Look. I don’t hate the Star Wars prequels–in fact, compared to most fans’ feelings on the subject, I even like them. But in a world where alternative facts are a thing, there is no denying they are deeply flawed movies. I would argue the overall, bird’s eye view of the story is interesting and worthy of the Star Wars mythos, it’s just that for the most part, they are very poorly written and executed.

In honor of Darth Maul #1 being released this week (and because I am apparently a masochist), I rewatched The Phantom Menace recently, and while for the most part yes, it’s an unwatchable pile of dog shit, there are nuggets of potential strewn everywhere throughout the movie. It’s not quite as unredeemable as its reputation suggests, and it stands to reason that with a few basic changes (none even relating to Jar Jar!), it might even become a good movie. Off the top of my head, here are five:

Explain why and how the Force is out of balance

A central tenet of the prequels ends up being “bringing balance to the Force.” It’s Anakin’s calling as the chosen one to do so. But viewers are largely left in the dark about that balance. Why is the Force out of balance? How? What happened? What does that even mean? It’s explained by George Lucas in the VHS documentary for A New Hope that “bringing balance to the Force” means eradicating the Sith and essentially eliminating the influence of the dark side altogether, but this is not clearly explained in Phantom Menace (or any other Star Wars movie, for that matter).

Ditch the trade dispute storyline, and make the first third of the film about the Jedi Council and their business

This is what we wanted more of. Not a bunch of Gungans talking about doodoo.

While we’re on the subject of bringing balance to the Force, when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon find Anakin Skywalker, Qui-Gon believes that he is the chosen one to do just that. This is all well and good, but the problem is this isn’t mentioned until they just so happen to stumble upon the apparent messiah by accident. Why not make the chosen one Episode I‘s MacGuffin? Maybe instead of being dispatched to handle a snore-inducing trade dispute, Yoda has a vision of the chosen one and sends one of his best Jedi and his apprentice to Tatooine to investigate.

This could have made the first 45 minutes of the movie far more exciting than it ended up being–and yes, it could have allowed us to just skip Jar Jar Binks altogether. Instead of the trade dispute and hanging out with the Gungans, we could have seen Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fucking shit up OG Jedi style and allowed more time to explain the purpose and origins of the Jedi Council–yet another core principle of the Star Wars saga that is simply taken for granted.

Too many things in The Phantom Menace occur through sheer happenstance and, as a result, the movie feels meandering and out of place. The first episode of a six (now nine) part saga is monumentally important, and they couldn’t have bungled that starting point any more than they did.

Make the immaculate conception a bigger deal (and ditch the midichlorians)

“Master, what are midichlorians?”
“Fuck if I know son.”

Much like a lot of this movie, an absolute bombshell of a revelation is just sort of mentioned off-handedly to zero fanfare: Anakin was the product of a Christ-like immaculate conception and had no biological father.

Why the hell wasn’t this a bigger deal to anyone? Didn’t any of Shmi Skywalker’s family, friends or peers find this the slightest bit out of the ordinary? Maybe they thought she was a lying trollop and gave her a knowing wink and a “suuure, there’s no dad”. Or, worse, she was a slave after all, so it’s entirely possible she was pimped out by her master and raped. But regardless, Qui-Gon believes her and that’s ostensibly what actually happened. Isn’t this a bit more amazing to the audience than Qui-Gon saying, “wow, this kid has an usually high number of a type of germ that I, for all you know, could have made up completely on the spot”?

Ditch the midichlorians altogether. It’s a bizarre addition to the mythos that is difficult to shoehorn into canon as it’s never mentioned again outside of the prequels (and even then, it’s only spoken of once more in the prequels at all–during Palpatine’s telling of the story of Darth Plagueis to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith).

Flesh out Darth Maul (and the Sith in general)

Of all the missed opportunities in the prequels, Darth Maul is possibly the biggest. He looks like a badass, he’s an adept fighter, he has a sick name, and there is no cooler lightsaber in the galaxy. He’s also presented as nothing more than a pawn of Darth Sidious, with no intentions or feelings of his own. How did he come to become Sidious’ apprentice? Why? They don’t need to show all of this, but a little exposition would have gone a long way. Combine this with my suggestion of having the first third of the movie focus on Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and suddenly their showdown becomes that much more impactful.

Darth Maul is an icon of the prequel trilogy, but if all the Star Wars you’re experiencing is the movies, you know next to nothing about him. Disney could easily make a fascinating standalone film entirely based around the character, but Lucasfilm could have started by making his character matter in Episode I.

Cut the podracing scene to a fraction of its run time and instead show Anakin’s progression as a Jedi

“Now THIS is an enormous waste of time!”

The prequel trilogy is the story of Anakin Skywalker. And while he gets a lot of screen time in Episode I, much of it is wasted. We do learn some things about him: he’s an expert engineer and a gifted pilot. He really likes podracing. He…uhh…did I mention he really likes podracing? I hope you do too, because an enormous chunk of the movie is dedicated to one goofy single race whose 1999 CG doesn’t exactly stand the test of time. Sure, the stakes are high, as Anakin’s freedom is on the line. But there are other ways to free him, and even if the podrace has to be how it’s done, the length of this scene could be cut drastically.

And with all this newfound free time, instead of ending The Phantom Menace with a medal ceremony that’s a mirror image of A New Hope‘s, I think it would be more valuable to show at least some of Anakin’s tribulations on his way to becoming a Jedi master, even if it’s in montage form. Anakin suddenly aging 10 years between Episodes I and II is pretty jarring, even more so because no one else visibly ages half as much. This could have been alleviated by showing Anakin gaining wisdom, experience and yes, age at the end of Episode I.

I don’t think these changes would have been too much to ask, and would have made The Phantom Menace much more worthy of the Star Wars name. Honestly, it’s not as far off as your memory may recall–Attack of the Clones, however, that’s an article for another day.

  • trustno173 .

    I find this list pretty poorly thought out in places. And no, it is far from unwatchable.

    First of all: Why would Qui-Gon and Obi Wan just go around fucking shit up for no reason? Second, I don’t think Force visions work like that since they’re almost always pretty vague. And third, the Trade Federation’s invasion was what got Palpatine into the position of high power. Plus they don’t focus on the dispute that much, I mean unless everyone’s watching a version of the PT that I’ve never seen, I can tell you with all honesty that with the combined lengths of the prequels, seven hours in all, the politics only take up about twenty, maybe twenty five minutes, so those who complain about them taking up too much time come off as having no attention span to me. Plus that means no Padme, and no establishing the relationship between Anakin and Padme, and then why would they go to Naboo in the last act? Would they just say “Oh BTW planet under attack, go help out.” And I personally think the whining about Jar-Jar is far more obnoxious than he could ever hope to be.

    Also “Too many things happen by sheer happenstance” … So every Star Wars thing ever? Plus that’s the whole ‘Will of the Force Thing’ that happens in every Star Wars movie.

    The Midi-Chlorian Chosen One thing is made as a more quiet shock and disbelief, and even skepticism rather than big “Holy crap! Big deal!” So it comes off as more subtle to me. The thing I’d change is make the prophecy, since they’re so vague about it.

    The Darth Maul thing was addressed, as Lucas himself admitted it was a mistake to kill him off and brought him back, but I don’t think giving him a backstory was necessary as Tarkin, Jabba, and Palpatine had none in the OT.

    And as for the Podrace… it was cut down. The original cut was like fifteen minutes longer. Plus I think the effects of the Pod Race hold up quite well. Plus there’s a lot more about Anakin if you pay attention: He sticks up for others, is determined to obtain his dreams of freedom despite everyone’s doubts, he has trouble with emotional attachments, he has subtle powers like being able to see things before they happen, and sadly some more character traits got cut out of the film (one scene was cut because it would have been a pointless bit of fanservice with a young Greedo) Also I find the whole ‘age him up in the last act’ would be more jarring and the montage idea quite lazy. Plus the whole ‘no body ages but Anakin thing is kinda accurate to real life as Portman has aged quite gracefully, and I think the beard makes Obi-Wan look older enough.

    Just my opinion, but I think this movie is just fine and the hatred for it and the whining has gotten old and needs to stop.

    • Patrick Ross

      Well there would be a reason for them to be fucking shit up. If you read any EU book, see the Clone Wars/Rebels cartoons, or read any comic book you see scuffles happen between the Jedi and adversaries all the time. They are keepers of the peace, they have to keep the peace from time to time. I’m not advocating they go pick fights with innocent people for no reason.

      I think it was more necessary to give Darth Maul a backstory than Tarkin, Jabba or Palpatine in the OT, as he was the central enemy of the movie. it would be like if Luke fought some unknown Sith who had only said three sentences before their fight in Empire.

      The podrace scene is still way too long IMO, but thankfully they did cut it down.

      I agree the whining about the movie is overblown to an extent. The framework of a good movie is there, I just think there were many missed opportunities.

      Thanks for your feedback!

      • trustno173 .

        I do wish his dialogue hadn’t been cut out. One exhanged I wished they had kept was this.

        Gunray: Where are you going?!
        Maul: To take care of the problem.

        Well that’s fine, and I agree some ideas you propose are good, I don’t think they’ve ever given a proper origin for the Jedi in either the movies or shows, seems like such an obvious thing to cover, but maybe that’ll happen in VIII or IX.