What was this movie ABOUT?
Because I’m seeing a lot of things…
Assassination plot! Bounty hunters! Romance? Separatists! Anakin’s mom!
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Okay, so you’ll tell me, GEORGE, that it’s about showing Anakin’s path to the Dark Side. It’s about showing how the Emperor came to power. It’s showing how a peaceful republic turned into a military state.
Okay. A) That isn’t a plot. But we need to go back even farther because this is a mistake with how people think about prequels in general.
A prequel isn’t…!
A PREQUEL ISN’T.
Let’s do this the usual way:
Question: What are we doing when we’re making a prequel?
Answer: We’re showing how all the elements of the main story came to be.
RIGHT ANSWER? WE’RE TELLING A FREAKIN STORY.
Wrong questions to ask when plotting a prequel:
– How would this have been back then?
– How did this character get this way?
– How did this chain of events begin?
These questions activate the wrong part of your brain. The non-imaginitive, rational, deductive part. Your brain is trying to solve a puzzle and it will naturally gravitate towards the simplest and most occam’s razory answers.
Jedi? They were probably situated in the capitol. Probably closely associated with the government.
Anakin? Well, he was probably just a normal dorky teenager and you know, loss of a loved one can make a person do drastic things, so it was probably something like that.
Palpatine’s rise to power? He was probably a senator. And he probably had some plot to get to the top.
Right question to ask when plotting a prequel?
What is the BEST story I can tell?
The SAME questions you ask when you’re writing LITERALLY ANY story:
Is this character working?
Is this scene working?
Is the movie smoother without both? Okay, then I need to rework things.
Yes, you’re using characters from a different original story. Yes, it has to be consistent with that story. That’s all part of it. But constructing a prequel should not consist of answering a list of factual questions and jamming the answers together and calling it a movie.
That is more-or-less what I think George Lucas did when he wrote these movies, and it is most evident in this one.
Anakin and Padme have to fall in love. Palpatine has to seize more power. Anakin has to get angry and ambitious. There have to be clones. Check. Check. Check check check.
Still not a movie?
Throw in a token villain and a big battle scene at the end.
Is it a movie yet?
GOOD! ONTO EDITING!
Let me ask you a question: Why does the very word “prequel” elicit an “uh oh” while the word “backstory” brings on an “OOH GIMME”?
When backstory is worked into a story, every writer knows he’s not just answering questions about this character’s past. Backstory matters to the plot at hand. It changes the way you perceive what you’ve already seen and gives you a whole new perspective moving forward. A prequel should do the same thing.
Maybe I misspoke when I said a prequel’s primary function is to be a good story. Here’s a better one:
A prequel’s function is to fill in all the awesomeness the audience has built up in their heads imagining the past. The BEST form for that awesomeness? Not facts, not scenes, but STORY — ie the medium already best at delivering drama, excitement, surprise, catharsis, all the various emotional experiences we think of as awesome. Deliver the same answers/information contained in Episode II as a well-made story and we’d LOVE the Anakin-Padme romance, we’d think Dooku was an AWESOME villain, we’d think clones were FASCINATING, we’d FEAR for the future of the Republic as we watched Palpatine’s rise to power. Take away the story, and you have what we have here.
Prequels really do have the potential to be AMAZINGLY cool because if it IS a good story, it will be even MORE meaningful because its about characters you already LOVE and a story you already LOVE. It won’t just have a bunch of awesome scenes but awesome scenes you’ve been WAITING to see for YEARS!
But if it’s all just gimmicky stuff you’ve “always wanted to see,” it will be as bland as any movie that’s just gimmicks.
(Even sheep would be better. EVEN SHEEP WOULD BE BETTER.)