I have always been fascinated with the idea of taking already established stories and retelling them in a different way. This has not been something I have paid too much attention to until recently, but whenever I see a film or read a book, I tend to run the story through my head over and over considering different possibilities–just for the fun of it. Some stories affect me more than others, and it is for those stories that have a strong theme I spend the most time with.
When I was growing up my family went to drive-in theaters to see the first three Star Wars movies a combined total of 11 times. We would double-bag a big, brown paper grocery bag, fill it to the top with freshly popped popcorn and then drizzle the popcorn with so much butter that splotchy shapes on the outside of the paper bag turned dark, like continents on a globe, barely able to hold their form. Ahh, those were the days of high cholesterol and monotone speakers.
So when Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace came out, I was ecstatic. Not only did it take me back to those magical nights in the drive in, but it also continued a theme that was very important to me at that time in my life, “the sins of the father are passed down to the son.” When Luke Skywalker cut off Darth Vader’s head in the belly of an ancient tree in Dagobah, and Vader’s face plate exploded revealing Luke’s countenance, it absolutely blew my mind. It was so powerful and said so much about the affect our parents have on who we are. I wanted to see more. I was earnestly waiting for Lucas to dive right back into that theme in The Phantom Menace. It would be like going back in time to my father’s childhood to see all the things that helped form the man who raised me. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t dreamed about that … my father was a kid once? … no way!
By the time Episode I came out my mind was on fire. Not only was I anticipating the story that Lucas was going to tell, but I was running story scenarios through my mind. It was going to be the greatest continuation of a movie series ever, but then everyone knows what happened next … it wasn’t.
Oh, how disappointing! I was so discouraged by what I saw that I went back to the theater two additional times just hoping that it would get better with each viewing. Maybe I had missed something, or maybe it would be like it is when you listen to a song on the radio enough times and eventually you start to like it. But that didn’t happen. The problem was that Lucas was so far away from the theme that he had created in the first three movies that no special effects or ten minute pod races were going to satisfy me. I wanted the sins of the father, and I wanted it so much that I already knew what should have happened. If only I could have met Mr. Lucas prior to the production of this movie, maybe I could have gotten to him early enough to tell him my story instead.
So here it is, Star Wars Episode I–The Phantom Menace that I wanted to see. The story that is partly about the doomed Master-Apprentice (father-son) relationship between the Senator Palpatine, later to become the Emperor, and Darth Maul, the precursor to Darth Vader.
Star Wars Episode I begins with a young, orphan boy and his sister hiding behind a street vendor’s cart on some planet far, far away. He’s a thin, poor boy but has a sparkle in his eye telling you he is destined for greatness. His younger sister is the epitome of cute, but keeps complaining to her brother that she is hungry. He asks her to be quiet and stay hidden behind the stand. He has some apples to steal–at this point everyone thinks this is Annakin Skywalker, but did Annakin have a sister?
A well-dressed blonde man, wearing a long phantom-like cape, passes by the children just before the boy makes his run for it. The man seems to glimpse at the boy from the corner of his eye as if he knows what the boy is up to. The boy doesn’t notice, because the next thing we know he is dashing through the streets, running from cart to cart.
He meanders through the street, making his way to the apple stand, dodging several hover-type land cruisers that almost run him over, until he arrives several feet from his intended destination. His heart pounds in his chest so hard he can feel it in his ears. The apple vendor, a big, hard-nosed man, is standing right there arguing with a customer, so if the boy’s going to do it, he’s going to have to be very careful.
He creeps in slowly, ducked as close as he can to the ground, until he reaches a barrel of cider next to the cart. From there he extends his arm up as far as he can. He can almost touch the apples, almost, but he can’t see how close he is … he is very close. As he tries to extend his arm further, it begins to shake, only slightly at first but then more and more agitated. A drop of sweat as he reaches down inside of himself, and then the apple begins to shake … until it files into his hand. The force. Without knowing what just happened he dashes off, and just when we think he is going to get away the apple vendor grabs him by the collar. The boy struggles mightily to get out of the man’s grip, but the man pulls him tight into a bear hug. Boxes fly at the man as the boy unconsciously uses the force to break free, but the man holds on. A moment later guards show up and grab the boy. Laughing, they tell the boy that he is headed to the slave camps. He cries that he has to take care of his sister. She is hungry–they have to feed her. The men don’t care. They delight in the boy’s misery.
Just as the guards begin to drag the boy away, their heads are both pulled back in the same direction as if being rigged with a rope. It is the blonde man. He says that this boy is with him, and then he bribes everyone to release the boy into his care.
When the boy runs back to get his sister, she is no longer there–who knows what happened to her. This boy is not Annakin. It is Darth Maul and the blonde man is Senator Palpatine, who later will become the Emperor. Darth Maul is saved for the moment, but later dies at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi because of his involvement with the Emperor.
If Lucas just would have done something like that, I would have been satisfied. As I watched the events of Annakin’s life unfold, they would have been underscored by the irony that he, just like Darth Maul, eventually falls victim to the “dark side” of the Master-Apprentice relationship. It would only be later in Return of the Jedi when Luke Skywalker will be able to break the dark cycle of the Master-Apprentice bond when he refuses to accept the path of his father, but is still able to accept his father. Hence Episode One would have reinforced what the first three films taught us: we don’t have to follow the sins of our parents, but we do need to accept them for who we are and the role they have played in our lives. What an excellent lesson.
What do you think should have happened?