The prequels weren’t that bad. They just weren’t as good as the original trilogy. Say what you want, but most people thought they were entertaining. They fit in with the original story we all love. If they weren’t competing with the original trilogy, I think they’d be much less disliked.
BUT, if I could fix them to make them more on par with the original trilogy, here’s where I’d focus:
Better Characters, Better Acting
The common qualm of the masses with the prequels is the characters and acting, and that is the primary thing that should be fixed. The only two characters one is initially at least drawn into are Obi-Wan and Palpatine/Sidious. Everyone else is entirely one-dimensional, underutilized, and portrayed in a very wooden manner.
This is particularly true with regards to Anakin and Padme. I really, really tried to sympathize with Anakin Skywalker, but you simply can’t. Padme and Anakin’s romance was forced, and I wasn’t drawn into their relationship in any way, shape, or form. Han and Leia from the original trilogy was much better. Heck, even Luke and Leia seemed cute enough together until Vader put an end to that. And Padme’s character was wasted (more on this later).
This wide ranging character problem made the acting sub-par across the board. Obi-Wan and Palpatine were the only characters whose actors got some good acting time in. And, incidentally, they were the best characters. This is not the fault of the other actors in my opinion . It’s the fault of the script and directing. It’s hard to make a lackluster character engaging.
I’m also left completely uninspired by the secondary bad guys (Maul, Dooku, and Grievous). Maul was cool and, had he stayed around, could have been expanded into a great character. But he was killed before actually doing anything. Dooku and Grievous could have been all right if we understood their backstory. Instead, all these bad guys were simply thrown at us. “Oh, Maul/Dooku has a red lightsaber, he must be bad.”
Oh, and Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar Binks was supposed to be an R2-D2 like character. Cute, funny, lovable. He wasn’t. It would’ve been fine had he been a less prominent character . But he was in your face the whole damn time. The purpose of his character did not justify the amount of time we were subjected to him, and he wasn’t interesting or even tolerable enough to make that okay.
Work On Some of The Short Term Sub Plots
Replacement : The Pod Race and Most of Tatooine
That was a CGI showcase, nothing more. We desperately required a way for Anakin to stand-out to justify his character. We got a long lead up to a long pod race. Instead of 85% of the Tatooine sequence, I could have wrapped it up in under 15 minutes:
- The Queen has enough credits on hand to buy the ship parts from Watto.
- Qui-Gon “senses” slave Anakin’s raw power in Watto’s shop and gains initial interest in him.
- Due to this interest, Qui-Gon hangs around in Anakin’s presence a bit (“maybe I killed a Jedi” blah, blah). While doing so, Darth Maul would attack. Maybe Qui-Gon goes to Anakin’s house (like in the movie) to investigate him some more, we’re introduced to Anakin’s mother to setup the revenge spree in the next movie. Darth Maul busts up the party in search of the Queen and in hopes of killing some Jedi.
- Qui-Gon is fighting all right at first, but eventually he begins to lose.
- Anakin intervenes before a death blow by kicking Darth Maul in the nuts.
- Darth Maul goes after Anakin, but Anakin instinctively uses The Force to defend himself. Qui-Gon regroups and pushes his now advantage. Darth Maul retreats trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
I’d like Anakin more (nut kick), believe his specialness more (instinctive Force use), and the same thing would have been accomplished (hey look, it’s Anakin Skywalker, he’s important). Short and sweet. Move on and fill the time with the expansions mentioned below.
Expansion #1a: The Clone Wars
This was successfully explored in The Clone Wars TV show, but I think it needed more prominent placement in the movies. We see the beginning. We see the end. Virtually everything in the middle was completely omitted. Personally, I think most of Anakin’s fall to the dark side could have been accomplished by events in the Clone Wars and Padme’s death. Make Anakin grow frustrated with the limitations being a Jedi places on war fighting. This would be a much better and powerful explanation than Mace Windu’s constant berating of Anakin and his arrogance. How war changes/affects people is a better overall plot focus, and is relatable to a lot of people.
Expansion #1b: Dooku and Grievous
I mentioned this earlier. Dooku and Grievous weren’t very good bad guys. They needed depth added to their character, and motivations that we feel for, even if we don’t like the outcome. Think about what led to Darth Vader. He descended to the dark side because of grief over his mother and strong feelings for his wife. There is empathy for Darth Vader (or there would be if the characters were better implemented), even though he’s an evil bastard. THAT’S a good bad guy. You hate him, but you feel for and kind of like him too. This could easily have been accomplished inside the Clone Wars expansion I just mentioned.
Expansion #2: Palpatine’s Rise
Just a bit more backstory behind Palpatine would be great. Just a few mentions of who he is. Why and how he became a Sith. How he ended up as Senator. And so on. Veiled hints would be perfectly acceptable. Like his story to Anakin about Plagueis. No need to outright show it. But hint at it more. Give him an origin outside of being Naboo’s senator.
Expansion #3: Padme Amidala
The worst implemented of the main characters in the movie, and the very first thing we address at the prequels 2.0 strategy meeting. She had such great potential. She could have been what Leia was to the original trilogy. But once The Phantom Menace was over, she was nothing more than a lousy damsel-in-distress. A strong female character who had a more direct influence on the galaxy and kept Anakin grounded and in-line would have been much more interesting than the girl we’re told Anakin loves. If Padme was Anakin’s rock keeping him sane and good while the Clone Wars and his mother problems are trying to tear him apart, rather than the forced love interest, Anakin’s fears and her death would be so much more meaningful. Anakin’s final descent into becoming Vader would be tragic and horrific as well as awesome. Terrible use of a character. Biggest detriment to the prequels. Even worse than Jar Jar.
Expansion #4: Rise of the Separatists
Why did the Separatists rebel? How did they come by so many armies and fleets? Give the Separatists a similar explanatory treatment to that the Clone armies got.
Overall, I was fine with the story. It had its problems, as I hit upon above. But I think it was solid. It’s the implementation of the characters that needed work. And the acting, but I think better characters would fix the acting.
And as Mark Hamill put it,
“Now, had I been asked, I would say the biggest piece of constructive criticism I would have given George is that there was no voice of skepticism [in the film]. There was no cynic, and since everyone was so serious in [our films], we had Han Solo who would say, ‘Whatever. I’m in it for the money, pal,’ which is a great release for people who have this thing about the innate corniness of it because it is so old-fashioned.”