I saw “The Phantom Menace” about a week after it came out at a 9:00 show on a Thursday. The audience was about, oh, two-thirds full which was less than I expected and hinted that word of mouth on the flick was not good. Me, I’d have seen it even if it entirely sucked. Luckily, it only mostly sucked.
I didn’t hate it, exactly, but “disappointed” would not even come within 140 parsecs of describing how I felt when I walked out of the theatre before the credits were done, which is something unheard of when you’re talking me and a Star Wars film. I mean, this was Reason 12 way back when! It couldn’t be bad, no matter what the critics said! But it was just, well, so stupid! So emotionless! So void of sense and character development and overloaded with cute and spit and shit and farting! And Jar Jar Binks! Aieeee!
When I was storming through the lobby, fists clenched, teeth gritted, eyes like little slitty slits, my friend Eric said, “all that and I still don’t know who The Phantom Menace was!” So I turned to him and muttered, “Palpatine.” And he goes, “huh?” So I had to explain to him that the entire plot of that 2-hour, 15-minute movie was nothing but an extended and rather dull prologue for getting Senator Palpatine into the president’s seat of the Imperial Senate (who will not sit still for this!) so he could assume command of the galactic government, declare himself Emporer and start the Clone Wars. There were minor plot developments concerning introducing Anakin Skywalker to his future wife, establishing Obi Wan’s inherency of a certain disregard for protocol from his own mentor leading to problems with Anakin’s training later on, lots of stuff like that.
From a storytelling perspective, a lot has to be accomplished but what it boils down to is that the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo, a backwater hamlet no one would otherwise care about but which happens to be Palpatine’s home base so trouble there would just happen to elevate him into a position of power, which in itself is hardly the stuff of grand drama, sweeping epic and high art since it concerns money, not blood, has to take place so everything that comes after, comes after.
Still, I think Lucas made three wrong turns when he created this mess. First, he assumed the viewer knew as much about his created universe as he did himself so that much of the detail didn’t need to be there. Second, some of the detail was left to the comic relief to ask about which in this case was a character you couldn’t understand half the time and couldn’t stand to watch the other, so you didn’t care what anyone’s answer was to his childish-sounding questions because you just wanted the scene to be over so you could stop cringing. Last, he trusted his own judgment in his own creation and forgot that even the best authors are the best authors because they have the best editors.
The other stuff that made me mad was how the Jedi and The Force were pretty much pissed away with a rather silly and non-essential explanation concerning little parasites that swim through our blood and, unaccountably, appear able to create life within the womb and totally confuse women slaves who give birth without benefit of a partner in this galaxy where there is apparently no sex anyway.
So I went looking on the web, where you can find anything as you know, and discovered a hidden directory on a site that contained excised scenes from Episode I apparently written by George himself. Rather than hide them from you, I present a few excepts that will fill in some of the blanks left in your head after trying unsuccessfully to follow the twists and turns of The Phantom Menace. Some of these are missing scenes, others were truncated or rewritten at some point prior to the final screenplay’s completion.
Scene: Tatooine, outside Shmi Skywalker’s slave pen home thing
Qui-Gon Jinn: Where is the boy’s father?
Shmi Skywalker: He has no father.
QGJ: Dead is he? I’m sor…
QGJ: Imprisoned. So sad that the slave trade continues even though we have all these droids sitting around which…
SS: No, not imprisoned.
QGJ: Then enslaved elsewhere. Ah. Torn from his family and forced to serve under the lash, even though we can build and buy all these droids to do the work and…
SS: Why do you keep going on about the droids?
QGJ: I dunno. Just something that interests me. You know, here you are, a slave. Forced to, um, live at home and take care of your son and, um, say, just what is it you’re enslaved to do, anyway?
SS: I must wander about with my hands clasped looking sad. Like this.
SS: You were saying about the droids..?
QGJ: Oh, you know. You can pick up droid parts pretty cheap. They’re just laying around everywhere, or so it seems. So I sometimes wonder why we have slaves when we can build droids for…
SS: Anny is building a droid.
QGJ: Is he? To take his place at Wotto’s, no doubt.
SS: No, it’s a protocol droid.
QGJ: Say what?
SS: He’s building a droid that can translate and serve tea and negotiate contracts.
QGJ: You serve a lot of tea around here, do you?
SS: Not really, no.
QGJ: And. . . we all speak the same language anyway, so the use of a translator would be. . . what exactly?
SS: Um. He has no father.
QGJ: The droid?
QGJ: Say what?
SS: I’m changing the subject.
QGJ: Oh. So, um. No father.
SS: Uh uh.
QGJ: As in. . . no father.
QGJ: Isn’t that interesting.
SS: A little peculiar, I’ll grant you that.
QGJ: So you’re a. . . uh. . .
SS: A virgin. Yes.
QGJ: Mmm. So. Wanna fuck?
Pretty interesting, huh? I was sure surprised that there was a whole romantic underplay going on that I never noticed in the film before I read that. But when you see it again, since I know you will, look carefully at Liam Neeson and Pernilla August in that scene. Hot!
Okay, the next excerpt takes place between Darth Maul, Sith apprentice, and his Master, Darth Sidious AKA Senator Palpatine AKA Monkey Eyes. This is really cool because in the actual film, Maul has maybe five scenes and speaks about two sentences total. Here we get to see a little deeper into this character’s drives and passions.
Scene: Someplace evil with ships and stuff and maybe some stars or something
Darth Maul: Greetings, my Master.
Palpatine: Maul! How they hangin’?
DM: I am disturbed, Master.
P: You’re disturbed? Look at these hands! Ugly liver spots. Blecch! You’re disturbed?
DM: I just said that.
P: Ah, but you didn’t have to! See! Another lesson in the Dark Side!
DM: The Dark Side allows one to read other’s thoughts?
DM: Then what..?
P: It is not your place to question me! I am the Dark Lord of the Sith!
DM: Yes, Master.
P: I am one badass motherfucker, Maul! You hear me?
P: Are my words getting through your thorny scalp, red eyes?
DM: Ow! Hey! Stop rapping on my skull!
P: I can do anything I want. Nyah!
DM: Yes, my Master.
P: Lower. Remember, moderate your tone to the lower vocal registers. It’s all menacing and shit.
DM: Is this better?
P: Maybe a little quieter. Remember, you’re evil! Eeeevillle!
DM: Ahem. Like this?
P: Oooh. That’s good. Yes.
DM: Master, may I ask a question?
P: No! Yes! Maybe!
DM: I am confused.
P: About what, my little raspberry tookums?
DM: You speak often of the Dark Side of the Force, of obtaining talents and dominion and that I “don’t know the powah of the Dark Side!”
P: Uh huh.
DM: But so far all you have taught me is that I have to paint my face all weird and glue these horns on my head.
P: Exactly! Dark Side! Ooh! Scary!
DM: But, I mean, is that it?
P: It? It what?
DM: Well, I mean, look at the Jedi! They’re all hopping around like crickets, bounding hundreds of feet in the air. They get to wear their hair all cool and stuff. Winning bets by basically cheating people, influencing the dice and so on. Slavery exists and they seem fine with that. All I get is this big black cape that keeps getting in my way with the slightest breeze and a headache every night from these contact lenses! I mean, if they’re the Light Side, what do we get?
P: Jedi. Feh! No sense of fashion! All serious and studious, wandering around testing people’s blood and just because I fall a little short in some test they think they can…
DM: You were a Jedi, Master?
P: No! Who said that?
DM: Uh, no one.
P: Good. Goooood. Goooooooood.
DM: Um, so will I receive training to be able to defeat them?
P: Defeat whom?
DM: The Jedi?
P: Jedi. Feh! No sense of fashion! All serious and studious, wandering around testing people’s blood and just because I fall a little short in some test they think they can. . . what were you saying?
DM: I didn’t say anything.
P: You did! You said, “what’s all this I hear about you and Jabba?”
DM: No, Master, I…
P: They’re everywhere you know.
DM: Who? The Jedi?
P: Jedi. Feh! No sense of fashion! All serious and studious, wandering around testing people’s blood and just because…
P: Maul! How they hangin’?
Strong stuff. Drama, pathos, homosexual innuendo or whatever -sexual a Hutt is.
“Yippee! I’m A Jedi!”
Finally, this scene from the Jedi Council Chamber on Coruscant. I’m sure you’ll find this as interesting as I did and you’ll wind up wondering why Lucas meddled with what may be a piece of perfect screenwriting.
Scene: Jedi Council Chamber within Jedi Temple spire overlooking Coruscant. Late afternoon. Fourish.
Yoda: So, A Jedi you wish to be, mmm? Ee! Hee hee.
Yoda: Say you what?
Qui-Gon Jinn: He says that a lot, Master Yoda. Just ignore it.
Yoda: Mmmm. Are you not afraid then, young Skywalker?
Yoda: Much fear I sense in you. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…
Yoda: Suffering leads to headaches. Headaches lead to aspirin. Aspirin can help heart attacks to avoid.
Qui-Gon Jinn: To avoid what, Master Yoda?
Mace Windu: You misunderstand Master Yoda, Master Jinn.
Qui-Gon Jinn: Yes, Master Windu?
Mace Windu: Since you have been gone, Master Yoda has embraced a new dialect which takes words from where one may think they ought to go and places them elsewhere in a sentence so that the meaning may be discerned only by…
Mace Windu: By listening to his wise words and twisting them back into something that actually makes sense.
Qui-Gon Jinn: Ah. And why is that, exactly?
Yoda: Ask you not question take table around foot jumping hello?
Qui-Gon Jinn: I’m sorry, I missed that entirely.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Mahstuh?
Qui-Gon Jinn: Yes, Obi-Wan?
Obi-Wan Kenobi: May I smack him with my lightsaber?
Qui-Gon Jinn: Yes, Obi-Wan.
Anakin: Yip… Ow!
Yoda: Heart attacks lead to medical bills huge! Medical bills lead to lawyers. Is the room spinning anyone else for?
Qui-Gon Jinn: I believe this boy may be The One.
Mace Windu: You’re referring to the prophesy of The One who will bring balance to The Force. You believe it’s this. . . boy? This ‘yippee’ boy?
Anakin: Yip… Don’t hit me!
Qui-Gon Jinn: No, I am not referring to the prophesy of The One who will bring balance to The Force. I just thought he could wipe our butts for us. Yes he’s The One. Have you seen his whatchamacallit readings?
Mace Windu: His “what” readings?
Qui-Gon Jinn: You know the things? The stuff? Did I mention he has no father?
Mace Windu: No father, as in..?
Qui-Gon Jinn: As in virgin birth, guys.
Yoda: Oh, pull the other one. That’s it, I’m outta here. Who’s hitting the Jedi Lounge with me? It’s Wet T-shirt Night! You, big head! You coming?
So, I hope this clears up some of the confusion you might have shared with me after seeing Phantom Menace. I know I feel a lot better!
June 18, 1999