WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

MENACING CHOICES


The new STAR WARS movie looks great! So let's take a look at those awful prequels and see where they went wrong:

The strangest thing about seeing those STAR WAR prequels isn't that BLACK SWAN's Natalie Portman is the Queen, it's that PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN's Keira Knightley is the Queen's *maid* - a throw away role! Though the three original movies look just as good as they did when they were released, the three new films are kind of silly. STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE made a ton of money, but when I saw it I marveled at the storytelling choices George Lucas made. How could the guy who made STAR WARS go so wrong?

The opening credit roll tells us that the big conflict is over taxation - the most exciting reason Lucas could come up with for inter-galactic warfare? Hey, maybe George was writing what he knows!

Our job as screenwriters is to find the most exciting and emotionally involving way to tell our stories. You could give the same story to ten different writers and each would make different choices along the way - some of the scripts might end up very exciting, others might end up boring. Each scene in your script can be told hundreds of different ways - we need to find the juiciest way!

In STAR WARS: EPISODE ONE - THE PHANTOM MENACE there's a potentially exciting situation, told in the most boring way possible. To avoid assassination Queen Amadala pretends to be a hand maiden to a decoy Queen. We are given this information fairly early, and later in the film when the decoy is exposed we know that the real Queen Amadala is safe. The only emotional response this scene elicits from the audience is relief - they didn't discover the real Queen.

What are the STORY CHANGES in this scene? None - the Queen is alive before the decoy is exposed and after the decoy is exposed. Exposing the decoy doesn't change the course of the story at all. What about the EMOTIONAL course of the story? We have no emotional attachment to the decoy - young Anakin had a crush on the hand maiden (real Queen), so that's the character we got to know. The decoy's character is completely meaningless to the outcome of the story.

A better way to handle this is to remove all of those clues to the hand maiden being the real Princess. We don't let the audience in on the secret. Hey, it makes more sense for young Anakin to develop a relationship with a hand maiden, right? He's a commoner, why would a Queen even talk to him? The Queen is the only hope for peace in the Empire, the most important character we have met in the story so far...

Then have Queen Amadala assassinated! That would be shocking! The hand maiden would be crying, holding Queen Amadala's corpse. Big low point - big change in the story. If the Queen is dead, the bad guys will win and it won't matter if Anakin becomes a Jedi Knight... there won't BE any Jedi Knights anymore!

As Qui-Gon and the others try to put together a plan to survive now that the Queen is dead, the hand maiden raises from the Queen s corpse and claims to be the actual Queen. No one believes her. We KNOW her - she's just this regular gal! She CAN'T be the Queen. Qui-Gon thanks her for the suggestion that she pretend to be the Queen, but tells her it'll never work. They'll know she's not the Queen - the real Queen has an amulet...

The hand maiden pulls back her sleeve and shows her amulet...

TWIST! She's really the Queen! Everyone bows! BIG MOMENT! Big twist in the story, too. Change-change-change! And emotional change? Anakin realizes he's got a crush on THE QUEEN. Now we wonder if her being Queen has an effect on her relationship with Anakin. Everyone is bowing except Anakin... Was she just pretending to have a crush on him while playing the part of the hand maiden? This question is resolved with a smile from her... but then the shooting starts!

Threatening a decoy doesn't trigger any emotional response from the audience, threatening the real Queen does. So the audience MUST BELIEVE she is the real Queen. Conceal and reveal. You have to conceal the information in order to reveal the information.

CONFLICT INVOLVES US

Characters also have no emotional struggles in the film. Conflict INVOLVES US in characters. A character without problems is a boring character. I would have built up a love triangle between Anakin, Amadala, and Kenobi... like the Luke, Leia and Han Solo love triangle in STAR WARS (EPISODE 4: A NEW HOPE). This builds up conflict between Anakin and Kenobi, and conflict exposes character... and is darned exciting. If we don't know who the Queen is going to hook up with, we'll be INVOLVED in all three characters.

Another good choice would have been to give Kenobi problems accepting the Force (like Luke in SW:E4-ANH). He is unable to make the light saber jump into his hand. He just doesn't believe strongly enough. Qui-Gon is going to flunk him. Qui-Gon tells him that he'll NEVER be a Jedi Knight. Never. This creates conflict and drama between the two...

But when we get to that scene where Qui-Gon is trying to convince the Jedi Council that he should take on Anakin as a pupil, it adds a TON of suspense. Will Qui-Gon FLUNK Kenobi? When he tells them Kenobi is READY, that creates even more suspense. Now Kenobi is a FRAUD! He's just been promoted when he should have been fired. Kenobi KNOWS he is a liability to Qui-Gon! He'd better get his sh*t together before something bad happens.

Oops! Too late.

Instead of just giving Darth Maul that cool two bladed light saber, it should have been revealed. Conceal it, make the audience think it's just a regular light saber, then reveal it at the moment when it has the most impact!

And of all the choices you could make, why have Qui-Gon just die? Bam - he's dead. Where's the emotions in that? No TIME for emotions. The SITUATION isn't set up for emotions. A character we like - hey, Sam Jackson is the coolest part of the movie - gets killed in the blink of an eye.

Why not do it this way: Qui-Gon is wounded - dying, Kenobi the complete screw up is hanging from the edge of the bottomless pit, Darth Maul has his sword raised to remove Qui-Gon's head. Things don t look good. Kenobi is a fraud, he's had trouble with the force throughout the film, and has become a liability to Qui- Gon... and now he's the only one who can save him.

Darth Maul swings the light saber down at Qui-Gon's neck. Kenobi uses the Force, zooms the light saber into his hand, flips up to the floor, and stops Maul from killing Qui-Gon. Kenobi and Darth Maul have a SPECTACULAR fight (this is the big villain, he can't die easy). Darth Maul is a much better fighter than Kenobi, and soon has him cornered. Kenobi realizes he is about to die... then he closes his eyes - uses the force - swings his light saber and kills Darth Maul.

Kenobi goes to Qui-Gon, holds his hand. Qui-Gon says: "You are a Jedi Knight after all", then dies. Big moment. Emotional and effective. Qui-Gon gets a DEATH SCENE instead of just dying.

Last, here's a choice that didn't make any sense to me: The Jedi Council was all wrong. Jedi KNIGHTS. Maybe I'm crazy, but I picture a cross between King Arthur's round table, Robin Hood's Merry Men, and The Three Musketeers. Kick-ass dudes that zoom around in space fighting for what's right. I always thought Yoda was the old dumpy one they kept around just because he was smart. I NEVER expected all of the Jedi Knights to be old dumpy guys. Why weren't they a room full of KNIGHTS. A round table type thing where they voted, but had VERY strong opinions. These guys are fighters - heroes - musketeers. Not another group of bickering bureaucrats! Where's the magic in bureaucrats! What kind of a choice was that?

There are millions of ways to tell your story, millions of choices. Pick the way that has the most impact on the audience!

Odd that the actress who played the decoy is now one of the biggest movie stars in the world! Heck, let's look at one of her PIRATE movies tomorrow!



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