What the Star Wars Prequels Should Have Been (But Weren’t)

Many, many Star Wars fans have spent years wringing their hands, furrowing their brows, and turning away in disgust over George Lucas' prequel trilogy. We nearly all also admit Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, was pretty, pretty, pretty good...but still...our list of grievances against them tend to grow long. As a result, we were all a convoluted mess of hopeful and terrified when it came to waiting for The Force Awakens to be released (You can read my article "A New Hope?: A Wishlist For The Re-launch of Star Wars" to find out what I am worried about.)

Some fans have even taken to writing their own alternate versions of the prequels (more on this below). Some offer slight tweaks and alternate endings, and some change the plot altogether.

A little while ago, as The Force Awakens was reaching fever pitch, Jason Knott, a friend of mine who went to seminary with me, shared his own version of how he thought the prequels should have gone. One aspect of his version gripped me so powerfully I have not been able to stop thinking about it. In fact, while watching the prequels I cannot help but constantly think "If only Lucas would have done this." Over and over I think it, until it ruins my viewing experience. Wait, they were ruined already, so it's a wash.

I wanted Jason's ideas to find an audience, so I asked him to add or change anything he liked from his original post so I could share it and then to make it fun I offered my own responses, putting it in the form of a dialogue. 

I hope you enjoy Jason's ideas, our back and forth quibbles, and lamenting on what might have been...

First a brief bio: Jason Knott—Born in Texas in 1977. PhD in Theological Ethics from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Currently a stay-at-home husband and aspiring novelist. Claim to fame: formulated an original theory about the Harry Potter books in 2006. (See http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/features/essays/issue8/hogwartsschoolofvirtues/

What the Star Wars Prequels Should Have Been (But Weren’t)
As told by Jason Knott

As someone who grew up a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy (hereafter abbreviated OT), I was by no means alone in my utter disappointment with the prequel trilogy (PT). Nor am I alone in having ideas about what could have made them better. Several YouTube channels (most notably Belated Media) have put forward their own fan rewrites. In my view, these other ideas for improving the PT are good ideas, and would have made much better movies if implemented. However, my own proposals differ significantly. Without actually writing a complete story for the PT, therefore, I think it worthwhile to put forward what I think are the essential elements the trilogy needed, but lacked. This post will delineate those points, concluding with a brief outline of a story that takes them into account.

Organic Continuity with the Original Trilogy
This is a very broad point, obviously. But briefly, it means that in terms of tone, major themes, story, character arcs, aesthetic approach, and technology, the PT needed to cohere with, expand, deepen, and explain the OT in a natural manner. In many respects, it failed to do this. The PT was a totally different kind of cinematic experience than the OT, missing many of the themes and looks and elements of tone of the OT. Some brief examples will suffice to make the point. The OT was greatly influenced by the genres of westerns and samurai films, but the PT mostly jettisoned the gritty look and gun-slinging characters (in the vein of Han Solo) in favor of sleek new machinery, too many over-serious Jedi, scheming politicians and trade leaders. All the swashbuckling and adventure serial qualities were likewise totally missing. Instead, in his attempt to achieve continuity, Lucas shoehorned in blatant references and OT characters (Chewbacca, R2D2, Boba Fett, etc.) where they did not belong. Moreover, he tried to replicate the sheer fun of the OT with cheap slapstick and scatological humor. The continuity, in other words, was mostly artificial.

One point of continuity deserves particular attention. In the OT, the Jedi and the Force were generally considered ancient entities with little contemporary relevance, if people believed in them at all. The PT, on the other hand, puts the Jedi Order, consisting of hundreds of members, at the center of public life and in the thick of famous battles barely a generation before the events of the OT. This is perhaps the most essential continuity error of the PT that my own idea of a story is designed to rectify.

A Genuinely Interesting Story in its Own Right
It is obvious from the OT that the PT needed to include, or at least explain and/or refer to, certain events such as the near extinction of the Jedi, the rise of the Empire, and the turning of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. However, it was a huge mistake to make the PT essentially about these things and them alone. That is because these are all bad things, and a story where everything that happens is bad may be a good story, but it is not a rollicking sci-fi fantasy adventure story ala the OT. These events are back story to the OT, and are ill suited to provide the central drama of another trilogy. While, again, they had to be included, they should have been only a part of the main narrative. That being the case, it seems ill-advised to have Anakin be the main protagonist of the trilogy. I agree with others (such as the aforementioned Belated Media), therefore, that the PT should have been primarily Obi-Wan’s story.

A Good Editor, or Less Annoying Stuff
There were so many annoying elements in the PT that they are difficult to enumerate, including a lot of characteristics of Jar Jar Binks and the groan-inducing “romantic” dialogue between Anakin and Padme. Even the good elements of the series are unfortunately overshadowed by these distractions, to an extent that is difficult to appreciate. Another YouTube channel, JeremyMWest-Esquire, has helpfully produced so-called “anti-cheese edits” of the prequel films. These are worth watching because they show how much better the films could have been if only certain things were left out. Any good trilogy would likewise have to avoid such things, obviously. Parenthetically, you could include under this heading the common criticism that the PT relied too much on CG effects, but this is, to my mind, a minor issue.

A Brief Outline of an Alternative Prequel Trilogy
All stories need back stories, and that includes prequels. It seems to me that one major background event of the PT should have been the end of the Jedi Order as the guarantor of Republic peace and justice. Indeed, that needed to have happened a long time before the events of the PT began. Given that Yoda is nine hundred years old in the OT, this event could have happened centuries before, with the small green hermetic Jedi Master serving as a mostly unknown connection to this glorious ancient past, perhaps the only living being who really remembers it. It seems plausible that after over a thousand generations of Jedi dominance (according to Obi-Wan in A New Hope), people began to take the benefits of their service for granted. Given that becoming a Jedi is a matter of strict discipline and training, it makes sense that few people would have seen the point of undergoing this regimen without the presence of a clear threat. This back story makes it believable that, in the OT, most people don’t know about the force and the Jedi Order, or consider them ancient irrelevancies.

The PT could then have begun with a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, living a regular life, being approached by a strange little green creature, Yoda. We learn that after centuries of living in obscurity, Yoda has sensed a disturbance in the Force. This disturbance is caused by the man who will become the Emperor, growing strong in the dark side, gathering followers around him. Yoda knows that only Jedi can adequately counter this growing threat, so he comes out of retirement to seek out force-sensitive individuals to train them. He has some success, including with Kenobi. I see the first episode in the PT dealing with this training and with an inevitable confrontation between the light- and dark-side Force users. The good guys win the fight, but the leader of the dark-siders escapes capture, having learned that he needs to secure his power through other means, including political ones.

The second film would tell the story of the Clone Wars. The dark lord has used his powers to gain high political office in the (by now very corrupt and decadent) Republic, while also training some more dark Jedi. The first part of the clone wars will feature the Republic, lead in large part by the dark lord, fighting against a very strong external enemy of some sort. In desperation, they raise a clone army to beat back the threat. But after they win, the clones, secretly controlled by the dark force user (who can have more influence over clones than regular people), turn back on all who oppose his absolute power within the republic, which is now in effect the Empire. That’s how these conflicts can be referred to as the (plural) Clone Wars. The still obscure Jedi, including a young Anakin Skywalker, join against the newly-minted Emperor in what is, in effect, a proto-rebellion. But they are not strong enough to fight the Emperor’s dark-siders and a powerful, well-funded and clone-replenished army at the same time, so they lose.

The third film would begin with the Emperor as the (apparently) undisputed ruler of the galaxy. But he knows there are Jedi out there, and that they oppose his rule, even though most people are still not aware of the recent resurgence of the force. Anakin, angry over losing in the clone wars, is susceptible to being seduced by the dark side. He eventually joins the Emperor, and helps hunt the Jedi down. In the meantime, however, Obi-Wan and others (perhaps Yoda, almost certainly other good Jedi) are helping to create the beginnings of the rebellion proper. This film should end with the rebellion winning a battle whose significance means that the Empire will not easily or quickly crush them. They will have time to build support and perhaps, eventually, challenge his rule.

That is my idea in broad strokes. Unfortunately, it does not explain why Yoda and Obi-Wan are living in obscurity by the beginning of the OT. Perhaps Yoda was injured in the confrontation in (our rethought) Episode 1. Or, alternatively, perhaps age begins to get the better of both of them. In any case, their seeming indifference to the rebellion in the beginning of the OT is a bit strange no matter how you look at it. I have also not explained why only the Emperor and Vader remain of what were once many dark force-users. (Obviously, I have not followed the “rule of two” here.) But here, too, there are possibilities. Perhaps, his rule secured, the Emperor thins out the ranks of dark Jedi so as to lessen the number of those who might one day oppose him. Or perhaps the good Jedi, while they are being hunted down, take most of their enemies down with them. Finally, the PT would need some new characters, some force-sensitive and some not, to flesh it out properly. Obi-Wan needs some friends who will function for him, and his story, like Han and Leia did for Luke’s tale. But I believe that this outline could have potentially given us a much more enjoyable prequel trilogy than the one we have. 

Response #1: Chris Marchand (PostConsumer Reports)
Boy, I have to say, I really like this. There is so much tension in this proposal, so much intrigue. What it does is acknowledge the mysteriousness of the Jedi past. It let's us peak a bit into their past glory and also lament for its pitiful present day state. I like the idea of the Jedi’s kind of fading away through lack of interest or bureaucratic mistrust. I wonder if along with the near death of the Jedi order at some point in the distant past, it would also make sense for there to be the near death of the Sith at that same point in time. It would be intriguing to think of both order laying dormant for centuries. This would have parallels with the rise of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings but so be it.

I just got the prequels on Blu-Ray, mostly for my sons who haven't seen them, and watched them again for the first time as an adult, but I have to say that watching them as a teenager/early 20-something I had no idea what was going on. Half of it felt like watching someone play a video game...and then there were the trade talks... The prequels got increasingly better, but I only watched Ep 3 once when it came out. I had kind of given up by that point.

One of the aspects I think is incredible about the PT is the Jedi are considered this old relic of a religion, superstitious even. However, in the PT the Jedi have all these magical powers. They are superheroes. They can jump up to and down to incredible heights, they can move incredibly heavy objects, they can control minds, they can deflect blaster shots, and they are the galaxy’s best fighters. It makes no sense why everyone thinks they are a relic. Everyone should want to be them even if they are an elite group who only lets in a select few. 

Here's what I would add/change to what you've suggested:

#1: I really like the idea of a rag-tag group of Jedi's rising up that Yoda was training where Obi-Wan was the star pupil (until Anakin came along). It reminds me a bit of Harry Potter's secret study group that he trained when Umbridge was ruling Hogwart's with an iron fist. I really like the idea of Yoda training new Jedi's somewhat in rebellious secrecy. In this way the group would be either a threat to the Empire or the Empire would look on what they are doing with a cold indifference. As in, “Let them play their little Jedi games. It can’t hurt.” Either way, it would be wonderful to see a once despondent/forgotten Yoda get a glimmer of hope in his eyes. We would really be rooting for him and then for Obi Wan and then get really excited when Anakin comes along....except when we realize something's not quite right with Anakin...there's a lot of anger and pride and fear there (Side Note: Generally speaking, I think Anakin losing his mother and the fear of his losing Padme was a good idea. It makes sense why he gave in to the Dark Side: he was afraid of losing the people he loved and felt he needed to control his universe at all costs). 

#2: Since the Republic government would be weak, lax, and corrupted there would need to be some awful leader in charge, someone either entirely corrupt or entirely inept. And then in the midst of this let’s say a Count Dooku or General Grievous rises up with the droid army (who is secretly in cahoots with Palpatine just like in the PT) and the republic finds itself in great danger with no one to guide them. In the midst of this leadership vacuum arises Palpatine, a man who had been waiting for the right time to make his move. At this moment the Senate would practically be begging Palpatine to step up as chancellor in order to be their savior. Not to go all Left Behind on you, but this could have Biblical parallels with the rise of the Antichrist. 

#3 Now here is where it could get interesting: Yoda and the entire Jedi order would already know he was the Sith Lord (with us having already seen the conflict between the two sides in Episode I) and they even attempt to expose Palpatine and discredit him. Palpatine, however, with great rhetorical skill plays off the general galaxy-wide cultural ignorance/suspicion surrounding Jedis and makes himself seem like the rest of the Jedis. In this scenario “the Dark Side” would not be such an obvious thing. Papatine would instead paint his understanding of the Jedi way as “different”, an “alternative.” In the PT the evil of Palpatine and everyone else is too obvious. We really need to believe Palpatine could play a trick, if not on us as the audience, then at least on the Republic generally and Anakin particularly. 

After all this interplay goes down, the rest of Episode III could happen almost like in the film. Order 66 could happen in a much similar way (though I see a lot of potential in your idea of stretching out Order 66 to feature length, with the Jedis being slowly wiped out). It could be just as tragic and the fight between Obi Wan and Anakin could be very similar (though I think the volcano planet was overkill on trying to find an extreme setting for the final epic battle).

Again, I see a benefit in having Palpatine as an underdog as well. Along with all this I like your proposal because it would give us a peek into how Palpatine (and thus the Dark Side) operates. (Side Note: It’s kind of ridiculous that Lucas spends nearly the entire PT with Palpatine not being revealed as the Sith Lord, though anyone who knows anything about the OT knows it’s him. Instead of tip-toeing around an unnecessary plot twist, his identity could be out right from the start. Or hey, maybe even Palpatine attempted to be Yoda’s apprentice as a youth but Yoda refused, sensing there was something wrong with the young man, and as a result he found his training elsewhere with the Sith version of Yoda.)

Finally, you made a small suggestion to include more non-force sensitive characters. I think this is incredibly important too, as much of the PT contained hardly any humor or lightheartedness (Jar Jar doesn’t count!). Everyone was too serious or stoic. I really enjoyed every interaction between C3PO and R2 in the PT. They were just as funny (to me) as in the OT. The whole PT could have used more of that. I also missed the iconoclasm and charm of a Han Solo-like character.

All of this brings home the point to me that Lucas would have better served his story if he had brought it to some kind of trusted inner circle that would really have challenged him. Like if Kasdan would have helped him and sharpened the story. Lucas should not have been left on his own. It's such a shame.

Response #2: Jason
With regard to your point #1, I had altered my idea a little bit from my original FB post. My idea now is that the Empire does not exist until Episode 2, after the Sith lose the battle with the Jedi and Palpatine decides to get some political power. I see what happens in episode 1 as being unknown to the general population, but the bad guys find out what is happening with Yoda and co. and are not happy. Them trying to stop Yoda is the reason for the conflict in Ep. 1. 

On your point #2, I would say I really did not like the idea in the PT where Palpatine was behind the separatists who attacked the Republic, nor the idea of the drone army. I would prefer if he just opportunistically used an attack he had no control over as an excuse to create the clones, with which he later destroyed the Republic.

My problem with your point #3 is that if it happened that way, we again have the problem of too much publicity for the Jedi, making it difficult to believe nobody knows about them in the OT. Maybe they try to expose him, but he makes a joke of it, "Yeah right, I'm using magic powers to control things!" The public laughs along with him in that case and so they never know that it was true all along. 

Response #3: Chris
Fine! I relent! I completely underestimated your powers!

Actually, here are a couple of points to close and then I will offer a brief summary of your main points: 
#1: I like your last reminder that the Jedi's can't get too powerful or well known yet. I think there might be a way to still incorporate them into the Republic's/Empire's military as secret agents, so that only a few people know about them. I just really like the idea of the mass slaughter of Jedi's. It was so sad. Just awful. In other words, Lucas had a good idea there.

#2: I am of the opinion that Ep. 3 needs to end in despair, with Yoda and Obi Wan being driven into hiding after a mass slaughter. I even think you are on to something when you mentioned that Palpatine/Sidious could have executed an parallel slaughter of his own Sith fighters in order to secure absolute control. How brutal would that be? If Ep. 3 begins with Palpatine in absolute power, then perhaps Ep. 3 is about the Jedi's attempted secret uprising (paralleling the plot to kill Hitler? Sorry I'm all about parallels), which is eventually stamped out through the aforementioned mass slaughter. I think there could be a way to offer a glimmer of a potential rebellion in the years to come (through more than just the Jedi), but in order to be faithful to the OT, we need to find Yoda once again in despair/exile and Obi carefully watching over young Luke from afar on Tatooine. So, I would have us figure out how to end the PT similarly to the way Lucas did, but I would have us get there the way you suggest.

#3: I really like your point about Palpatine saying sarcastically "yeah, right" I have 'magic' powers" to all the people. That is a much better way to deceive everyone into giving him political powers.

Response #4: Jason's Final Response
There are multiple possibilities, of course, many of which would have been better stories that what we actually got.
_____________________________________________ To close, here is a summary of Jason's proposals: 
1. When the prequel trilogy begins the Jedi and the Sith by absolute necessity need to be a thing of the distant past.
2. Both the Sith and the Jedi rise up throughout Ep. 1 and have a great conflict toward the end.
3. Ep. 2 will be about the Clone Wars
4. Ep. 3 begins with Palpatine already being the Emperor and subsequently moving on to seduce Anakin to the dark side and killing off the budding Jedi order.

George Lucas, if you are reading this do you think maybe we can do a reboot of the prequels...? Talk to Kathleen Kennedy and see what she thinks.

You can go here for a followup article:
The Greatest Mistake The Force Awakens Makes
Related Articles:
A New Hope?: A Wishlist For The Re-launch of Star Wars" 
Why I Hate Sufjan Stevens (and why Sufjan is the musical equivalent to George Lucas)
The World is Abundant and I'm Entirely Overwhelmed
We Know How the Story Ends: An Exploration of Narrative in Film

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