Podcast Reaction: Fixing Prequels Edition

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Not shown above: a passionate love story for the ages.

This week on the podcast, those darn Gabbing Geeks discussed how to fix disappointing stories.  They also discussed pop culture mothers after Mother’s Day, but I don’t have anything to add there.  They also discussed feminist action heroes, but that might be the work of a future column.

Just go see Mad Max:  Fury Road if you haven’t already.

But I’m going to take a moment to discuss how to fix a certain infamous set of prequels.

OK, so, Star Wars fans were disappointed  by Episodes I through III.  Oh, there were parts that worked, to be sure.  Darth Maul swings a rather impressive lightsaber, podracing is at least as cool to watch as Quiddich, and the last act of Revenge of the Sith is OK as long as both Padme and Anakin keep their damn mouths shut.  Hayden Christensen delivered more of the acting goods by glaring than talking.  That may not be saying much, and I’m not sure if that’s a slam more on Christensen’s acting or Lucas’ script or both, but it’s the truth.

So, how do we make these movies if not good, than at least better?

First, I’m going to establish some ground rules:  the basic plots will be more or less the same to start, and no matter how annoying the character, they still have to appear in the movie.  That means, yes, Jar Jar can stay…for now.

So let’s get this party started…

Episode I:  The Phantom Menace

Two things are needed to make this movie better to start, with the overall goal being to fit the films into the same timeline as the original trilogy.

First, we need some hints of young Anakin going to the Dark Side.  He doesn’t have to full-on kill anyone.  He can lose his temper a few times, maybe throw a tantrum when he realizes his mother is being left behind.  We need a hint that he’s a emotional guy.  Jedi are meant to be stoic.  It’s the emotions that lead Anakin ultimately to the Dark Side of the Force.  Having Qui-Gon, or better yet Obi-Wan, lay down some emotional ground rules to start would be a good beginning, and show Anakin breaking those rules.  In fact, if he breaks those rules and actually gets positive results, that could be a good foundation for Anakin going to the Sith.

Second, and this may be painful, we need to do something with Jar Jar.  Tone down the “comic” relief, maybe drop that goofy accent, and have him also bond with Anakin.  This move will make more sense down the road.  As annoying as Jar Jar was, I think a great opportunity was lost by his diminished presence in the next two movies, and this will make more sense when I get to them.  Jar Jar as a weird sidekick to the Jedi doesn’t work.  Jar Jar as a potential companion to Anakin could.

Of lesser need would be trying to close the age gap between Anakin and Padme and dropping all talk of midichlorians, or however it’s spelled.  These probably wouldn’t hurt, but are not the priorities of the other two points in my proposal.

Episode II:  Attack of the Clones

We need to change the opening here.  Anakin and Obi-Wan have been working together as master and padawan for a few years now, but we get no sense of how good the two are supposed to be as friends and partners.  Let the movie open with an action piece showing the two working together.  There’s all sorts of vague talk about Separatists.  We’re told that Count Dooku is a political idealist who left the Republic over idealistic reasons.  You know what we aren’t told, even in passing?  What those ideals are.  We don’t need a long lecture on galactic politics.  We need some mook to shout something about how the Republic has become bloated and corrupt, and the Jedi do nothing about it.  You know, the thing Senator Palpatine says to Padme back in Phantom Menace.  I only learned that was the reason the Separatists are separating by reading a video game supplement set in the Star Wars universe.  I realize that the politics of the galaxy far, far away are hardly interesting, but it wouldn’t hurt to know a very basic motivation for this apparent uprising against Republic rule.  Besides, it gives viewers a hint as to who Darth Sideous is for those who didn’t figure it out in the first movie and remember Palpatine’s advice.

In fact, we need to include a not-at-all clumsy Jar Jar in that opening.  The original trilogy depicted the struggle of the Rebel Alliance against the Empire, but there were (for obvious reasons) hardly any Jedi.  Let’s have some non-Jedi in the mix for the action scenes.  You know who else might be a good guy to have helping out?  Sebulba, Anakin’s old podracing rival.  He can pilot the getaway ship.  Having a former rival as an ally could make for an interesting turn.  But we need Jar Jar, and we need to show him as a confidant for Anakin, especially in those moments where his advice openly contradicts Obi-Wan’s.  And keep Jar Jar out of the Senate.

Do a bit less with Boba Fett while we’re at it.  Jango Fett is fine, but we don’t need an exact origin of Boba beyond the idea he’s Jango’s “son”.

We also need someone who knows how to write real romance to handle the courtship of Padme and Anakin.  Even if the actors had better chemistry, there’s very little here that doesn’t come across as he’s stalking her, and there’s no hint she feels anything for him until the end of the movie.

As a final note, show Senator Palpatine looking at Sideous’ robes hanging in his closet at the end of the movie.

Episode III:  Revenge of the Sith

OK, so, this movie was the best of the three prequels, which may not be saying much, but it has its moments and sets things up for the future OK in certain ways.

But of the things it does do, it leaves a lot of the things people who saw the movies in the order they came out as surprises as not-surprises for future generations.  We see Padme give birth and die after naming both twins and having them get handed off to people.  We know Anakin is Darth Vader.  We know he had two children, Luke and Leia.  He doesn’t know that.

So, how to fix this…

First, Padme lives.  Her death makes little sense in this movie.  Did she die of a broken heart or giving birth to two giant babies? Seriously, those babies look like they were six months old, not newborns.  Leia in Return of the Jedi says she knew her mother, but only as “feelings” because her mom died when she was very young.  While you can’t get much younger than a handful of minutes old, but having her alive is a little better because there’s a better candidate for Anakin to kill off.

Yeah, let’s kill Jar Jar.

Told you there was a reason to keep him.

See, by now, we’ve seen that Anakin has a lot of emotional turmoil.  If you examine the movies, you know basically Anakin switches sides to always save his loved ones.  He went Dark Side to save Padme, and he destroyed the Sith to save Luke.  He even argued against killing Luke to the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back.

But wait, Tom, you say, you said we need to make Jar Jar competent and less goofy.  Wouldn’t we be less inclined to kill him then?

Perhaps, hypothetical reader (probably Bianca Horkan), but consider if you will what Jar Jar in this new sequence of events represents:  he is Anakin’s childhood friend and companion, someone who listened to him and gave him advice and helped him out when he needed it.  He may have helped Anakin court Padme.  Killing Jar Jar at the end of his padawan period officially ends Anakin’s childhood, shows what kind of adult he is, and could be, if done right, about the same as if Han Solo shot Chewbacca in the back.

Here’s what else we need to do:

  • Show Padme give birth to Luke, but leave the second child’s fate a secret.  Reveal she’s having twins, but don’t give us Leia’s fate.  Senator Organna can certainly be helping out, but don’t show him taking one of the babies.  He can offer to take Padme somewhere safe, but leave it at that.
  • Have Obi-Wan leave Anakin after he burned up.  Do not show the transformation into Vader.  Episode IV then starts with this giant mystery villain and some rather oddly cryptic words from Obi-Wan about who killed Anakin.  The viewer would know Obi-Wan is lying about Vader betraying and killing Anakin, and would also know that there wasn’t a second padawan, but leave things hanging.  Then there’s the potential that future viewers watching Empire Strikes Back for the first time will have that same sense of wow when Vader drops his famous line.  If we are led to believe Anakin is dead, that line can still surprise.
  • Show us Qui-Gon’s ghost.  Yoda says it can be done, but we never see it.

The prequels have some serious issues, but taking a few steps to improve them like this can help make them better movies that work better with the original trilogy.  Maybe.

Or at least let Charlie Brown kick the damn football.

 

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8 thoughts on “Podcast Reaction: Fixing Prequels Edition”

  1. Agreed. I would also not have Obi-Wan drop Luke off on Tatooine with the name Skywalker. Original trilogy be damned. That’s just dumb. 🙂

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  2. Lucas is a brilliant idea man, but terrible at execution. I’ve always said that the framework and new concepts of the prequels were not bad, nor do I think the actors in them are bad, as we’ve seen most of them excel in other films (even Jake Lloyd probably screentested well when he was being directed by casting directors).

    Tom’s tweaks in the hands of a talented filmmaker would have made for an enjoyable trilogy.

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    1. I agree on Lucas. I listened to the audio commentary once for all six films, and the one thing that leaped out at me was he never really did the story as he saw it. He said Vader was meant to be a pathetic figure on the edges that nobody respected, but then he put a seven foot tall guy in black samurai armor, gave him a glowing katana and hooked him up to an iron lung while talking like James Earl Jones. Of course people thought he was a badass.

      I’ll give Lucas credit for one thing in the prequels, though: Palpatine’s plot was downright brilliant in that most of it was implied or unstated. There was never a big villain speech where he told Yoda or Obi-Wan what a fool they’d been to keep falling for his tricks, yadda yadda yadda. Too many writers would have given the guy a speech spelling everything out to the audience. I don’t think there’s ever even a moment where he laughs to himself about how he’s playing both sides against each other to get what he wants. That sort of restraint is a good thing in my mind.

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