From a Writer’s Point Of View: The Problem With Star Wars Prequels

From a Writer’s Point Of View: The Problem With Star Wars Prequels

This will be about writing, I promise. Just bear with me for a moment.

I was born the month and year Star Wars (now called A New Hope) was released. So, I’ll always know how old the movie is. I saw all three movies in the theater, my parents tell me. I remember watching Jedi (and remember is originally being called Revenge of the Jedi instead of Return of the Jedi) and smiling at the end. I remember watching Empire and thinking WTF as Boba Fett’s ship Slave I flew off with Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

I remember that period in the late 80s, early 90s, when it wasn’t cool to still like Star Wars. I still did anyhow. I still have all of my old toys. I remember how excited we were to watch the Special Editions of the movies re-released in the theater. I remember the tears in my eyes when John Williams theme played over the opening credits. I was in college.

I remember the anticipation for Episode I. The excellent Weird Al song about it. I remember walking out of the theater with my friends, trying to convince ourselves that what we had seen wasn’t so bad.

It was so bad. And it wasn’t Jar-Jar Binks fault.

We imagined the Clone Wars. We all had a version in our head of how Anakin became Darth Vader. In my mind, Anakin was this great pilot (he was late 20s, early 30s in my mind), great Jedi, a good man, who had somehow been irreparably injured in a crash and in his weakened state, succumbed to the dark side.

I’ve had a hard time really expressing why the prequels stunk so much. My official reason for a while has been that the writers just didn’t make me care about the characters. I feel like I should have wept when Anakin turned to the dark side. But to be honest, by the middle of the second movie I was fine with it.

Then yesterday, I came across this really great article from TheScriptLab that really gets into what went wrong and how to avoid it in our own writing. What does Anakin want?

Why do we love the first three Star Wars, and by first three, I mean 4,5,and 6, but loathe the second trifecta? Does it feel that forced? (Yes.) Are midichlorians really that dumb of an idea? (Yes.) Is Hayden Christensen’s acting really that bad? (Unfortunately.) True Star Wars fans can probably give me a hundred reasons, but the main, I believe, is the Hero’s Spine. Whereas A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedifocus on Luke’s story, and his ultimate quest to become a Jedi, the other three focus on… what, exactly?

For argument’s sake, let’s just say that the second trilogy (1, 2, and 3) focus on Anakin’s journey to becoming Vader. But here’s the problem with that. Anakin has no ultimate objective to become the Lord of the Dark Side. He has no objective to be the ultimate baddy. He simply just falls into it with some stupid decisions and some juvenile thinking. The three films’ only character objectives come from the Federation’s desire to do away with evil. But the Federation is a group of about 12 characters, some of which have only a few one-liners in a sit-down meeting. In comparison to Tolkien’sRings, Lucas gives us the Fellowship, but without the Frodo. Without the character who has the ultimate desire, and has to make the ultimate sacrifice. And without that, what’s the point?

This is something I’m not sure I know about the protagonist in my wip novel. What does he really want? To be honest, I’m not sure. Seven chapters in, and I’m not sure. I’ll tell you what, though, I plan on finding out before I move forward much further.

The article at TheScriptLab is actually a three-parter. Part 2 deals with Opposition (to the protagonist). Part 3 is about forming a connection with the audience.

Even if you don’t care about the Star Wars stuff, I really do recommend you check out the articles I’ve linked. They are quite good and might just help you avoid creating another Anakin. Because really, we don’t need another one of those in this galaxy or one far far away.

7 thoughts on “From a Writer’s Point Of View: The Problem With Star Wars Prequels

  1. I think I’m a year older than you, so we have much the same experiences regarding Star Wars. Empire is the first film I remember seeing in a movie theater (for some reason, I was sitting in the aisle). My college enthusiasm for the re-releases was off the charts. I teared up at the music, too. And those cheers! Wow, what a crackling atmosphere that was.

    Then the Phantom Menace came and…pfft. It was almost disillusioning, it was so bad. I didn’t even try to pretend I liked it.

    Anyway, that’s a great article. I think the writer really hones in on the problem with the prequels (outside of Lucas’s excruciating inability to write dialogue). If the protagonist’s passion/desire isn’t pulling us along, then all we’re really left with is noise and eye candy.

    Interesting transition into writing proper, too. I hope you crack your character’s motivation soon!

  2. You might want to consider this POV for future work. Remember figuring out mazes, where you’re given a starting location and destination, with only one correct route through a confusing grid? You have to navigate to avoid the false paths to find your way through. Well, that’s the only way a mouse can do it, because that creature is placed at the beginning, and can only see the immediate walls and alleys in front of it. From your vantage above, you can see the maze in it’s entirety. The solution comes faster, and with fewer false trails, if you start at the end and work backwards to the beginning. That’s because the maze creator designs a puzzle to pose more false paths to the ‘normal’ way of seeking the solution.

    Where am I going with this, you might ask. The writer [with an overhead view], whether of novel or short story, should start with a clear idea of the starting and ending points, along with the major premise or rationale for creating the story line. You take as a given that your reader [the mouse] will start at the beginning and proceed to the end, so that the red herrings and extraneous information you insert are just so many blind alleys to negotiate and discard as non-helpful information to solving the mystery or deducing the killer, for example. Character development, scene descriptions, side-stories are all so much twisting and turning of the maze path. They must be negotiated, and without them the path will be very sterile and uninteresting.

    In the original 3 Star Wars, the writers put time and effort into creating a tight story line, with everything making sense, and even the side-stories provided insight, rather than meaningless fluff to fill up the time requirement for a feature length film. The termination points of each piece were logical, and hooked an audience anticipating each successive film. The Empire is defeated. Time goes on.

    Then crass commercialization comes in, and the idea of THREE prequels comes out. Is there a story to be told that will take 3 more feature length films? No, but Lucas can fill up the time with a bunch of special effects and extraneous plots and scenic stuff. Do the Jedi derive their powers from strength of mind and will? No. They’re just host bodies for a bunch of “midiclorians”. Gimmick after gimmick flood the screen and story line with so much crap it’s a turnoff, accentuated by the wooden acting of the adult Anakin. [The kid Anakin was a lot more interesting].

    So, as a writer you don’t want to get trapped into producing mindless sequels and prequels. Tell the story and get out. If people like your stuff, tell them another story, a different story. It’s OK to keep a set of characters, because character development from scratch for every novel is a lot of work, but plan the life history of your characters as well. Fixed in time experiencing different situations, like Blondie and Dagwood, or aging a bit in each novel, like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Your choice, but keep it consistent.

  3. You’re right, Paul, and I like how you linked this to writing.
    For Star Wars, I think they’ve waited for too long to come up with new movies and there were also many books written in that universe, some of them decent enough.

    1. I think they can tell good new stories in the new movies, and I have absolutely no faith that they will.

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