Episode I Story Conference
Hey folks, you’re going to love this. Recently I was antiquing in rural Pennsylvania when I came across an unparalleled gem: a two hundred page transcript of a 1994 story conference George Lucas held concerning the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. I plunked down two wooden nickels and a rabbit’s foot for this treasure, a real bargain when you consider what story conference transcripts normally go for.
I’d like to share a few passages with you now from this incredible document that are of particular interest. Just so you know, the participants in this Algonquin round table included George Lucas (G), an unidentified Lucasfilm underling (U), and Loretta R, a cleaning lady who just happened to wander into the conference room (L). Man oh man, Loretta was an IDEA MACHINE. I can’t believe she didn’t get credit on the final print.
Talk about a fascinating read. It’s amazing to pore over the conception stages of such a terrible fucking movie. Enjoy these snippets. If the feedback is positive, I’ll post the whole thing later.
On Jar Jar:
G — The thing with this is, we want to make a very painful character. We want him to be extremely clumsy with everything he does, as is the Don Knotts character or the Andy Dick character. Mr. Furley and the spazz from “Newsradio” were very bad at what they did. They had the dropsies with everything. They were falling all over themselves. They were very unprofessional. They were incredible wastes of space.
U — Like Skippy from “Family Ties.”
G — Yes, like Skippy from “Family Ties.” He’s a real yutz. Just annoying the hell out of you. And that is the key to the whole thing. That’s something you don’t see that much anymore.
L — Do you have a name for this thing?
G — I do for our #1 cash cow.
U — I hate this, but go ahead.
G — Shut the fuck up! Who asked you? Who makes the money around here? Anyway, Jar Jar Bronks. It has to be unique. It’s a character. Very galactic square. He was born underwater.
L — What do people call him? Jar Jar?
G — That’s what I was thinking. Or “Bronks.” Or “Totally Awesome Character That’s Gonna Pay For My Kid’s Retirement.” [Laughs] Anyway, he’s so annoying that people are trying to kill him as soon as he arrives or maybe even before he arrives. As soon as he gets there, there are Jedis popping out of walls, all these slimy characters are following him, all that stuff that happens in space to people everyone hates.
On Darth Maul:
G — He’s the guy who’s been all around the universe. He’s a soldier of fortune. He is also painted all red and black and has totally bad-ass horns. Kids love that stuff. Maul is an archeologist of pain and an anthropologist of fear. A Ph.D in evil. He’s a doctor of lightsabering, he’s a college professor with a death wish. The thing is, though, he got involved in being Palpatine’s bitch. Sort of being his male handmaiden. And it became a very lucrative profession so he, rather than be some rogue Jack Burton-type, he became sort of a contract employee for this prissy old Sith guy. And that’s why he wears those parachute pants. Because he’s forced to.
G — I think basically he’s very ignorant about everything. Maybe he thinks that most adults are just full of shit, and that he’s going to be totally awesome no matter what he does anyway. Better that he mouths off to impress people he barely knows. That’s the key also. He knows how to completely not ingratiate himself with anyone. He knows what’s important – totally wizard pods and yelling all the time. He knows to go in there like a bull in a china shop and destroy everyone’s patience.
On the beginnings of the Anakin/Padme romance:
G — I was thinking that she crash lands on Tatooine and meet this female slave with a really annoying kid – Anakin. She could have known this little bitch when he was just a kid. Had an affair with him when he was eight.
L — And she was ninteen.
G — In the next movie, she hasn’t seen him in twelve years. Now he’s all hunky and young adult. She looks the same age, though. It’s a real strange relationship.
U — He had better be real hunky to justify the ickiness.
G — Fuck you! He’s twenty-something, and he knew her ten years ago when he was ten or whatever and she was way older. It’s like a hot babysitter situation that actually pays off. It would be amusing to make him slightly young at the time.
L — And promiscuous. He came onto her.
G — Ten is right on the edge. I know it’s an outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once he’s sixteen or seventeen it’s not interesting anymore.
U — Man, you sound like Michael Jackson.
On the Jedi rat tail hairstyles:
L – What if it’s a hairstyle we hate, a hairstyle the audience can’t stand? It’s always on our hero and no one likes it very much, like a mullet.
G — A Flock of Seagulls cut would be a perfect thing.
U — What hairstyle don’t people like?
G — A rat tail.
U — Oh yeah, a real nasty rat tail, braided and shit.
G — It doesn’t have to be braided.
L — Obi Wan could have two or three of them.
U — That’s a pretty brave fashion statement.
G — He’s a fucking Jedi, he doesn’t care what people think. He can make you forget he even has a rat tail.
On the deleted bantha chase sequence:
G — What can Jar Jar chase them with? What if he jumps on a bantha?
L — I love it. It’s a great idea. There’s never been a bantha chase before.
U — Is this bantha going to chase a pod racer?
L — You know how fast a bantha can run? Not only that, he can jump over jawas and things. It could be a funny chase that ends in tragedy. You’re laughing your head off and suddenly, “My God, that bantha’s dead.”
U — We still have the big fight at the end to do. And now we have a bantha chase.
G — We’ve added another million dollars.
U — So? You make that on your way to the crapper every morning.
On the ending:
G — If you follow classic dramatic plotting, that’s what is going to happen. You kill the only interesting character, and you create as much malaise after that as you possibly can.