Last weekend, a friend hosted a Star Wars marathon, screening all six movies (yes, six, those of you who don’t count Episode I). The correct order to watch them in has been debated, but it is generally accepted that the best order is IV -> V -> I (if you do watch I) -> II -> III -> VI.
That way, you don’t get the “No, I am your father!” ruined for you (which would be obvious after episode III — although you do get the “… sister” moment ruined for you. But I think that makes it better, since you don’t want to know about that while you see them makin’ out super hard in V.)
The other thing about watching it in that order is that you get to start and end with movies that are actually good. If you started me on Episode I, I’d never watch the second one; the only reason I saw Episode II is because by the time I watched the Ep. I, I already loved Star Wars. Compared to the original trilogy, Episode I (and really all of the prequel trilogy), is just the ravings of a crazy old wizard who lives in the desert.
There has been nigh-endless discussion of how to fix the prequel trilogy; in particular, there’s one video I believe is pretty widely known (but I can’t seem to find it…?) that points out that there’s no main character in the prequels — especially Episode I, where you’re sort of following Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan, also Anakin, the queen, and Jar-Jar about equally, and you never really get to know anything about the characters. He also points out that the characters have obvious traits in the original trilogy: Han Solo is a cynical rogue with a hidden heart of gold; Luke is an idealistic rube, etc. Comparatively, Obi-Wan in the prequels is … like a guy who’s kinda young but really powerful…? Or like Qui-Gon is older and wiser than he is, but like… sometimes kinda petulant?
There’s a reason for this; one of the things I was struck by watching originals side-by-side with the prequels is that there are entire sections of the original trilogy that do nothing to really advance the plot but instead exist solely for characterization; in Episode IV, we get to see whiney Luke be a whiney little brat, set up an internal conflict about fulfilling his duties to his adoptive family on his farm vs. going off to fight the Empire, and then it gets resolved for him by some storm troopers; this takes a good half hour, and in the end we’re basically where we started, but we know Luke as a character and have been introduced to Obi-Wan, the mysterious sage. In Episode I, we open on Jedi using laser swords, then they go down to a planet and there they get to use their laser swords, then they leave the planet and use laser swords, then they come back to the planet and use laser swords. In the un-testable hypothetical scenario where Episode IV was written like Episode I, we’d get a shot of Luke being like “I wanna leave!” and then Obi-Wan coming from nowhere and telling his aunt and uncle he’s coming, and then they leave. The prequels are generally like this; people flitting from place to place advancing the plot, and it looks really cool, but at the end of the day I don’t really know anyone in those movies.
The thing that kills me about those movies is that they could be great; it’s a fascinating story, and even the nonsense that happens in the background (er, it should be in the background) with the Galactic Senate and the chancellorship and the mystery around the war is interesting. It should just be in the background, and the characters should take center stage. If I were Disney (and depending on the success of upcoming Episode VII), I would rewrite and reproduce the prequels. And if I did that, there’s a few things I would do differently…
Seriously though; the first thing I’d do is work on character development, and I’d base it on the characters from the original trilogy. They don’t have to be identical — they should change as the story progresses — but we should see their roots in the prequels. What is Obi-Wan like in the original trilogy? He’s a patient, wise and learned old man. When we see him in Episode I, he should be frustrated and anxious (yes I know this is actually the case in the real Episode I), and there should be moments of tension where he explicitly grows into his character, so that by the end of Episode III, he’s essentially the patient, wise man we see in Episode IV, not the gung-ho warrior who runs off to kill a separatist general (or a Sith Lord, for that matter) without any backup.
The obvious person to change, though, is Anakin. Besides getting someone who can actually act and completely rewriting all dialogue, there’s some really fun things you can do with the character. How would you describe him in the original trilogy? Intimidating. What makes him intimidating is, of course, the suit — but also his speech pattern. He speaks slowly; he thinks about what he’s saying and says exactly what he means. He wastes no words. Build that into his backstory; when we meet him, he’s a slave boy. His master has drilled it into him that he is to be seen and not heard; he is to speak only when spoken to. Show that.
This also brings up my next point, which is to make direct comparisons to the original trilogy. Open with Anakin on Tatooine; spend a half hour in his life and draw the comparison to Luke and his uncle; Luke is surrounded by family who love him, Anakin is surrounded by his mother and his abusive owner (note: make the owner abusive, and don’t make it that stubbly blue thing — model it after someone from Mos Eisley or Jabba’s palace). Both Luke and Anakin long for something more, and are eventually scooped up — almost by happenstance — by Jedi. Also, while we’re at it, let’s ignore the entire opening on Naboo; we only meet the Jedi after they’ve come to Tatooine in a battle-worn spacecraft. (Here’s another point — the original trilogy, in part because of budget constraints, was unable to show everything, and it made it better. You have Lando in VI show up as a general, and he casually says, “They must have liked that stunt I pulled at the Battle of Taanab.” We didn’t see that stunt; it’s left to our imagination what the daring General Calrissian did to save the day. (Probably it involved engaging those Star Destroyers at point blank range.) Do that here — briefly mention the harrowing escape from a far-away land, show the outcome — a busted-up ship — and leave the rest to our imagination.)
Pander to the audience a little; sprinkle in quotes from the original trilogy (honestly, if just to make the writing better, since the dialogue in the original trilogy was pretty fantastic, and there’s literally not a single quotable line in the prequels). Someone’s worried Anakin won’t win the podrace? Slowly, and somewhat disappointedly, he says, “Your lack of faith … disturbs me.” If you have to have that scene where he saves the day at Naboo, put him in the cockpit and tell him if he stays put you’ll come back and get him, deal? When he shows up in space, you call him out on it and he says — and this is the only thing he says in that entire scene — “I am altering the deal.”
Back to Anakin; don’t tell us the Force is strong with him. Show it. At that dinner scene, Anakin looks expectantly at the Jedi, they ask him what’s on his mind, and he says nothing until his mother tells him it’s OK (because remember, he’s afraid to speak for fear of angering his master). He tells them he knows they are Jedi. He does not know that that means. “How do you know that?” Slowly, “… I saw it in my dreams.” Oh snap! The Force is strong with this kid! Then build up an arc about how he turns to the dark side. Don’t have him slaughter a bunch of helpless Sand Persons (not just the men, but the women, and the children, too). Keep that story — his mother is kidnapped and he is unable to save her — but then have him discuss it with Obi-Wan. “Do you ever wonder if there is something more… powerful?” “No, Anakin; the Force binds us together… blah blah blah.” This sets up his fall without making it obvious — there’s still hope for him, but his motivations are clear when the Chancellor tells him about the powah of the Dahk Side.
In this — the key conflict of the entire series! — again draw comparisons to the original trilogy. The Emperor poses a real threat to Anakin’s wife and unborn children (he’s holding them hostage, whatever). Anakin comes in to reason with Mace Windu — already victorious — about the Emperor’s release. He says he will not fight him, but the Emperor plays on his emotions; as the sword comes down on the Emperor, Vader’s comes up to defend him (I know this actually happens in the movie; the rest of the scene is super bizarre, though) and Vader gives in to his emotions (as does Luke at the end of Jedi). Here’s the key difference — when he disarms Windu (literally), he pauses and considers what he has done. Maybe the Emperor offers some encouragement, and then he brings the sword down; Anakin kills Mace Windu and realizes there is nowhere else to run but to the Emperor. I’m tempted to say end the movie there, but I guess you need him to get lava’d up real hard or whatever.
Anyway, that’s just some of the stuff I would do, if I were put in charge of this project that doesn’t exist. But if, for any reason, some Disney exec is reading this, know the following:
- You should re-make the prequels so that they’re good instead of terrible
- I will render my services free of charge
- I’m looking forward to Episode VII