Star Wars is on everybody’s mind lately, so I figured I’d revisit this little topic: how to fix the Star Wars prequels. And boy, howdy, do they need fixing.
Now, in order for this post to make sense, you’re going to need to read my opinion on what to do about Episode I since, obviously, this builds off of that one. Also, this post stands to be a bit longer than the previous one, since Episode II is an absolute train-wreck of a movie that is watchable only because Sam Jackson, as Mace Windu, pulls out a purple lightsaber and says:
Oh, and Jango Fett, who is also cool, even if completely underutilized and involved in bizarre plot elements.
Anyway, here’s what I’d do in the (supremely unlikely) scenario that I was in charge of somehow overhauling the prequels:
Step 1: OH MY GOD, THAT CREEPY LOVE STORY!
The absolute most unbearable part of Episode II – so unbearable as to be completely unwatchable – is the love story between Anakin and Padme. I think I’d rather get shot in the leg with a BB gun seven or eight times than watch those scenes again. Ugh! Anakin with that creepy stalker vibe, Padme with her awkward dialogue…bleh.
The problem here (beyond the terrible, awful, no-good script) is that we, the audience, can never accept Padme and Anakin’s relationship as plausible. Anakin comes off as a lunatic and Padme’s attraction to him is wholly inexplicable.
The Solution: The film should begin with Anakin and Padme already courting. No “falling in love on Naboo” crap – Padme, who is already infatuated with Jedi (established in the last movie) and firmly put off by Obi Wan at the conclusion of Episode I (see my previous post on this) is making eyes at the attractive young Anakin. Since the first movie didn’t have their ages as far apart, the relationship isn’t as crazy – they are both teenagers, and teenagers are apt to do crazy things. So, along those lines:
- When Obi Wan and Anakin are assigned to guard Padme from assassins, we get a private moment between Padme and Anakin where they kiss and discuss their secret love and whether Obi Wan knows. Anakin says Obi Wan doesn’t, but Obi Wan totally does. Ani and Obi Wan fight about it. During the argument, Amidala is almost killed (since they weren’t paying attention). Cue chase scene.
- Anakin is so pissed at Obi Wan for the attack almost succeeding, he insists on guarding Padme personally over Obi Wan’s objections.
- They do NOT go to Naboo (if you’re trying to assassinate the Senator from Naboo, hiding her ON NABOO makes no damned sense). They go to Tatooine. Cue glorious homecoming for hero Ani, he reunites with his mom (now married), they have the best of good times. Padme sees what a great guy this Anakin is and Ani tells her how he doesn’t do what the Jedi Council just tells him to – he’s his own man!
- They are married by a Hutt, just for funsies.
Step 2: Clones and Fetts and Bug Aliens and…what the hell is going on?
Obi Wan is trying to unravel a mystery – clone army, Count Dooku, Separatist factions, etc., etc.. The thing about a mystery, though, is that we should feel some kind of suspense while it remains unsolved and we should understand the consequences of any given reveal. Instead, we watch Obi Wan walk around Kamino with a befuddled look on his face while we, also, are befuddled. And then Jango Fett tries to kill him for some goddamned reason. As cool as that fight is, we are left sitting there going, “What the hell, bro?”
The Solution: This needs to change. Obi Wan needs to know the stakes. Obi Wan needs to understand the urgency. When he arrives at Kamino, he should figure out the plot. He knows the Separatists are going to attack. He knows somebody ordered this army so the Republic could fight it. He knows they are about to get in a big goddamned war unless he can come up with a way to diffuse the situation. How do we do this?
- Jango Fett is the assassin on Coruscant. He gets away, but not before Obi Wan gets a good look at him.
- Investigating Jango Fett leads Obi Wan to Kamino, where he discovers the Clone Army of Fetts and learns the clones are going to invade Geonosis to start a war. Jango Fett tries to kill him. In the battle, Obi Wan’s long range communicators are damaged on his ship. There isn’t enough time to warn Coruscant of the battle plans, but there is enough time to go to Tatooine and get help.
- Obi Wan confronts Anakin, who has decided he wishes to leave the Jedi. Anakin refuses to go with him. Obi Wan tasks Ani with warning the Jedi Council, at least, and heads off on his own.
- Obi Wan is captured, as before. Count Dooku is revealed. Cue evil laughter.
- Anakin senses his friend’s impending doom. He tells Padme and his mother he must go to help him. Padme decides to go with.
- They are captured, they fight monsters, there’s a big battle, Dooku escapes, etc.. I guess Yoda also fights. Ani keeps his hand, though.
Step 3: Anakin Turns
Okay, but the movie ain’t over yet, right? We haven’t murdered any sand people yet. In the original, this murder seems to be proof positive that Ani and Padme wouldn’t get married, but they do anyway, causing everybody in the world to say “what is WRONG with you, Padme?” It doesn’t work and it doesn’t make much progress towards Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, either, since he seems to forget that ever happened by the start of Episode III.
The Solution: So, we change it up and, with that, change the ending.
- After saving Obi Wan’s life from Dooku and so on, the two of them shake hands and Obi Wan tells him he can go – the Jedi won’t keep him if he won’t stay.
- Ani returns home to find his mother stolen and dead, etc.. He loses his shit – this is Obi Wan’s fault, for dragging him away from where he should be. He kills all the sand people.
- There, sitting in the desert, his lightsaber in his lap, he contemplates the horror of what he’s done – no one can forgive him for this. He is doomed.
- Enter Palpatine: he strides out of the desert gloom, clapping. “Well done, young Skywalker. I knew you had potential.”
- Anakin turns (or starts to) at the conclusion of the film. He goes back with Padme, he stays with the Jedi, but as Palpatine’s agent.
There. This plan I feel manages to thin down the intrigue (which was perplexing and boring for the most part), amp up the action, and make the character development more sensible. And you still get the Clone Wars, except now, Ani has a shadowy mentor nobody else knows about, who has dirt on him and can expose him if he walks, and is gradually pulling him towards the dark side. In other words, Episode III.
The topic of this post is probably nothing new. People have been sounding off on what is wrong with the prequels ever since the ‘New Star Wars Glow’ wore off Episode 1 and all of us, collectively, realized that the troubling feeling in our guts whenever we watched the movie was the fact that it was, after all, a bad movie. I and my friends (most notably my friend Matt M and I) have discussed at length how to fix the prequels and make them good movies – an edit, if you will – and, seeing as the films are getting released again in
MoneyVision…err…I mean ‘3D’, now seems as good a time as any to give you my theory for how to make the movies better. I’ll probably write one of these as they are released, just for the hell of it.
Here we go:
Step 1: Stop Complaining About Jar-Jar
Yes, Jar-jar sucks. We all know he sucks. We all wish he weren’t there. Jar-jar isn’t the problem, though. There are plenty of annoying characters in actually good movies and we forgive them and still like the movie just fine (think Roger Rabbit, C3P0, Billie from Temple of Doom, Data, etc.). Why can’t we forgive Jar-Jar?
We can’t because there is no other interesting characters to watch!
Qui-Gon Jinn is exhaustingly boring, Obi Wan is a rebel with nothing and nobody to rebel against, Amidala is like a piece of talking furniture, and Annakin is played like a kid dragged out of central casting and asked to play, well, a kid. Jar-Jar is put in the movie for comic relief, right? But we don’t need or want comic relief in this film because there is no dramatic tension to be relieved.
The Solution: We need to change up the characters, and badly. Here’s my suggestion, as follows:
- Obi Wan should be a bad Padawan – rebellious, defiant, and headstrong. How do we make this work? Simple: It is Obi Wan, not Qui-Gon who wants to bring Annakin back to Coruscant. It is Obi Wan who pleads the case before the masters. It is Obi Wan who somehow convinces Qui Gon this is the right move. This, incidentally, gives Obi Wan even more to be miserable about later. Obi Wan is about improving the Jedi, see? He’s going to make things better, save the galaxy, etc. It’s a tragic flaw.
- Qui Gon should make bad choices. He should be wrong about things, and in such a way that, in the end, he chooses to defer to Obi Wan’s judgement. He should be indignant until, in the end, he dies humble and contrite before his former student.
- Amidala should be attracted to Obi Wan. Yes, I said it. This episode needs a little sexual tension, even if it is one-sided. Having a love triangle to play with later isn’t a bad idea, either. Obi Wan is cool, after all, and Amidala, though a queen, is a teenage girl. Teenage girls love cool bad-boys with magic swords – it’s a law.
- Annakin should be older and angrier. If he’s a character in The Goonies, he should be Mouth and not Mikey. Make him eleven, give him a chip on his shoulder (he’s a slave, after all – we can reasonably infer his innocence is shot). Have him appeal to Obi Wan – Obi Wan sees the same rebellious spirit he has. He’s a powerful proto-jedi already teetering on the edge of the Dark Side.
- Yes, no Jar-Jar. We’ve already got R2-D2 and Amidala/Obi Wan/Annakin to play with if we want to make things light. The Gungans can stay, though.
Step 2: Nobody Cares About Trade Embargoes
Economics-based conflicts play poorly in a space opera. I get it that Palpatine wants to spark a war that allows him to buy a private army, but that doesn’t mean he needs to spark it over a trade imbalance and legal technicalities. It lacks tension for the audience and doesn’t sustain the kind of heart-stopping action the movie needs.
The Solution: The species occupying Naboo wants it for its natural resources – notably it’s biomass. They’re strip miners, loggers, and so on and feel that the Naboo haven’t been taking their pleas seriously. With Darth Sideous backing them up, they finally have the balls to go over and take what they want. If you want to demonstrate that the Trade Confederation are bad guys, have them clear-logging forests, draining Gungan swamps, building giant, ugly droid factories and forcing the people into labor camps. There – evil – we get it.
Step 3: Better Understood Action
Many of the action scenes in The Phantom Menace, while well choreographed, aren’t all that much fun. Why? We don’t care about the outcome. I’ve written about this before , and much of the problem ought to be amended by having better characters, but there are still things that can be fixed. Here, in order, is how I’d run the plot:
- At the start, the Jedi go directly to Naboo where the Trade Federation’s Controller Ship has landed to host a parley between Amidala and the Directors (or whatever they’re called). It is, of course, a trap. When the poison gas pours into the room, the only way to save Amidala is for Obi Wan to seal his lips over hers and breathe for her (bingo – cue infatuation of a young girl for a handsome hero somewhat older than her). What follows is a mad-cap race through the city to the water, where they barely escape (insert CGI robot villains here) by taking the risky course through the Planet Core (over Qui Gon’s objections). We then meet with the Gungan and Amidala/Qui Gon have to negotiate a ship to escape the planet.
- The escape from the planet goes pretty much the same as before, and we wind up at Tatooine. Here Darth Maul is hunting them the whole time and tries to assassinate Amidala. Maul outsmarts Qui Gon and almost gets her, save for the intervention of a young slave who is curiously strong in the force. Obi Wan advocates for his release and, eventually, Qui Gon is convinced after he meets Annakin’s mother. Cue Pod Race for kid’s freedom and then Touching Goodbye (unchanged – Schmi Skywalker is the best part of Episode 1, kid you not). There is no mention of metichlorians, cause who the hell cares *why* the Force works?
- Go to Coruscant, cue drama with Annakin/Obi Wan/Qui Gon. The backdrop is with Amidala/Palpatine. Have Obi Wan explain that he and Amidala can never be together (silly girl). Suddenly Coruscant becomes more interesting, doesn’t it?
- Return, cue big fight. This is roughly unchanged, but sees our characters finish their now-existent arcs: Annakin finds his calling, Obi Wan is (finally) given power, but at the terrible price of his Master’s death, Amidala, hurt by Obi Wan, gives them a hero’s send-off, and Yoda pronounces his terrible prophesy.
See? The movie really isn’t that bad if you just give your characters something to do for a reason. These changes also set things up for the next two movies, too – we’re telling a tragedy here, so we need to work on building pathos. Anyway, there’s my .02, for what they’re worth. Not much, I know, but hey, a guy’s entitled to his opinions, right?
I’d go see this movie, anyway. There’s no way Lucas is getting $15 from me to watch his dull version again. I saw it four times when it came out and twice since then – I’m done.