Despite the recent tweet from Anthony Daniels where he says that the next Star Wars film will be the best one ever, even surpassing the series standard bearer Star Wars-Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back, it’s hard to get the taste of the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones out of our collective mouths. No doubt many people are currently thinking, ‘I hope these new films don’t end up anything like those pitiful prequels’. Here are 7 things that the new Disney-owned series needs to do—or not do—in order to keep from repeating the glaring blunders of the prequel trilogy.
- ITS ABOUT THE STORY AND CHARACTERS—NOT THE FX
While the effects for the three prequels were very impressive, they were just not enough to make us all overlook the many problems of those films. (Bad dialogue, angsty teenage Darth Vader, Jar Jar Binks, etc.) It’s funny now to remember all the interviews and promos by George Lucas himself leading up to the release of those films, where he continually reiterated about how disappointed he was in the original trilogy because of the “cheap” special effects. He kept bragging that chapters 1-3 would be 10 times better than 4-6 because of the greater budget and updated effects. Well, we all know how that ended up. We had hoped for another Empire Strikes Back and instead we got the Phantom Menace. In the original trilogy, we not only got great characters right from the start in A New Hope; even in Empire Strikes Back, we were still getting interesting new characters like Yoda, Lando and Boba Fett. As far along as Return of the Jedi, we got to meet Jabba. This is one of the things that made the first trilogy so darn good. Great characters kept coming along! In the prequels, we got lots of CGI and very little depth. The lesson here…If you focus on the Special Effects and action sequences to the detriment of the story and characters, then you become Michael Bay. If you’d given Ed Wood an unlimited budget for Plan 9 from Outer Space, it still would have been a lousy film.
- DON’T WASTE A GOOD VILLAIN
A good bad guy is important. A hero needs a good villain. As Roddy Piper said to Hulk Hogan, “They wouldn’t have cheered you so much if they didn’t hate me so much!” One of the very few good things to come out of The Phantom Menace was Darth Maul, who had the potential to be one of the great screen villains if they’d allowed him time to grow on the audience, over the course of three films. Sadly (and stupidly) he was only given about 10 or 12 minutes of screen time in the Phantom Menace and got killed off at the end of the first film. At least they got the wonderful Christopher Lee to fill in as the replacement villain in Attack of the Clones, but even he was written out at the beginning of the third film. We were left with a coughing robot as Palpatine’s main henchman in Revenge of the Sith. Quite a comedown from Darth Vader. Imagine if Vader had been killed off in the Death Star fight and we got a different character to vex the rebels in the sequel. The lesson here…effective villains are relatively rare, so don’t toss them away like Anakin’s dismembered limbs.
- DON’T UNDERSTATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DROIDS
It was George Lucas himself who once said that Droids R2D2 and C3PO would be the focal characters of the entire series. He said they’d be the only characters in all the 9 films that he’d planned back in the 70s. Since Star Wars 4: A New Hope, was based on the 1958 Akira Kurosawa classic The Hidden Fortress, R2 and 3PO were based on the two pivotal characters Tahei and Matashichi, who were the ‘point-of-view’ characters, (also called “the way in” characters), for the Kurosawa film. They also supplied the comedy relief scenes. R2 and 3PO were the characters who we were supposed to follow for nine Star Wars films. C3PO’s cowardly dignity, along with R2D2’s courageous loyalty, were supposed to be our emotional guides for the whole franchise, as well as lightening the mood with their often comical moments. So what happened to the Droids in the prequels? C3PO had virtually nothing to do, and seemed to be added in just because he was supposed to be there. And the daffy idea that baby Darth Vader built him in his hobby shop was the worst possible way to connect him to the prequel storyline. R2D2 was treated a little better in the prequel films, but since he wasn’t linked with C3PO, he had no foil to play against, and so his persona didn’t come across in those films the way they did in the original trilogy. (Also, why could fly in the prequels but not the other films?) The Droids just didn’t seem important in the prequels, and they should be.
- JAR JAR BINKS (Arrgg!)
Speaking of comedy relief, was there anyone who actually thought Jar Jar was funny in the Phantom Menace? Whose idea was this guy? Obviously, it’s always fun to have a comedy relief character in there to entertain the kiddies and lighten up a serious mood. Since C3PO was inexplicably reduced to a minor character in the prequels, a new character was needed to fill the funniness void. That’s fine. But holy cow…Jar Jar Binks!! I don’t think any more needs to be said other than ‘Jar Jar Binks’, the biggest kick to the groin that the prequels gave to the Star Wars legacy.
- DARTH VADER AS A REBELLIOUS TEENAGER:
On the subject of good villains, the original Star Wars trilogy had arguably the greatest sci-fi villain in cinema history. Darth Vader was the coolest, baddest, most intimidating bad guy you could ask for in a film. If there was a bad guy hall of fame, Vader would have a place of honor. The prequel trilogy inherited that amazing villain. We finally had the chance to look inside the armor and see what made the duke of the Dark Side so darn awesome! And what did we get? We got Vader as a temperamental, teenage rebel-without-a-cause, nursing an attitude problem. How did the iconic villain become a CW network character? Another problem with Vader/Anakin in the sequels was the casting. In the original trilogy, they scored with the ideal casting. For the sequel trilogy, the only one worse than Hayden Christensen was young Jake Lloyd who played tiny Anakin in the Phantom Menace, but at least the kid had an excuse, being so young. Christensen doesn’t get that free pass. He was miscast and didn’t have the gravitas to play an epic character like Vader.
- ACTOR CHEMISTRY:
When Lucas was casting the original trilogy, he passed on several bigger-name actors because they didn’t have the proper give-and-take chemistry together. He knew that the interactions, banter and wordplay between the cast was the key to the likability and appeal of the characters. He preferred to hire unknowns who gelled well, rather than guys with known names who didn’t click together. It’s too bad that this logical bit of reasoning was forgotten in the prequels. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (A future Oscar winner) scored absolute zero when it came to on-screen chemistry. How do you make a film about star-crossed lovers if you cast people who seem so awkward together, you’d think they never met before? WALL-E and EVE had better chemistry than this!
- QUOTABLE DIALOGUE:
“May the Force be with you.” “I have a bad feeling about this.” “I am your father!” “Do…or do not. There is no try!” “Never tell me the odds!” “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.” The list goes on. I’m sure you could all name a dozen or more quotable lines from the original trilogy. Lucas did a great job coming up with cool lines in the originals. Now think of the prequels. What did we get? Lines like this…
“It’s only because I’m so in love.”
“No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.”
“So love has blinded you?”
“That’s not exactly what I meant.”
Or even worse…”Mesa day startin pretty okee-day with a brisky morning munchy, then BOOM! Gettin very scared and grabbin that Jedi and POW! Mesa here! Mesa gettin’ very very scared!”
Or the now infamous…”Noooooooo!!”
So learn from history, Disney. Let’s get this one right!