The Star Wars prequels have been the Internet’s whipping boy for quite a long time. People love to trash the prequels. This is understandable because they are not, you know, good.
But they’re not exactly bad either, there are some good ideas. Unfortunately these good ideas are squashed under layers of bad dialogue, bizarre racial stereotypes and poop jokes. Still I think that with just a few tweaks to the story they would have been better films.
Now all the not-goodness stems from the first prequel, The Phantom Menace. There were a few bad decisions that were made that carried over to the later films that ultimately couldn’t be undone. And I’m not just talking about Jar Jar. These decisions were story based and on the surface seem minor but would, I believe, have made the overall arc of the prequels much more compelling.
I want to emphasize that I am not talking about filmmaking details like casting or special effects or even the actual script. What I mean is basic story concepts, slight changes to the basic premise that effects the characters motivations and how the story is perceived. Even with Jar Jar in the movie.
Anakin Needed to Be Older
Again, this is not a slight on Jake Lloyd. He did a fine job as Anakin as far as what he was given to do – which was to be young and annoying. But there lies the problem. By making Anakin a young kid he has no authority. He is just sort of thrown into a situation while others make his decisions for him. Or is just terribly lucky.
In contrast Luke is basically an older teen when he starts his journey and so he is responsible for his successes and failures. Luke was impulsive and emotional and this led to temptation which ultimately he resisted. And Episode I should have been a parallel to Luke’s.
But Anakin is just a rascally tot that gets into high-jinx and misadventure. He has the same personality traits as Luke but instead of resisting temptation his story turned out quite differently. By not having Anakin be older in Episode I the groundwork for his inevitable fall is lacking and the next two episodes are stuck playing catch-up and therefore the tragedy of Anakin never feels natural or earned.
Let Magic Be Magic
I think we can all agree that Star Wars isn’t really science fiction – its fantasy. The whole story is essentially mythology and fable. There is a young adventurer and his roguish companion who, along with their wizard mentor, set off to free a princess from the evil sorcerer’s giant castle. And there is magic. The Force is magic – let’s just admit that right now.
But in Episode I we are told that the Force is really just tiny organisms that kinda live in your blood and create some sort of telepathy or something. Look I’ll admit I don’t know what they were going for, it was all silly anyway. Because this is the big trap that fantasy stories in general fall into – the need to explain. And it isn’t necessary. We get it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a child or a grown-up we all understand what magic is.
In the original trilogy when we were told that the Force was something that “surrounds us, penetrates us, binds the Universe together” I do not ever remember anyone saying, “But wait, how does it work exactly?” No, we all collectively said, “Its magic. Got it. I’m onboard.” And we let it go.
Now, midi-chlorians aside, the other instance of not letting magic be magic in Phantom Menace is a bit more subtle: Trade negations and senate deliberations. I suppose you could chalk this up to “world building” or some such but really a fantasy adventure does not need to involve how the society-sausage is made. Again, in the original trilogy, while the actual story was happening, we were given off-hand references to the Clone Wars or the Imperial Senate being dissolved. These gave the impression that there was a long history and that there were strange goings-on going on; that there was a bigger world out there. We weren’t told in detail what those details were because they didn’t matter to the story being told and ultimately our imaginations were allowed to fill in the blanks.
By focusing Episode I on the minutiae of the inner workings of the Republic we lost site of the adventure. And that takes away the story’s magic.
Lose the Old Characters
Obviously Obi-Wan and Anakin need to be in this story. Basically it’s their story so they have to be there, but no one else.
Look, I get it. C-3PO and R2-D2 are fan favorites and they are great. So I understand the impulse to shoehorn them in to the story. But it feels exactly that, shoehorned. And causes all kinds of unnecessary continuity problems.
Later when Obi-Wan tells Luke, “I don’t remember ever owning a droid,” we are all thinking, yeah, except that one that is right in front of you that looks exactly like the one you used to own and has the same name. And it used to fly, how come it can’t do that anymore?
And all the Stormtroopers are Boba Fett’s dad. And Chewbacca met Yoda once. And Darth Vader built C-3PO as a kid. Really? Seriously?
All these things (and yes I’m aware that some of these examples happen later in the prequels) take us out of the story. The same purpose that these characters serve could be accomplished by just introducing new characters. Probably better because new characters wouldn’t take the focus away from Obi-Wan and Anakin, and it’s their story so we should be invested in them rather than being fan-serviced with familiar faces. Or machinery.
Anakin’s Actions Should Have Consequences
This is a ties in directly to number 1 and it mainly has to do with Anakin but not exclusively. There are several characters who seemingly do things with no repercussions, or very little at any rate. But I want to focus on Anakin’s actions and how, with just a slight change, the entire prequel trilogy would have been different.
First, the pod race. Anakin wins the pod race because Qui-Gon cheats for him. Sure he flies well and all but if Qui-Gon wasn’t a cheater he would have lost. In the end he’s just a lucky little tyke with some great pod racin’ skills. Hooray!
Now if Qui-Gon stayed out of this and it was Anakin who did the cheating (cheating that led to several racers dying by the way) we would have gotten a glimpse into Anakin’s mind-set. That he was, at a very young age, willing to bend the rules and do whatever was needed to get what he wanted. Like I stated earlier this would have given him authority and responsibility.
Second, blowing up the Trade Federation ship. At the end Anakin just sort of accidentally flies into the hangar and then accidentally hit the blasters and accidentally destroys a ship saving the day. Oh, and killing several thousand people. But it was totally by accident.
Again, if Anakin was just a bit older, he would have been seen to be in complete control. He would have purposefully flown to the Ship and blown it to pieces knowing full well the consequences of his actions. It would have been a grey area – yes he killed thousands but he did end the blockade saving thousands. So in a subtle way we could root for him as a hero while at the same time foreshadowing his fall to the Dark Side because of his willingness to take the easy path.
These Changes Would Carry Over
I really think that, with just these minor tweaks to one movie the prequels as a whole would be better films. An older Anakin would be more compelling and complex and have more depth so that we would care more about the tragedy of his fall. And by adding new characters and embracing the fantasy adventure aspect the audience would have been allowed to, and encouraged to, involve ourselves in the films, something that made the original trilogy so exciting and endearing.
So what do you think? Am I off base? Would you make other changes? Let me know in the comments below.