Vader and is horrified, Lucas' art becomes more machine than man, and yet he embraces it.

  

p.s. What would happened if you joined the new days notification list? You'll never know until you try.

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previously on days of naze: 

vegas, baby!
turned away at the church of elvis
dear mark
a night on the town
a lesson in humility
the longest mile
he plays one on t.v.
shat upon
coda
geek of the weak
pre-game stupid
my affair with a greek woman 
brain baker
occupational hazard
i blame them
brilliant mistake
pleasure victim 
the stupid rules 
driven to distraction 
my corner of the planet 
spawn apologist 
broken 
clench 
interview with a madman 
an introduction 
 launch 

what have you done for me lately? not much.

May you never be more active than  
when you are doing nothing.  

-Cato

in the feedbag:

sports: KALOO, KALAY! The Portland Trail Blazers unseat the defending Western Conference Champion Utah Jazz and face the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday! Woohoo!

film: Hondo starring John Wayne; another movie by a "director" who has lost his way.

experience: Participated in chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) for the first time in my life. "One meeting, one moment."

book: Just Me and My Dad - Mercer Mayer (from the popular Little Critter series)

birthdays: My son David turns 3 today! John Halcyon Styn is 28 - e-mail him a nice birthday haiku.

web: Chuck'Stake and his quest to restore service to desert pay phones.

     

   stupid    strung out   naze   brush   soul food 

     

e-mail number of hate e-mail received for "re-writing" Episode I  
     

  

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