Star Wars: Fixing the Prequels
To the drawing board and back again
Darth Sethwynn and A.P. D5 - and some dude called Rob
If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s that no matter how bad the Star Wars prequels were, the sequels elevated them to the stuff of Shakespeare.
I find myself in the privileged position of being mostly coherent during the in-between years, when we all actually remembered just how bad they really were in their own right. And it was during those halcyon years that I sat down one day and thought, “How would I have written them better? What would I have done with the loose beginning story elements from the original trilogy to write a compelling backstory, if the prequels as we saw them had never existed?”
At the time, I fully intended to actually draft a screenplay for the new canon prequels, but then I thought, why not just write a short essay instead outlining what I would have done, if I could have quite been bothered?
My approach would be to establish a number of very important rules around which the entire story be based, and 5 (give or take) of those are listed here for your amusement, arousal and suspicion.
Spoilers: I couldn’t give a crap how much this takes a giant dump all over the Expanded Universe.
Ben Kenobi is the Protagonist
Ben (known in Jedi circles as the ‘Obi’ one—it’s an inside joke…) must be front and centre of this story. It is his story, and only his story. We begin with a flashback to his humble origins, and then jump through to the current day, his first day training—as an adult—with the Jedi, an elite order of Force users and military peacekeepers. Actually, let’s bring it back a bit to when he joins the military, scores a couple of goals, and then gets recruited into the Jedi. Yeah, that works better.
Anakin Skywalker will need to be in it briefly, but he’s little more than one of many competent, but not exceptional Jedi under Ben’s command, that it’s reported later were ambushed and killed by Darth Vader, a shadowy figure we never actually see.
Yoda? Yoda who? I guess we’ll probably run into him at some point, but whatever is happening behind the scenes, he’s not an important part of this story.
Ben Kenobi Doesn’t Always Speak in Literal Truths
Well duh. We already figured this one out back in Episode V. Everything he said to Luke, especially in the original trilogy, should not be assumed to be literal—or even anything close to approaching the truth. He told Luke exactly what he needed to hear, so we do not have to commit to honouring it in our story.
Yoda wasn’t much better. “Too old to begin the training” my arse—that was just one of a large list of excuses he threw out to push Luke into a corner and get a reaction out of him.
And Darth’s comments about how Luke’s skills were now complete because he made his own lightsaber had nothing to do with some utterly idiotic rite of passage where Jedi Cadets have to construct their own. No. They have them made in bulk and Jedi just pick a colour and shaft that suits them. Darth’s comments were obvious misdirection.
Ben Kenobi Stays Out of the Action
At no point can his life appear to be in danger. We already know he’s fine, because he was in the original series. He can command troops, fine, but he’ll do it from a position of guaranteed safety.
Ben Kenobi had an Unconventional Upbringing
This one is going to ruffle some feathers. Ben, Owen, Beru, and later Anakin are semi-non-biological siblings in a commune of space hippies.
The original script for Episode VI had Owen as Ben’s brother, and I think there was something there.
The moisture farm on Tatooine was originally occupied by the commune like a Kibbutz, and they practised a form of free love. The end result was that there were quite a lot of children who had no idea who their biological fathers were, and would take their name from their mother. They were all family, sort of, so it didn’t much matter. Though with that said, it’s suspected that Ben and Anakin had the same father. (There are a number of Skywalkers, and one more some decades later is not going to arouse suspicion.)
Ben annoyed Owen by leaving the commune for the military (to later be picked up by the Jedi after an incident involving a speeder, a box of space oranges, and a psychotic wamp-rat). Anakin, who wasn’t born until after Ben left, wanted to follow in his footsteps, on some damn fool idealistic crusade, but Owen felt he should stay at home and not get involved. He later did anyway.
Speaking of which…
The Clone Wars were Not Named After the Soldiers
Because that doesn’t make the slightest lick of sense.
No, the Clone Wars were ideological in nature, somewhere between the American Civil War and World War I, and were fought by real people with skin in the game.
Somewhere in a remote corner of space is a small colony on a planet where it’s hard to extract food resources. Using technology available in any home-centre, they start cloning workers to tend the fields. The clones are uneducated and assumed to be inferior beings, akin to animals, and thus enjoy a second-class status in the colony. They are in effect slaves, but at the same time, it’s not like they could survive by themselves.
A neighbouring system takes issue with this. They shouldn’t be able to keep slaves, and they intend to do something about it.
A different neighbouring system takes issue with the issue they took. Keeping slaves may be undesirable, but the colony is independent and nobody has a right to impose a different set of values upon that.
It escalates with increasing numbers of systems each taking sides, but culminates with a secret Jedi mission. Ben Kenobi himself infiltrates the colony and speaks to the clones himself. You know, let’s have Yoda go with him too because, why not. They see that the clones have no Force aura. They’re not sapient, just mindless beasts. The result is that the Jedi picks the side of non-interference and that kicks off the actual destructive war.
The thing is though, it was a Sith deception. The clones were just as human as anybody else, and eventually the Jedi realise this and sheepishly withdraw their support. When word gets out, already waning support for the Jedi drops through the floor. Few know that it was Ben and Yoda’s hubris that kicked off the war in the first place, but they know. And so do we.
It’s only a matter of time before most of Ben’s unit get massacred by an attack reportedly instigated by one Darth Vader—who we never get to see. It’s very important that the first time we see him is the beginning of Episode IV.
There, I’ve just decanonised Rogue One (which is Singlish for, ‘One that possesses elements of Roguishness.’ As in, ‘Always you saying you rogue one; can’t even steal ship… you all fart no shit one lor!’).
The Jedi are Not Flying Space Monks
The Jedi just act like an elite military unit, perhaps closer to well trained spies and negotiators. Much of their fighting strategy needs to be the use of stealth. In a frontal assault where they find themselves outnumbered, some of them are definitely going to die.
They stick to the shadows, they avoid a confrontation where they can, they get in and out before anybody has even notices they’re there. They rarely unsheath their lightsabers.
If they jump off a 50 storey building without a parachute, they will die.
If they fight solo against 10 opponents, they will die.
If they stand inside an active volcano without appropriate protective equipment, they will be reduced to a cinder. And then die. Hopefully in that order.
You get the picture.
The Jedi must be realistic characters that don’t take stupid risks that nobody could possibly survive. And by that same token, they cannot fly, jump tall buildings with a single bound, run faster than a speeding space bullet either. They’re a well trained military with a Force power advantage.
This is because when you establish right off the bat that they’re basically invincible, then the go to answer to every problem is to just run straight into it.
After work, they go to the pub with their mates, have a laugh over a few beers, and then go home to their wives. They’re just people.
The Living Force
Everyone is Force sensitive. Some are better at channelling it than others. Some deny it exists.
The Force should be differentiated from the ‘Living Force’. The Force itself is a known element, something scientifically understood. It’s what makes plants grow. It’s what makes speeders float and things go fastly. It’s what makes hyperspace possible. The Jedi deify it, assign it humanistic qualities, give it a personality and a will. Most people just use it to commute to work and run the air-conditioning, and think the Jedi are bonkers.
It’s much like the sun. No life could exist on Earth without sunlight, but ancient cultures worshiped the sun like a god. Or think of the internet—we all know it exists, as we use it every day, but right now there’s probably a cult of people somewhere that think Google and Facebook have evolved into omnipotent intelligent lifeforms that are secretly running society from the ether.
They’re probably not… Maybe…
Palpatine was Just Dodgy
Palpatine is only heard of indirectly, but he was pretty much just evil from the start. Nothing to see here—he’s a politician! He craves power, and will take advantage of anything that gets him that. Things get worse so gradually, that you barely even notice that things are getting worse. We don’t even have to see the Galactic Empire form—plenty of time for that after the events of the film.
Anakin’s Relationship to Darth Vader
This is just an add-on really in response to one of Jack’s ideas.
Perhaps Darth Vader really was a Jedi in his own right, but his decision to become Sith came after Anakin had died (of say, slipping on some wet leaves—who cares) and his force ghost took over. Vader had been seriously injured in his past and was more machine now than man—all twisted and awesome, and a great guy to look after your young children when you fancy an evening out. Because there was less of him, he was the easiest target for Force Ghost Anakin to target.
Actually, that’s a stupid idea. Forget I mentioned it.
So there we have it, the broad strokes of everything that could have been a great prequel series, though far from exhaustive. We already established where Ben comes from, so where does he arrive? Exile would make sense after Darth Vader hunts down the Jedi, and would be a fitting self-flagellation for his error. The important thing to remember is that we do not have to see everything. Pick a story, and run with that. Let other things happen in the background.
Feel free to add your own.
I was in the audience when the first of the prequels came out, sitting right at the front with a group of my friends among an audience of expectant fans. The atmosphere was electric. The cinema even put on a light show and served drinks, such was the importance of this cinematic event. And why not? Star Wars was returning to the cinema screens—this legendary series of movies was coming back with a trilogy of prequels that were about to change the world once again.
Except it didn’t.
When the screen went dark, after Jar Jar Binks had clowned his way through what looked like the final level of a handheld video game, the audience was left frowning at one another, grumbling, and wondering what the hell it was we just watched.
It’s pretty obvious what went wrong, but what would I have done to put it right?
So here is my answer to a question that nobody was asking!
The Jedi we see in the prequels are not the Jedi we see in the original series. They’re called ‘Jedi Knights’ and are described as great warriors, men and women of conscience who are as wise as they are powerful. Unless I missed something, they’re never described as a bunch of creepy uncles you wouldn’t leave your children alone with, who walk around dressed in soiled bed-sheets and witter on about the Force until you’re left with the impression they’re essentially homeless Jehova’s Witnesses with glow-sticks.
Anakin meets Obi-Wan when he’s already an accomplished pilot, the implication is that he’s a fully grown young man. If there was really a good reason why the Jedi have to be abducted and trained as toddlers, then why did Ben not make any effort to do that to Luke until he was a young man? Clearly it was important enough to make that sacrifice, but it never happened.
It makes no sense that the Jedi are child abusers, and is only built on a line of throwaway dialogue where Yoda is trying to find excuses not to train Luke.
(See our up-coming article—Yoda is a racist.)
The Jedi should be established as gifted people with the right aptitudes.
There should be a Republic peacekeeping Force that isn’t quite a military, very much like a slightly more heavily-armed version of Star Trek’s Federation. The Jedi should be soldiers who have shown their abilities and been selected for this specialist training. It’s well-established that the Jedi fought in the Clone Wars, so we need to see them as an elite team of warriors, giving this some credence.
The warrior aspect needs to be tempered with the kind of training Luke was given. In The Empire Strikes Back, the writers were channelling the words of Samurai warriors, teaching as much the futility of conflict as the ability to deal with it.
Luke then dressed in black, wearing clothes that didn’t look like any kinds of old sacks sewn together. It’s harder to argue that Obi-Wan’s clothes weren’t essentially the Jedi uniform when we see Anankin’s Force-ghost dressed in them, but I’m going to try anyway. Nobody had any issue with Luke dressed in clothes that didn’t look like he removed them from the corpse of a homeless person, so I’m going to just go right ahead and say that the younger ones wore clothes that don’t make them look like vagrants.
What we absolutely don’t want is a bunch of over-exaggerated video game characters hopping about like epileptic rabbits on amphetamines. Being a Jedi is an advantage, not a superpower.
George Lucas saved Palpatine being the Emperor as a final reveal after forgetting that these movies were prequels and we all knew exactly what was going to happen. It was like a toddler closing his eyes and thinking he was now invisible.
Palpatine needed to be revealed from the beginning, since the audience was already in on it. The drama couldn’t come from whether or not he was going to succeed, but in how bad things were going to get along the way. Would there be endless lockdowns and house-arrests, rampant lies and encroaching fascism, mandates and crazy laws fed to an increasingly uneducated populace?
Anyway, I digress!
His change from a human man into an angry prune needed a better explanation—or any explanation.
A more interesting story would have been if Palpatine didn’t start out as the emperor at all, but a Force-ghost capable of taking over the bodies of other sentient beings occupied him. It would have been more fun to see Palpatine fighting back, resisting the power of this dark Force that was slowly twisting him into an evil and unpleasant-tasting half-fruit creature.
He also needed motivation! The Emperor was evil because he was evil. There was no backstory or history to him, we never understood why he wanted to take over the galaxy, just that he had planned to—because he was evil; so very, very evil.
There should have been something akin to a previous war, something that had caused the rise of the Sith and Jedi, in response to the brutality of unchecked violence. The Force-ghost emperor would have been a far more interesting character if he was trying to restore balance by wiping out the Force-users and freeing the galaxy from their influence, but had been driven largely insane from his experiences.
Then we see a pattern of rising and falling events, a repeating cycle that is metaphorically reflected in the political turmoil in the Republic.
I’m fine with us ending up with two Sith, just not with starting out with them.
I’m not sure what narrative benefits the idea of there only being two Sith gave to the writers. If there’s only two, then the need for combat would be diminished and replaced with a need for widespread influence, but that’s not what we see on screen. The Sith are painted as super-villains, capable of cutting through whole swathes of the most powerful Jedi. It doesn’t ring true, and seeing multiple Jedi fighting a single adversary just makes the Jedi look like a bunch of bullies.
Who wouldn’t want to watch a final climactic battle with the Jedi finally facing off against the Sith? I wanted to see Obi-Wan and Darth Vader leading their warriors into battle, a war to end all wars, devastating both sides.
This could all have been included in the plot as part of the plan, to remove every Force user in a scheme to take over the entire galaxy. But no, we got an old man wearing a sack… again.
Let’s give the whole Force thing some interesting back-story so we uncover some background lore while we’re at it. Let’s have the Jedi being Force-sensitive individuals of excellent character. They are a vital element of the Republic peacekeeping efforts and that means they’re encouraged and recruited as often as possible. As an individual continues their training, they grow more powerful, learning to open up to the Force, but that also creates problems. The Sith are dead Jedi that are fighting to come back to the world of the living and use their powers to occupy the bodies and minds of those they can control.
This can all be revealed slowly, peeling back a layer of previously undiscovered stuff, and explaining why the Sith change their names. Also—it’s just more fun.
It also means that Obi-Wan never truly failed in the training of Anakin, he just failed in his ability to discern his character, a thing for which he will always blame himself.
The primary focus of the series of films should have not have been an annoying child, angry at himself because he couldn’t act. We should have met Anakin at the point Obi-Wan described, when he was already an accomplished pilot. He should have been roughly the age we see Anakin at during the ‘Attack of the Clones’ movie, and there should have been about 50-75% less snivelling.
We need to see a reason for Obi-Wan to take him on as a trainee and that reason needed to be his accomplishments. The entire first movie could have been set around establishing that Anakin was a gifted pilot and warrior while secretly keeping from Obi-Wan that he wasn’t entirely to be trusted.
Let him have a relationship with an equally powerful female Jedi, someone Obi-Wan had a particular fondness for himself. That could help explain why Luke was so certainly going to be Force-gifted. The love-triangle would also have been an interesting thing to see develop, and would have added some moral ambiguity to a very impressive but bland final showdown.
Obi-Wan’s fate was so well established that there is absolutely no drama in seeing him fight. It was a good choice to set him as a secondary character in the first prequel, since we can now care about a different person and what happens to them gives us a sense that real stakes exist.
In the prequels, he needs to be established as a commanding figure, something I grudgingly agree with Seth on. Perhaps have him send a small group of people on a suicide mission and have only Anakin return. This is what drives Obi-Wan to begin training him as a Jedi, but what isn’t known to him is that Anakin did things during the mission that violate every code he stands for, identifying him from the outset as a potential Sith.
Obi-Wan cannot lie! His constant lying just gives the writers an excuse to not do a proper job of telling his story, and that is exactly what ended up happening.
Yes—The prequels needed a story. That would definitely have made them better.
I remember reading that the droids were making a comeback in the prequels. I was confused about this since the logical presumption was that we’d just see new characters filling the role of comic relief.
Not you, Jar Jar! In fact, looking at George Lucas’ horrific inability to apply subtlety to names, it seems that Jar Jar was designed from the outset to be ‘Jarring.’
It seemed that Lucasfilm realised the importance of the droids enough to put them in the films, but didn’t think they were important enough to write proper stories for.
Having C3P0 made by little slave-boy Anakin made about as much sense as if he’d also made R2, by sticking a robot brain into a dustbin just to see what would happen. They were awkwardly shoehorned into the story in nonsensical ways that didn’t work. If we must have absolutely the same droids, they have to be in the story in ways that make sense.
If we want to maintain the concept of the whole story told from the perspective of R2D2, then he must be seen first, just as in the original movies. He’s just a mobile tool shed so he can belong to anyone, we simply add him as an accessory to whatever character we open the story with.
C3P0 is a protocol droid, not a dune buggy, so he needs to be seen operating in an environment where it’s logical for him to be. The most obvious thing would be to have him belonging to Palpatine, from where he constantly, and ironically, espouses the virtues of his master to anyone that will listen.
R2 should meet him often, perhaps changing the lightbulbs as his room is always a little on the dark side…
As Seth said, you don’t name a war after the people fighting it because if history teaches us anything, it’s that the people fighting those wars are just expendable. What we remember is the ideology that made the people paying the historians rich in the first place. We see nothing in Star Wars to make anyone think that things are any better there.
I like the suggestion of the Clones being cheap labour and the metaphorical connections you can draw with modern slavery. The idea of having hordes of clones, and the accompanying loss of personal identity would have been a fascinating thing to explore. Connecting that back to how slave-owners were slaves of their own greed would have been very smart literary writing and wasn’t beyond the scope of the original films.
Yup. They should have done that.
Luke and Leia’s mother dying in childbirth
No. No. NO!
Leia said she remembered her, which makes perfect sense, while dying of sadness while giving birth makes none. Her mother, as stated before, should have been the real reason that Luke was such a promising candidate. She should have been established as morally incorruptible, the almost perfect Jedi with just one flaw, her attraction to Anakin.
There wasn’t even a really good reason for Anakin to fight Obi-Wan since this was never established in the original movies as having to happen. A far more interesting battle would have been between the father and mother of the children, a literal war over the fates of the babies.
The mother is, of course, victorious, drawing her final strength from the threat of what her children might become, and Anakin is finally condemned to the suit he must forever remain in.
This adds something missing from the final battle—stakes.
When Obi-Wan and Darth Vader go to it, the outcome is absolutely known. If the battle was between Anakin and a female character we’ve never seen before in the original movies, we don’t know the eventual outcome. We can root for her and genuinely fear for her life.
In the final moments, Anakin can say something along the lines of, ‘It doesn’t matter, one day I will defeat the Emperor and even in death, the children are not beyond my grasp.’ The implications of this line extend beyond the scope of the movies, adding stakes to the future of our beloved characters. With that, she wounds him enough to condemn him not to death, but to a life imprisoned in the iconic suit, where he is trapped as the children learn to become powerful enough to protect themselves.
And all the way through, we don’t know the outcome! We have something to hope for.
But one thing I would have changed would have been to alter the tone of the prequels to match the originals. We wanted more of what was great and we didn’t get it. That was why the prequels were held in such disdain by the fans.
Eventually, the plot of the films mattered less than the characters and the way the messages were delivered. George Lucas focused too much on special effects and it got in the way of everything else.
Yee, haaa! Them prequels was good as cherry-pie. Freedom, freedom! Best country in the world. Our beer is really weak! Etc…
I enjoyed the prequels for what they were but there was room for improvement.
The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy should have focused more on Palpatine and the actual machinations that brought about his rise to power.
The trilogy treats the reveal that Palpatine is the Emperor as an actual plot twist and does it’s best to lull audience members into forgetting that Palpatine is the villain. They forgot that most members of the audience have attention spans that extend longer than a TV advert for action figures. There is a scene right at the end of ‘The Phantom Menace’ where the camera focuses on Palpatine’s face and dark music begins to play. We already knew that he was the villain, and even if we hadn’t watched the original movies, it was made clear throughout the film.
Perhaps, we could have focused more on the exploits of fan-favorite characters from the original trilogy, establishing more of their back-stories. It might have been fun to learn more of the origins of the Millennium Falcon, the adventures of Yoda, or any number of other heroes who came in and out of the story.
Instead of all this, we’re relegated to following the character-arc of a hero that we already know is destined to fail, and a romance that we already know must end in disaster. I would have much preferred to see more details and development of the fall of the Jedi and the Republic, with Anakin and Padme taking the role of the B-Plot, giving the various factions of the era more time to develop.
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