Granted, there are a lot of things that these three movies got right. I think a lot of people are harder on them than they need to be and aren't willing to give credit to the positives because they just focus on the negatives. We have some awesome action sequences, much of the lore is established here that's taken for granted (like Coruscant, the Jedi Council, the connection between Stormtroopers and Boba Fett, etc.) and there are glimpses of genius along the way.
Sadly, there are also plenty of reasons to hate these movies, which is why it lends itself to such a good topic to discuss. After rewatching all of the films for our recent Movie Club, I couldn't help but ponder how things could have been much better. Therefore, I present to you my list of what those problems are and how I think they could have gone about things in a different, better way.
Core Problem #1: Anakin's Age
In The Phantom Menace, Anakin should have been a teenager and not a child.
Padme being a young queen is okay, as that has happened in ancient cultures before, but the age difference between Padme and Anakin is creepy. If they're closer to age, it makes more sense for them to be romantically linked.
Attack of the Clones gets to show off Anakin's rebellious side like a typical teenager, and it's more interesting than the do-good kid.
At this time in his life, Anakin is interested more in girls and what he's going to do with his future career aspirations. That's why he's interested in helping out our heroes when they're stranded (because he's interested in Padme) and then jumps at the chance of becoming a Jedi because it's a purpose for his life.
An important part of a teenager's experience is learning how to drive and getting his/her first car. This is your pod race connection. He's an adventure seeker and reckless because he thinks he's invincible, like all teenagers do. Since he's bursting with testosterone and wanting to show off for Padme, as well as dealing with the typical rage of a teen, it's more believable that he would have the itch to fight and join the space battle on his own accord rather than accidentally falling ass-backward into the sequence.
We have children in the Jedi Order training in Episode II, yet at age 9, Anakin is supposed to be "too old" to begin training. The last time we had heard this was when Yoda said Luke was too old, and he was around 20-something. Luke's case makes sense more than a 9-year-old, so if Anakin was about 15, then I would buy into him being too old at this point, too. Plus, if Luke is able to learn so much in the short amount of time that he's training with Obi-Wan and Yoda, then it shouldn't make sense for Anakin to be training for 10 years and still just be at the level he's at in Attack of the Clones. Making it a shorter time frame where certain, special Jedi are able to advance quicker helps justify what happens with Luke later on as well as Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels.
Because of this, we wouldn't need a 10-year time gap between the first and second films. Anakin is around 15 in The Phantom Menace and we can still make him 20 in Attack of the Clones to skip time but not as drastically. Without that gap, the same actor could play the character throughout all three films. Obviously, Jake Lloyd couldn't have been cast, because he would have been too young, which means we'd have gotten a better actor (sorry Jake) for the part. Imagine Ryan Phillippe as Anakin Skywalker, or James Franco, or Leonardo DiCaprio!
The cherry on top: if Anakin had been a teenager instead of a child, there wouldn't have been a reason for them to think it would work for him to say "yippee!"
Core Problem #2: Tone Down Silly Stupid Humor
To go along with this problem of Anakin being a stupid little kid who says "yippee!" are far too many examples of childish humor to list them all here. Of course, it must be said that George Lucas purposely included this as an attempt to market the films toward kids, but if you look at the original trilogy, those worked for children and didn't pander to them. Kids love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, too, but you don't see those movies adding a quota of poop and fart jokes.
Let's just state the obvious target for this one: Jar Jar Binks.
At the beginning of The Phantom Menace, he's actually not a bad character. At the very least, he's no worse than some of the things we've seen before, like Garindan (aka Long-Snoot, that stupid anteater thing in A New Hope that snitches on the Millennium Falcon and sounds like a kazoo) or the cantina band. If you only saw the scene where Jar Jar is saved by Qui-Gon Jinn and then tells them to hide in the underwater Gungan village, then you'd think he was on par of a character with C-3PO—I guarantee it. Seeing the rest of the film is what ruins that image.
Jar Jar Binks starts going downhill when Captain Tarpals tells him he's-a in big doodoo. Ugh. This is just a sad way to tone things down for kids to understand, because "doodoo" = "bad" and if they had a line of dialogue that was more adult, it would just be too hard to grasp, right?
In general, though, most of what bugs people about Jar Jar boils down to him being a comic relief character for children. He could be clumsy, but not stupid-clumsy. Does he need to step in poop? A gag like him being temporarily paralyzed by the pod racer's energy beam could have been funny if it hadn't been so over the top, and the reason it was taken to that ridiculous level is because bad filmmakers think you need to do that for kids. That's why baby talk exists instead of talking to children like adults talk to each other. Put on the Sprout network and take a drink every time someone is SUPER DUPER EXCITED or if they fall down, they go "wooaah, waaooahh, WOOOAAAAH" before they crash or something like that.
Jar Jar could still be a comic relief character if he were toned down and made more PG-13 funny instead of G-rated "fun for the whole family because it won't offend anybody" material. Think of him as Chewbacca gone wrong. Chewie is a ridiculous concept. He's a walking bear thing that grunts and has a crossbow. Despite this, people love him. Why? Because he doesn't go overboard like Jar Jar to the point where he would become annoying. Jar Jar could have been a decent supporting character if he hadn't been the equivalent of that loud, obnoxious kid in class who demands attention and is willing to do stupid things just to get it.
Also, stepping away from Jar Jar, there's a distinct difference between the droids in the first film and in the second and third. For some reason, when Jar Jar was more tame, the droids became sillier. There's no reason for them to be groaning when they're killed or anything along those lines.
It's funny when Leia calls Han a "stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder" and the only thing he takes offense to is "scruffy-looking." It isn't funny when Jar Jar is given a commanding role in a military force and lucks his way into juggling bombs and tripping over droids. A good joke is when Obi-Wan uses the Jedi mind trick on the drug dealer and tells him to go home to rethink his life or when he's cocky and says Qui-Gon was right that the negotiations were indeed short. A bad joke that is totally unnecessary is pretty much everything done by the commentators on the pod race. I laugh when C-3PO thinks everyone is being crushed in the trash compactor, but not at anything that happens with him during the Battle of Geonosis.
Core Problem #3: The Pacing of Politics
A common complaint about the prequels is that there's too much talk about boring politics. Some of this was absolutely necessary, but I'll agree that a lot of time is wasted that could have been used for something else, especially when a lot of the setup doubles back on the same points already established. Half of The Phantom Menace is about people talking about an invasion and upcoming conflict when the troops of the Trade Federation have already invaded and taken over. Apparently "the death toll is catastrophic," but we don't see absolutely any of that. Things seem peaceful, almost, and you can look at the villains almost more like imposing security guards than an invading genocidal force of nature.
Essentially, the prequels follow this path:
Step 1) Trade Federation creates a blockade for Naboo
Step 2) Trade Federation invades the surface of Naboo and take over the planet
Step 3) Chancellor Valorum doesn't do anything about it, so he gets replaced by Palpatine
Step 4) Gungans and Naboo take back control of Naboo
Step 5) After 10 years where nothing of note has happened, there's an assassination attempt on Padme
Step 6) Wait a sec, the assassin is also involved in a clone army being built for the Republic?
Step 7) Trade Federation alliance (The Separatists) are creating a civil war and Palpatine wants more power to control things better
Step 8) Palpatine is given more power
Step 9) Clone Wars begin
Step 10) Clone Wars end (what, already?)
Step 11) Palpatine refuses to step down
Step 12) Jedi are set up to look like they're traitors and Palpatine becomes Emperor
With some tweaks and showing some different things on screen, this could have worked just as fine. For example, there should have been a more definitive declaration of war at the end of the first film. That way, Anakin's training takes place during war time, which is a pressure-cooker environment. He's just been uprooted from his home, fallen in love, and told that not only does he have special powers he'll have to train to use, but that he's going to be the person that the entire galaxy depends on to be the one to solve an entire war. Hey kid, remember when you were a slave and life totally sucked? Well, now you need to become our ace in the hole and learn how to be a soldier who can kill the bad guys despite the fact that we're telling you that Jedi never use their powers for attack.
In the James Bond film Casino Royale, Bond asks M if she wants him to be "half monk, half hitman" and that's how Anakin should feel. He's being pulled in both directions.
Why would Anakin be sent straight into war? Well, it's like Vietnam, where the draft was taking young kids all the time. Plus, it could be justified that Kenobi is too valuable not to have on the front lines, and since he needs to be an active participant because of how important he is to the Jedi Order, then his Padawan has to tag along by default and basically be thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn how to swim.
The pod race setup is all about the politics of slavery, and while I think that needed to be a big plot point, it needed to be focused on more in the second and third films regarding Anakin's perspective on life but not eat up screen time to dawdle. This could be more of an overall arching theme with him that pays off over the course of three films rather than hitting us with 85% of the bulk of it while we wait for the pod race to start.
Between the first and second films, Anakin should develop a bond with Palpatine over their political ideas. There's a great set of lines in Attack of the Clones where Anakin says that if people can't sit down and agree on a solution, they should be made to. Padme expresses her concern that this is more of a dictatorship than a democracy, and he simply says "well, if it works." Palpatine should be manipulative enough to have planted the seed in Anakin's head that a dictatorship isn't slavery if you have the right person in charge who knows better about what people need than what they can do for themselves. After all, the Republic trusts the Jedi to have control, and the Jedi Council has Yoda at the top, right? Why can't there be an Emperor who controls all of the regional governors but has final say to veto anything? Otherwise, if people have too much power, things get out of hand because the smaller ones that get overlooked will turn into corrupt sectors like Tatooine or problems like Naboo's enslavement can happen.
The assassination attempt on Padme in the second film shouldn't have just been her. There should have been coordinated attacks on anybody who was a potential threat to Palpatine amassing more power, including Senator Bail Organa. A few of these politicians should have been killed, but Padme is assigned (more-so requests) Anakin as her protector while Obi-Wan is partnered up with Organa (to help establish a friendship that plays off with them splitting the children up later on.)
That takes us into another whole issue...
Core Problem #4: Building Relationships
As mentioned above, setting up a stronger friendship between Obi-Wan and Bail Organa makes sense. I also love the idea of Anakin being the Jedi protector of Padme and giving them time to spend alone with each other, but I think there was a giant misstep in this direction.
With the way the films stands now, 10 years go by where Anakin and Padme don't see each other, yet they fall in love super fast. Since we've already established with these fixes that they're closer in age now and 10 years haven't taken place between movies, I'd suggest that Padme and Anakin have been seeing each other in secret for the past few years. Anakin goes off to war while Padme delegates with the Senate. Whenever their paths cross, they shack up in private. The only person who knows about this relationship is Obi-Wan, who is like a brother to Anakin and is willing to bend the rules a little bit. However, there should be a discussion where Kenobi warns him that he's playing a dangerous game and that this could end badly. What were to happen if Padme got pregnant? Anakin, the careless and selfish person that he can be at times, would just say that if he had a son, he'd pass on his lightsaber to him and train him like Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon before him. He clearly doesn't take the warning seriously, and when Kenobi suggests that he could be expelled from the Jedi Order and Padme could be driven out of the Senate, he just says there's more to life than bureaucracy and he's spent his whole life living as a slave, so the rules don't really apply to him, do they?
Anakin and Palpatine's relationship as father/son would need more time to develop. Again, as previously mentioned, by the time the second film comes along, Palpatine should already be heavily in Anakin's ear as a charismatic leader who actually looks out for him and he can look up to. He buys into what Palpatine has to say, even more than Padme's ideas at times. After all, Anakin's never had a father and when the father of the galaxy takes a shine to you, that's special, especially when the #2 on the Jedi Council, Mace Windu, is a total dick and never trusts you. He didn't want you to be trained in the first film, he doesn't listen to your battle plans in the second film, and by the third film he's going to try to kill Palpatine. Screw that, man!
One lack of a connection that has bugged me for 10 years now is the one between Leia and Padme. In Return of the Jedi, she states that she remembers images and feelings of her real mother, but we see Padme die immediately after Leia's born. There's clearly not time to establish them living together for years or anything, but would it have been so hard for Leia to have been born first, Padme to hold her for a few minutes and kiss her on the cheek, and for Padme to kick the bucket while Luke's emerging? That way, there's never been a real bond between Luke and Padme, which would explain why he has no memories of her. It's sad, but it covers up a plot hole.
Just as much as there should have been relationships built up more, one of them should have not existed at all, and that's the one between Anakin and C-3PO. Talk about making your world too small! There's absolutely no reason to make Anakin the one who builds Threepio other than fan service that suspends far too much disbelief. We had an amazing introduction to R2-D2, which was perfect in showing his heroism and giving him a reason to be so trusted going forward. Why couldn't C-3PO just have been Padme's protocol droid or maybe an interpreter that works for the Jedi Council? It doesn't help that C-3PO appears to have no recollection of ever being on Tatooine when he and R2-D2 crash there in A New Hope.
Core Problem #5: Descent Into Darkness
One moment, Anakin is saying that Windu shouldn't kill Palpatine because he should stand trial. The next minute, he's slicing up little kids. Why? Poor storytelling and a need to cram a turn to the dark side in a few rushed scenes.
Anakin's fall from grace should have happened more gradually with more hints along the way. There should have been less whining and complaining and more scenes showing his arrogance. He takes it upon himself to steal a starfighter and join the attack on the Trade Federation ship without thinking that maybe there's a trained pilot ready to take that for himself. When chastised for it, he should try to justify it by saying it doesn't matter that he rushed into it, because he was the one who destroyed it, so it all worked out in the end.
The prophetic nightmares are awesome and could have been given even more of a focus. When Anakin lashes out in anger and kills the Tusken Raiders, that should have carried more weight. The Jedi should have all felt that intense dip into the dark side and had a conversation with him about how they don't trust him anymore.
Things get even worse when they criticize him for killing Count Dooku, especially if he would have tortured him for information by using Force Lightning on him. The Jedi could tell him that this is another reason why they are suspicious of him and that it was a terrible breach of conduct. He could complain and say that he's just following orders, cause they tossed him into the damn war to begin with and if it's his destiny to destroy the Sith, what rationale do they have for bitching that he killed one?
Imagine how much more it would weigh on Anakin to keep his relationship with Padme a secret if it had been going on for longer than his relationship with the Jedi Order. After all, the first time he bumped into them on Tatooine was when he was interested in helping Padme. They had their connection before he swore any kind of allegiance to become a Jedi, and how can these peacekeepers be opposed to love? Even Obi-Wan doesn't think it's such a good idea. What a jerk, right?
This could be why he starts to buy into what Palpatine says about the Jedi holding him back and not liking his form of justice. When Palpatine has done nothing but help Anakin while the Jedi are always questioning him, eventually it comes down to a point where he has to make a choice. With Mace Windu being the opposition for Palpatine as well as someone who has constantly butted heads with Anakin, it's an easier choice. It might have worked even better to also have Palpatine do something to set it up as though Windu was planning on "arresting" Padme for getting involved in Jedi business. That way, Anakin thinks if Windu is "arresting" Chancellor Palpatine with a lightsaber to the throat, why would he be able to trust he wouldn't kill Padme?
There could have also been some little moments sprinkled throughout other scenes that we've established. Maybe Anakin cheats to win the pod race and tries to justify it by saying that Sebulba cheated first and he was just even-ing the odds, similar to how Qui-Gon cheats at the dice game to win Anakin's freedom over Shmi's. Anakin could have threatened to kill Clieg Lars for what happened to Shmi. Since Obi-Wan was our 100% heroic protagonist for these three films, Anakin should have really dancing around the line as antihero so by the beginning of the third movie, even the Jedi Council knows it's just a matter of time before they completely lose control and he turns to the dark side.
Miscellaneous Extra Flaws
Basically, those big problems above are the things that would have saved these movies and made them better as a whole, but there are smaller things that could have been changed as well. I'm obviously not going to nitpick every little detail, but a few things that stand out to me are as follows:
- More Darth Maul – Three fights should have happened in The Phantom Menace, not two. The first should have been during the initial invasion of Naboo, the second while he's hunting them down on Tatooine like a Terminator, and the third climactic one.
- Qui-Gon Disappearing – I would have liked to see Qui-Gon disappear and for that to be the first time it's ever happened, which baffles the Jedi. The first time we saw a Jedi die without disappearing was his death, but the following films didn't explain it well enough. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda just casually mentions that he knows how to do it from talking to Qui-Gon, which is something we've never seen. That should have been more developed and tied into Anakin's prophetic dreams and the Jedi Council's growing fear that he will turn to the dark side as well as more information on the Sith history.
- Dialogue – A second writer should have been hired to take care of the dialogue, which was awful at times. "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy" is so on the nose. "From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!" Terrible. "No, it's cause I'm so in love with you." I don't need to mention the sand lines, right? What about Anakin saying "Now this is pod racing" or asking if Padme is an angel? One of the only lines in all three films that is actually good is Padme's where she says "So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause."
- More Women – I'm far from someone who will bring up the Bechdel Test, but in retrospect, a few more women wouldn't have hurt. There's certainly more in the prequels than in the original trilogy, as we have female Jedi Council members, female pilots, and more, but maybe Count Dooku could have been a woman instead, or Asajj Ventress could have been in the film as his apprentice so we had a two-on-two fight with her and Tyrannus against Kenobi and Skywalker. A reference to Ahsoka Tano would have been appreciated in Revenge of the Sith if they had figured out that they wanted Anakin to have had an apprentice by then.
- Returning to Tatooine –After the death of Shmi, Anakin should have had such a traumatic experience that he states he'll never return to that entire planet. That would give them a reason to hide Luke there.
Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!