How to Fix the Star Wars Prequelss

A series of tweets by Film Critic Hulk caught my interest 1.

The direct opposite take to most fan opinions, such as Machete Order, which leaves out Phantom Menace entirely, a point that Hulk specifically calls out as the reason for his scare quotes when describing it as the worst. Until he made me think about it, if asked I would have agreed with the general populace. However I have been thinking about the prequels on and off the last few weeks. I’ve been thinking about them on and off for months, really, although I’ve mostly abandoned ideas I had of creating treatments of my own Star Wars prequels. I was fine doing something on the level of an elevator pitch, but once you scratch the surface and look at what Lucas was trying to do, you really can’t fault many of the ideas, just the execution. Prompted by The Hulk, I decided to start watching the prequels for the first time since the cinema releases and now I find that I think he is right. From a certain point of view.

My conclusion is that The Phantom Menace isn’t actually all that bad. I don’t even feel you need to change much, and the only things I think should really change are for story requirements in the followups. I wouldn’t bother changing with some of the things that people love to hate: Jar-Jar stays, the Trade Federation stays, even the midichlorians can stay 2. However, posit this: I travel back in time to 1994, taking back with me the script to some critical success - something without much CGI, obviously, but I neither know nor care what it is - and establish myself as a film wunderkind.3 I then arrange for George Lucas to be killed - without getting caught, duh - while he is finalising his drafts. I am then invited to complete his drafts. In this scenario, I could make do with nothing changing, but if I can, I will change just three things:

  • Anakin and Padme are both eighteen.
  • Padme really is a handmaiden.
  • No Palpatine.

Anakin being eighteen unfortunately gets rid of Jake Lloyd, but that’s not the reason for it. I say unfortunately because yes, he was grating but that’s the dialogue - and almost certainly the direction - more than the kid. There’s not a human alive that wouldn’t come across as annoying when directed to say “Yippee!” that often much less a nine-year old. The reason for the age bumps, and for Padme’s change in job, is to remove the imbalance between the characters. I feel the relationship is more credible if Padme’s memories of Anakin aren’t - in her own words - “that little boy I knew on Tatooine.” This changes derails the arc Lucas sets up for Anakin’s fall in the following movies. Worse, it requires a bit of modification in the scenes to prevent Padme being pushed into the background beginning with the scene in which she persuades the Gungans to ally with her. Somehow the Queen needs to be pushed into the background instead. Perhaps it is as simple as the Queen makes the speech that persuades the Gungans and then stays behind with Boss Nass, or is separated, the camera staying with the Jedi and Padme. It should also changes the role for Anakin in the same section of the film, but that really just needs to be making his participation in the space battle deliberate. Agency is much more heroic anyway.

Leaving out Palpatine is easier, just replace him with some other Senator. Maybe a single shot of him in a background, but his role in the film is played by another Senator, and we never out the outcome of the No Confidence vote. That makes Darth Maul the eponymous phantom menace. He has all the instruction giving scenes with the Trade Federation and is the main villain in the film. But the real menace is Palpatine, setting things up, but we never see him, except for perhaps right until the end, when one of the Trade Federation, escaping at the end of the space battle, puts in a call to report - to someone we don’t see - “Your apprentice has fallen.” I’d let that replace the ‘always two’ conversation between Mace Windu and Yoda at the funeral.

Given the amount of capital I am about to spend, if I was pushed I would leave the film as is. I could live with none of these changes being made, despite the improvements I think they make to both it and the followups. Because the real changes start with the next two films, and if I have a ‘change budget’, I’d much rather blow that budget on Episodes II and III. I can’t really say what those changes are quite yet though, but I feel the slavery sub-plot has the seeds for a much more convincing and powerful fall for Anakin than his seperation anxiety and petulance at not being listened too enough. I’m not sure just how much of “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” get thrown away. My knee-jerk reaction is all of them, but it would be nice to retain just enough of them that we can salvage The Clone Wars series.

Also, I probably need to protect myself from whatever creatures swim the time streams protecting reality from paradox. Because I am really pushing the envelope.

None of these ideas are particularly original. Probably allowing Jar-Jar Binks to survive is, but whatevs. By way of a bibliography, there are two more important influences:

  • I originally planned to have Darth Maul survive. I was convinced otherwise by this article on why he had to die, in particular the last page.
  • John Siracusa complained - *gasp* - about the age discrepency in The Incomparable’s Attack of the Clones episode as well as how creepy the dialogue is. I didn’t really grasp that there was more to it than just the actor being bad; once he pointed it out, it was all I could see.

  1. I storified a more complete conversation.

  2. Probably. I don’t like it any more than I like Jar-Jar, but it’s not worth changing. But it kind of should just be something Qui Gon Jinn can sense through the Force. “The Force is strong with this one.”

  3. Maybe Lost. We keep the same ending, but this time it really is planned that way from the beginning. And Season 2 & 3 are better this time. Okay, maybe I really do care.

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