Long ago, in a galaxy far away . . . mistakes were made. Big ones.
Before I begin my rant, I have to say that the team at Lucasfilm are complete geniuses and I feel utterly humble to be their audience, but I really have to offer a couple of suggestions for improvement when it comes to the prequels. There a great number of fans who agree with my assertion that the main characters ie Anakin, Amidala (or Padme, or whatever her name was!) and even Obi-Wan were not that likeable. To summarise Mythic Scribes, the thing, the ONE thing, that the Prequels promised fans was the tragic downfall of a truly powerful and beloved Jedi master. But that kid was just ANNOYING and later plain ARROGANT, and Natalie Portman’s introduction to Amidala was the kind of DULL that Kristen Stuart would strive for. At the climax of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan ultimately shouts at his grievously wounded former Padawan “You were like a brother to me”, but I’m guessing he means the kind of brother you boss around and criticise all the time because you always thought he was a spoilt little shite. Not much love lost there and a classic example of telling because the showing was all wrong.
But I know you’ve spent the past 15 years debating all the faults of the films, so I’m really just trying to offer some solutions here. Let me know what you think:
The whole slavery situation was a missed opportunity on so many levels. Firstly, slavery sucks. Seriously. It does, and Hollywood is morally ambiguous for glossing over that fact so blatantly. Little Anakin of The Phantom Menace was just too clean, healthy and had far too much freedom to be a convincing slave. It’s not only that a person/flying dude owns you that sucks about slavery, but they’re generally pretty scummy towards you too, which leads to my second point on this topic. When Anakin asks Qui-Gon if the Jedi have come to free the slaves the Jedi master says they’re not powerful enough to do that. BOOM! There you go. Motive. The Jedi, well the Light Side of the Jedi at least, are not powerful enough to free the slaves. The film even shows that the flying dude is immune to Jedi mind tricks. So if I was this kid I’d be thinking “what good are you, then?”
Here’s how I would have played it: Anakin and his mother are kept in a dungeon with stinky straw and rats rather than a lovely light and airy house, but his mother, Shmi, is awesome despite this – like you can see some of the feistiness that will later come out in Leia. (Visually this scene *could* reference all those times in Episodes IV and V when you waited to find out what was lurking below.) This situation would explain the polarity of Anakin’s character. On the one hand he is so loved by his mother that he develops a healthy self-esteem, but being abused as slave your whole life is bound to mess with you. At this point he tries to keep his Jedi skills a secret because he realises his owner would sell him for lotsa money if he found out. So, the next action is that while Qui-Gon is trying to negotiate Anakin and Shmi’s release from slavery (because Anikin won’t leave without his mum) Darth Maul comes along and snatches the boy. Totally, that’s what would have happened because don’t you think the Sith would have wanted to get their hands on him ASAP too. That would help account for why Anakin’s later attracted to the power and swiftness of the Dark Side. It also gets them off Tantooeen without Shmi; Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s pursuit of Darth Maul replacing the pod race. It’s morally a bit black and white (in a good way for the narrative) but once they have rescued Anakin, Qui-Gon just decides to keep going to Coruscant. Anakin never really forgives the Jedi for not trying harder to free his mother but Queen Amidala was so shocked by the plight of the slaves that she petitions the parliament for more to be done to abolish slavery, thus giving the relationship something more solid to build upon. The last part of the journey is, though, that Shmi is never freed, because Anakin blames the Jedi, and himself, for her dying in slavery. He tells Amidala “If Master Qui-Gon had just been powerful enough to free my mother all those years ago she would still be alive.” Amidala also feels guilty that she didn’t do more to help. He never went back to Tantooeen himself because technically the flying dude still owned him and the Jedi council made it clear that if he did go back they wouldn’t intervene to steal him from his owner – that’s against the law and stuff.
Of course another problem with the prequels was that we needed more of the relationships, less of the circus arts. At the time it seemed really cool that CGI could allow Han Solo to walk all the way round Jabba the Hut, and all the ninja stuff seemed awesome (especially how many Aussies were involved in those scenes), but looking back, and now with the Force Awakens to reference as well, it all just seems a bit unnecessarily fancy. At the end of the day, the Original Star Wars films were triumphant for the same reason that Shakespeare rocks – the setting, and even the action are secondary to the relationships. IV, V and VI are really just a story about these 3 scared kids trying to save the galaxy, fight evil and get laid (thankfully in that order or it would have been a different kind of movie YIKES!). I
get that there was a bit of confusion about the actual evil they were trying to fight in the Prequels, but can you imagine how the experience would have been different if Anakin, Obi-Wan and Amidala were just three kids trying to save the galaxy. That, in a nutshell, is where the story went wrong. Apart from the Lake District scenes, they were just hating on each other the whole time. No wonder Anakin turned to the Dark Side, no one had his back on the Light Side. Even Amidala spent more time disagreeing with him than loving him.
Here’s how I would have played it: I would have had a lot more scenes with Anakin, Obi-Wan and Amidala together. Obi-Wan could see there was something going on between Anakin and Amidala, but he’d say, “Yo, bro, I know how it is. I had a girlfriend once, but use the force. You just can’t go there”. Anakin would be less of an arrogant butt face in my version and Obi-Wan would give his blessing to Anakin to go back and try to free his mother, maybe even with Amidala, who is now showing signs of being strong with the force too. The question of killing the flying dude would have been a moral dilemma because really, he’s not much of a threat physically, but he sort of deserved it (He would never have let Shmi take the protocol droid, C3-PO, and that just messes up the start of A New Hope anyway.) And Qui-Gon would have come back as a ghost at least once.
I’m not sure how the Count Dooku and Clone Army stuff would have fitted in there, but leave me a comment if you have any suggestions.
One final piece of advice I would give the writers of the totally new versions of the Prequels: Get over yourselves. You know why the jokes in Christmas crackers are awesome? Because they’re so bad they unite the family at Festivus. And that’s kind of how the humour in the original Star Wars movie worked: No-one considered the Cantina Music intellectual and the snot on Jabba’s face was not meant to be thought provoking. The Prequels just took themselves too seriously and any attempt at humour was contrived. You know which race of characters I’m talking about. They should not be the only comic relief. It was a lot of the background stuff that made audiences snortle in the first trilogy, so let’s see more of that. Thankfully it looks like the writers of The Force Awakens seem to have heeded my advice so I don’t really need to go into detail here.
So anyone who wants to run with that – you are welcome to start working on the scripts.
2018 update – if you’ve read this far I’m guessing you’ve already seen all the films, but if you want to send me some love, you can buy them here and really get down to Star Wars marathon