Fox showed Star Wars episode one last night. Dad and I made an attempt at watching episode II after the first went off, but the turkey and pumpkin pie hit home and we were both too groggy to make much sense of the mess.
But I got to thinking about what I'd do if it were Big Stupid Tommy making the first trilogy instead of Billionaire George.
Problem the first:
That's the first problem. He's a freaking billionaire. As such, he's not much of a storyteller anymore. He's a billionaire with a misbegotten sense of obligation. He's not trying to tell the best story, as convinced as he is of the fact that he is trying. A friend of mine made the excellent point that episodes IV-VI, the stories are for the kid in everybody. It's a story that no matter where you are in your life, you can understand and appreciate everything on some level or another.
The first couple of movies, however, don't try to appeal to everyone. Where the original trilogy attempts to communicate with the kid in everybody, the second set of movies treat you like a child.
It's all flashy. Everything gets a pedantic explanation. (Midichlorians, anybody?) Things are put on the screen just for shock value or the oddity of it (Yoda's lightsaber fight). And the only form of humor comes in the form of Jar Jar Binks' idiocy (getting a hand caught in a podracer engine; getting disgusted when a pack animal farts before the podrace).
What's more, they pander to the audience. There's nothing to work for.
Problem 2: Yoda
My favorite part of the original movies comes in Empire Strikes Back. Luke's landed on Dagobah, seeking a great warrior, and this little creature comes into his camp, hitting R2-D2 with his cane and stealing things from Luke's pack. Only after Luke goes into one of his whines (What Am I doing here anyway), does Yoda reveal his true nature. We learn that this strange little creature (whom we've never seen before) is indeed one of the greatest Jedi ever to exist.
But now, if anybody tries to watch all six movies (when that sixth comes out) in a row, Yoda's already appeared in the first couple of movies, and we know what he looks like, and we know that he can hold his own in any situation. There's no surprise about who he is and what he looks like.
Now, I can see where George is coming from. With the possible exception of Darth Vader, Yoda is the most instantly recognizable character from Star Wars. So it's easy publicity and credibility to have the little creature wandering around in your movie.
From a storytelling standpoint, though, I think it's bad mojo. It doesn't give your audience any kind of credit. I'd never have shown Yoda. Mention him. Obi-Wan says: When Yoda trained me, etc. Let other characters bring him up. Even say around Episode II or III that Yoda has gone missing. Nobody knows where he is. The audience would know that he's sequestered himself on Dagobah, presumably to ride out the storm, but at the time, none of the characters would have any idea.
Problem 3: The Jedi and Sith codes.
Also, I think George has taken this Jedi and Sith Code stuff a little too seriously, and in doing so, painted himself into something of a corner.
The whole thing about one master, one apprentice. Especially with the Sith. It bugs me.
The scenario I have in my head is this: Episode I has Darth Maul kill Qui-Gon, and he and Obi-Wan go the distance, possibly injuring one another, but both leave the movie alive to get one another on another day. So we know Maul has to be back for another movie.
But think about the whole surprise that if Obi Wan goes to get Maul in episode II, and ends up fighting not one Sith Lord, but a second, or even a third? We'd know that this threat of the Dark Side is really coming to a head, and this is an issue that will make or break the Jedi Council.
Here's how I'd have done it: Like I said, Maul kills Qui-Gon, but he and Obi Wan fight but leave alive. Meanwhile, Count Dooku should have had a role in the first episode. Have him arguing with the Jedi Council over their actions, and him leaving the group. In Episode II, show Dooku as a Senator, not an enemy of the Jedi but not a supporter, either. Meanwhile, the shadowy name of Darth Tyrannus keeps rearing its head. Over the course of the movie, have Dooku re-join the Jedi in their fight at Geonossis, where Darth Maul has taken Obi-Wan prisoner. Mace Windu and Dooku try to save Obi-Wan. It comes down to Dooku and Windu vs. Maul. Then, at the standoff, Dooku undercuts Mace Windu. He and Maul stand over him, with Obi-Wan as a witness. It is then that Dooku reveals that he's the Sith Lord Darth Tyrannus. And they kill Mace Windu--and with No Yoda in the flick, he's the Head Honcho as far as Jedi go.
One more thing: Jango Fett, Boba Fett and the Mandalorian Supercommandoes.
Remember how cool Boba Fett was in the first movies? And remember in the Special Edition of Star Wars they put out in 97, where Boba Fett shows up with Jabba the Hutt? Well, it's ominous, but only because we've seen Empire and Jedi, and we know what Fett does.
But assuming that we watch the movies in order.
Boba Fett wears the armor of the Mandalorian Supercommandoes.
Make those guys part of the movie. How about, instead of Destroyer Droids when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan try to break into the bridge on Nute Gunray's ship, three Mandalorians show up.
And Make Them Badasses!
Make those three Boba Fett lookalikes a match for the Jedi!
And in the final battle on Naboo in episode I, have a couple more Jedi there, and have them die at the hands of the Mandalorians.
That gives it even more impact when Jango Fett shows up in episode II, and he's trying to assassinate Amidala, have Obi Wan curse about the damned Mandalorians.
Let the Mandalorians have a greater role. Let them be feared. Scum and villainy are their way.
Wow. I'm tired.
A last couple of things:
Direction is an issue. But I'm not sure it's because Lucas is a bad director. Cheesy, yes. I can handle his direction and pacing, I think. Except for how he handles Anakin.
I don't like Jake Lloyd. Even in his other stuff. Jingle All the Way and whatnot. He's too serious for a little kid. He's one of those kids you get the idea of how smart he thinks he is. It rubs off on Anakin. There's no wonder in his voice when he asks Amidala if she's an angel. When Watto says he can go home, he gives a half-hearted "Yippee!"
Part of it is the shitty dialog.
But a better director would get more out of a kid. If I were directing and in charge of casting, I'd have found a different kid, too.
Hayden Christensen is not much better, but as a grown up might understand a little better direction, were it available.
Anakin's a whiner. Make him darker, with less whining.
But at least with his whining, you know Luke comes by it honestly, when he whines to Uncle Owen about going to Toschii Station to pick up some power converters.
And lastly: Don't dwell on the special effects.
I know it's hard, when 80% of every shot is a visual effect.
Part of this goes with my first point: You don't need to explain everything. But there are too many self-gratification shots of droids, ships, clones, Coruscant and interiors that just say: Look what we can do!
There's very little of that in the first three. There's some, but it's a pause every now and then. Now, it seems every shot which is intentioned as an establishing shot is simply a shot just to glorify the CGI.
Lastly: Focus on the people.
This is the big one.
The original trilogy is about Luke, Han, Leia, Obi Wan and Vader.
This second trilogy tries to be about Obi Wan, Anakin and Amidala. But instead, it's about clones and wars and the Senate and it's not as intimate as the first three.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the first two episodes. I own them. But in no way do they match (in my mind) the original trilogy. They're just not as fun.
Make them fun, dammit.