Unlike many Star Wars fans, I actually don’t hate the prequels. There’s an almost Shakespearian tragedy about them, knowing this won’t end well for Anakin, Padme, and Obi-Wan. That’s not to say the writing is up to par with Shakespeare, but the idea is. And, truthfully, there’s a lot of good in them if one goes in with an open mind.
That said, even loving the prequels as I do, I freely acknowledge there are hordes of problems in them. And, even though it’s all too little too late, I have some ideas on how all that could’ve been fixed. If you’ll please indulge me, I’d like to go through them.
The Menace of The Phantom Menace
First of all, the first movie in the franchise (chronologically, anyway) has to be completely reworked. As far as story installments go, this one adds nothing to the larger Skywalker arc except to introduce us to Anakin. I think, instead, the story should start far closer to the events of Attack of the Clones. Weave Anakin’s childhood into the story, rather than spending an hour on pod racing. This will also allow for more build-up in his romance with Padme.
Additionally, the Gungans as a whole need to be removed. Plot-wise, they’re irrelevant. This also removes Jar Jar Binks from the equation entirely. And, while we’re removing entire species, let’s get rid of the Trade Federation. This gets rid of the blatant racism (listen to their accents and tell me that’s not racist) and the endless trade “conflict.” This way, a new, more exciting plot can take its place.
The plot should revolve more directly around the Sith. The Sith are the true main threat in the next two movies, so they need to be established more firmly in The Phantom Menace. This can be done easily by making Darth Maul the main villain and completely removing his hasty replacement Count Dooku. Darth Maul is intimidating and skilled; let him be Palpatine’s pre-Vader muscle.
By prioritizing character development and action, this movie could’ve been a very impactful introduction to a new trilogy. Starting in media res worked for A New Hope and The Force Awakens (in the sense that the main conflict had already been an issue prior to the story); it would’ve worked wonders here as well.
Skydala: A Love Story
What worked about Han and Leia’s romance wasn’t just what we saw on screen, but what we understood took place off-screen. Their relationship continues behind the scenes between each movie. Anakin and Padme don’t see each other for about ten years between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Obviously, this was largely due to the fact that Anakin was a child in the first movie while Padme was fourteen. They wanted to avoid any creep factor.
By applying the changes I suggested to The Phantom Menace, this issue is resolved. This allows the two to develop their relationship in a more natural manner. They can explore their friendship and romantic feelings over time, rather than immediately falling head over heels for each other. It shows the audience why these two love each other. It makes their romance feel more realistic and less forced simply because we know Luke and Leia must be born.
This will also allow time to fix the other glaring issue in this romance: the way these two speak to each other. It’s largely uncomfortable flirting and overblown declarations of love. One way to fix this is to give these two more to talk about. Have them worry about the state of the world, have them discuss their families, have them argue.
And then, of course, all the flirtation needs to be rewritten. I’ve seen it excused because Anakin grew up monastic and Padme spent all of her teen years in the government, but I think chalking it all up to inexperience is giving George Lucas too much credit.
Once that is fixed, the overwhelming declarations of love need to be removed. Rewrite one and put that one in the movie. Otherwise, it’s just overboard (as we’ve seen).
Dark Side Cookies
Anakin’s fall to the dark side is just about the most unsubtle transformation I’ve ever witnessed. This needs to be handled more delicately and needs to start being set up as early as The Phantom Menace. He needs to make a lot more decisions that fall in a gray area, and these decisions need to happen with more and more frequency. We also need to see him grapple with these decisions. He needs to feel simultaneous guilt and elation with each choice he makes.
He also needs to start gradually doubting Jedi dogma sooner. I think it would help to parallel this with his relationship with Padme. He knows Jedi forbid attachments, and yet his relationship with Padme has been nothing but positive. This is, at least, how he justifies to himself disregarding their other teachings. He’ll see them as needlessly restrictive. Through his longing for power and relationship with Padme, he is able to slowly lean towards the dark side and justify his actions along the way.
This also requires, however, removing the Tuskan Raider scene from Attack of the Clones. This winds up being a positive, as Padme being strangely okay with him murdering an entire tribe never made sense. It was also far too jarring an action. At that point in his transformation, it makes no logical sense for Anakin to slaughter anyone let alone an entire tribe of Tuskan Raiders.
Palpatine’s manipulations, however, can and should be left in. But I don’t want Anakin’s final reasoning for going dark to be “noble.” In Revenge of the Sith, we’re told it’s so he can learn the skills to save Padme. Narratively, it would be better if his decision was simpler: he no longer believes the teachings of the Jedi and has let himself be manipulated into his own downfall. Rather than relying on an emotional catalyst, Anakin is a far more active participant in his own destiny.
Long Live the Queen
Padme’s story needs to be completely revamped. First, she needs more agency. She’s a senator, but is rarely portrayed as the leader she is. In many cases, this is because those scenes were cut. I want her to have a transformation storyline that directly parallels Anakin’s. While he goes from the light side to the dark, she goes from government official to rebel. This will make their love story an almost reverse Romeo & Juliet: they start off on the same team and wind up enemies.
This will also fix the “Padme died of a broken heart” nonsense. While I believe the implication is actually that Palpatine took her life force and gave it to Anakin, it’s still irritating. Instead of this, I want Padme to become a leader of the rebellion. Unfortunately, she dies in battle (this can even be something Obi-Wan tells us in narration as he splits up Luke and Leia). By this point, the children were toddlers (old enough so Leia can remember their mother). Anakin— now Darth Vader— has no idea what happened to his children. As far as he knows, they’re dead too.
Where Are We?
One of the biggest problems with the prequels is the overuse of CGI. Everything is CGI: the buildings, the creatures, the friggin’ food. It’s too much. Instead, sets should’ve been built for the actors to interact with. This would help their performance and make the environment more realistic. I know George Lucas was excited to have such a cool tool he didn’t for the original trilogy, but there’s a limit.
It would also help if the old characters were a little more familiar. I want Yoda to have an entirely different way of looking at the world; Mace is the conventional thinker, Yoda is odd. This gives a little more power to his hunches because, as weird as he is, he’s rarely wrong. Somehow every bizarre thing he says is accurate. I want him to be the Madame Trelawney of Star Wars but respected.
I actually like Obi-Wan’s characterization, but he shouldn’t start this trilogy as a padawan. It strains incredulity that someone that young becomes the old man in A New Hope. There’s a maximum of twenty years between the two trilogies. We need the distinct implication that Obi-Wan is at least in his mid-to-late thirties in the prequels. This helps with continuity and world-building. It’s a small fix, but it goes a long way with believability.
The Star Wars prequel trilogy is a mess, but it’s not beyond hope. It’s also not beyond my love. For all its flaws, the overall story still has promise. It just needed to be a little tighter and the characterization needed to make more sense. Had the prequel trilogy been a little more like this, the Force surely would’ve been with it from start to finish.