by Robbie Boland
March 3, 2013
Whether you think the Star Wars prequels were a cinematic marvel or a crime against humanity, we can all agree that they had their share of high and low points. Okay, more than their share of low points. But now that J.J. Abrams is at the helm for Episode VII, can’t we just forget Jar Jar, midi-chlorians and all the rest? We can, but should we?
As the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. With that in mind, let’s see what valuable lessons the makers of Episode VII can take away from Episodes I-III.
Lesson #1: Please Don’t Make it About Intergalactic Trade and Taxation Laws
This may come as a shock to any accountants out there, but very few of us want pretty much the first words we read when we sit down to watch a family-friendly adventure film to be, “The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute”.
You know what would have been a better subject for the Star Wars prequels? ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. Anakin’s quest to “Bring Balance to the Force” by finding and confronting Darth Sidious. A mysterious virus decimating the Jedi. Hell, even an uprising staged by a malevolent sentient potted plant named Frank would have been more entertaining.
The last thing audiences want to watch in a Star Wars film is a story about trade disputes when Sith uprisings, giant planet-destroying lasers, or intergalactic invasions by organ-replacing religious zealots are an option.
Excitement, She Wrote! *snore*
Lesson #2: The Comic Relief Should Actually Be, You Know, Comic
Jar Jar is one of the most reviled characters in film history but the concept was actually fine, it was just the execution that was terrible. A comic relief character (like C-3PO in the original films) keeps the Younglings entertained and provides some much-needed levity when the story wanders to the Dark Side.
The problem was Jar Jar was just too incredibly stupid and his gags too Forced (ahaha), to be in any way likeable. When every single person who watches The Phantom Menace for the first time wonders, “Why doesn’t Qui-Gon just stab him to death with a lightsaber?” you probably haven’t nailed the comedy sidekick bit.
Absolutely ridiculous. We can't even make a joke about this.
Lesson #3: Sometimes Less (CGI) is more
You know what’s more boring than watching parliamentary debates over intergalactic taxation laws? Watching a film where two CGI armies face off in a battle featuring CGI characters you not only don’t care about, but actively wish would die horrifically so you could just get back to the actual people.
That isn’t to say Star Wars should do away with CGI, of course, just that it’s way more enjoyable (and believable) when they’re used somewhat sparingly, or to enhance practical effects and real world settings. Not EVERYTHING in the WHOLE ENTIRE GALAXY needs to be computer generated.
How absolutely perfect was Yoda when he was a puppet?
Lesson #4: Do, or Do Not (Act). There is No Try.
Despite a great cast, the acting in Episodes I-III was more wooden than a tree on the forest moon of Endor. A big part of that is undoubtedly down to poor direction (you can read what Terrence Stamp thought of working with George Lucas here) but casting was also a factor.
Take the example of Samuel L. Jackson. Sam Jackson is a kicker of ass and absolutely the person you’d want on your motherf$%#ing plane if you found motherf$%#ing snakes on it. So having him appear in Star Wars should be an epic win, right? If he’s playing a space bounty hunter or a pissed off Jedi who plays by his own rules and swears a lot? F and YES. But Samuel L. Jackson as a venerable Jedi Master who sits on a chair and offers sage wisdom? HELL NO. Abrams needs to cast the right people in parts where he can get the most from them.
The low point of Natalie Portman's acting career.
Lesson #5: Use the Force (Better), Luke!
The Force gives people awesome super powers: super speed, reflexes and agility, telekinisis, empathy, luxurious hair, etc. Episodes IV-VI followed a Jedi-in-Training, an old man, a middle-aged quadruple amputee cyborg and an ancient goblin, so we understandably only saw the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Force could do.
But if you were hoping to see some exciting new Force usage in the prequels, when the Jedi were in their prime, you were left as disappointed as a girl on a date with Obi-Wan. We don’t need to see more of the same old Force pushes or Force chokes in Episode VII. These aren’t the Force tricks you’re looking for. Give us something new. Move along. *Waves Hand*
Using the Force to retrieve your coffee cup from the kitchen just isn't that exciting.
Lesson #6: We Need Heroes We Can Invest In
Ask people who their favourite character was in Episodes IV-VI, the answers will come thick and fast: Darth Vader, Han Solo, Leia, Luke, etc. Ask the same question about the prequels and watch people frown like they’re about to poop themselves.
As well as failing to give us believable characters with real problems and personalities, the prequels suffered from a lack of a clear protagonist through all three films. Disagree? Then ask yourself: who was the main character in The Phantom Menace? We didn’t meet annoying kid Anakin for over 30 minutes and Obi-Wan got benched on Tatooine, which means it was Qui-Gon. You know, the guy who dies at the end (Spoiler Alert!) and is never seen again.
Han Solo is everyone's favourite character, right?
Lesson #7: And Bad Guys Who Actually Kick Ass
With the exception of Darth Maul, who was ultra-cool but died in 0.007 microseconds, the villains of the prequel trilogy were horrible comic relief droids, elderly English gentlemen and a hunchbacked four-armed cyborg that had asthma for some reason.
The original trilogy was so good because Vader was incredibly intimidating (which told the audience that his Master, the Emperor, could only be even more badass). It was clear when Luke and Vader first fought on Bespin that the younger Skywalker was badly outmatched and that’s what made it exciting. A hero is only as good as their villain. Episode VII needs to give us villains that can be a mental and physical threat for our heroes.
More lightsabers must equal more awesome, right? NO, NO, NO.
Lesson #8: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This Dialogue
Even by his own admission, George Lucas isn’t the best writer of dialogue and that ‘s never been more apparent than during Anakin and Padme’s “love” scenes, which are so bad they are scientifically proven to decrease your will to live by 8,651%.
Episode VII doesn’t need to give us a Leia and Han rehash, or reproduce the same will-they won’t-they Luke/Han bromantic vibe, but it does need to give us some quotable banter, a believable love story and generate a genuine spark between the characters. Given that it’s being written by Michael Arndt, the guy who wrote Toy Story 3 and TOTALLY DID NOT MAKE ANYONE CRY at the thought of ever having given away a toy, this one, at least, seems possible.
What lessons do you think Episode VII needs to learn from Episodes I-III? Let us know in the comments.