I was twelve years old when the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, premiered. This is an important thing to keep in mind when considering the rest of this project, because it means a few things. Firstly (and this is more important than it may seem at first, unless you’re also a life-long Star Wars fan, in which case this will make perfect sense), is that I was still young enough that my favorite Star Wars movie was a tie between A New Hope (which I still thought of simply as “Star Wars”) and Return of the Jedi, because those had the really cool space battles in them. The Empire Strike Back was okay, I figured, and the Hoth battle was pretty cool, but it also had this sad, uncomfortable tone that I didn’t really understand, and besides, the good guys lost! That just doesn’t happen! Shortly after, of course, I re-watched Empire through a new set of eyes, and suddenly understood that dark, melancholy mood pervading the whole movie for the genius that it was, but, and here’s something interesting, that was after seeing The Phantom Menace. Let me re-phrase that – I didn’t go through the Sacred Rite of Passage of so many Star Wars fans from childhood to adulthood (I hasten to add that this was not an event which triggered puberty, but which reflected it) until after I’d seen the prequel. This is a very roundabout way of saying that, as a Star Wars fan’s emotional maturity is tracked, I was still a child when I saw The Phantom Menace. I was George Lucas’ prime target audience; he couldn’t have asked for a better, more willing, more enthusiastic Star Wars fan.
Secondly, I had neither an abundance of friends who were fellow Star Wars fans (though I did have a few), nor did I have unlimited, or even frequent, access to the internet, which is, as we all know, the biggest Star Wars fan. I think I may have been allowed online maybe three days a week, for maybe an hour at a time, at that point in my life. My father, who introduced me to Star Wars (“What, you mean you’ve never heard ‘Use the Force, Luke?’ Well, we gotta fix that!”), had become less enthusiastic since that first father-and-son viewing, and we didn’t talk all that much about the prequels, before or after seeing them. So, in all ways that matter, I basically saw The Phantom Menace in a vacuum, and for at least a few months afterwards, I only had my own counsel when considering what I thought of the movie.
Finally, the third thing of significance in regards to my age, is that I had decided, probably just that summer, that I was going to be a writer. I was writing my first attempt at a novel, because I am (as is perhaps made evident by this project) incapable of starting small and working my way up, and that novel was – ironically, considering the nature of what I’m doing here – about a teenage boy who will grow up to become the antichrist (hooray for pre-teen self-doubting angst, right sports fans?). So, for the first time in my life, I was really, really paying attention to stories, how they were told, and, even if only unconsciously, wondering if I could tell them any better.
What this all boils down to is this: I had a very good reason to want to love the new Star Wars movies, a lack of strong outside influence on what I thought of them (at least until I made new friends who loved Star Wars and, inevitably, had strong opinions one way or another on the prequels), and I had a strong desire, and a growing instinct, to dissect stories and figure out how they worked, and more importantly, if they worked. These three elements combined to become the seed that eventually became this project.
I went and saw The Phantom Menace with my family about a week after it had premiered (I couldn’t wait any longer). I got a bowl of popcorn to myself, we had some pretty great seats considering how packed the theater was (it was the only time I’ve ever seen people sitting on the steps and aisles), and my sisters even managed to shut up through the whole thing. There was an energy in the air, an electricity, and sure, what the heck, a Force of some kind. I was surrounded by probably a hundred people who loved the same thing I did, as much as I did. This was probably my first experience as part of the Star Wars fan community. I was part of something – I was primed to have the time of my life watching the first Star Wars movie to premier in my lifetime.
“So, Alan, what did you think?” my Mom asked.
I didn’t know how to answer her.
I didn’t hate it. I wasn’t disappointed, or at least I didn’t decide that I was disappointed right then. I had liked most of the movie – the podrace scene was amazing, Coruscant was officially the coolest-looking planet ever, John Williams hadn’t lost his touch at all as a composer or conductor, and this was my first exposure to the acting prowess of Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman, who both knocked their roles out of the park. But it didn’t feel right. Something was missing.
I’m not going to go into what I felt was missing. Everyone has their own beef with the prequels, and I’ll let you fill in the blanks with your own feelings on the matter. Plenty of people have examined just what went wrong with the prequels. Probably one of the best (and, for those with weak constitutions, the worst) of such examinations is Red Letter Media’s insightful, if occasionally disturbing, review, found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxKtZmQgxrI. Examinations of the creative process that Lucas and others went through while writing and filming the prequels are fewer and farther between, but one particular gem, The Secret History of Star Wars, by Michael Kaminski, stands out as a very good example of such. Many people have offered suggestions on how the movie could have been made better, from ten-paragraph fan fictions to sprawling rants which span entire forum threads. So, people have talked about the prequels, and aren’t likely to stop talking about them anytime soon – the stigma of disappointment surrounding the prequels will probably forever be a part of those films’ legacies.
What I haven’t seen is anyone taking the prequels as they are now, considering the many flaws the films have, and trying to make them better. The obvious reason for this is that it wouldn’t ever amount to anything – obviously, no one is going to remake the Star Wars films (they’re probably one of the only franchises that is safe from the current flood of remake/reboots Hollywood has become obsessed with lately). But what about just for fun? What if someone did just as a storytelling exercise? What if they did it to prove the point that the prequels can still be fun, engaging, and important stories, if they only had a few tweaks here and there?
Because I am an arrogant person, and because I’ve been thinking about this ever since I walked, blinking against the too-bright sun after the dark of the auditorium, out of a Carmike Cinemas in 1999, I have decided that I should try this.
This isn’t an attack on George Lucas as a person, or Lucasfilm as an entity. In fact, I stick to Lucas’ story structure pretty closely, because I am convinced there is merit, and even genius, in parts of it. What I am doing is not scrapping the prequels and starting over from scratch – I am treating the finished films as if they were the first draft of a film, one which I’ve been tasked with polishing and tightening. I am, in certain ways, taking on the role of Lawrence Kasdan, the person credited with the final script for The Empire Strikes Back, and Irvin Kershner, the man who directed Empire – taking something which has greatness at its core, and trying to draw that greatness out, while eliminating the problems that any piece of writing has in its early drafts.
This is not done with the intent of it being made into a film. Later, I may consider drawing storyboards, to see if certain scenes look as good in the frame as they do in my head, but the point of this exercise is not to replace the prequels – nothing ever could. It is, instead, just that: an exercise. An attempt to commune with the story of Star Wars, to understand it a little better, and, maybe to inspire others to look deeper into the things they love, and see them through new eyes.
Ultimately, though, I’m doing this because it sounds like fun. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I am having writing it.
May the Force be with you.
-Alan Tyson (August 9, 2011)