Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out today. The kid in my heart wants to get super excited. However, the crotchety old man who lives just under my liver is quick to point out the many horrors unleashed upon unsuspecting fans the last time we got our hopes up.
I get it – the many sins of the prequel trilogy have been as thoroughly beaten as a dead horse. Yes, I’m going to talk about them anyway, because we all love to and there are plenty. In fact, Jar Jar didn’t even make it into my list. Hopefully, the new episode can avoid these issues.
1. Rushing the Romance
Anakin’s courtship of Padme felt about as real as the chosen one’s prosthetic arm. Sure we all went along with it, but only because we knew it was a necessary step in getting Hayden Christensen into the black suit.
I’m not going to harp on the age difference since, obviously, a younger guy can marry an older woman, but Padme must have really thought little Jake Lloyd was hunky to make the turnaround that she pulled in Attack of the Clones. We go from a blatant “I’m not interested” to a swooning smooch in a ten-minute span of film.
In a two-hour film that is pulling multiple story lines together from all over the galaxy, certain nuances of human relationships may have to be discarded. But a lot of the problems, in this case, come from writing. There wasn’t one scene where you see the love connection happen in a believable way.
In the original trilogy, specifically The Empire Strikes Back, when the Millennium Falcon was stranded inside the space worm, sparks flew in the back room. Han and Leia jabbed, then embraced. It was perfect. Contrast this with the fireside chat between Anakin and Padme. It was wooden, it was hokey, and you wanted it to end.
The Fix: Only J.J. Abrams really knows the characters of the new film at this point. As for romance, all I will say is “I love you!” and “I know” would be a great starting point.
2. Making Lightsaber Fights Meaningless
I’ll admit, as an eleven-year-old kid I thought that the final duel between Obi Wan and Darth Maul looked freaking awesome. They moved like lightsaber-wielding ninjas, for heaven’s sake! Contrast this with the frozen-molasses movements of Kenobi and Darth Vader in A New Hope, and one can understand my pre-pubescent wonder.
We grow up though, and we realize why the original trilogy has so much more staying power than the prequels. Even though the slower duels of the OT were, in part, due to technological constraints, Lucas used these scenes to build his story and deepen the characters. Consider the final battle between Luke and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. The electricity between the characters was palpable. They jeered, they shouted, they taunted, and the audience shivered. You felt Luke’s anger when Vader threatened Leia. Can we say the same thing about Anakin fighting Obi Wan in Revenge of the Sith? Or were you, again, internally rooting for Anakin to put the mask on already?
The Fix: While there’s nothing wrong with a flip here or a cartwheel there, slow down a bit to let the character’s dialogue and the deeper plot lines develop. I’m hoping J.J. Abrams thinks less ninja and more medieval knight. The fact that Kylo Ren’s lightsaber looks more than a little like a Scottish claymore brings hope that this may, in fact, be the case.
3. Weakening the Jedi Order
As with the last point, I was fine with the Jedi Order as imagined in the prequels, when I first saw them. But when I started thinking about it, they seemed less like an epic bunch of magic wielding heroes and more like unconnected stoics. I won’t get into a philosophical argument on worldviews here, but no attachments? Really? What about all the good and happiness that comes when two people fall in love? Is the Force that unstable of an entity that true human goodness can be corrupted by it rather than supplemented? If so, why not be evil? What is evil? Who decides? Where’s the beef?
I understand the monkish aspect of the order – I do. There is something intense about people who spend their time in prayer and then leap into action. They show a certain calm that is unnerving. But aside from Yoda, there was no joy, no beauty, no soul to the Jedi. The Jedi are supposed to value that which is good and beautiful. They were good but not joyfully so. The Force was grim, good was grim, and they forbade love. By virtue of the script, they were made antagonists to Anakin and Padme’s courtship. The Jedi became the stodgy old rule makers who ruin fun. Not so cool.
Let us not forget that the Jedi were all killed by stormtroopers, so they ended really lame. Yoda, the most epically awesome Jedi ever, took one swipe at Emperor Palpatine and then high-tailed it into exile. Don’t even get me started on Mace Windu.
The Fix: The Jedi should be less “stoic monk” and more “passionate warrior” (which is never said to be a bad thing in the original films). Also, they should stop getting pwned by stormtroopers.
4. Prioritizing Politics
Even though the setting of the original trilogy is based during a galaxy-wide civil war, there is almost no mention of politics. Things like the Galactic Senate or regional governors are mentioned as vague backstory, filler to add to the depth of the main plot.
Why mention this? Because Star Wars is related to Homer and Odysseus: a story motivated by a man’s quest to find his way home. Star Wars is like the Odyssey, a story of Luke and his friends fighting evil as they quest for meaning and ultimately for love and friendship. Had the original trilogy focused as intently on negotiations and Senate politics, there wouldn’t have been enough time for the characters to develop. Star Wars is all about characters. The setting and its history are meant to serve them. Invert this, as happened in the prequels, and the magic is gone.
The Fix: Take a breather from the politics. Backstory is necessary and often awesome, but let the characters shine through. A funny moment in a garbage bin is worth way more than a motion to vacate the Chancellorship. We don’t need to have a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order in front of us to translate the dialogue.
5. Disposing of Villains
I know that a lot of people won’t share this view, but Maul was kind of lame. He totally owned that double-bladed lightsaber, and… nothing else. While he was supposedly one part of the whole “phantom menace” of the Sith Lords, he simply became the first in a long line of Darth Sidious’ body-part-deprived apprentices. Seriously, if you really think about it, Sebulba was a more defined, effective bad guy.
Count Dooku was barely better (though still my favorite out of the two). It was a strange choice by Lucas to let so many antagonists parade through the prequels, especially since the original trilogy was a one-Vader show.
Just imagine if Lucas had killed Vader in Episode IV and introduced a new villain in each film after. “But Vader is a deep character with inextricable ties to the plot,” you say? Exactly! Maul’s part could have been filled by any other being in the galaxy, Sith or not. He doesn’t matter to the plot in the deeper sense. He doesn’t add or take away from any other character. He exists to show his face and kill Qui Gon. Were Maul to stay through the prequels only to be slain at the end (by Darth Vader perhaps?), imagine all the weight that would have been added to his role, a true phantom menace for the Jedi. He could have a little backstory here, a shot of remorse for past evils there.
The Fix: Kylo Ren is our new baddy; let him stay and grow his infamy for all three films. Supreme Leader Snoke gets the same recommendation, all 25 feet of him.
6. Adding Midichlorians
No. Just no. You can have a magical energy field, you can describe how to use it, but you lose your audience when you equate a mystical entity with bacteria in your blood stream. Couple this with a vague prophesy about a virgin birth that is never properly explained, and fans begin to feel as if the Force isn’t so wonderful after all. I mean unless you like to study bacteria.
Maybe this is a personal thing, but I don’t like when writers break down magic, spirituality, or other supernatural things to a specific science in stories. I don’t need to know that saying “hocus pocus” is made effective by a specific magnetic impulse from a quasar that makes the metals in the body reject gravitational waves. That’s not a “mystical” anything; it’s a science experiment.
I’m not saying you can’t do it, but lay it out right away. “This thing is limited to how many bacteria are in your cells,” says Obi Wan on the Millenium Falcon in Episode IV. Then there’s no surprise when Qui Gon gives little Anakin a quick lab test.
Can you imagine how much cooler and more powerful Episode I would have been if Qui Gon discovered Anakin because he felt a super powerful ripple in the Force the second they landed on Tattooine? Or if Anakin had already begun to develop his powers on his own?
The Fix: The Force is the Force. “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” There is Light, and there is Dark, good and evil. It has a will but can be moved. It’s mystical. Moving on, let it be.
7. Using Computer Graphics
When the vast majority of your sets and characters are projected by a computer, the audience will eventually feel disconnected from your story. No matter how good computer graphics (CG) look at that first viewing, they can become old and outdated. Remember when Hollywood first started employing CG in the early to mid-nineties. It was awesome then, but it doesn’t look so awesome now.
This aging of technology also hurts storytelling. When you are trying to tell a story, especially through a visual medium, you need your audience to believe that they are hearing about a real place. When they start counting the pixels on your animated monster, that suspension of disbelief is gone or at least severely marred.
The Fix: J.J. Abrams is looking to employ practical effects in the new episode. Theoretically, this means that we will get less computer, more real life. I like the sound of that. Let’s all be honest here, the puppet Yoda was way better than CG Yoda. Ok, except for the lightsaber fighting. That was awesome.
I love Star Wars. It was a huge part of my childhood and is already part of everyday conversations with my little boy. I really hope that The Force Awakens rights some of the wrongs in the prequels and shows itself a fitting successor to the Star Wars legacy. See you at the theater!
Jake Giese runs onenerdydad.com and believes mythology and storytelling is at the very core of a wise society.
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