Plotting Along – “That Star Trek Movie” (Part 2)

This is actually a pretty hard one for me not to break my own rules on.  As you may or may not know, part of the idea of this series is to look at how a story can be fixed rather than rebuilt.  The Phantom Menace series, for instance, stuck with more or less the same plot while tinkering with the characters in such a way that would have allowed for more audience investment in it.  And that worked because while Phantom Menace was bloated and at times meandering, there were good ideas behind all of its scenes that just failed to materialize due to poor direction and dialog.

Star Trek Generations, on the other hand, does not have quite the same weight in its core ideas.  The film is ostensibly about coming to terms with the passage of time and the change it brings.  We know this because characters often stop the movie in its tracks to tell us all about it.  But for a movie in this particular franchise, I honestly feel it’s too small of a concept to build an entire film around on its own.

Wrath of Khan had arguably the same arc for Kirk.  But that wasn’t the entirety of what the film was either.  You had Khan’s revenge, the Genesis program, the trainees, and I could go on but won’t because there are still one or two people who haven’t seen the film yet (and the rest don’t need me to.)  Not to mention having what are still the best scenes of starship battles the franchise has produced.  It was a pretty full movie.  Generations though…  Well, it could have been a great episode, but as a film it’s hard for me to get excited about the idea of Picard being worried that he’s too old to be interesting anymore.

So this leaves me with a problem: how do I take a script whose biggest problem may be that it’s just too small for the big screen and broaden its scope without replacing the ideas that form its core identity?

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Plotting Along – “That Star Trek Movie” (Part 1)

Look at that title.  You know which one I mean.

There’s no question that among Science Fiction fandoms, the Star Trek contingent is a force unto themselves.  They are frighteningly passionate, opinionated, and fractious.  And yet there are a few things that they can agree on.  Namely: that some of the movies are pretty bad.  And among the bad, there is one that stands out.  One which, as a followup to the previous masterful film, was disappointing enough to dash the hopes of everyone who went to watch.  And that film is:

Star Trek: The Final... Oh dear god no.
Star Trek: The Final… Oh dear god, does he WANT to be flamed into oblivion?

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My Zombie Survival Plan

Ever since the zombie boom in fiction, just about everyone has a zombie survival plan these days. It’s even gotten to the point where certain data centers and hospitals have even added them into their official emergency procedures, justifying it with the argument that while reanimated corpses might not be an issue there could still be other disasters that might require the staff to hole up and wait for rescue.
So it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that I actually get people asking me what my survival plan is a fair amount. After all, I’m a science fiction writer who straddles the narrow divide between hard and soft sci-fi. I get paid to come up with contingency plans for the absurd. Unfortunately my answer is always the same confession: I don’t have one.
The reason might not be what you think it is. Sure, Zombies are far from my favorite supernatural horror, but I don’t hate them by any means. There has been some excellent work, even outside the old standby of Romero, which has managed to use the shambling undead horde to great effect in terms of both horror and social commentary. They also tap into our fundamental apex predator’s fear of being eaten, which I suspect is perhaps the single biggest thing that has kept the Zombie firmly planted as such a terrifying concept.
No, the reason I don’t have a survival plan is that before I can come up with one, I have to be able to come up with a scenario in which the zombie apocalypse actually happens. And so far, I haven’t really been able to. What’s more, I’m not sure many others have either.
Let’s face it; there are plenty of zombie narratives out there these days that approach the idea more like a science fiction concept than a supernatural horror. The most common theme is zombies being created as a result of some virus rather than a necromancer for a start, and furthermore it’s a virus that with a few notable exceptions behaves in exactly the same way as a real world virus. And yet in almost all of these more “grounded” narratives, we hop straight from an initial outbreak to the post-apocalyptic swarm. There are vague references to what we missed more often than not, sure, but I’m honestly hard pressed to think of any that showed us something substantial about how civilization actually managed to fall.
Before I go on to more thoroughly analyze this of course, it’s time for a few definitions and ground rules. Zombie narratives are pretty varied these days, even now as they are starting to be phased out of vogue in favor of a new monster to terrify us.
First and most important is the fact that for the purposes of this exercise, a zombie is a non-sentient, near brainless animal. The creatures from I Am Legend, for example, are not truly Zombies in this definition. Ghouls, or perhaps vampires, sure, but they’re definitely not the kind of shambling undead that we associate with a good zombie story. Zombies aren’t tool users, they don’t know how to communicate with each other, and they don’t have the capacity to outsmart our survivors unless one of them has recently taken an extremely nasty blow to the head.
Second is that we’re assuming that the virus or other infection vector is not airborne, and cannot survive exceedingly long against a functional immune system. Another very common trope in use these days establishes that the zombie virus itself is not lethal, but the secondary infections stemming from being bitten by another human are. If the virus can pass through sneezing on someone or being bitten by a zombie mosquito apocalypse is more likely, but the possibility of survivors also rapidly diminishes to almost nil. Unless of course we’re going off of Left 4 Dead rules, where the survivors are immune and thus in no danger of being turned no matter how often they get bit, clawed at, or otherwise mauled. Which we’re not. Survival plan for that contingency is never lose track of a pipe bomb and never be on point, which would make for a much shorter article.
And the third and final requirement here is that the zombies are, in fact, made up of animate but necrotic flesh. In short, they’re dead and decomposing even as they advance on their prey.

Shoot for the Head

First thing to tackle is perhaps the most obvious. While fortunately most people have caught onto this, it still is very annoying how many movies, shows, and books still feature a scene of the well meaning police officer or lone man/woman with a gun continuing to pump bullets into the chest of a zombie as they advance until, finally, they’re overwhelmed.
Okay, so let’s forget for a moment the odd fact that no one in zombie movies has ever seen one. It’s a rotting corpse that’s just taken a half pound of lead to the chest cavity without flinching, and there are very few things that can survive a bullet to the head. Is it really such a mental leap to conclude that a headshot is called for?
The typical response to this oft raised point is that it’s really hard to actually make a headshot. And okay, that’s true, especially if you’ve never fired a gun. But we’re not talking shooting range distances here. Usually you’re talking ten or twenty feet tops. At that range you don’t have to be all that good at aiming to hit something the size of a watermelon, and I’ve yet to meet a single person who couldn’t figure out the theory of using a gun’s sights in about three seconds. Sure, some people would probably be paralyzed with fear and end up being munched on all the same, but in a real world scenario we’d be seeing a LOT more headless zombie corpses lying around in the street. After all, if they liked eating other zombies, wouldn’t they spend more time eating their neighbors than the survivors?

The Military Tried, But They Couldn’t Stop Them
Yeah, it’s not a zombie apocalypse until the military has been brought to its knees by the relentless horde. Expect lots of scenes of soldiers in full combat gear firing over barricades but then being overwhelmed by the horde.
The problem with this is that… well… is anyone in the military really stupid enough to fight them like this? Modern militaries are pretty good at counting, and can generally tell when they’re looking at a hopeless disparity in numbers. And in a major zombie outbreak the soldiers will generally be woefully outnumbered. Rather than simply draw a line and fill it with soldiers, they’re going to start thinking in terms of tactics. As soon as that happens, things are going to go extremely badly for the zombies.
I’m not entirely sure why, but most movies (aka the source for the majority of military knowledge for the layman) tend to greatly undersell the capabilities of military hardware and tactics. One might have thought that in today’s explosion happy climate the exact opposite would be true. As such, people often underestimate just how far machine gun technology has come since World War 2. Often machine guns aren’t actually used to mow down enemies en masse. Rather they’re an effective means of forcing the enemy to stay under cover while squads advance.
Zombies, however, do not understand the concept of cover. They move in tight groups and en masse. They are basically cannon fodder without the shock troops coming in behind them to do actual damage. Get a few SAW’s going and it doesn’t matter if you’re aiming for the head or not, you’re going to be filling the streets with Zombie goo. Admittedly there is the risk that they’ll eventually run out of ammo, which is where the other great advance of machine guns comes in:
These days, we mount them to helicopters. And I have never seen a zombie capable of taking out an apache gunship making strafing runs.
Think about it: you’ve got a horde of thousands of undead crammed into the streets below, shoulder to shoulder and barely moving at a rate that could be charitably called a shuffle. This is the very definition of a target rich environment. A single pass would disable or kill hundreds of undead, allowing them to be slaughtered in job lots with absolutely no risk to any soldiers on the ground. What’s more, the noise of the slaughter would most likely draw zombies into the kill zone.
Some cordons might still be necessary of course to keep stragglers from getting out, but the military could do a pretty good job handling that with liberal use of tanks, artillery, and landmines, which most western countries have in abundance (little known fact: the USA, despite vocally condemning the use of landmines more than once, has repeatedly refused to sign any treaty banning their use or manufacture.) The only conceivable way a zombie could take out a tank would be if a few hundred dog-piled on top of the thing and broke its suspension and it’s doubtful they would have the intelligence to figure this out. And if this were to happen… well, wonderful thing about tanks is the fact that their armor is more or less impervious to small arms fire. You know, the kind that you get from helicopter mounted machine guns.
Honestly this makes me think that we need to have more zombie outbreaks set during the time of the Revolutionary War. Modern zombies really have the deck stacked against them.

The Enduring Horde

Okay, so at this point the zombies have to be wondering what went wrong. Rather than ruling the earth, all they’ve succeeded in doing is given every member of the NRA the best day of their life and demonstrated exactly why full on frontal attacks on Gatling guns never took off. But there’s still a chance for them, right? After all, zombies are already dead, they don’t really need to eat drink or sleep, and there’s no way the army can get rid of all of them. If a few of them can get out of the city they can spread out to other communities, rebuild their forces, and eventually stretch the army too thin to manage it.
Well, there are two problems with that. First off is the fact that nukes would probably come into play if the Army thought it was losing containment. And you know, that doesn’t really need me pedantically explaining things to make the point. Second is the fact that zombies are, well… dead.
I know I’m not the first to make this point, but it bears repeating. Zombies are animated corpses. Their necrotic flesh is being rapidly consumed by armies of bacteria and insects intent on turning them into disgusting smelling goo. Their shelf life is rather sharply limited by this fact.
So, given that anyone with basic access to the news has already bought a gun and is on the lookout for the undead and the army is killing them by the hundreds in the cities, where are the few stragglers actually going to go? Any that make it to a city are going to be immediately gunned down, and those wandering the countryside are more likely to dissolve before they can spread the infection much further. They’d likely have difficulty reaching the next major metropolis, never mind migrating to another continent.
The conclusion is fairly simple. For the Zombie Virus to prosper, it needs a ready and massive supply of humans to spread to, and its very nature precludes it having that for very long. So long as containment is even moderately effective, the zombie menace will basically sort itself out in a week or so, at least locally. That’s not even enough time to properly starve to death. It would be a smelly, hungry week to be sure, but at the end of it you’d probably be able to walk out alive with a minimum of effort. Simply finding a multi-floor building with fire doors you can barricade and a water cooler would probably be enough, and those are hardly uncommon.
Based on all of this, again, I can only come to one conclusion: A zombie outbreak in the modern would indeed be dangerous and likely lead to a massive loss in life in several cities. But the odds of it actually wiping out our entire civilization are extremely low.

Plotting Along – The Phantom Menace (Part 3)

Darth Maul really got a pretty raw deal.
I know, I’m hardly the first person to say this, but it bears repeating nonetheless. Consider the marketing that lead up to the release of this film. Darth Maul was freaking everywhere, glowering down at filmgoers in a grim promise of how uncompromisingly awesome he was going to be. The guy had a cadre of devoted fans before the movie even opened.
Given how it turned out, I sometimes have to wonder if perhaps they went so far overboard with the marketing as an apology to Ray Park for how little screen time he actually ended up getting.

Unfortunately, I can also see why it happened. Darth Maul’s not actually the villain of the film. Palpatine is. Darth Maul’s just an enforcer. And he actually fills that role pretty well. Audiences don’t expect the two hundred pound gorilla who serves as a bouncer/bodyguard for the mob boss to be a richly developed character. But, like Boba Fett before him, Darth Maul looked really cool. Thus everyone really, really wanted him to be more awesome than he actually was.

So how do you fix this? Basically, you do it by almost completely cutting Palpatine out of the film. Which you may be surprised to hear I almost hate saying.

Now, I am a big fan of Rod Hilton’s machete order for viewing the Star Wars films. If you haven’t read the original article yet, go there now. It’s worth a look, and is an excellent demonstration of how making relatively minor changes to the plot structure of the story as a whole can actually improve both trilogies. And one of the things that he highlights in it that makes the whole concept work is the fact that Palpatine is actually a really freaking scary villain in the prequels.

Think about it: the guy not only managed to engineer a war, he managed to engineer it in such a way that he was actually leading both sides. In addition to that he managed to get the Jedi to break their long-standing prohibition against getting actively involved in military conflicts, leading to the corruption and ultimate destruction of the entire order save for a few stragglers who went into seclusion, and he did it all without ever being so much as suspected of being a Sith. Even at the end when he was revealed it was because he flat out admitted it to a Jedi. This is the villain we really wanted. But sadly many people rejected him because, well, he was an old guy in a robe. He didn’t look cool, and no amount of awesome evil voice work was going to sway people’s minds in that regard.

By letting Darth Maul have Palpatine’s (or more accurately Darth Sideous’s) scenes and lines though we achieve two goals. The first is that we are no longer disappointing fans looking for a scary and awesome looking villain. The second is that Darth Maul can now actually be present in person at Naboo, running things directly. Which is greatly preferable to just having Sideous sending instructions via hologram the entire time. There’s a reason Darth Vader always lead from the front, and it has everything to do with how the audience reacts to seeing a menacing super-powered badass ready to step in when the army of useless stormtroopers inevitably fail.

So would this change diminish Palpatine? Well, maybe. Frankly though I think it would be worth it and possibly only serve to make him more threatening in the second and third films if you mostly cut him out of the first simply by letting the threat of him loom a bit. After all most Star Wars fans knew he was the emperor going in. Letting him be there but apparently not doing much would set everyone wondering just what plans he might have in place, or even if he was actually a sith yet. It would also help close the plot hole formed when the captured Trade Federation leaders didn’t immediately turn around and announce that, yes, they were taking instructions from a creepy guy in a cloak who referred to Darth Maul as an apprentice, and could we please not get shot now? In fact you could even capitalize on it by having a scene where the Jedi are questioning them about Maul trying to find if he was the master or the Apprentice. All of them say that he was running the show, except perhaps for one who offers an opinion that he thought Maul might have been getting instructions from somewhere else. Or if that’s too much just give him some last words, perhaps a barely coherent plea to his master for help. In short, give us a little bit of mystery here as to what the balance of power is.

And with that out of the way, that only leaves the side characters… oof.

So first off, R2-D2. In an early draft he was actually supposed to be the POV character, recounting the history of the Skywalker family from his own experiences to an advanced being hundreds if not thousands of years after the battle of Yavin. And, even though that was dropped, he actually fills that role really well. He’s the perfect fly on the wall character – always present yet usually ignored. To paraphrase the awesome HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic, “Droids are like furniture. No one thinks much about them. Which makes it the perfect surprise when the lamp in the corner pulls out a high powered blaster combine and liquidates them.” So how does the quirky little astromech do?

Actually, pretty well. R2-D2 is more or less perfectly handled in The Phantom Menace. This time he’s brand new, and obviously a bit more capable as a result of it, but frankly what else did we expect? I imagine he’s pretty far out of warranty by the time A New Hope rolls around.

And C-3PO. The overly polite slightly prissy protocol droid who really has no business being in a war. In this movie, he’s presented to us as a naked do-it-yourself project in some kid’s bedroom.

And again, I really don’t have a problem with it. I actually think it’s kind of a good twist on the character that 3PO, who always made a point of bragging about the features he had to everyone he met, was actually cobbled together from spare parts and junk. As for the alleged plot hole of why Vader never recognized him… should he? How often did they actually interact in the original trilogy? And, if you think about it, how many identical protocol droids are out there? The fact that C-3PO and R2 were able to pretend to be droids belonging to the Death Star in a New Hope suggests that there were probably quite a few gold-plated protocol droids and blue astromechs on board the station, so seeing a droid that was identical to C-3PO was probably a daily occurrence.

Which leaves… which leaves…

Okay. Well, first off we should be asking a very important question: does he even need to be here?

No, he doesn’t. At no point are his actions vital to the plot. Taking them to the Gungan city? Naboo has been populated for long enough that I’m pretty sure that the humans know the Gungans are there. Leading the Gungan forces? We’ve already got a Gungan officer character who can do that. Comic relief? You do realize you have a naked C-3PO in this movie, right? And a sarcastic snarky Obi-Wan? Enough said.

So yeah, my thoughts (unsurprisingly) is that this is a character that simply does not need to be here. If you really wanted to keep him though, I would actually suggest taking a page from the Clone Wars series currently wrapping up on Cartoon Network. There they make the simple change of having the disaster that follows in his wake due not to him being mind-numbingly stupid and cowardly, but simply profoundly unlucky. In which case you could make his introduction more the result of the Gungans trying to snub Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon by offering them a guide that they feel will be a hindrance. But honestly, the movie would be well served by just getting rid of him completely.

Plotting Along – The Phantom Menace (Part 2)

So tweaking Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon was really mostly an exercise in fine tuning. While there may have been a few areas where the script stumbled, their characters were actually handled pretty well. Unfortunately the same could not be said for Anakin Skywalker, aka the reason everyone was watching this mess of a film.

For the three people in the world who don’t know how this turned out, Anakin Skywalker in the Phantom Menace is the most adorable cherub of a future despot ever born into slavery. The only reason he’s not constantly highlighted as the film’s greatest mistake is the fact that he so often shares screen time with Jar Jar Binks.

Now I get what George Lucas wanted to do here. He wanted us to see that Anakin was a good kid, that evil can come from anywhere, etc. And you know what, he’s right, it was important to establish that. With subtlety. This Anakin is about as subtle as driving a screw with a sledgehammer. So how do we address this issue?

First off, and this should have been a no-brainer, Anakin needs to be older. Making him so young was a huge misstep that ended up making every single character who meets him into a horrible person. The responsible Qui-Gon becomes a self-centered mess of an adult willing to endanger a kid at the drop of a hat so long as he can get something out of it, Padme becomes uncomfortably pedophilic in every romantic scene that she has with him, and Obi-Wan ends up looking like the single worst Jedi Master to ever pick up a lightsaber for somehow managing to turn the living personification of cuteness and light into Darth Vader. Even R2-D2 takes a hit for letting the kid fly straight into what is essentially a suicide mission.

Adding another ten years or so would have immediately fixed so many of the problems with Anakin’s characterization that I’m almost tempted to stop there. But that would be ignoring the other problem with him – namely the fact that he’s got to be the most cheerful slave child ever shown on screen.

Slavery in the Star Wars universe has always been a bit of a sticking point with me. Not only because it’s just casually there, but because even the people we are supposed to view as the enlightened good guys are perfectly happy keeping slaves in the form of droids. And yet this is never confronted in the movies. And given that, I feel that making Anakin a slave was actually a rather brilliant move, both because it explains where Anakin’s fall began and provides the perfect excuse to finally confront this massive elephant in the room.

Anakin as he is does neither. He and his mother, slaves of a master who’s shown to be rather poor, live in a home that seems rather nice by Tatooine standards and apparently have enough disposable income to share food with whoever happens by and build droids and pod racers in their spare time. Lucas’s version of slavery doesn’t seem that bad. I trust I don’t need to explain how monumentally screwed up that is.

Anakin needs to be damaged. He needs to have been shaped by his experiences. In short, he needs to be angry, resentful, and what’s more the audience has to see that he has good reason to feel that way. And you can’t do that if you’re not willing to show the ugly side of slavery. If you’re not willing to show that, you really are better off just dropping the entire slave premise.

My Anakin would be much closer to Vader from the start. Show him as brash, overconfident, and fully willing to abuse the tremendous power he’s discovered he has to try to right the wrongs he’s seen in his life. Let him have grown up hearing stories about the Jedi from his mother, about their supposedly magical abilities and dedication to justice. This way it’s not a innocent boy that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon discover, but a young man who is already trying the hardest he can to be a Jedi even if he is getting so much of it wrong.

As for his mother… honestly I wouldn’t change much. In fact I’d even let her keep her house. I’d just explain that the only reason she has it is that Anakin basically mind-tricked her master into setting her up with a more comfortable life. Let her be the idealistic good hearted woman we saw on the screen, seemingly the one person on that miserable dustball who still believes in the Force and the Jedi. Because this, ultimately, would be the redemptive element for this darker, more dangerous Anakin. The woman who serves as his moral compass and initially inspired him. Only take it further.

The Shimi I envision is part prophet, part social worker. Show her taking care of the rest of the slaves, tending to their wounds, teaching them about the light side and goodness. Bringing hope that they desperately need. Basically just commit to the virgin Mary allegory they fumbled with in the original script. A woman who’s already experienced a miracle and knows that her son will go on to do even more. Which gives her the perfect reason to stay behind when Anakin goes off to become a Jedi.

These changes would not only help this movie, but the following ones as well. Having Anakin already powerful and knowledgeable in the force even before his formal training began gives a reason for his arrogance in Episode II, and having been raised on idealized stories of Jedi nobility would explain his disillusionment with the order by the time Episode III rolls around. And it gives a legitimate reason for the Jedi Council to show hesitation at training him.

From their perspective he’s already started down the path to the dark side, too set in his ways to ever fully embrace the Jedi code. Perhaps even have them conclude that while it may be his destiny to bring balance to the force, he will do so as something other than a Jedi. At which point the story could go one of two ways. The first would be if Obi-Wan, young, supremely confident, and willing to believe that anyone can be redeemed steps forward and announces that he will train him. Not Qui-Gon, which robs Obi-Wan of the responsibility for Vader’s fall. This moment would not only restore agency to Obi-Wan, but also give added weight to his warnings to Luke in the original trilogy that Vader may be beyond redemption. The second option is that he stands back, holds his silence, and then after Qui-Gon’s death comes to Anakin and offers to train him in secret. Ideally after a scene where Qui-Gon suggests to him that there is more to being a Jedi than being a member of the order.

I can see advantages to both sides, and honestly am torn on which would make for a better story, but I find myself more drawn to the latter approach. Having Anakin trained in secret would have the advantage of explaining why his name wasn’t common knowledge in the time of the original trilogy. It would also further establish him as an outsider with perhaps an overly idealized vision of what the Jedi were, one they ultimately failed to live up to. Finally it would give him an out for his relationship with Padme. As he was not a member of the order, the requirement of celibacy was not imposed on him, thus he could pursue the relationship without compromising his vows, only to have it become a point of conflict for him later when, as an adult, he is recognized as a Jedi and properly inducted into the order.

And that’s pretty much it for Anakin. Only one more part now, focusing on the Villains, the side characters, and the most challenging thing of all… Jar-Jar.

Plotting Along – The Phantom Menace (Part 1)

Ah, Episode 1. Possibly one of the biggest disappointments cinema has ever produced. The film that actually made people nostalgic for the days when the most embarrassing things about Star Wars was the Ewoks, and we thought that C-3PO’s lowest point was having his ass handed to him by Salacious Crumb.

And this is the first movie I’m going to do in this segment. Well, I suppose there are weirder ways to find out that you’re an online masochist. I can’t imagine there are many though. Given the enormity of the issues with this particular film, I’ve decided to break it up into a few more manageable chunks. Fortunately the film lends itself rather well to this, as each character is pretty much given a discrete story arc within the movie.

Okay, so, let’s start at the most basic level. The premise. Let’s face it, the prequels are essentially just an origin story for Darth Vader. No secret has ever been made of this. And you know what, it works. I know a lot of people have complained that we shouldn’t know more about Vader’s backstory, but that’s not a view I’ve ever held. There’s some rich character development there. What’s more, Vader’s gradual corruption parallels the fall of the republic perfectly, particularly in the fact that it was the hubris of Obi-Wan, the man who literally first showed the audience what it was to be a Jedi, that allowed it to happen.

Which brings me to the first issue. The Obi-Wan in the film is introduced to us as a padawan. Not only that, but a surpremely humble one. Qui-Gon is the one who takes the center stage here.

Now I have no issue with Qui-Gon. In fact I like him a lot. But the unfortunate fact is that while he’s around, Obi-Wan really doesn’t have much of anything to do. He’s almost reduced to a supporting character, overshadowed by his master.

This problem isn’t limited to Obi-Wan either. Darth Maul, also, is completely overshadowed by Palpatine, which is problematic both because it gives Darth Maul nothing to do and because for Palpatine to act so directly is very much out of character for how he’s presented. He’s a puppet master, yes, but he uses extremely powerful and capable pawns to be his public front. Both can be addressed.

My version of the film would start much the same way with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan heading to Naboo, much the same as it does in the film except for a few changes. First, Obi-Wan is a full Jedi Knight, fresh from his trials, and perhaps slightly annoyed (though still respectful) at Qui-Gon’s presence, as he sees it as a sign that he’s not entirely trusted to handle what should be a simple negotiation. They arrive on the flagship and are taken to a conference room. Only this time instead of being outed by a droid, Darth Maul, already physically present and apparently in control of the blockade, is the one to detect them. As the force is a two way street he immediately orders them killed before they can reveal him, against the protests of his trade federation allies. They then escape, reach Naboo, and rescue the queen. Except this time while Obi-wan goes to escort the queen, Qui-Gon stays behind to try to protect the people of Naboo and investigate Maul’s involvement.

This serves two purposes. The first is to give Qui-Gon a plot that doesn’t require Obi-Wan to wait around on a starship doing nothing. Second is that it sets up a precedent useful for the rest of the series, as Qui-Gon’s investigation of the Sith has the unintended consequence of turning the Jedi peacekeeper into the general of a rebellion – further explaining how the Jedi transitioned into an officer corps by the second movie.

Which then takes us to the next issue in the script: Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin pretty much needs to be redone from scratch. A lot of people have said that he shouldn’t be likeable. I don’t agree. He should absolutely be likeable, otherwise you don’t feel anything when you see him fall. What he shouldn’t be is cute. And that’s exactly what Anakin is in the Phantom Menace.

The Anakin the film needed would be more like Han Solo. Arrogant, brash, and even a little evil from time to time. In a sense someone who is only as good as his surroundings will allow him to be. Next time, we’ll take a look at how the Skywalker family might have been improved.

Plotting Along – An Introduction

So I’ve seen a lot of bad movies in my time.  Sadly that kind of comes with the territory for sci-fi fans, which means that most of you can say the same.  And for years one of my primary coping mechanisms has been picking said bad movies apart and trying to figure out where the film makers or, more specifically, the writers went wrong.  In other words, I nitpick, lampoon, and riff mercilessly. 

That said not all of that riffing is negative.  Every now and then me and some friends like to sit down and actually work out what kind of changes would be needed to make a bad movie into a good one.  Usually in unnecessary detail. Which is basically what these bits, so far called “Plotting Along” (yeah, a pun, sue me) are going to be all about.  Mostly because I do want to put something on here other than just endlessly droning on about Shadows of Time.

There are a lot of movies that could be really, really good but for a few missteps.  The reasons for this are generally varied.  Sometimes it is incompetence, but even more often it’s just a lack of necessary resources, be they money, actors, or time, to do things the way the people involved want.  In this case it’s really not anyone’s fault if a film falls flat, it’s just reality.  Which is why before I start I want to lay down some ground rules.

First, this is all in good fun.  It’s what-if musings about how a story might have been tweaked, not an attack on anyone or their tastes. 

Second, this is not necessarily an exercise in real world film making.  A surprising number of sci-fi movies are filmed on a shoestring budget these days due to the cost of the special effects they require.  In the real world scripts get trimmed for budget, dialog gets tweaked by a star’s favorite writer, and scenes get dropped or added in order to hit a targeted running time.  All of these tend to play havoc with the scripting process and none of these factors are ones that will be regularly considered in these articles.  They exist in an ideal world where actors can do every role handed to them, producers write a blank check but otherwise are unseen, and the only schedule the director needs to stick to is “when it’s done.”  Like many of you I have a lot of opinions on these practices, but these aren’t a forum on any issues I have with the entertainment industry.

Third, all of this, of course, reflects my tastes.  And I enjoy a lot of stuff that others dub as overly cerebral or slow.  Obviously the changes I suggest wouldn’t please everyone.  This is not a value judgment or attempt to assess the quality of any particular style or genre, just a reflection of what I like.  So don’t take it personally if I come up with an idea that in your mind would ruin your favorite movie. 

Fourth, by the same token, there are films I like that a lot of people hate.  For example, I have a huge soft spot for Star Trek The Motion Picture, a film that is regarded as unwatchable by many.  I can understand a lot of the objections people have to watching it, I may even agree with a few of them, but I still don’t feel it’s a bad film.  And by and large this is going to spotlight films that failed to live up to their potential in my personal opinion.

And finally, just because the goal is to come up with a better version doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be original.  I know I’m not the first person to compile constructive criticism or alternate scripts.  I’m not setting out to copy anyone else’s ideas, but I have no doubt that a few of the ones I come up with will bear a resemblance to ones others have made public over the years.  If this happens just leave a comment with a link – I’ll try to look at it and possibly even edit the article to include it.  It’s always interesting to see someone else’s approach.  Should I ever actually reference another article on purpose though, it will be credited as such.

And that’s it for now.  First randomly selected movie for revision is… Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.


This is going to take a while.