Operation Star-Wars-make-saga-more-good

Soon after the release of Star Wars: Episode III: Attack of: The Phantom Sith Clones, or whatever the hell it was called, when the Star Wars “saga” was finally all wrapped up, my sister Suzanne e-mailed me to say she was “relieved” to have enjoyed it. (The prior two films were total disasters, of course.)

I disagreed with her and wrote:

So I guess it didn’t bother you that

  • None of the characters had any chemistry;
  • All of the action scenes were jerkily edited and hard to follow;
  • Threepio’s memory is cavalierly erased for no good reason other than that the story’s continuity required it, though wiping out a main character’s personality is an act of unspeakable violence — and Artoo’s memory isn’t wiped, nor does Artoo grieve for the impending loss of his friend;
  • Anakin’s turn to the dark side is completely unmotivated;
  • Padme does nothing during the whole movie except look worried and then inexplicably die;
  • Yoda pointlessly mentions to Obi-Wan that he’ll be able to “commune” with Qui-Gon;
  • The Jedi were so easily hoodwinked;
  • Obi-Wan never conveys Padme’s dying utterance to Luke or Leia;
  • Palpatine dispatches three Jedi masters in under a minute;
  • Obi-Wan walks away from Anakin when he’s dying in agony;
  • Anakin and Obi-Wan had a pat reconciliation just before it all turns to shit;
  • The Death Star takes about twenty years to construct (long enough for Luke to grow up and destroy it soon after it becomes operational), but the Death Star II comes together in no time at all;
  • Yoda, battling Palpatine, knowing the stakes, and holding his own, turns tail and runs from the one good shot at him he’s ever likely to get;
  • We still don’t know what the heck midichlorians are or why Anakin’s got so many of them;
  • By an amazing coincidence, of the millions of Wookiees on Kashyyk, one of Yoda’s liaisons there was Chewbacca;
  • Obi-Wan “hides” the infant Luke in the one place in the whole galaxy Darth Vader is most likely to look for him;
  • But Vader doesn’t!; and
  • The prophecy is never explained.

It wasn’t all bad. Here are the things that were good:

  • The glimpse of Farscape‘s Wayne Pygram (“Scorpius”) as a young Tarkin helping to oversee the construction of the Death Star (but why no dialogue??);
  • The suitably operatic irony (artlessly executed) that Anakin’s desire to protect Padme is what killed her;
  • Fragments of the philosophy-of-the-Force scenes with Palpatine;
  • The tug-of-war for Anakin’s loyalties (again, artlessly executed);
  • General Grievous: the coughing, wheezing ‘droid who’s a tiny fraction organic.

In a later message I sent her my prescription for how the saga might have been improved.

  • Lose the midichlorians, for gosh sakes.
  • Lose Anakin’s mother. Anakin’s an orphan of uncertain provenance.
  • Lose Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan is the one who discovers Anakin and takes him under his wing.
  • Leia’s not Luke’s sister. What’s the point? Furthermore, it destroys the tension of the Luke-Leia-Han triangle.
  • Keep the prophecy, but explain it better and make it more mysterious. The prophecy describes a prodigy in the Force who will destroy the Sith. The prophecy seems to point to Anakin but no one can be really sure. Yet Obi-Wan believes fervently (just as Morpheus believes in Neo in The Matrix). Obi-Wan’s pride at discovering and training this special boy is part of both men’s downfall.
  • Lose the sullen brooding angsty teen angle. It does not suffice to explain Anakin’s turn to the dark side anyway, and is just annoying.
  • Do make an issue of the prophecy, and what Anakin’s knowledge of it does to him. It places unusual pressure on him, and somehow or another this is what leads him to the dark side. This can become the through-line of the whole saga: knowing the future and trying to change it is a sure way to fuck it up. Just look at what happens to Padme.
  • Make the Jedi less gabby and more heraldic, along the lines of the Knights of the Round Table. Give them a charismatic king- like leader to whom they can be loyal. Lose the Galactic Senate and the Republic’s so-called democracy.
  • Make Anakin become the favorite of this king-like leader. The Jedi are mindful of the danger that Anakin poses, but the king’s love blinds him and he blocks the precautions the Jedi wish to take. In the end, when the Jedi are betrayed, they’re not taken by surprise; they know it’s coming. But their loyalty to the king prevents them from doing anything about it, even when it means their own annihilation.
  • For a touch of operatic cliche, make Palpatine the jealous younger brother of the king. He recognizes the opportunity presented by the king’s love for Anakin, and corrupts Anakin.
  • Palpatine interprets Anakin’s premonitions of Padme’s death and cultivates his fear. Meanwhile, he also plays on Anakin’s sense of inadequacy that is the result of the prophecy. Anakin doesn’t feel like the super Jedi he’s supposed to be and worries that he won’t measure up when push comes to shove. This makes Palpatine’s corrupt teachings more attractive to him; he believes it’ll give him the edge he needs to live up to the prophecy.
  • There needs to be many more Jedi, including more who survive the betrayal. By surviving, they’ve lost their honor and have become ronin. After the fall of the Republic, these ronin don’t merely hide; they work behind the scenes to subvert the Empire and are connected with the formation of the Rebellion.
  • The ronin consider Luke valuable mainly for symbolic purposes, and intend to use him politically in some way when he comes of age. To everyone’s surprise, though, Luke is as much a prodigy in the Force as his father was, and forges his own destiny in defiance of the ronins’ plans.
  • More should be made of Darth Vader’s ever-present desire to overthrow the Emperor. This desire is endlessly frustrated or delayed. Of course the Emperor knows all about Vader’s ambitions and is a skilled-enough manipulator to always turn Vader’s plans against him. In the end, Vader is something of a whipped dog, and this contributes to his betrayal of the Emperor (which destroys the Sith and fulfills the prophecy).
  • Vader’s redemption requires more than just watching Luke suffer at the Emperor’s hands. Instead, it requires Vader recognizing in Luke a parallel with his own fall (as he’s now come to regard his turn to the dark side). As Luke is about to make a similar disastrous mistake to one that Vader himself once made, a paternal instinct takes over. Vader is not strong enough to defeat the Emperor by himself, even with the element of surprise; but he and Luke fighting side-by-side bring about the Emperor’s death. It probably requires Vader sacrificing himself to make the final kill.
  • After Luke’s triumph, the ronin pledge their fealty to him and proclaim him the new king. But (in a parallel with George Washington) Luke refuses the title and places Leia in charge of something new: a truly democratic government.

All of this is orthogonal to my desire to remake the original Star Wars. And none of it is as good as Keith Martin’s reinterpretation.

By now my claims of being a “recovering” Star Wars nerd may be starting to ring a little hollow. But the messages I quoted above were written in 2005, when the pain of the prequels was still raw. That faded into irrelevancy in no time. And although it seems I keep coming back to Star Wars, in fact I was just browsing through my old mail to look for something interesting to put on the blog today because I didn’t have the time to write something new.

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