Thursday, September 12, 2013

Three Points The Prequels Should Have Considered - by Sam Stafford

A little while back, Mike did a post on whether there is such a thing as art being "bad". This came right on the heels of me having seen a video called What If Episode 2 Were Good (hold on, I'll link it in a second, let me ramble a bit first), and boggling at how much better this guy's story was than what Lucas squeezed out. But Mike's post got me thinking – under what circumstances might someone disagree?

Something we frequently take for granted and rarely state outright when we discuss whether something is "good" or "bad" is what we want that thing to accomplish, i.e. what standard we're judging it against. If I want a movie to move me on an emotional level and tell me a good story, and you want to use the DVD as a coaster, it might be great for you but terrible for me -- but without understanding up front that we're looking for entirely different things, any conversation we have on the topic is just going to have us talking past each other.

"Jar Jar Binks at Naboo! Jar Jar Binks at Naboo!"

So on the topic of Star Wars in particular, I thought it would be interesting to try to articulate what it was that I (and I suspect many others) expect a "good" Star Wars prequel trilogy might do. I'm going to try to restrain myself from pointing out examples of failings in the actual prequel trilogy, because that'd make a much longer post, and frankly, it's all been done.

1) Maintain thematic and tonal consistency with the original trilogy.

You're putting the name Star Wars on it, you're trying to sell it to people who like Star Wars, you want to make it feel like Star Wars, right? This means more than having some of the things look the same or have the same names -- the original trilogy established how the world works, how certain characters think and act, and there are certain philosophical and moral themes running through it. Just as an example, take Obi-wan and Yoda telling us (through Luke) about the Force. We'd expect other movies in the series to preserve continuity with what we learn about the Force, how it works, how a Jedi acts, how a Sith acts, et cetera.

2) Give satisfying answers to some of the questions we might have about places and characters in the original trilogy.

This is very open-ended, and a "good" prequel doesn't need to show us the origin of each and every plot thread, but connecting at least some of those dots is a good way to establish continuity between the movies in a series. How did the Emperor rise to power? What was Anakin like as a Jedi? More importantly, those questions need to have interesting answers that form an engaging story in their own right, or there's no point in making a prequel at all.

3) Show us characters that we care about.

This isn't so much a Star Wars requirement as a general storytelling requirement, but in the particular context of these prequels, it's especially important that we build (or at least maintain) a connection with the characters that are significant to the larger arc of the series. The big story of Anakin's corruption and redemption is going to be much more engaging if we actually care about Anakin as a character. The smaller story of Anakin and Obi-wan's friendship before Anakin's fall won't connect with us if we can't connect with those two characters. A love story subplot won't work if the romantic interest is robotic and monotone. Et cetera.

These requirements may seem like common sense to you or they may seem like nitpicking, but keep them in mind as you watch What If Star Wars Episode II Were Good?, and whether you think his ideas are actually “good” in a universal sense, see if you agree with me that as far as the above points go, his story does a hell of a better job of covering them than the actual movie did.
And now an open question for you, reader – what are you going to be looking for in the upcoming trilogy? (And what do you think are the odds of finding it?)

1 comment:

  1. I think as far as making the prequels "feel" like Star Wars, I think Lucas did fine with that. The prequels take place at a different time, at the height of republic civilization, so the look and feel of the movies are a little brighter. The originals take place during the "dark times", giving the movies a darker feel. Since Lucas essentially made Anakin/Vader the central character of the entire saga, I think the movies also reflect what's going on with him. In Episode 1, he was still an innocent child, so the movie was more childlike. Episode 2 was a little more grown up, because Anakin was more grown up. Episode 3 was darker, because Anakin was darker. Return of the Jedi returned a little bit to that childlike innocence (the Ewoks) because Vader was about the redeem himself and gain back some of that lost innocence. At least that's the way I see it. I'm not sure what to expect with the sequels. I'm just going to wait and see what happens.