Brian Watanabe wrote the screenplay THE ROGUES GALLERY, which turned into the film OPERATION: ENDGAME starring Rob Corddry, Maggie Q, Ellen Barkin and Zack Galifianakis. Amazing cast aside, it wasn’t quite the film he intended. But that’s another story.
Mistakes were made.
We’re all on the same page about that. So there’s no need to get even angrier about the STAR WARS prequels or at the changes George Lucas made to STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA Blu-ray (in stores tomorrow) because anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering and let’s face it, we’ve all suffered enough.
No, I will not succumb to the dark side of nerdom because others have done a far better job dismantling the prequels than I ever could. In fact, they made a great documentary about it called THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS (which I saw last year at the Hawaii International Film Festival. You’re welcome offender, Anderson):
So in my follow-up prequel to “Attack of the Sequel: Star Trek II, Best Sequel Ever?”, I want to be part of the solution. I mean, if George Lucas can continue to digitally “improve” his films, why can’t he improve the script? A little CGI, a little ADR, a little creative editing and not only do you have a great looking film, but you’ve also got an even better story.
So for the inevitable “Super-duper special edition, Cloud-Ray download release” (or whatever technology emerges, turning my massive Blu-ray collection into a depressing reminder of my credit card bills), I humbly submit these script notes to Mr. Lucas. And in my quest to become a screenwriting Jedi, I will attempt the impossible:
I will try to write this without saying one bad thing about the STAR WARS prequels.
Actually, I won’t try, I’ll do, because there is no… you know the drill. So let’s do some back-seat development. Let’s get a little fan-fictiony. And let’s frame it all in screenwriting so I don’t come off as a complete nerf-herder. Needless to say, spoiler alert…
“SUPER-DUPER SPECIAL EDITION” PREQUEL NOTES TO GEORGE LUCAS
PART I: DELETED THEMES
Now let’s be clear, you’re a visionary, Mr. Lucas. You’re responsible for three of the most influential films of all time (STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and AMERICAN GRAFFITI). But what is the core story of the prequels? Trade blockades. C-SPAN senate votes. Farting dancehall-reggae aliens. These things matter not.
So let’s do a “theme” pass on the prequels. Ask yourself, “What are these movies about?” “What am I trying to say?” “What themes are emerging that may help shape my story?” Are the prequel films about POWER – the struggle between the Republic and the Separatists? Boooring. Are they about AUTHORITY – the struggle of a young Jedi breaking the rules for love? Closer. No, this trilogy is a tragedy, tracking the downfall of Darth Vader. And what drove Vader to the dark side? LOVE. A DOOMED LOVE at that. Bingo. I mean, everyone can relate to doing crazy things for love, dressed in a kimono and sporting a mullet. I can’t be the only one.
Yes, I know the love story was already a part of your prequels. But let’s push harder to create even more conflict at the character level and more obstacles to make Anakin and Amidala really earn their epic love story. How? Well, Shakespeare might inject some misunderstandings, temptation and jealousy. Woody Allen might inject a healthy dose of guilt. Hey, it’s no secret Joseph Campbell’s THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES influenced you, so why not mirror another piece of mythology? Arthurian legend.
What if there was a love triangle between Anakin, Amidala and Obi Wan ala Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot?
Now that’s an epic love story. What if Obi-Wan fell in love with Amidala? And yikes, what if she fell in love right back? Both Jedi engaging in a forbidden love that ends up tearing the Republic apart? Now that’s a reason for turning Anakin to the dark side and still keeping him sympathetic. And just like the “I am your father” reveal in Empire, Obi-Wan’s guilt-ridden love of Luke’s mother and his death at the hands of Vader would make the entire saga even richer upon second viewing.
Want to push it even farther? What if OBI-WAN WAS REALLY LUKE’S FATHER. Whoa! Too much? Yeah, I thought so too. Just spit balling. Here, cleanse your palette with this photo:
Mr. Lucas, let’s CGI the politics and plotting into the background and back-story and let’s refocus on creating three-dimensional characters. Forget about giving Yoda dimples or enhancing Natalie Portman’s belly button. What the prequels really need is a Han Solo. A character that will create conflict and breathe life into every scene. I mean, what would STAR WARS be without Han Solo? Well, they’d probably be a lot like the prequels.
So what if we made Obi-Wan Kenobi the new Han Solo?
Remember, great characters don’t just go through a character arc, they transform. So if we know Obi-Wan is going to be the straight-laced mentor of Anakin at the end of PHANTOM, let’s reverse-engineer the story by pushing him to the extreme opposite of the spectrum: make him a self-centered, rule-breaking, cowboy/maverick Jedi in direct conflict with the traditional Qui-Gon Jin. It’ll be like a Jedi buddy movie. And who doesn’t want to see that?
We could go on and on about how to make the prequel characters more 3-Dimensional. What if Obi-Wan was directly responsible for Qui-Gon Jin’s death? What if we caught a glimpse of Darth Maul’s training in the dark arts, mirroring Luke’s training in EMPIRE? And what if we found a way to dilute Mace Windu’s Samuel Jacksoness? I got nothing on that one, I’m just sayin’.
PART III: ALL-NEW ALTERNATE ENDING
Prequels are the trickiest kind of sequels. Why? Because the audience already knows the ending. Anakin becomes Darth Vader. End of story. So how can you surprise us, Mr. Lucas? How can you move us? How can you possibly make us feel something new? It sucks, I know.
Well, we all knew what was going to happen at the end of TITANIC, didn’t we? And that film made a gajillion dollars and won an Academy Award. What made that film play was this question: what’s going to happen to Jack/Leonardo DiCaprio? Luckily, you have a similar situation with Amidala/Natalie Portman. We’re all pretty sure she’s going to die, but the mystery is, how? Why don’t we make this the engine that will drive us to a more satisfying and climactic ending?
First, let’s make the Padme Amidala character more active. A screenwriting teacher once told me, “Your characters don’t change — they discover who they are who they’ve always been.” So let’s begin at the end and figure out who Amidala has always been. What if instead of literally dying of a broken heart…
Amidala dies like a hero, defending her newborn children or sacrificing herself as she sends them into hiding.
If we reverse-engineer this heroic curtain call, we can begin her character’s journey by making her a timid and tentative puppet-queen. Her eventual transformation from powerless to powerful will be earned and make the climax of the prequels even more moving. Maybe we even throw in a curveball and have Natalie Portman exhibit some kind of Jedi power in a moment of passion, mirroring her daughter Leia’s in EMPIRE. In fact, to make this an even more tragic love story, let’s keep pushing.
What if we saw Anakin literally kill his true love, Amidala?
Let’s not passively dance around Anakin being the cause of Amidala’s death. Whether by accident, mishap or misunderstanding, having Amidala die by Anakin’s hand would make for real drama, real tragedy and a real reason for him to lose it and embrace the dark side. Now that would be an epic tragedy. A total bummer, but a satisfying bummer. Unlike this catastrophe which is all bummer. At the very least you’re not responsible for this one, Mr. Lucas:
YOU MUST UNLEARN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED
With all the grief you’ve taken for the prequels, George (can I call you, George? It’s been a long blog), take comfort in these numbers:
Worldwide gross box office:
THE PHANTOM MENACE: $924 million
ATTACK OF THE CLONES $640 million
REVENGE OF THE SITH $848 million
So let me offer you one last suggestion: Perhaps you should seriously consider doing a final trilogy: Episodes 7, 8 and 9. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” you say? Here me out. They say write what you know so…
… I see a tale of redemption. Luke is the last good Jedi. He returns out of exile to a world that’s turned against him. His son has embraced the dark side and is rallying an army against the Republic. He reunites with old friends — Han, Leia and their children. He discovers the truth: the Force isn’t about midichlorians, the power of the Force is truly in all of us. This is about an old man passing the torch. Leaving a legacy. Bringing back a little magic into the universe, one last time. Remember Robin Hood shooting the arrow into the woods to mark his grave? Arthur sailing away to Avalon? What would Luke Skywalker do?
Let’s get the band back together, George. And this go-around, let’s get it right the first time.