I wish I could wish away

29 Mar

Whenever my DVR happens to record one I’ve been watching the new computer animated Clone Wars show on Cartoon Network. I missed the “movie” that premiered the show in theaters last year, and I don’t think I’ve seen every episode, but it’s overall a rather enjoyable diversion that sometimes feels a lot like the best of Star Wars. But it makes me wish that George Lucas had learned one key thing about episodic storytelling before he embarked on making the prequels: write all the episodes first and not one-at-a-time. The Clone Wars, as well as the live-action Star Wars tv show that’s currently in production, had all the episodes written first. Not so with the Star Wars Prequels.

I’ve also been slowly making my way through the transcript of the Raiders of The Lost Ark Story Conferences and I’m amazed at the job undertaken by Lawrence Kasdan. He listens to these two men pour ideas at him for a week, and while some things (he’s after the Ark of the Covenant) aren’t up for debate, nearly everything else was. Indiana’s last name, Marion’s role and name, the identity of Indy’s rival, the locations that he would visit on his quest, what he would do and find in said locations, it was all up to Kasdan. But the sheer amount of ideas meant that he could just pick and choose whichever ones fit the story best and go with them. (The leftover ideas like a goofy child sidekick, a jump from a crashing plane with an inflatable life-raft landing on snow and becoming a sled, a mine cart chase, a sexy german double-agent, etc. would end up being used later).

The wealth of ideas on display in the Clone Wars show make me wish that a similar process had been done when writing the prequels. George Lucas is not short of ideas, particularly ideas that take place in the Star Wars universe. There’s two ideas in particular that I wish he had though of prior to writing/making the prequels. There is a story-arc about a neutral planet inhabited by pacifist lemur creatures. The Separatists plan to send an occupying force there to test a new biological weapon that could kill all non-mechanical things on a massive scale. They figure this planet is the perfect place to do so since the natives won’t fight back. The Jedi, in an effort to keep peace in the galaxy (as they are wont to do), dispatch Anakin Skywalker and a crew of clones there to protect the innocent Lemur Folk from the imminent arrival of the destructive droids. Except that the Lemur folk don’t want them there. Peaceful as the intentions of the Jedi might be the Lemur-Folk declare that they are just as violent, evil, and war-mongering as The Separatists and want nothing to do with any of it. As far as the Lemur-Folk are concerned the unwelcome arrival of the Jedi is the arrival of the war. They demand that the Jedi leave and if this means they are all destroyed, then so be it. Another episode features Yoda trapped in a cave with a few clones who declare that they are expendable and interchangeable, and can save Yoda by sacrificing themselves. Yoda disagrees. They are beings of The Force, he says, and therefore they have individuality. They can be creative. They have a life-force and a value, and when they explore it and find ways to nurture and develop it they will prevail.

Both these episodes featured ideas that would have been welcomed and very effective in the prequels. Anakin is given a complex choice and asked to really explore how he feels about fighting as a means toward peace. He’s shown how effective it can (or can’t) be, and his actions have a direct impact on an entire species. Yoda teaches about the intricacies of The Force and how it relates to individuality, even if by outward appearances and origins you have none (and what does this mean for Anakin, a being possibly made by The Force?).

The writing of the three Star Wars Prequels is a challenge. Here you have three of the most beloved movies of all time. While essentially ensemble movies the main character is arguably Luke Skywalker. Now you set out to write three more episodes and change a trilogy into a six-episode Saga. Not only that but while the three new movies are essentially ensemble movies there is no Luke Skywalker and the underlying goal is to convert Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader into the main character of all six movies. Except that Palpatine is really the main character in the new three movies. How does that all work? How does it all get put together? The story of a peaceful Republic turning into an Empire and the story of Anakin turning into Darth Vader must both be told, but all six movies must work as a whole. It’s a tough thing to do.

I wish it had been done the way they did Raiders. I wish George and whoever else he thought had good ideas (Kasdan? Spielberg? Coppola?) all sat down for a week or two with a screenwriter and just threw out these hundreds of ideas that are now on display. The screenwriter could have then picked and chosen the ones that fit best into a three-movie story which then works together as a trilogy as well as the first half of a six episode Saga.

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One Response to “I wish I could wish away”

  1. youngjedi April 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Those are two of the maybe just three or four episodes I saw. Convenient. Someone one that staff is clearly still thinking about teaching lessons, rather than just having everything look really cool. Who are those people, and can they write something else?
    I think Lucas would have learned from the OT to write the story for all of them first. He always says in interviews that he would have done a few things differently if he had known or thought up some event or relationship ahead of time.

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