Star Wars Orthodoxy

February 13, 2012

I most likely will not be going to see the 3-D release of The Phantom Menace, even though I consider myself quite the Star Wars fan.  But I’m one of those Star Wars fans who would prefer that the prequel trilogy not exist in its current form.  I’ll talk about that in a bit.  First, something I learned from spending time on Star Wars fan forums, and with the local Rocky Mountain Fan Force (who are a great group of people, BTW):  however I feel about The Phantom Menace, this film was many people’s first introduction to Star Wars, and it made them feel the same way A New Hope made me feel, back when I was 5 years old, watching it in the family station wagon at the drive-in movie theater.  It introduced them to a rich, amazing universe full of adventure and awesomeness (my perceived failings of the prequels are with the story, not the worldbuilding), and it changed their lives.  I can’t mock that.  I can’t denounce that.  These Star Wars fans, the ones who embrace the prequels, have their New Testament, and that’s great.  Me, I have my Torah, and that’s great too.  I’m an orthodox Star Wars fan, you see.  (The edits made on various DVD and Special Editions — those are the Apocrypha.  We can argue about that until the bantha come home.  And if you think the religious analogy is inappropriate, you haven’t taken part in any original trilogy vs. prequels discussions…)  But I do have problems with the prequels.  Some of them come from being an old-school Star Wars fan, some come from me being a professional writer who can’t leave well enough alone.

Me and the Prequels

Who's scruffy looking?

I was so excited for The Phantom Menace, when it first came out in 1999.  I went to the first Celebration here in Denver.  I camped out for tickets.  I wore a costume to the midnight premier.  Back then, Star Wars cosplay was not at all the huge and well developed activity that it is now — the 501st Legion existed, but wasn’t at the premier, as far as I could tell.  I was one of about a dozen people in costume out of the hundreds who went to that showing, and my patched-together Corellian smuggler getup was one of the best there.  (That costume wouldn’t past muster for Halloween, these days.)

I really tried to like the movie.  I saw it 2 or 3 times.  I made apologies and clung to the great bits.  I tried not to be annoyed by 8 year old Anakin, even though 8 year olds are inherently annoying and building a movie around one was probably a mistake.  I loved Ewan McGregor’s Obi Wan.  Then Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith came out.  About two thirds of the way through Sith I realized:  the whole trilogy is a rough draft.  A terribly backloaded rough draft.  If I’d gotten the thing as a manuscript in a workshop, I would have torn it apart and put it back together again:  The story starts on page 20, lose all the annoying irrelevant business in chapter 1; don’t start with your most awesome villain and kill him off a third of the way through, let him stick around; make your main character likable and wonderful, so that we all fall in love with him; all the important bits of story happen in the last third and really ought to be spread out.  I promptly rewrote the entire thing in my head.  Once I’d done that, I found I couldn’t watch the movies at all anymore.  I try, and I just see that messy rough draft.  (The films are problematic in many other ways as well.  I’m not going to rehash thousands of hours of other peoples’ analyses.)

The other problem with the prequels that orthodox Star Wars fans like myself have is that they’re not the movies we were promised.  The original trilogy gives us lots of clues about what happened before — it’s one of the things that makes those movies great, because they hint at this deep history and backstory.  We were promised a story about a young fighter pilot — young meaning Luke’s age, that’s the resonance there, that Luke is a doppelganger for his father and won’t make the mistakes his father made — whom Obi Wan adopts and trains.  We spent half of The Phantom Menace trying to figure out what the hell Qui Gon was doing there — Yoda trained Obi Wan, not this dude.  And so on.  We had a certain story living in our heads for 20 years, and it turned out that none of it was true.  This is why we get angry.

I had an Obi Wan calendar. I added my own dialog.

(One of the odd things that happens when you talk to New Testament Star Wars fans is you discover that instead of being pissed off that the prequels don’t match the story we were told in the original trilogy, they retcon the original trilogy to match the prequels — because for them, the original trilogy isn’t original.  For example, I always thought the reason Leia says in Jedi that she remembers her birth mother is that she, you know, actually remembers her mother, who died when she was young, but not an infant.  (Which would mean that Padme should have survived to take Leia to Alderaan herself while leaving Luke with Ben, but never mind. . .)  New fans say Leia remembers , despite Padme dying fairly promptly after her birth, because infant Leia’s Force powers allowed her imprint on Padme at birth, or something like that.  Why this happened to Leia and not Luke is apparently not important.  This can be infuriating if you don’t let it slide.)

Why Han Shot First

This is the one orthodox point that I will get flustered over.  Because it’s very important for the story, and for Han’s character, that he shoots first.  Han is a scoundrel.  We’re told this over and over again.  He’s the kind of guy who won’t consider rescuing a princess from a detention block until there’s a promise of lots of money.  He is the kind of guy who will shoot a dumbass Rodian under the table without blinking.  He has to be this guy, because we have to believe that he won’t come back to save the day during the Battle of Yavin.  Like Luke, we have to be disappointed, but not surprised, that he doesn’t stay — because he’s a scoundrel.  When Han does return to save the day, it’s his redemption moment.  When it mattered most he did the right thing.  But if he’s really a good guy all along — as not shooting until one is shot at suggests — then he isn’t really a scoundrel, and there’s not a redemption.  We never doubt that he’ll do that right thing at the end.  Losing that moment of redemption?  The whole character goes down the tubes.  What we’re told about him (scoundrel) and what he actually does (always a good guy) become two different things, and his whole story arc loses meaning.  I know I’m not the first person to explicate this.  But it bears repeating, I think.  (And actually, technically, it isn’t “Han Shot First,” because in the original version Greedo doesn’t get to shoot at all because Han is just that much of a badass.)

I still love Star Wars.  The first time I saw a squad of Stormtroopers marching at a convention, I got chills and felt an uncanny urge to run and warn the Rebel Alliance.  I love the X-Wing: Rogue Squadron novels and comics, and Tales of the Jedi comics.  I love the energy and enthusiasm this new wave of fandom has brought to the franchise.  Just don’t ask me to watch the prequels.

23 Responses to “Star Wars Orthodoxy”

  1. Andrew Says:

    You’re onto something with the Old versus New Testament fans. I took my five year-old to see it yesterday, and he loved it. He also started talking like Jar Jar Binks. Ultimately, I think the success of the franchise has given it an identity crisis, with a fan base and iconic status that is so large, that draws so much scrutiny that it is impossible to satisfy all constituencies.
    That being said, there are true problems with the prequels (Jar Jar, an eight year-old hitting on a teenager, mitochloriates, horrible dialog and Leia’s mother dying of a broken heart for starters), but for a younger generation, Star Wars is still a thing of wonder.


  2. I was actually a kid when the prequels came out, and I remember really, really loving The Phantom Menace for a while, even though I also remember thinking some bits were vapid. Although, god help me, I thought Jar Jar was funny and I had dreams of being Anakin. Not because the kid was cool, I don’t think I liked him very much, but I wanted to be in his position of importance. -shrug-

    Thing is though, my dad being the film buff he is, he raised me on the originals. Even though I was like eight when Phantom came out, I’d already seen the original trilogy a hundred times, we had that awesome VHS box set and that was pretty much the only thing we had on tape for a solid year. So I guess my perspective is skewed when I say that even now, when I watch the prequels, I cannot imagine how they could be considered good by anyone. I guess we have this thing where we latch onto whatever we watched as kids and idolize it so we don’t lose whatever innocence we think we had, but now that I’m getting into film criticism I see the original trilogy as being legitimately good, and the prequel trilogy as being legitimately bad. But, I guess if people really love those movies, then more power to them. I have my illegal laser disc rips of the original, unaltered trilogy on DVD.

  3. Ray Dean Says:

    My personal *meh/OMG* is the character dissipation of padme throughout the prequels… we get the strong leader of a planet, then the chick that hides her clandestine relationship… and then the woman so heartbroken she doesn’t even fight to live for her children… *yes the leia memory has been a sticking point for me… i REFUSE to believe as many have tried to convince me that Leia remembers her ‘adoptive mother’ the whole ‘memory share’ with luke makes NO sense… (or maybe that IS the point right there)*
    I missed the girl that could kick ass and still look awesome (Leia had good genes from Mom) I agree with the Torah analogy… New Hope is so old school badass – and yes, Han needs redemption OR he wouldn’t be the bad boy! hello?!

  4. ArcLight Says:

    Amen.

    Although being out of the fandom loop I’d assumed the Leia/mom retcon was that Leia actually remembered her adoptive mother.

    Oh, well…

    I’m not going to see them in 3D. The prequels because I just didn’t care for them. I’ve thought about trying some of the fan-edits but even that seems like too much effort. I’d like to think I won’t go see the original trilogy when it hits the 3D screens because I’m just tired of encouraging Lucas to continue to tinker with it and I’ve spent enough money on them already. Heck, I spent $250 on the Definitive Collection laserdisc set when it came out. And it’s still the best version out there.

    Man, really depresses me to say that the mere mention of STAR WARS doesn’t automatically excite me anymore.

  5. Jacqie Says:

    This. Yes. A thousand times this.

  6. carriev Says:

    In my version, Padme totally lives. Even confronts Vadar, and he lets her walk away, because there totally is still good in him. Gotta foreshadow that…

    I still get excited about the original trilogy and the bits and pieces of the expanded universe I really like. I just kind of ignore anything Lucas says about anything after about 1982.

  7. Andrew Says:

    That would be an amazing scene. You could totally foreshadow Leia’s confrontation with him on the Tantive IV. How would you deal with 1)Palpatine’s lie to Vader about Padme’s fate and 2) Vader’s seeming unawareness of Luke and Leia’s existence while they grow up?

  8. carriev Says:

    Well, I think Vadar kind of secretly knows the whole time that Padme and the child survived — what he doesn’t know about is the twins. In Empire, he doesn’t seem surprised that there’s this Skywalker kid running around — and that’s part of why he really wants to find him. But he only knows about Luke, not Leia, who was ultimately the better hidden of the two.

    Palpatine’s lie wouldn’t have much impact because by that time Vadar played his cards — he was committed and couldn’t go back.

  9. Mel Says:

    Yep! In addition, 3D gives me an even worse headache than the prequel stories do. Pass.

  10. David Bowles Says:

    Have you read Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy? They should have hired Zahn to write the prequels. They are a good read.

  11. carriev Says:

    I have, and they’re okay. I have to confess, I’m not a big fan of the Expanded Universe stuff featuring Luke, Leia, and Han. I’m usually not satisfied with the portrayals (there are a few exceptions), and I always feel like the extra stories are tacked on — they had their epic, they should get to retire, you know?

    That’s why I like the X-Wing stories, the “Tales of the…” anthologies, the Tales of the Jedi comics, etc — stories that deal with the Star Wars universe, but not with the main characters. I love that Wedge gets some of the limelight in the books and comics.


  12. Short version: SW Prequels are proof that George Lucas is an idiot without one bit of story sense in his bones.

    Long version from Plinkett is the best shredding of these flicks…ever. http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-wars/star-wars-episode-1-the-phantom-menace/

    (Oh and the goofy voice…just realize you are listening to Buffalo Bill’s older brother –silence of the lambs– and it gets even funnier.)

  13. tee Says:

    Have you read “Darth Plagueis”, the book about the Sith leading up to Phantom Menace? It has all the reasons and backstory on why Naboo was blockaded, why Darth Maul is tattooed, the childhood evils of Palpatine, recruitment of Dooku, the ordering of the droid army. All the stuff that didn’t make sense in Phantom Menace made sense if you read Darth Plagueis first, although the book itself was very dense with other Star Wars lore, so not as simple as a regular movie – more like another 2 or 3 movies worth of material. I went and saw the PM in 3D last weekend, and think the biggest difference between the prequel and the original series was that this one had slapstick but lacked sarcasm/humor, so that it would appeal more to little kids but not have the layers to draw you back in when re-watching. Yes, the big fish gets eaten by a bigger fish, TWICE, ha, good one. But it is a gag. Compare that with the escape scene from the trash compactor where they are cracking one-liners, tension with R2D2 trying to shut off the grid’s power etc. You get a lot of one hit punches in the prequels, whereas you get building tension and humor in the original trilogy. They spent a lot more time on special effects, but missed the dialogue and what made the characters so loveable. JarJar makes you feel like the jokes are laughing at a retarded person, it isn’t really funny, and the adults characters condescend to him and get angry at him, don’t laugh with him but at him, not cool. The Jamaican accent just makes it even uglier as it is like a racial stereotype. The Japanese accents for the evil capitalists is also great, just pile on some more racial slurs.

  14. David Bowles Says:

    I can understand not being big on the expanded universe stuff, but as a science fiction fan, I enjoyed how Zahn introduced some logic and realism to the series while keeping fantastical elements alive.

    Stormtroopers *should* be nasty. In Zahn’s books they are, whereas in the movies they are just kinda………. there. He also attempted a half-hearted explanation of how even the stupid Lucas Empire could screw up the battle of Endor.


  15. I guess I’m more of a casual Star Wars fan, since I didn’t really mind the prequels that much (then again, I’ll also gladly defend the fourth Indiana Jones movie, so there you go…).

    One thing I will never quite understand all the frothing fan-rage over is the idea of midichlorians. At no point is it said that they are what the Force is actually made of; just that they are the ones that actually connect to the Force, and since they live in our cells, so do we. Big deal.

    Incidentally, if you haven’t already, I suggest reading Andrey Summers’ column, “The Complex and Terrifying Reality of Star Wars Fandom,” a tongue-in-cheek look at the fandom, in which he notes that the most hardcore Star Wars fans all seem to hate Star Wars.

  16. ZOO Says:

    While I can divorce myself from the grown-up me, and enjoy the prequels for what they are, I am not immune to the failings of them either. I don’t take them nearly as seriously as I have the Original Trilogy. However, if you view the OT with your 2012 grown-up eyes, you will find a series of movies completely devoid of redeeming value.

    Star Wars came at a time and in a place where we needed them, and that is why they were such a phenomenon. The writing is the same, and was never the strong suit of the pictures. They were visually stunning, and each picture was an epic adventure, and we had never seen anything like them before… But you can’t say that anymore. When they can raise the Titanic and let a functional moron talk to dead presidents, there really isn’t anything that takes our breath away anymore.

    There are movies I will enjoy, simply because they give me a chance to be a kid again, imagining far off universes and wild fantasies. And there are movies which will make me think. And there are movies that will scare the hell out of me. And there are horribly bad movies, which will still give me enjoyment. I can do all of this because I have learned to take movies for what they are, and not try to make them into what they are not. So, I will cry at “The Conspirator,” let my skin crawl with “The Silence of the Lambs,” cheer for the heroes to win the day in “Red Tails,” giggle at the little girl in “Despicable Me,” laugh without apology at “Howard the Duck,” and wonder about a world on the verge of peace with “Amazing Grace & Chuck.” And yes, I will watch all of the Star Wars movies, through my child eyes, and marvel over that galaxy, a long time ago and far far away.

  17. Re WIlliams Says:

    I remember when my dad rented the first prequel when I was home from university so I could see it with the rest of the family. About half way through I snuck open a National Geographic. While the writing in that magazine has gone down hill, it was still much more interesting. For me I felt like I was watching a too long M-TV video full of special effects and switching scenes so fast that characters had no chance to talk. (Of course my brain was fried from finales….)

    I made it half way through the second prequel. Turned it off about the time that Padme was giggling at Anakin over a meal.

    Now for my eighth birthday I had one of my two childhood birthday parties. We went to see Return of the Jeidi. It was MAGIC.

  18. Adam. Says:

    Not shooting until one is shot at doesn’t make you a good guy.
    It makes you a moron (and in all likelihood a dead moron).

    As for the end of Revenge of the Sith, did the part where Frankenvader’s Monster breaks loose from the table and shouts “No!”, put anyone else in mind of Boris Karloff? It had me in stitches.

  19. Max Says:

    Let’s be clear on one thing…

    Han didn’t shoot first.

    Saying he shot first implies a sequence of shots. That’s wrong. Han fired the only shot. Because he’s a cavalier space pirate and he could see where it was going and he didn’t want to get to the point of having to dodge or duck.

    Han didn’t shoot first. Greedo never got his hand to his weapon. Period.

  20. Adam. Says:

    Erm…Greedo had his hand on his weapon the whole time. He was pointing it at Han over the tabletop.

    It’s not Greedo’s fault if his fingers were of an inconvenient length for the efficient operation of the trigger mechanism of his gun. He was a victim of unfortunate genetics. He was also a victim of his own violation of rule number 19 of the USMC Rules for Gunfighting (In God we trust. Everyone else (and particularly Han Solo), keep your hands where I can see them).

  21. Jaws Says:

    Jar-Jar drooled first.

  22. T.K. Marnell Says:

    I’m a young’un and was never much of a Star Wars fan, but I can’t stand the “prequels” for a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with loyalty to the originals. As a teenage girl, an emotional scene of forbidden love should not have made me cringe and try to hide under the movie theater seats. Creepiest come-on line ever: “Here everything’s soft…and smooth.”

    The whole “Han Shot First” thing is just silly, IMO. I mean, in real life, a guy going for a gun is pretty much the same as him shooting first. Imagine if a cop or a soldier just watched a dude pull out a weapon, but he had to wait until a bullet was coming at him to be justified in taking action. So I don’t think adding a digitized “shot” in the re-releases makes Han any less of a scoundrel, or any more of a good guy. It’s just a lazy characterization trope, like blonde head cheerleader versus mousy average girl with glasses. Tearing up when the cheerleader says something mean doesn’t make you the default “good guy” any more than waiting for an alien with bad aim to try to blow your head off. It just makes you reactive.


  23. […] how everything got this way, then get the grand finale.  And you skip Episode I entirely.  For an orthodox fan like myself, skipping Episode I has the great benefits of leaving out Qui Gon, who doesn’t […]


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