Friday, December 18, 2015

Alternate Star Wars Prequels

Here it is, my promised blog post on an alternate story for the Star Wars prequels. When you read this, you will realize I’ve kept most characters (well, Jar Jar had to go), but changed some of them. Now, without further delay, into the “Phantom Menace.”

Episode 1:
A ship is on its way to Naboo, but not on a diplomatic mission. When the Trade Federation approached the planet, they blocked all kinds of communications and, after not hearing from back home, the representative (a certain Senator Palpatine) has requested a scouting mission. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are on their way to the planet when they encounter the fleet blocking their approach. After a breathtaking run through enemy lines, the ship lands on Naboo and both Jedi leave it to make their way to the capital.
In the shadows close to the ship, we get a first glimpse at Darth Maul. He has contact with his master, Darth Sidious, who tells him not to interfere at this time, but keep an eye on the Jedi, also reminding his student what happened the last time Maul acted too early. The two Jedi approach the capital carefully, avoiding the droid army, not aware of being followed.
Inside the palace, Padmé, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, is not happy with just keeping hidden inside the fortified structure while who-knows-what happens to the people outside. She is sixteen and wants to do something. It’s actually the reason why her family sent her to the capital - hoping she would learn to behave more like a lady and less like a wild tomboy. Padmé decides to sneak out and do something.
On her way out, she meets a few droids and the Jedi, who come to her aide - but only after she’s had some time to demonstrate her own skills with a blaster. Padmé takes them to see the queen who in turn asks them to take Padmé with them, so she can meet up with the Senator and act as witness in front of the Senate.
While they make their escape, their ship is damaged and so they have to make an emergency landing on a nearby planet which happens to be Tatooine. There they first find a farm where a young guy named Anakin is not happy with his life. He’s fourteen, his mother is on her second marriage, and his father (a soldier) died years ago. Anakin leads them to a nearby settlement (could be Mos Eisley or another place) where they buy a few spare parts (let’s be honest, a galactic organisation like the Jedi Order or an interplanetary government should both have some emergency accounts for people travelling in their name). Qui-Gon realizes the boy is force-sensitive, but wasn’t found because of the remote location he lives in. Anakin’s mother and stepfather don’t want him to come along with the Jedi, because they need all helping hands on the farm (and his mother, of course, worries for him, especially given his father’s fate). Anakin, doing what most fourteen-year-olds might do in such a situation, stows away on the ship and Qui-Gon pretends not to notice it. Once they’re halfway to the capital of the Republic, it’s far too late to send the boy back, so he has to come along.
Once they’ve arrived, Padmé joins Palpatine on his way to more power … eh, I mean help for Naboo, of course. Anakin is dragged to the Jedi Council, but not allowed to train, because he’s too old already (makes more sense with the older Anakin, who’s really missing something between ten and five years of training at his age). Qui-Gon argues, but caves in at the end and promises to take Anakin back home as soon as the situation on Naboo is resolved.
A small force is sent out to Naboo to team up with the populace (both human and non-human). On the way back, Qui-Gon gives Anakin a few simple lessons, Anakin starts flirting with Padmé, and Obi-Wan (who is around twenty) and Anakin start to hang out. Qui-Gon, sensing his end is near (after all, Yoda does that, too, in Return of the Jedi), records a last wish for the Council: for Anakin, who’s extremely gifted with the Force, to be trained despite his age. When Anakin talks to Obi-Wan about Padmé, he learns relationships are not encouraged by the Jedi Order, because they might get in the way of their duty. When they reach the fleet, they are viciously attacked, but Anakin shows his extreme flying talent and manoeuvres the ship through the blockade and safely down to the planet.
Padmé manages to win the trust of the Gungans and they agree to fight side by side with the humans. Once the small task force reaches the capital however, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are challenged by Darth Maul (who is acting against his masters orders) and a fight begins. Padmé leads the soldiers inside and raises the remainders of the army there for the battle for the capital. Anakin smuggles himself into one of the starfighters and leaves for the battle above the planet.
From here on, there’s various battles going on, the one the Gungans fight on the plains, the one Padmé and the soldiers fight in the capital, the one of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan against Darth Maul, and the one Anakin is in above the planet. As in the movie, Anakin takes out the control unit of the droids after extremely impressive flying. Padmé gets her hands on the heads of the Trade Federation. The Gungan flatten the droids, although the shutoff is helpful. Darth Maul kills Qui-Gon, but considers Obi-Wan beneath him, so he lets the Padawan live and escapes.
The Jedi Council respects Qui-Gon’s final wish and accepts Anakin as a Padawan. Obi-Wan is promoted to full Jedi Knight and put in charge of Anakin. Padmé accepts to become part of the diplomatic corps. Darth Sidious is not amused about his student’s disobedience, but accepts the overall outcome, because it serves his plans.

Episode 2:
Darth Maul tours the Outer Rim, looking for new allies for his master. He has been sowing several conflicts, hoping to stretch the Republic’s resources to their limit. Anakin, now around twenty, is still staying with Obi-Wan. He’s resentful of other Padawans who mock him for not being on the same level in his training. The missing years are still to be felt and can’t be balanced out completely by his powers. He accompanies Obi-Wan from planet to planet, unknowingly following Darth Maul, trying to extinguish the fires the Sith has left behind.
Padmé, now about twenty-two, is tiring of politics. She is still in the diplomatic corps and attached to Senator Palpatine. She sees the inefficiency of the political system and Palpatine does agree with her on it. He tells her he will do everything to make it more efficient and ensure help for everyone in the Republic, no matter how far away from the centre they are.
The Jedi Council finds it harder and harder to reach consent. The numerous small conflicts demand a lot of decisions, most of which aren’t between right and wrong, but between ‘what we consider more important’ and ‘what we consider less important.’ Conflicts are growing inside the Council, especially between Yoda, representing the guardian side, and Mace Windu (what? you think I’d leave out a character played by Samuel L. Jackson?), representing the warrior side.
Obi-Wan and Anakin manage to catch up with Darth Maul who taunts them. Obi-Wan rushes off after the man who killed his master and Anakin finds himself alone in the middle of a group of masked warriors (clones, but not in the proto-stormtrooper armour). Anakin is almost overwhelmed, but when his fear rises, so does his power - he taps into the Dark Side instead of the Light Side and comes out victorious. Obi-Wan battles Darth Maul and manages to wound the other one (I’d suggest a leg, there’s enough cut-off arms in that universe already). Darth Maul escapes, however, and retreats. Obi-Wan, remembering his own student, returns to find Anakin in the middle of his slain enemies. He senses the Dark Side, but decides not to mention it this time - Anakin is still in training and it’s not uncommon for a student to have a brush with the Dark Side at one point of his life. Better early, than after the end of the training.
Count Dooku (what? you thought he’d be missing?) assures Darth Sidious that everything is going as planned with the clone warriors. Production is going well and they have proven efficient enough in their first battles (except for the one against Anakin, that is, but Count Dooku doesn’t mention it). Once Darth Sidious has seized power, he will have his absolutely obedient army. Darth Sidious is not happy with Darth Maul’s fight with Obi-Wan - it’s not wise to challenge the Jedi too early.
Back home on Coruscant, Anakin receives a message from his younger brother Owen, who tells him their mother has died of a disease. Anakin knows the disease would have been easy to treat, had his mother lived somewhere less remote than the Outer Rim. He seeks out Padmé, with whom he has been meeting regularly during his training. Once he has told her about his mother, she comforts him and then tells him about Palpatine and his plans to make the Republic a better place where everyone will find the help they need. She promises to arrange a meeting.
Anakin and Obi-Wan are sent out again and find themselves facing a large force of clones. During the fight, Anakin taps into the Dark Side again. This time, Obi-Wan reprimands him for it, telling him the Dark Side is never a solution for a Jedi. Anakin distances himself a little from his master and friend at that. He doesn’t see where it is bad to use this power, too, when he needs it.
Anakin meets Palpatine, who not only assures him that he seeks to make the Republic a better place where everyone will get the help they need (which would have saved his mother), but also shows a lot of knowledge about the history of the Jedi Order, even though he claims he has no connection to the Force himself (a lie, but he is the villain, after all). Anakin speaks about the problem of Dark Side vs. Light Side (still angry about Obi-Wan’s words) and Palpatine tells him that, from his point of view, only the outcome is of importance, not the means.
Anakin is chosen as guardian for Padmé on a mission (on Palpatine’s request) and they both leave for a supposedly peaceful planet. On the flight, they start talking and drop into flirting after a while (they have stayed in contact during the last six years, after all, so they are familiar with each other already). Anakin is brushing off more and more of the Jedi principles and he wants to have a deeper and more emotional relationship with Padmé. At first, the mission goes well, but then they walk into an ambush and are both brought down unconscious (gas, whatever, something a Jedi can’t defend against).
Count Dooku has them transported to another planet, where they are supposed to die in the arena (as in the movie). Palpatine, of course, has other plans, knowing Anakin will be forced to either use the Dark Side or he will lose the woman he loves and, perhaps, his own life. Obi-Wan, however, has been shadowing them, still not trusting Anakin’s promise not to tap into the Dark Side again, and follows them. He calls for help from the council. In the arena, Anakin and Padmé fight back to back, but the sheer amount of enemies threatens to overwhelm them. Obi-Wan joins them, but it’s still not enough. Anakin doesn’t dare to tap into the Dark Side while his master is right next to him, but a strike force of other Jedi, led by Mace Windu, arrives at the very last moment. Anakin follows Dooku and they start to duel. Dooku cuts off Anakin’s hand, but before he can deal the final strike, Obi-Wan arrives and takes over the duel. Dooku makes his escape, telling Obi-Wan another of his master’s servants has reserved the right to kill him.
Obi-Wan talks to Anakin during the flight back, promising to keep the secret of the growing love between him and Padmé, but also warns his student that at some point he might have to choose between love and duty. The Jedi Council is alarmed, they slowly start to realize there is a guiding force behind all the troubles they have been facing recently (speak: since the beginning of the movie).

Episode 3:
Anakin and Obi-Wan are still running from one place to the next, as are most Jedi who are considered warriors rather than guardians. They are on the trail of Count Dooku and catch up with him on a planet in the Outer Rim. Obi-Wan falls behind, but Anakin keeps fighting the fallen Jedi and taps into the Dark Side again, finding the strength he needs to overpower the other one and kill him. Since he has battled a fallen Jedi who is using the Dark Side, Obi-Wan can’t tell Anakin has been using it, too.
Padmé fully supports Palpatine’s campaign for the position as Chancellor. She uses all she has learned from him and other diplomats to gain votes in the Senate. Finally, Palpatine is pronounced Chancellor and immediately starts putting his emergency laws to work.
The clone warriors arrive at Coruscant, Palpatine claims they have originally been produced for the other side, but he managed to gain control of them. Since there’s still lots of wars going on in the Republic, nobody wants to know too much about where the unexpected help came from. Clones and Jedi are grouped, so the Jedi will have more help during their missions. Instead of sending out small groups of Jedi, each is teamed up with a group of clone troopers instead. Everything for the destruction of the order is put in place. Yoda is not happy with this decision, but has to admit it is the only way to gain any chance of stomping out all the wildfires the Republic is facing. The Jedi on their own just aren’t a large enough force.
Anakin and Obi-Wan are separated, too. Like several other Padwans, Anakin is promoted to full Jedi Knight a little early. He goes out on his first mission and manages it well, even without the Dark Side. When he comes back, Padmé has news for him: she’s pregnant, Anakin will become a father. He secretly marries her, but doesn’t inform the Order. He knows he’d be forced to become a guardian or leave the order completely. He doesn’t want to stop being a warrior, it’s all he ever wanted to be.
Palpatine suggests to Padmé to get her husband to leave the order, pointing out that she is becoming a better diplomat every day and could do with a strong guardian. They could travel the galaxy as a family, instead of hiding in the shadows as if doing something wrong. Anakin refuses for the time being, but promises to reconsider once their children have been born.
Padmé is attacked, but manages to escape (Palpatine staged the attack). Again, she asks Anakin to leave the order and be with her. Shocked by the possible loss of his wife and his unborn children, he agrees. He resigns from his position in the order and openly moves into Padmé’s rooms on Coruscant. Obi-Wan comes to see him, begging him to stay at least until most of the problems are resolved, but Anakin declines, pointing out that he almost lost Padmé already. Palpatine uses this situation to poison Anakin’s mind further, pointing out the Jedi Order always sees the big picture, but denies its members any personal happiness. Anakin agrees.
Palpatine stages another attack, this time on himself. Darth Maul appears during a diplomatic banquet which Anakin and Padmé both attend as well. Anakin, still armed with his lightsaber, faces Darth Maul while Palpatine seemingly takes care of Padmé. But Palpatine, realizing the occasional use of the Dark Side will not bring Anakin into his hands fast enough, captures Padmé and has some of his minions take her off planet. Anakin manages to kill Darth Maul, but only to find Palpatine seemingly injured and his pregnant wife gone. He seeks Obi-Wan’s help, but his friend can’t help him, there’s too much to do and he can’t just walk away from the Order himself. Seemingly from the sickbed, Palpatine suggests that full use of the Dark Side might give Anakin a chance to find his wife.
Anakin taps into the Dark Side, using his fear for Padmé and his hate for those who have kidnapped her to force a vision. It’s not much, but he starts his search for her. At the same time, Mace Windu investigates how a Sith (Darth Maul) could ever have made it into the high security area of the diplomatic district. He meets Palpatine for the first time and senses the Dark Side around the other one. When he accuses Palpatine of being a Sith himself, the future emperor drops his mask and they start to fight. Mace Windu holds himself well, but they are evenly matched and Palpatine is more devious by nature. Palpatine lures the Jedi into a trap and kills him. Anakin comes back from his fruitless search just in time to witness the end of Mace Windu. Palpatine claims the Jedi are behind Padmé’s disappearance and admits to being a Sith himself. He twists the truth enough to make himself and other Sith those who seek to change the Republic for the better while all the Jedi want is keeping the status quo. And he offers Anakin full help in finding Padmé, but only if the other one agrees to become his student. Anakin, shaken by the lies he’s been fed and still afraid for Padmé’s life (and that of their children), agrees to it.
Palpatine has reached most of his goals now. He gives the order to kill all Jedi and the murders start. Only Yoda, who hasn’t been with a squad of clone troopers, and Obi-Wan, who is lucky, escape the killing. Special squads have been dispatched to the temple, led by Anakin who has to prove himself, to kill the students and the guardians still staying there. Anakin realizes he has passed the point of no return, the only chance he still has is to embrace his new life.
Anakin is given the location of his wife’s prison and he goes there immediately. Once there, however, he finds out who really has been behind the kidnapping and is prepared to turn against Palpatine himself. He makes contact with Obi-Wan, but his former friend is too outraged by what Anakin did at the temple. While refusing to fight with Anakin, he is ready to take Padmé as far away as possible, for her sake, not for his former friend’s.
Anakin returns to his new master and outright challenges him. In a fight, however, he is not strong enough to stand up to Palpatine, let alone kill the other one. Palpatine threatens him with the death of his wife and children and Anakin submits.
Padmé gives birth to the twins. Knowing they are in grave danger, she asks Obi-Wan to take the boy to his uncle Owen, to Anakin’s half-brother. She herself takes the girl to Bail Organa, who has become a good friend during her time in diplomatic service. Afterwards, she seeks out Anakin, but finds Palpatine instead - who kills her, because she might be able free Anakin from his control. Anakin finds his dead wife, but doesn’t know who caused her death. Angry with Obi-Wan for not protecting her, he seeks out his former friend and they start to fight. During the duel, Anakin is gravely wounded (similar to the movie). Obi-Wan leaves him to die, but he is found in time. After he has been rebuilt (in other words: once he has become Darth Vader outwardly), Palpatine tells him Obi-Wan not only was responsible for Padmé’s death, but also for that of their children, sealing the fate of his new student and taking the last hopes from Anakin. Darth Vader is truly born.

Yes, I have left out the droids completely. It’s too unrealistic to have them in the movies the way they were in the prequels. Even if their memories were erased at some point, people like Obi-Wan should remember them. Darth Vader should remember the droid he built himself. Besides, the original trilogy has several droids which come from the same or similar production lines as C-3PO, so he’s not been built from scratch by a kid somewhere on a backwater planet. And how would Owen Lars recognize C-3PO as a protocol droid, if he weren’t a standard model?

This is my vision of the prequels. I think it works out much better than the prequels themselves do.

Problem with Prequels

No, this is not just about the Star Wars prequels (even though they will play a role). It’s a general post about the problem with making prequels to movies, TV series, or other stories. I might do another post on an idea for better Star Wars prequels, too, but this one is a general ‘why prequels rarely are a good idea’ post.

The main problem with prequels is, obviously, that the audience knows what will happen afterwards. We’ve already seen the X-Men movies before the Wolverine one. We know who must survive (because they turn up later). We’ve already seen the original trilogy years before “The Phantom Menace” came out. We know what will happen to Anakin Skywalker in the end. One of the most interesting parts of a movie - who will make it to the end - just isn’t there in a prequel. We know who needs to survive the Wolverine origin movie. We know who will survive the rise of the Empire in the Star Wars prequels - and who will not, like basically all Jedi who are not Yoda or Obi-Wan.
You can still make prequels, of course, but you must realize what problems you will be facing. You have to make sure you don’t make things too straightforward (or invent stupid new stuff for no apparent reason). You have to make sure not to bore or annoy people with ‘how it all happened.’

Let’s turn to Star Wars for a moment, shall we? There is no question that the prequels failed in a lot of ways. As a such, the question how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader and the question how the Emperor gained absolute power are interesting. They promise a new story in a universe the audience is already familiar with. Where the prequels failed was not the premise. Where they failed was the actual execution. Where they failed were new characters and parts of the story. I’ll do a post with a possible alternative story for the prequels later, so I won’t go in depth here.
They failed in making us care about Anakin. They failed in drawing a succinct picture of the Jedi Order or the Republic. They failed in keeping characters the way we know them to be later in life. They introduced too many new characters at once. They tried to do too much (such as introducing the whole political level). They got a little too carried away with things nobody needed (like the pod race, seriously). They failed to make Jar Jar Binks disappear after the first movie. Is a little accident too much to ask for?
Instead, they took out a bad character good for at least three movies in the first one. Darth Maul should never have died in “The Phantom Menace.” He was too interesting a character to start with. And, no, his latter resurrection in the “Clone Wars” series doesn’t count.
Then there’s the long gap between “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” Yes, a few years for Anakin to learn the ropes of the whole Jedi business are perfectly fine, but if you feel you must introduce the love interest in the first movie, don’t put that much time between them. Padmé is a good deal older than her boyfriend/eventual husband. Less time would have been better. If you’re going for a trilogy, don’t try to introduce all and everyone in the first movie, either.

If you look at the Wolverine origin movie, you can also see quite some little things. They might not be as glaring as with Star Wars (although naked Hugh Jackman jumping into a waterfall might have clouded my thoughts here), but they still are there. A walking Professor X wasn’t all that necessary. The extra-heavy bones Wolverine has because of the metal are only a topic once or twice. Either make them relevant for the story or forget about them - and since they’re not relevant later, just leave them out.
What I liked, however, was how they twisted expectations for the end of the movie. From the beginning, you expect the final fight to be between Wolverine and Sabretooth, between the half-brothers who, let’s be honest, can’t really kill each other, because they’re both healing so damn fast. It would have been a great fight, too, but having them both going up against Proto-Deadpool instead was better. Still, the final villain was a little bit pulled out of the hat at the last moment.
“Enterprise” failed to convey the feeling of the original “Star Trek” series. Each of the sequels were different, too, but they stayed within what the fans knew and liked, adding zeitgeist to the formula. “Enterprise” did not.

Sure, making a sequel is a lot easier than making a prequel, because you actually have free reign. Yes, you have established characters, but who says you need to use them? And even if you do, can’t they develop some new sides?
You can’t give a prequel character abilities which they didn’t have in the original story, unless you can give a damn good reason for them losing that ability later. You can’t make them stronger in the prequels than they were in the original story, unless you  have a good reason for their declining strength (like old age or a sickness).
Then why make prequels? Perhaps because you feel you need to give the characters more background. Perhaps because you can’t go forward. After seeing the first trailer for “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them,” I’m pretty sure the movie will enhance the Harry Potter Universe. But then, it’s not about what an established character did before, it’s about a guy who wrote a book used as textbook at Hogwarts. Much easier to do.

You should think very carefully about whether or not you want to make a prequel. You should think twice before writing the script and three more times before starting to film it. Then you have a chance to make a good prequel.

Movies for Christmas

Okay, so you will have time to yourself during the Christmas season and you don’t want to watch a typical Christmas movie. Here’s a small selection of movies I enjoy watching, during Christmas season and during other times. Let’s have a look at the list, shall we?

“Clue”: I know, this is a love/hate movie. Either you really love it or you really hate it. Personally, I love this one. It has a great story, great actors, great lines - and it’s the only crime story I know with three plausible solutions, too. I love seeing Tim Curry as butler and quite a host of great actors as the guests. It’s also one of the few movies in which I can actually bear seeing Angela Lansbury.

“Despicable Me 2”: I love the second one even a little more than the first one (but if you’ve seen neither, you should definitely watch the first one, too). Brooding Grue is a great character, but he’s even better when seen together with bubbly Lucy. Not to mention he’s a fun dad to watch with his three girls.

“Hot Fuzz”: They say the middle of a trilogy is always weakest, but I like the middle of the Cornetto Trilogy more than beginning (“Shaun of the Dead”) and end (“World’s End”) together. I just love this over-the-top police story.

“Kingsman - The Secret Service”: Agent movie doesn’t have to equal James Bond, you know. Kingsman has all the Britishness of James Bond, but with a lot of interesting characters. IMHO, you just have to love a movie where the instructor training the possible future agents has them jump out of a plane only to tell them afterwards that ‘one of you has no parachute.’ Merlin rules! Plus, in the light of recent movie events, Mark Hamill actually is in this one, too.

“Black Butler”: This one is the real-life movie, not part of the animated series. It changes a couple of things (among them the gender of one main character), but it does keep the basic idea. And no matter whether he’s animated or real, Sebastian remains a devil of a butler.

These are a couple of movies I might watch during Christmas season, if I get around to it. I might also give a few seasons of “Mein Leben & Ich”, a nice TV series, another go.