A Study of the Star Wars Prequels
A Long, Long Time Ago...
Prequels are fascinating.
In almost every one we find the hidden backstory brings new dimensions to old established characters. Writers and actors call them “backstory” when they look at an individual character. They are the story before the story.
Most of the time, prequels exist to answer questions. Why did he do that? Why is that person important? Why does so and so wear that article of clothing all the time? Why does that place draw the character? Who is that person in relation to the protagonist?
When a character acts a specific way, he usually acts consistently to his history and personality. We are the sum of our memories and experiences. Prequels underline the psychology of a character, the history of a setting, and how the character reacts to that setting (if he’s been there), as well as understanding the political and social climate of a society that has a bad reputation. Why does it have a bad reputation?
Prequels and backstory answer those questions – especially for the writer.
Star Wars Continuity
Ideally, the prequel should be written before the main story. When they’re not, bad things happen.
Here’s a prime example of what happens when they do not.
A few years after Star Wars episodes IV, V, and VI were released, Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Characters was published by Del Rey publishing. Information for this film came from Lucasfilm, Topps Star Wars Magazine, Timothy Zahn (author of the Star Wars: Heir to the Empire), and Star Wars Insider magazine. While the information in that guide provided an interesting backstory to the characters both in the movies and many of the novels inspired by the films, the information was completely invalidated once Star Wars episodes I, II, and III were released.
The guide’s facts deviate drastically from the prequel. Some of the entries list Lars Owen as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s brother as well as an account that Obi-Wan had been the one who’d taken an interest in Anakin to show him the ways of the force. With the release of the first three Star Wars episodes, fans know that just isn’t true. There is a new continuity.
The truth is that George Lucas hadn’t started writing Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace until November 1994. Ironically, it was the expanded universe and other projects written and made outside of Lucas’ work that launched a resurgence in the Star Wars franchise. Lucas’s backstory was based on an outline he’d made prior to the filming of Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope. He worked off an outline presumably to keep some sense of continuity and yet allowed his filming process to remain flexible.
Critics of the Star Wars mythos know that Lucas’s continuity in all of his films has been the subject both speculation and ridicule.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was like Luke’s Grandfather
All differences in continuity aside, the prequels did manage to enrich some things.
For example, we get to see how truly intimate the bond is between Jedi Knight (or Master) and padawan. The relationship is more than just teacher and student. Fans can see that the relationship between a character like Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as well as the one between Count Dooku and Qui-Gon Jinn is not unlike a father and a son.
This is a life bond.
When Obi-Wan first meets Anakin he is twenty-five years old and Anakin is nine. That’s a sixteen year age gap. According to Lucasfilm, Qui-Gon Jinn was approximately sixty during The Phantom Menace – which is a thirty-five year age gap between him and Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan became Qui-Gon Jinn’s padawan when he was twelve, making Qui-Gon forty-seven at that time.
What we can say is that Obi-Wan trained for thirteen years and Anakin trained for ten to twelve years before becoming a Jedi Knight in The Clone Wars.
For the Jedi, the apprenticeship is an intense time that takes at least a decade to master.
That is why Yoda keeps insisting that Luke is too old to begin the training (as well as Anakin). Being a Jedi is the only life they ever remember. This is done to keep away the corruption they’ve already been exposed to in early childhood. This way they won’t be tempted by anything in their former life.
Obi-Wan has literally known Luke his entire life by the time A New Hope begins. He’s been watching over him (as well as Yoda) and guarding over the child on Tatooine. Given how he looked after Anakin throughout his childhood, adolescence, and adult years, and helped deliver his two children, Obi-Wan is practically Luke’s grandfather.
Knowing this now, we see all of these characters with new eyes.
Uncle Owen had a LOT to be afraid of
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Uncle Owen.
The ominous words of Uncle Owen suddenly get much darker. I’m sure the stories of an entire village of sand people being slaughtered by Anakin in a fit of unstable rage haunted his dreams until the day he died. There had to be a few nights where Owen Lars had woken up in a cold sweat next to his wife, Beru.
Remember, outside of meeting his new stepbrother for only a few moments, Anakin was an only child and really had no attachment to his new family. It’s unlikely Vader would feel any kind of lingering sentiment about killing a distant relative who was harboring his embarrassment of a son.
Imagine if Luke's existence wasn't a secret.
Now, here he is watching his nephew tagging innocent wamp-rats that are just over two meters long with his T-16. As Seth McFarlane commented in one of his Family Guy flashbacks, that’s the mark of a serial killer.
He knows Luke has talent as a pilot. He’s seen it. He also knows that Luke has an entire childhood of being bossed around by his bitter old moisture farmer uncle. Do you think Luke might harbor a little resentment for the uncle that won’t let him go to Toshi’s station to get some power converters? Owen might have a bit of trouble if he gets hold of someone who can show him the force.
When Beru says to him that Luke is just not cut out to be a farm boy and that he has too much of his father in him, I’m sure Owen felt his spine go cold with terror with the thought of his nephew wearing a black cybersuit.
Perhaps he remembered his psychotic stepbrother and how he looked with sand people blood on his robes.
The blue milk doesn’t spill far from the evaporator farm.
C3PO is just a Psychological Mess
C3PO is no longer just that annoying gold protocol droid, he’s what’s left of the innocence that Anakin had when he was all about making machines and fixing them. We also get to see why he can be such an insufferable jerk. C3PO got shut down a lot and therefore never got used to people.
When you think about his actions in Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, where he completely rats out Poe to Leia, we can see that R2D2 got all of the morality in that droid partnership. There are times we can believe the golden droid is not entirely stable.
Think of this from a human perspective. You get built by some nine-year-old kid and reality for you is a series of interrupted splices of consciousness. The last thing you see is a nine-year-old kid reach for something near your eyes and then immediately everything changes when the kid is bringing his hand back (turning you back on).
It’s like living through the eyes of Robocop.
We all know that some time at the end of Revenge of the Sith C3PO’s memory got wiped by Raymus Antilles. I can’t be sure that included whatever knowledge was developed and stayed on his BIOS (Basic Input Output System), but having a bunch of people know you before you’ve introduced yourself as “I’m C3PO, human-cyborg relations” has to be disconcerting.
What he doesn’t remember is who made him. We know this because every time he says “Thank the Maker” he’s talking about Darth Vader.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has a Terrible Memory
George Lucas has very little talent for continuity especially when it comes to Obi-Wan – although it’s easy for him to say any old thing and relegate it to “a certain point of view” and get away with it. Only some things don’t get explained away as easy.
“I don’t recall ever owning a droid before,” said Obi-Wan when talking about R2D2.
He certainly should have known R2D2 as being one of the droids owned by his best friend and his wife – leave alone that it seemed rare one would be traveling consistently with a protocol droid. While C3PO’s memory might have been wiped, R2D2’s had not been. R2 may only speak in beeps and whistles, but he’s often made his meaning abundantly clear through his translator friend and X-wing fighter computer.
Obi-Wan never owned any droids - except for the countless droids he had while he was on Coruscant and the ones he used while he was fighting in the Clone Wars. That and the R4 astro-droid unit he had during Attack of the Clones.
Perhaps the old wizard got confused by the term “own”. Perhaps Jedi are like priests and can’t actually own things as part of their vow of poverty.
“Your father wanted you to have this (lightsaber) when you were old enough,” was another one. Considering that Vader had no clue his secret wife was even expecting by the time Luke and Leia were born, it was unlikely he was shooting the bull with Obi-Wan and letting him know what he’d do with his lightsaber – especially since Jedi were supposed to keep away from intimate attachments like wives and family.
“A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine, until he turned to evil helped the Empire hunt down and destroy all the Jedi Knights,” is wrong for two reasons. While Anakin did kill all of the younglings, he did not hunt down anyone. The Jedi were wiped out by order 66 when all of the clone troopers who were constantly with the Jedi fell to their pre-programmed instructions and assassinated everyone. Obi-Wan's own life was at risk when they tried to kill him as well. This can’t be written off to “a certain point of view”.
Of all the continuity errors that have been exposed throughout the Star Wars movies, Obi-Wan is guilty of getting most of the things that happened between him and Anakin wrong.
Boba Fett has been a Bounty Hunter for a Long Time
A fan favorite in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is Boba Fett. Without the backstory of him being a clone of Jango Fett, he is just a guy with a gun and helmet. We get a peak of who Jango Fett from the cartoon shown during the Star Wars Christmas special where he’s simply “the bounty hunter”.
What we discover because of the first three episodes is that Boba Fett is very much like the man he was cloned from. Even at a young age, he can still fly the Slave-1. All we know about Boba is that he wasn’t given any of the safeguards given to all of the other clones within the clone army.
Considering the combat that the clones use throughout Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars (animated series) is possibly from Jango Fett as well, we can see that Boba Fett is more dangerous than any of the elite clone troopers and any of the current day storm troopers.
Knowing that, it was easy to believe he could track and capture Han Solo and deliver his bounty to Jabba the Hutt.
Palpatine was a Scheming Genius
When we look at the larger picture of what’s going on in the Galactic Senate and Palpatine, we see that he’s a master manipulator and every move he makes will always bring him closer to his goal of ruling the galaxy.
Every battle, whether he wins or loses, he always wins one way or another. If the good guys win their battle, he wins as Chancellor Palpatine. If the bad guys win, he wins as Darth Sidious. He controls both sides of the equation.
Once he’s fully revealed to be a Sith, his forces are already entrenched everywhere and all he needed to do was activate them with “Order 66”. By the time we see him in Return of the Jedi, he is comfortable in his power and is confident that all his chess pieces are in the right place.
Knowing Palpatine, at that point, fans know that the battle isn’t just Luke’s resistance to the dark side of the force. It also isn’t just winning the battle in space or destroying the new fully operational Deathstar. What it’s about is finding a way to destroy the Emperor without becoming the evil he is.
To Palpatine, it’s just another chess game where he controls both sides. If Darth Vader wins, it’s status quo. If Luke wins, he has a new apprentice – like Anakin, Count Dooku, and General Grievous.
When we get to the events of Star Wars: Rogue One, we already know how it will end. “Many Bothans died to bring you this information,” in A New Hope, gives us the ultimate end as a certain prophesy to this prequel.
However, the point of Rogue One is not just to show the rebels fight against the Empire. The point is to show how hopeless things were once Palpatine became Emperor. Everyone is always watched. The Empire is a totalitarian regime.
Plus, we finally get to see why Darth Vader is so feared within the Empire.
Throwing boxes at Luke Skywalker and choking annoying Death Star bureaucrats is nothing compared to his mowing down a squad of rebels that are keeping the Death Star plans from him.
A New Hope isn’t just about Luke; it’s about the turning of the tide.
The Emperor Was Keeping Vader Alive and He killed Padme
There is a convincing fan theory that makes a lot of sense.
Palpatine killed Padme and used her life force to keep Vader alive.
He was also unaware she was pregnant.
Obi-Wan said it himself in Return of the Jedi. “The Emperor knew that if Anakin were to have any offspring they would be a threat to him.” While Padme was giving birth to her twins the medical droid states that she is completely healthy but they didn’t know why she was dying. Droids can’t diagnose "not having the will to live". They don't understand that. It's not part of their medical diagnostic parameters. They have no knowledge of the Force.
If Palpatine had known she was pregnant, he’d have killed her while she had the kids in her womb. He wanted nothing between him and Anakin becoming a Sith.
When the Empire is turning Anakin into Vader and putting on his multiple prosthetics, the Emperor tells him that she died from what Anakin did to her – which was an obvious lie because Padme was still breathing after he did his Sith choke force move.
Outside of getting that information from the force, how would the Emperor even know Padme died – unless he killed her himself? We even see the Emperor smile after telling Vader the news. We also know he can do this because the Emperor goes so far as to tell Anakin the story of Darth Plagius the Wise who had the power over life and death. Palpatine was the apprentice who killed Plagius and took his power.
The theory is that Anakin was dying after Obi-Wan had fought him. The Emperor removed Padme’s life force and fed it to Vader to keep him alive and was keeping him alive through the dark side of the Force. This theory is confirmed by several points. This also explains why Vader in Return of the Jedi keeps telling Luke, “It is too late for me.”
Views can also look at it this way. When Obi-Wan and Vader meet again in A New Hope and Vader boasts, “When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” Then Obi-Wan says “Only a master of evil, Darth.” I take this to mean that the only force keeping Vader alive is the evil Dark Force that the Emperor gives him to master.
Obi-Wan also says, “I also thought he could be turned back to the good side. It couldn't be done. He is more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.” He knew that it really wasn’t Anakin’s choice anymore. That not only was he mentally corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force but it was also physically impossible for him to turn back without dying. Only the machines and the force were keeping Vader/Anakin going.
Ben also says, “Your father was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I have told you was true... from a certain point of view.” This explains why we see young Anakin Skywalker appear with old Ben Kenobi in the last scenes of Return of the Jedi.
Look at it this way. Palpatine knew he needed an apprentice to help run things. It was his experience as a Sith to kill his master to gain that power. In order to prevent the same thing happening to him, he made sure to have a mutually assured destruction with Vader. If Vader made plans to kill Palpatine, he would lose the life force that Palpatine was continually giving him. This explains why in Return of the Jedi Vader died almost immediately after throwing the Emperor into the bottomless pit. There was nothing to keep Vader going.
A Joke Turned into A Major Plot Point
Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy wrote in his spoof of Star Wars: A New Hope, Family Guy: Blue Harvest (Blue Harvest being the working title of Star Wars – the blue harvest on an evaporation farm is water), had Stewie (as Darth Vader) make mention of a major issue within the movie. Simply put, the issue is “How is it possible that one thermal exhaust port approximately two meters large be the Achilles heel of the Death Star?”
He goes so far as to say, “Whoa! That sounds like a pretty big design flaw!”
As it turns out, the main storyline for Star Wars: Rogue One is not only about getting the plans to the Death Star but uncovering the secret vulnerability intentionally placed within the space station.
This specific prequel now retroactively fixed a major point of contention that may have started as a quick way to resolve the empire’s defeat in the first released movie. We could see that initially, viewers had suspected their disbelief for decades until fans and critics started asking why anyone in their right mind would design a technological terror that could destroy planets and still have such a crazy fatal vulnerability.
New Force Users versus Jedi Knights
One of the things that really cheesed off many of the Star Wars die-hard fans was the abbreviated training of characters like Luke Skywalker and Rey.
While some of the fans are completely on board with Rian Johnson's view of how the force works and how some people acclimate to it immediately, others do not. We all remember when Yoda instructed Luke on Dagobah and says to him, "A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind."
This is what it takes to be a Jedi - not a force user - A JEDI.
What we know about the Jedi is that they've been doing this for over a thousand generations. Yoda has been training Jedi for over 800 years. Given all of that, we could say they know what they're doing. They have understood what is important with using the force and what to be wary of.
"Adventure, excitement – a Jedi craves not these things." That and "anger… fear… aggression. The dark side are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”
Translation: Have you any idea how many evil out-of-control telekinetic psychopaths we've had to kill because they went power-mad with this magical universal energy? You need to learn how to use power responsibly.
In that same monologue, Yoda also tells the fans what Luke's biggest obstacle is that carries over to The Last Jedi.
This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing. Adventure, excitement – a Jedi craves not these things.
Not only does this sentiment speak to Luke's lack of focus and inability to know himself, but it also underlines what Qui-Gon Jinn said to Obi-Wan when he voiced similar concerns.
The conversation between the two:
Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.
Qui-Gon: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.
Translation: You need to live in the now.
I think back when Luke was stranded in the wampa's ice cave. His lightsaber was in the frozen snow just out of reach. The totality of his Jedi training was about an hour on the Millenium Falcon and whatever he got from Obi-Wan's "force voice" while he was destroying the Deathstar.
The simple act of telekinetically moving the lightsaber was an effort. Then, later that same movie, Leia was picking up Luke's telepathy from Han's ship like radio.
While in Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, Leia is doing Jedi-like tricks by using advanced telekinesis to save herself from the vacuum of space, I am highly doubtful that she and Luke sat around one day experimenting with techniques in the living force. Somehow, Leia quieted her mind enough to be a force-magnet to her ship's hull - when anyone else would have panicked.
Also, what we do know is that Luke wasn't a very good or patient teacher to his students - especially Kylo Ren.
Moreover, Luke's failure came because he just didn't listen to Yoda in passing on "what he'd learned". What Luke learned more than anything else was failure.
Failure at the cave. Failure with Kylo Ren. Failure against the Emperor. Failure in controlling his emotions.
What he needed to conquer was pride. Somewhere in Luke's mind, despite a thousand generations of success, he judged the Jedi as being too prideful and decided to cut himself off from the Force. Where, in actuality, Luke judged himself worthy of thinking the Jedi were wrong in their thinking, their practice, and their mission.
In the end, he proved he was worthy enough to become one with the Force like Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon. These were the real Jedi.
Real Jedi - like the ones in the prequels.
You see, not only were the Jedi a bunch of telekinetically gifted ass-kickers, but they knew how to get things done. Anyone who has seen what the Jedi typically did throughout any mission they had, beginning with Episode I against the trade federation, knew that they worked to master the Force every day from early childhood.
Their connection to the Force was second nature.
It's like anything else. Work hard, practice, and you'll achieve mastery. While force users, like anyone who discovered the force after Episode III, might have some talent in accessing the Force, it takes practice and dedication to be really good at it.
The deepest commitment. The most serious mind.
After 2014, Lucasfilm declared that the Star Wars canon consists of the eight Star Wars films (Episodes I through VII, plus Star Wars: Rogue One) as well as the television series The Clone Wars (and the animated film, The Clone Wars) and Star Wars Rebels. This also includes the comic books and novels written after April 2014. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, it wiped the slate clean and declared what is canon and what isn’t. It nullified all the old stuff formerly approved in the Prequel Universe (i.e. – the novels and the comics).
This is also one of the reasons I am trying to stay away from any kind of speculation. This expanded universe, outside the movies to include the television series of The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and the additional comic book and novel material, while making the backstory rich and vibrant also makes the space opera of Star Wars a continuity nightmare.
These stories include the character of Darth Maul – who survived the duel with Obiwan Kenobi and now walks with a pair of cybernetic animal legs. He is a vital part of The Clone Wars and the Rebels storylines. These stories, now canon, continue to make the larger story of what happens in Star Wars episodes four through nine more complex. There has to be a break-even point where telling a story with a pre-destined outcome fills the whole of the story (while making gobs of money for Disney and Lucasfilm) only to have much of the continuity probably undone by the time Star Wars: Episode IX premiers.
The only prediction I will make, regarding the continuity of that film and how it adheres to the prequels, is fans will talk about it and speculate theories about it well after Episode IX hits Blu-ray.
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© 2018 Christopher Peruzzi