Once again, I found myself writing a lengthy response to a post on Facebook, and just before I hit send, I thought “gee, this would be better as a post over at the Junk Shop.” So here we are. This time it’s the Star Wars Saga, and here’s the post that sparked it, posted by one of the old CBR crowd, Tonya Crawford:
I suppose I have grown too old or too cynical for Star Wars. Oh, the latest movie was fine, really. I’m not hating on that. I just…. have no hope for this ‘galaxy far-far away’ anymore. I mean, look, it deteriorates from a republic into a monarchy. Said monarchy lasts about 18 years before a republic is re-established. The, in another, what, 18 to 20 years, THAT republic is also wiped out and a dictatorship attempts to arise. And after what amounts to 40 years of off-and-on war we’re expected to believe they’re going to make something stable this time? “A New Hope”…. yeah, I’ve got NO hope that these guys are actually going to be able to put together something functional that will withstand the test of time. They only had the sketchiest plan for winning the war and as far as I can see they had no plans for ‘winning the peace’.
The first response to this post was the suggestion that “maybe, just maybe, Star Wars was a really cool idea that got taken way too far.” My reaction to that, and the reason we’ve assembled here today, was that some parts were taken too far, while others were not taken far enough.
(It’s about to get all spoilery up in here, so if you are that one person on the planet who has managed to completely avoid not only the entire catalog of Star Wars movies, comics, cartoons, novels, video games, merchandise and ubiquitous pop culture references, you’re probably going to want to stop here until after you catch up.)
Episode 7, The Force Awakens, wanted to be simultaneously a remake and a sequel, carefully plodding on the same path Episode 4 trod, only turned up in volume; a bigger space-cannon, a bigger threat, bigger force-tricks, but not really adding a whole lot or moving anything forward. This decision required a reset to the status quo; if you’re going to rehash the Deathstar yet again, you have to put the Empire back into power, But that’s symptomatic of a bigger problem, one that starts in Episode 1, AKA The Phantom Menace.
The big problem is that Lucas forgot what he was doing. The original trilogy follows the conceit that this is an old-style movie serial; every episode leads into the next in one continuous story. But when Lucas came back to do the Prequels 20 years later, he had decided he was telling this big epic “Saga,” so he chose to leap back to 30-odd years prior to Episode 4 and made three films turning the villain into a tragic anti-hero. In the process, he showed us everything we didn’t need to see and none of the things that would have logically preceded the part of the story that he’d already given us. We got to see everything that was implied or referenced indirectly in Episodes 4-6, scenes that were unnecessary for plot purposes and serve only to spoil the surprises and twists of the original trilogy. Anyone stupid enough to show a new viewer the movies in the order they’re numbered has just ruined Star Wars for that viewer, which is why the “Machete Order” had to be invented. The Prequels are not prequels, they are flashbacks.
Think of the big moment at the end of Episode 5: Darth Vader tells Luke “I am your father.” Prior to the prequels, that was a big dramatic moment, a shocking “everything you know is wrong” shift of the status quo. The audience screamed when that scene played out the first time.
But now, thanks to the clumsy, trite, and ham-fisted handling of the Prequels, somebody watching the movies for the first time would merely be confused; “are you telling me that Empire Strikes Back is just building up to a dramatic reveal of facts we knew two movies ago? What the hell is the point of that?”
Bob Zemeckis once explained his approach to the Back to the Future trilogy by saying “When audiences clamor for a sequel, what they’re really doing is expressing their enthusiasm for the movie they just saw. And that means they’ll have a love-hate relationship with whatever comes next, because they want it to be the same movie, but different. If it’s too similar, they don’t like it. And if it’s too different, they really don’t like it.” Lucas and later Disney took that and ran it into the ground. The Prequels were simultaneously a lot of self-referential continuity-rewriting and a complete missing of the point of a prequel.
The sequels tried to take everything back to the start of Episode 4 while pretending that they were moving forward. Mostly, they (like the Prequels) serve to make the universe much smaller. We’re told there are dozens, possibly hundreds of planets, populated by a large variety of species and cultures, fighting an epic 100 year war for freedom and justice, that turns out to be nothing more than a lot of noise surrounding three generations of two families having a spat. Everybody in the universe is related to everybody else, and everything revolves around Skywalkers and Palpatines as if they were Hatfields and McCoys. That is about the most boring setup anyone could come up with, lavishly camouflaged with CGI eye-candy, robots, spaceships, and pew-pew-pew laserbeams. YAWN.
So let’s see how it can be fixed.
First, let’s get back to the original concept. Star Wars (AKA Episode 4: A New Hope) is, as it claims, the fourth episode of a larger adventure story, an attempt to recapture the fun and excitement of the great movie serials of the 1930s and ’40s; series like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Captain Midnight, and an infinite number of cowboys, jungle girls, hard-boiled detectives, and superheroes. In all of these series, each episode follows directly on the events of the previous installment. If we see a rebel ship being hotly pursued by a gigantic Star Destroyer in the first minute of Episode 4, it’s reasonable to assume the the last few minutes of Episode 3 should have been a cliff-hanger setting up that situation. Instead we got the birth of twins some 20-ish years earlier.
And we have the same problem with the Disney sequels, where the big celebration at the end of Episode 6 is followed by a leap 40 years into the future where everything we saw before has suddenly been undone. Nope. That doesn’t work.
But as promised, there’s a solution.
First, we put the original Prequels and Sequels on the shelf next to the Ewok Movies and the Holiday Special, properly regarded as ill-conceived mistakes that we all agree to turn a blind eye to. If it’s absolutely necessary, these films can stay in canon, to be considered separate stories in the Saga, but we’re going to just ignore them for now. And now we need to replace Episodes 1 through 3 and 7 through 9. Fortunately, the first half of that is easy.
Easy, of course, is exactly what Disney/Lucas has been doing; Solo and Rogue One have been branded “A Star Wars Story” and treated as separate stand-alone stories while filling in the direct narrative of the original films, working around the Prequels, in essence creating a stealth prequel arc.
If we take Solo as the replacement Episode 1, then all we need is a new Episode 2 that picks up with Qi’ra’s rise to control of the Crimson Dawn organization and ends with events that lead into Rogue One. Perhaps this could include the introduction of Cassian Andor and the reprogramming of K-2SO. This would also be a good place to introduce Leia, C-3PO and R2D2. Now you have a six-episode series that makes sense and doesn’t constantly spoil itself; you also have more pieces in the game to move around and build a satisfying concluding arc.
A few ground rules about that new Episode 2: It is absolutely imperative that the integrity and surprises of Episodes 4-6 be preserved. That means nobody named Skywalker can be seen or mentioned; when we meet Luke on his uncle’s moisture farm, we can’t know anything about him or his family. Darth Vader is the terrifying Lord of the Sith, not Luke’s whiny deadbeat dad. Yoda can’t be in it, because we want the fun of discovering that the weird little nosy alien who drives Luke crazy in The Empire Strikes Back is actually the legendary Jedi Master. Princess Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are as we see them in A New Hope, with no baggage attached. If either Obi-Wan or Ben Kenobi are mentioned, it cannot be revealed that they are the same person, and it cannot be revealed that Ben is a Jedi. We should not find out anything that will be revealed in Episodes 4-6. The universe is bigger than the Skywalkers and friends, and the series can explore those people and events. Ideally, not a minute of the Episode 2 do-over would take place on Tattooine.
Of course, one could consider the animated series Star Wars Rebels as that Episode 2, as it does lead directly into Rogue One, but it doesn’t follow up on any of the events of Solo. I’d like to see Qi’ra and Crimson Dawn gradually become power players in the Empire, further emphasizing the corruption and evil of the government, and showing how the Empire was able to gradually subvert the Republic rather than overthrowing it.
That solves the problem of the Prequels. Now we have to move to the final arc, which shouldn’t be set 40 years later.
The new Episode 7 should pick up immediately following the victory on Endor’s Moon. Leia and Han, as leaders of the Rebel Alliance, have to return to base and take on new roles in building the government; but naturally, nature and organized crime abhor a vacuum, so Qi’ra and Crimson Dawn are still going to try to cut themselves a big piece of power and maneuver themselves seats at the top of the new government, just as they did in the Empire. Maybe Crimson Dawn secretly financed the Rebels, seeing an opportunity to take over what’s left of the Empire once the Rebels win? The final three episodes can document that scheme and its outcome, while Luke sets about rebuilding the Jedi in a way that seeks to prevent what happened to Anakin ever happening again, and tries to restrain the next generation of Sith.
Since the final trilogy would end with Luke, Han and Leia still young and active in the rebuilding of the government, we can ignore anything with Kylo and Rey and pretty much everything that happened in the first attempt at Episodes 7-9. Those people haven’t been born yet, so they don’t concern us. Also, no new Death Stars in the new trilogy. The Empire is defeated, Order 66 is a furtive underground movement, but they should be about as powerful and effective as the polo shirt wearing douchebags who marched on Charlotte with tiki torches. The villains here are the Crimson Dawn mafia run by Qi’ra, leading to an inevitable confrontation with her childhood sweetheart Han. We’ll leave it to the fanfic community to patch the gap between the end of this serial and the start of The Force Awakens, or perhaps another animated series like Clone Wars and Rebels could fill the gap and fix the worst errors, as those series did for the years between Episodes 3 and 4.
I would end Episode 9 with the wedding of Han and Leia. This would mirror the celebratory ending of Episode 4, the kind of feel-good victory that the audience wants, and allows the arc to conclude on a high note.
Simply put, the Star Wars series should feel like a single cohesive story that takes place over a relatively short period of time, not a multi-generational Saga. The Skywalker Saga is a different story; Star Wars should be a linear narrative, the rise of the Rebel Alliance and defeat of the Empire. Since Luke Skywalker is not introduced until Episode 4, it’s fairly obvious that neither he nor his story were originally intended to be the central figures of the series. George Lucas once claimed that the central characters were Threepio and Artoo, but somehow he forgot about that. A much better structure would be to build out three separate story arcs; Episodes 1-3 are part of a series about the collapse of the Republic 20 years earlier, and Episodes 7-9 are about an attempt to revive the Empire decades later.