Problems with SW: Episode 3

Random content alert!  Let’s beat a dead horse.

Someone apparently liked some of my star wars posts and was asking where my fix is for episode 3.  My first excuse is that I’m just a lazy bastard who got super focused on his Supernatural retrospective to finish the Star Wars stuff.

The post-worthy reason is that in episode 3 is the hardest of the prequels to fix.  Why?

Well there’s all the obvious things wrong with it as pointed out by the infamous Mr. Plinkett.

Yet I still think there’s some things Mr. Plinkett missed.

See, George Lucas ended up caught in a dilemma.  The original trilogy showed the audience a galaxy where the Jedi were all but forgotten as mythological figures.  Well for that to be true, then in the prequels the Jedi Order needs to be already dying with the war and Vader being the things to finish it off.

So how do religious orders die?  They need to have become corrupt.  They need to be losing the faith of the populace.  However Lucas prefers his Mary Sue Order to be as perfect as perfect can be – organizations of good guys don’t become corrupt.  Can we have the population turn against them?  But a running motif of the Star Wars universe is goodness of the ordinary man.  Remember at the end of Return of the Jedi‘s special edition it shows the capital planet celebrating the Emperor’s death.  So how then can they turn against the main order of good guys?

This is the corner Lucas had painted himself into.  He needed the Jedi – not just the people, but the organization and the very idea of the Jedi itself to die.  And all within a human generation.  Let’s set aside the issues of aliens and droids who live much longer than humans in this galaxy because that just makes it even harder.   But organizations and ideas are a lot harder to kill than people and he had closed off the available avenues to accomplish this.  Not to mention that this is part 3 of a trilogy so we needed to have been setting up the death of the Jedi in the previous 2 films.

Just think about it from a real world perspective.  Once upon a time, the Catholic Church controlled and had influence all over Europe, for centuries.  We’re 500, maybe a 1,000 years out from their height (depending on how we want to define things) and while a lot of people may not believe in God in any more, you won’t find people who don’t believe in the Pope.  So just imagine what it would take right now for your children to grow up thinking popes and cardinals and bishops and priests were mythological figures like knights.  For that we’re talking a catastrophic event would have to happen.  Now what would it take for this to be true during the Catholic Church’s heyday?

Because that’s how the prequels actually are.  The very start of Episode 1, two Jedi arrive at a ship.  Do the people on board laugh at them?  Do the crew & officers mock the Jedi as has-beens nobody takes seriously?  No.  Those on board quake in fear declaring, “We dare not go against the Jedi.”  In Episode 2 when two Jedi are being executed, is it a thin remnant that storms the stadium to save them?  No.  It’s a small army that arrives, and its members are later put in charge of a second, larger army that follows.  How can an organization that was nearly every general in the previous war be forgotten by the wider populace?  Lucas is torn between the needs of his original trilogy for the Jedi to be dead and forgotten and his desire to show a noble faction at the height of its glory.

Another major problem is that he always wants to be overly literal in writing – which is ironic since the most famous twist of his series depends upon a metaphorical interpretation of a line.  Owen and Beru can’t be “Uncle” and “Aunt” because they’re good friends of the family, but instead must be literal step-siblings that married into it.  Darth Vader isn’t “more machine now than man” because of what he’s done to his basic humanity but instead must have all of his limbs chopped off.

Finally, the prequels have a fatal weakness in being unable to maximize the use of available tools.  Let me explain via a personal example – not because I think I’m better than Lucas but to show that all writers struggle with this.

I was working on a story where… to keep it secret, let’s say that there were a group of characters trying to get into a safe for its contents.  The problem was, within the safe was the key you needed to open it.  Well, how could the characters get inside?  I could invent a second key, but that would require going back and inserting it earlier into the story and changing a lot of things to get it to “fit” properly instead of seeming like a late addition to the tale.  Could the characters cut or blow up their way into the safe?  Well it would destroy the contents they are after so it would be self-defeating.  What if I made it so the contents wouldn’t be destroyed?  Well I needed a second group of characters to intercept the first.  The cut/explode solution would be immensely easy and obvious and wouldn’t logically delay the first group long enough for the second to arrive.  So I put myself in the positions of the characters and really thought about it.  How could the problem be solved without me inserting help for the characters?  After a few days (or maybe weeks) it suddenly came to me – there was a solution present with everybody present and the items available.  Even better, the solution was not immediately evident so it would be logical for the first group to be delayed long enough and hopefully all but a few of any readers (both of them) would not see the solution immediately.  And I never would have come up with this better, more elegant plot had I not restricted myself to using what was there in the story.

By contrast, look at the available solutions to plot problems in episode 3.  We need to get Anakin into the Darth Vader suit.  Why does he have to fight on a lava planet?  Supposedly it was established somewhere in the lore but it wasn’t completely common.  My dad thought for years Anakin was in the suit because of a crash.  Remember the opening of e3?  What if that crash is what injured Anakin and he had to live for a time in a suit different from his familiar one?  Anakin needs to fall to the darkside, so what does Lucas do?  He gives the guy prophetic visions! (which in my opinion is just one step removed from the writer actually explaining things to the audience)  Nevermind that the movies cover a galaxy-spanning war – surely there are a plethora of opportunities to put Padme into danger rather than childbirth and a broken heart.  Or what about the Jedi Temple being attacked later in the film by the enemy, when there was an enemy attack on Coruscant earlier?  Why wouldn’t the enemy take the opportunity to strike at the stronghold where most of the opposing generals come from?

It’s a game you can play for quite awhile in episode 3.  Those options tend to make it hard to settle on exactly which way one might want to improve the last part of the trilogy.

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