George Lucas finally gets it. Sort of.
The flannel-abusing 67-year-old director recently told The New York Times Magazine, "Why would I make any more [Star Wars movies] when everybody yells at you all the time and tells you what a terrible person you are?" But just when you thought he was taking his lightsaber and going home, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace comes out today ... in 3D.
You see, not making any more Star Wars movies doesn't mean he can't revive past ones. And you don't have to know what planet Chewbacca's from (Answer: Kashyyyk) to know Lucas has a history of repackaging and retooling. His Star Wars movies have had more plastic surgery than a Real Housewife, and he's re-sold them to us again and again, always after fixing imperfections only he could see. I have no doubt that five years from now, he will suddenly become dissatisfied with Natalie Portman's left eyebrow in The Phantom Menace, thus justifying the release of special editions of the prequel trilogy.
So I thought I'd save him some trouble by suggesting seven options for improving Menace for its future releases. If you can't Force him, join him. Right?
1. Start with Select All, then Delete. Then bring in Samuel L. Jackson and cast him right this time. Somehow, Lucas got the biggest badass this side of Tatooine and decided to cast him as a peace-loving Jedi? That was a bigger fumble than Kyle Williams' flub in the NFC Championship game a few weeks ago. Cast Sam the way he should always have been cast-- as a badass Sith Lord named something like Darth Steel. The Jules Winnfield of the Dark Side. Even bring back the Jheri curl.
2. Hire Aaron Sorkin to write the screenplay. He may not be known for his space operas, but the guy knows how to develop characters, something entirely missing from The Phantom Menace. Sure, maybe Obi-Wan decides he wants to run a small-market baseball team on Endor, or there's lots of stormtrooper walk and talks, but doesn't that already sound like a much better movie?
3. Turn Jar-Jar Binks heel. Lucas has always been too much of a softie for his own good--when Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to die at the end of Return of the Jedi to give the film some emotional heft, Lucas refused, preferring Hallmark endings and dancing Ewoks. The ultimate swerve would be for Jar-Jar to shoot Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) in the back, bitch-slap Anakin, and then form a tag-team with Darth Maul. The kiddies wouldn't see that coming.
4. Condense the entire existing film into the opening crawl, introduce entirely new characters with some edge and complexity, à la Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, and blow up another Death Star. It worked twice before, why not thrice?
5. Keep it simple--no trade federations and arcane shipping sanctions, just clear-cut good guys and bad guys. More Rocky IV and less United Nations.
6. Create a defenseless, sympathetic CGI character named Lucas the Hutt, complete with double chin, beard, and glasses, and then have him gunned down in cold blood by a four-year-old Han Solo in that same bar on Tatooine.
7. Make it into a musical. Replace Jake Lloyd with Justin Bieber, and right when Yoda is about to scold him for acting his age, have him break out into "Baby," with Jawas as backup singers.
And somehow, after everything I just wrote, I am going to see The Phantom Menace tonight. I might as well hug a cactus. There's no way to rationalize it, but I will try: My hope is that the other people in attendance are also former fans who want to use this opportunity to exact revenge on Lucas and his incessant mediocrity.
When Jar-Jar first appears, I hope the entire theater rises up and throws Hayden Christensen dolls at the screen. Perhaps the nerds will have the last laugh -- but Lucas will still have our money.
-- Brad Balukjian is an entomologist at UC Berkeley and knows in his heart that Han shot first.