Tag Archives: movie making

Four Ways to Fix the Prequels

7 Apr

Yes, I spent some time thinking about this while bored at work. Why do you ask, doesn’t everyone think about this when bored at work?

As a follow up to a previous entry on how I wish the fundamental approach to writing the prequels had been different, here are a few ideas I’d throw out there for consideration:

1. The presentation of the Jedi. This is a big one. Jedi are cool. We “know” this because we saw Luke (and Obi-Wan to a lesser extent) in the original three movies. The Jedi are badass warriors who have Force powers and use lightsabers. Turns out though that the Jedi are not, in fact, cool. They’re political pawns. Diplomatic soldiers. They’re a rigid Order. They follow a life devoid (as much as possible) of attachment. A life devoid of emotion. They sit around and meditate, or teach others to sit around and meditate. They study archives. They teach others to study archives. They use lightsabers (ok, that part is kinda cool) or teach others to use lightsabers. It’s a risk to portray what was once cool as abruptly uncool, but I think it’s necessary for the prequels. Anakin’s decision to leave the Jedi has more resonance if we’re not so sure about them ourselves.
     I like the way the Jedi Order is portrayed in the movies, but I wish the reasons for the Jedi Order being the way they are were made clear. When you have a world where a minority of the beings (Jedis in this case) have superpowers and the majority of beings do not it creates an interesting tension. How do the superpowered beings react? Do they believe themselves superior? Attempt to enslave the “regular” majority? Do they see themselves as having responsibilities (with great power comes great blah blah blah…)? Do they see their powers as license to do whatever they want? Do they see their powers as a mandate to help others less fortunate? etc.
     I’m fairly certain that if all the people on our police force had superpowers we would want them to be restricted by a code of some sort, perhaps we’d even prefer to have them under our government’s control. Then we’d feel comfortable with them protecting and serving us. As guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, the Jedi must surely know that the biggest threat to the galaxy is a rogue force-user: a person with superpowers that doesn’t follow any code or agree to government restrictions the way the Jedi do. A Sith, for example.

It’s not attachment or fear or anger or emotion that leads to the Dark Side. It’s power. This is why the Jedi Order takes all the force users from everywhere in the galaxy (except the Outer Rim apparently) at an extremely young age and brainwashes them with the ways of the Jedi. It’s for the greater good if all the force users are Jedi. It’s the best way to train soldiers, er, guardians of peace and justice. It’s why the Jedi have such “narrow, dogmatic views.”

One way to show at least some of this is to have Qui-Gon be a true maverick, an actual rogue Jedi, and not just a mostly regular Jedi who doesn’t “follow the code” (whatever that means). Perhaps start Episode I with the chancellor sending Obi-Wan, on his own, to negotiate the trade dispute, but he finds Qui-Gon there. Qui-Gon, as Obi-Wan knows, is one of only 20 Jedi to ever leave the order (another one being Count Dooku) and as such he is a fugitive from justice. Obi-Wan is under authority of the council to return Qui-Gon to justice, a notion which Qui-Gon deems absurd. Qui-Gon is there on Naboo though, because he’s sensed a large disturbance in “the living Force.” (See, Qui-Gon believes that the Force is more than just an energy field, he believes it’s actually a sentient being which has feelings and desires, something which the Jedi Order does not.) So now Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are reluctantly paired on Naboo and there’s inherent conflict between them which originates from their character. Make Qui-Gon a cynical rogue akin to, oh, I don’t know, Han Solo or something like that. He’s amused that Obi-Wan thinks he could actually “return him to justice” but he tags along because he wants to find out what is causing the disturbance he senses (plus the droids try to kill them). Obi-Wan is constantly on edge because he knows Qui-Gon is (or at least could be) dangerous. Qui-Gon is constantly trying to convince Obi-Wan that the Jedi are missing something significant about not only the very nature of the Force, but also something disturbing which is originating on Naboo (a phantom menace of sorts).
     Anakin’s got the idea of Jedi that we had gotten from the original movies. He thinks they’re cool. He looks up to them in the way a boy looks up to heroes. He wants to be one because it’s the greatest thing one could possibly be. When he’s confronted with a regular Jedi, Obi-Wan, and a rogue Jedi, Qui-Gon, his confusion about what it is to be a Jedi starts in right away, a tension heightened significantly when they inform him that he himself has force powers and could, in fact, be a Jedi. (Well, Qui-Gon says he could, Obi-Wan isn’t sure since he’s already too old to enter the Order…)
     Obviously this one significant change in the character of Qui-Gon has massive implications for the rest of Episode I as well as the next two.

2. Include Count Dooku (pronounced the way Lucas does in the EpII behind the scenes stuff, so that his name “Dough-Koo” sounds more like the japanese word for “poison” and less like literal shit) in all three episodes. The way the movies are currently, some time shortly after Episode I Count Dooku becomes Darth Tyrannus. This means that during Episode I Count Dooku is a fallen Jedi (one that has left the order). He is also Qui-Gon’s old Master (perhaps where Qui-Gon got his I-don’t-follow-The-Code behavior?). Why not have Count Dooku contact Qui-Gon in Episode I? Or perhaps the other way around with rogue Qui-Gon seeking out Dooku? Perhaps Anakin overhears this. Count Dooku confides in his old Padawan that things aren’t as they seem, he’s onto something big and he’s not sure exactly what yet. Perhaps he tells Qui-Gon he suspects the sith have returned. Perhaps he tempts Qui-Gon to join him in his quest to defeat the Sith.

3. Include Qui-Gon in all three episodes. This is actually the case with the movies the way they are now, sort of, but it’s really badly done. If he’s made into a cooler rogue character this is even more important. In a saga where the quest to stop death becomes one of Anakin’s primary motivations Qui-Gon is the one character who figures out immortality. He teaches it to Yoda and then (after Episode III) to Obi-Wan. He’s important. He’s talking to Yoda in Episode II but this is so subtle I’m guessing very few people notice (and some that do can’t tell it’s supposed to be Qui-Gon because it’s badly done). Qui-Gon is the one who finds Anakin and the first to believe that he’s someone special. The more significant Qui-Gon’s belief in Anakin the more tragic his sudden departure in Anakin’s life becomes. Anakin is out to try and stop death… perhaps not just because his mother dies, not just because he’s sure Padmé will, but perhaps also because Qui-Gon died. Have Yoda bring up the fact that Qui-Gon has retained his identity after death. To Qui-Gon Anakin listens… Why not have Qui-Gon show up as a ghost in Episode III? Instead of having Yoda tell Obi-Wan that he “has training” for him, have Qui-Gon appear and tell Obi-Wan himself… the first Jedi to figure out post-death-identity-retention ought to be the first ghost shown, right?

4. Fix Padmé’s death. I don’t like thinking that Padmé, the mother of Luke and Leia, dies of a broken heart. Sadly, Episode III indicates that she does. Personally I read between the editing of that scene, examine the subtext that I might be making up, and see it differently. But I shouldn’t have to do this. Padmé’s death ought to be one of the great mysteries and powerful moments of the prequels. It’s one of the few things that we don’t know about. We know she doesn’t live, but that’s all we know. How does Leia remember her? How does Luke not? How did she die? These are fundamental questions that are poorly answered in the movies, if they are answered at all. Her death could be used as a great way to show the true power of the Dark Side, the power of The Force, and the way it truly does connect all of us. Her death can be used to illustrate the profound affect that Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side has on those around him. She is bonded to Anakin, and he to her. When he “dies” this force connection between he and her is broken. When he devotes himself to the Dark Side, after devoting himself to her, some of that new devotion goes into her, perhaps despite her desires. Her connection with Anakin is torn from her. That violent ripping could be cause, in combination with traumatic birth and near-death experience on Hell Planet, for her death. But show that! Don’t just have a droid say she’s dying but we don’t know why.

I wish I could wish away

29 Mar

Whenever my DVR happens to record one I’ve been watching the new computer animated Clone Wars show on Cartoon Network. I missed the “movie” that premiered the show in theaters last year, and I don’t think I’ve seen every episode, but it’s overall a rather enjoyable diversion that sometimes feels a lot like the best of Star Wars. But it makes me wish that George Lucas had learned one key thing about episodic storytelling before he embarked on making the prequels: write all the episodes first and not one-at-a-time. The Clone Wars, as well as the live-action Star Wars tv show that’s currently in production, had all the episodes written first. Not so with the Star Wars Prequels.

I’ve also been slowly making my way through the transcript of the Raiders of The Lost Ark Story Conferences and I’m amazed at the job undertaken by Lawrence Kasdan. He listens to these two men pour ideas at him for a week, and while some things (he’s after the Ark of the Covenant) aren’t up for debate, nearly everything else was. Indiana’s last name, Marion’s role and name, the identity of Indy’s rival, the locations that he would visit on his quest, what he would do and find in said locations, it was all up to Kasdan. But the sheer amount of ideas meant that he could just pick and choose whichever ones fit the story best and go with them. (The leftover ideas like a goofy child sidekick, a jump from a crashing plane with an inflatable life-raft landing on snow and becoming a sled, a mine cart chase, a sexy german double-agent, etc. would end up being used later).

The wealth of ideas on display in the Clone Wars show make me wish that a similar process had been done when writing the prequels. George Lucas is not short of ideas, particularly ideas that take place in the Star Wars universe. There’s two ideas in particular that I wish he had though of prior to writing/making the prequels. There is a story-arc about a neutral planet inhabited by pacifist lemur creatures. The Separatists plan to send an occupying force there to test a new biological weapon that could kill all non-mechanical things on a massive scale. They figure this planet is the perfect place to do so since the natives won’t fight back. The Jedi, in an effort to keep peace in the galaxy (as they are wont to do), dispatch Anakin Skywalker and a crew of clones there to protect the innocent Lemur Folk from the imminent arrival of the destructive droids. Except that the Lemur folk don’t want them there. Peaceful as the intentions of the Jedi might be the Lemur-Folk declare that they are just as violent, evil, and war-mongering as The Separatists and want nothing to do with any of it. As far as the Lemur-Folk are concerned the unwelcome arrival of the Jedi is the arrival of the war. They demand that the Jedi leave and if this means they are all destroyed, then so be it. Another episode features Yoda trapped in a cave with a few clones who declare that they are expendable and interchangeable, and can save Yoda by sacrificing themselves. Yoda disagrees. They are beings of The Force, he says, and therefore they have individuality. They can be creative. They have a life-force and a value, and when they explore it and find ways to nurture and develop it they will prevail.

Both these episodes featured ideas that would have been welcomed and very effective in the prequels. Anakin is given a complex choice and asked to really explore how he feels about fighting as a means toward peace. He’s shown how effective it can (or can’t) be, and his actions have a direct impact on an entire species. Yoda teaches about the intricacies of The Force and how it relates to individuality, even if by outward appearances and origins you have none (and what does this mean for Anakin, a being possibly made by The Force?).

The writing of the three Star Wars Prequels is a challenge. Here you have three of the most beloved movies of all time. While essentially ensemble movies the main character is arguably Luke Skywalker. Now you set out to write three more episodes and change a trilogy into a six-episode Saga. Not only that but while the three new movies are essentially ensemble movies there is no Luke Skywalker and the underlying goal is to convert Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader into the main character of all six movies. Except that Palpatine is really the main character in the new three movies. How does that all work? How does it all get put together? The story of a peaceful Republic turning into an Empire and the story of Anakin turning into Darth Vader must both be told, but all six movies must work as a whole. It’s a tough thing to do.

I wish it had been done the way they did Raiders. I wish George and whoever else he thought had good ideas (Kasdan? Spielberg? Coppola?) all sat down for a week or two with a screenwriter and just threw out these hundreds of ideas that are now on display. The screenwriter could have then picked and chosen the ones that fit best into a three-movie story which then works together as a trilogy as well as the first half of a six episode Saga.

I had a dream…

15 Nov

Walking through the halls of a building that seemed a cross between a mall and a school I ran into this girl I once knew. Went to High School with her maybe? I told her to come later to my presentation where I was going to be making an announcement about what I’m doing next.

Inside a large room there is a wooden podium and everyone – I mean everyone I’ve ever known, will know, or know now – is there. Watching me get up and make a speech. I’m seeing this too, from somewhere in the audience, which is perhaps why I feel no nervousness. I speak about acquiring a modest budget for a very large ambitious project. I talk about my excitement that this is finally coming to pass. “Independent Film, independent movies are talked about a lot,” I say, “but the secret is that they are anything but independent. Especially movies as big as Tales From Atlantis, independent movies are huge cooperative adventures, requiring many many people, underpaid hours, and much effort.” Before I finish speaking about how you don’t have to know me or how to make a movie in order to help, there is a massive rush to the sign-up sheet. Eagerness and excitement.

I veto using the RED Digital camera because renting it for 6 days uses up the entire budget, and we have at least 2 weeks of shooting. “We’ll have to find a cheaper camera,” I think, “though I would like to shoot in HD.”

I supervise the building of a massive model in someone’s driveway. A hole has been dug for the “ocean” upon which Atlantis resides. Lights have been rigged and are being painted blue.

I meet with the costume designers about the cultural differences between us and Atlantians, and how those can be reflected in the costumes.

Somewhere in all that I evidently shot, composited, and edited an entire movie.

In that same large room, with that same large group of people, the wooden podium has been replaced with a screen. Tales From Atlantis shows. As the final overhead shot of the endless ocean, now void of Atlantis or any remnant of it, plays over the screen, my credit fades in. “Written and Directed by Juno Orion” and then an eruption of cheering and clapping. The kind that compells me to cry tears of joy even when it isn’t for me.

This is an amazing feeling. The kind one lives for.

There is cheering throughout the credits as everyone in turn sees their name on the screen.

Absolutely amazing. I hope this dream is prophetic.