Many fans and critics had a litany of problems with TPM. As for myself, I really enjoyed all three Prequels. Still do, years after their release. I think the first film was over-hyped, however, and people expected too much. It’s just a movie. Sit back and enjoy it.
Having said that, though, there’s one aspect that weakens the Star Wars Prequel trilogy: character growth.
In the original trilogy, Lucas had the same core characters, portrayed by the same actors, in all three films. This is an important point, because the audience is introduced to these characters in the first film, then we get to watch them grow and struggle until the story concludes. This element is missing from the Prequel trilogy for these key reasons:
1. Anakin should have been an adult in TPM, and thus introduce the audience to Hayden Christensen, who played the character in the two subsequent films. This would have allowed for deeper character development over a three-film arc, similar to Luke’s in the original trilogy.
2. Darth Maul, though speaking few lines, had a definite presence onscreen well before any lightsaber battles in TPM. Sacrificing him just to show Obi-Wan’s martial talents amounted to a waste.
3. Jar Jar should have had a role throughout all three films that contributed to the storyline.
There are other issues I could raise with the Prequel trilogy, but I’ll focus on these three.
First, there’s Anakin Skywalker. If Hayden Christensen had played him in TPM, the relationship with his mother would have been more believable in the two following films. Also, as a young adult, his romance with Padme Amidala could have begun in the first film. His Force talents, tutelage under Obi-Wan, and piloting abilities could have been showcased with an adult actor, not a child actor who’d never appear in the series again. This disconnects viewers from the appearance of an older Anakin in Episode II: Attack of the Clones (AOTC). If Lucas had set these connections up with an actor who’d play Anakin for all three movies, the films would have worked better in regards to the audience’s empathy with Anakin.
Think about it: Anakin sees Darth Maul kill Qui-Gon Jinn, the one Jedi who supported him (which Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and Yoda doesn’t at the time). What if Darth Maul escapes? Here we have a foreshadowing of Anakin’s hatred of Darth Maul. Then, in AOTC, Anakin fights Maul, not Dooku (who wouldn’t even be in this version). Maul cuts off Anakin’s arm, wipes out plenty of Jedi in the Arena sequence, and escapes. Another reason for Anakin to really hate Darth Maul. Then, by the time Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (ROTS) comes along, Anakin and Maul have the showdown on General Grevious’s ship; Anakin kills Maul and begins his descent to the Dark Side. Later, Anakin battles Obi-Wan, the teacher who never really believed in him.
In this way, an adult Anakin has had three movies to smooch up to Padme, not just two. The corny romance from AOTC could be replaced with a more antagonistic, Han/Leia-styled relationship from the original trilogy. This was definitely a romance that needed more onscreen tension and sparks, but I don’t think that was the fault of the actor or actress.
Lucas should have shown more of Anakin butchering his former comrades in the Jedi Temple. Not for the sake of violence. Just thirty seconds of their reaction, and him cutting a few down with cold precision, would have spoken volumes. These were the Jedi who doubted him, who always criticized him. Then, show Anakin enter the room where the Younglings are hiding, to keep the impact that scene had in ROTS.
And Mace Windu? Anakin, not Palpatine, should have eliminated him. To justify Yoda and Obi-Wan going into hiding, Anakin and Palpatine both need to have more than just Stormtroopers at their beck and call. They’d have to be deadly opponents with immense Force capabilities. In later films, this would have made Luke all the more special, to be able to fight/resist this pair of Sith Lords.
Now I’ll go to Darth Maul. If he’d lived past TPM, imagine how seductive and sinister this character could have been. With that voice, I can imagine Maul taunting Anakin, much as Vader taunted Luke on Bespin. With those fighting skills, its believable this guy is a major threat few Jedi can handle (enter Anakin, the Chosen One, to take him out). Dooku (though I liked Christopher Lee’s performance) and Grievous would be cut, giving Maul more villain screen time.
In fact, Darth Maul should have led the Droid armies, not Grievous. If Asajj Ventress had been utilized in AOTC (as hinted at in that film’s conceptual art), and Lucas done away with the ‘there can only be two Sith’ mantra, she could have been Maul’s apprentice—maybe even love interest. That way, Dooku could still be in the story as a Jedi traitor, if the Sith are not limited in numbers. On top of all that, Palpatine might have instructed Darth Maul in ways to combat the Chosen One, for Palpatine fears Anakin—why else would he want him as a servant? This could have fomented jealousy in Darth Maul, making him despise Anakin even more. So much to be mined in this theoretical plot structure.
Jango Fett could have been treated in this manner, too: Mandalorians in AOTC and ROTS? Wow, that would’ve rocked. This would add more threats the Jedi couldn’t handle, above and beyond the Clone War.
Oh, and poor Jar Jar Binks. Perhaps the most maligned cinematic character in recent years, his role in TPM was obviously directed at children. I can live with that for one film, as TPM was a glimpse of the Old Republic’s more peaceful, innocent era. My main issue with Jar Jar is: with so much screen time allotted him in TPM, give him real importance in the following films. Cut down on his antics (he matures just like Anakin and the rest) and make him integral to the plot. That’s the only way to justify having Jar Jar in TPM at all. Of course, Lucas failed to follow through with this, perhaps due to fan backlash.
Jar Jar as a Senator in AOTC (and his vote that begins the Clone Wars) is okay, but could have been so much more. What if Jar Jar had stumbled on some of Palpatine’s secrets, and he became a Cassandra-like figure who foretells the end but no one listens? What if Jar Jar, now older and better educated, had been a key founder of the Rebel Alliance due to his fighting for Naboo in TPM? Maybe Jar Jar confronts Anakin near the end of ROTS, and condemns Anakin for his crimes, as one last attempt to turn the tide? What if Jar Jar managed to find some Jedi Younglings and spirit them to Naboo? There’s many directions Lucas could have taken, but didn’t. Jar Jar’s role in ROTS is a scant second or two during Padme’s funeral. Again, if Jar Jar lacked more importance than this, then he shouldn’t have been in the Prequel trilogy at all.
A decent story editor would have cut him out in a second draft, or at least molded him for future plot points. One wonders why this isn’t applied to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which has become something less than Star Wars in my opinion.
Lucas claims his Star Wars films are ‘intended for children’. Then why is there dismemberment, decapitation, and graphic immolation in the Prequel trilogy? I respect Lucas, but this excuse was a cop-out. He knew his key fan base was (and still is) adults. Now, I’m not interested in these becoming R-rated films, with vulgar language and graphic violence. Those elements are effective when utilized in the right manner (imagine JFK without all the swear words—it’d be inadequate—or Saving Private Ryan at PG-levels—it’d lose it’s impact). But keep the humor to quips, not physical slapstick and limp dialogue.
I do believe Lucas had the difficult (impossible?) task of making the films he wanted to make while bearing the weight of fan opinion and criticism on his shoulders. I love all six Star Wars films. The overtones in those films reflect something back at us, even how we see ourselves. The screen becomes a mirror for the viewer, as it often does with great movies. While there are other films that feature better plot, acting, and emotional impact, it’s hard to beat Star Wars. Yeah, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner are easily the two best science fiction films of all time, but Star Wars is still more fun to watch. In the end, that’s what George Lucas intended—just have fun, while learning something about yourself in the process.
I still say Darth Maul was an unrealized character. True, the movies weren’t about him, but Anakin’s transformation from hero to villain would have been more powerful if a consistent, dangerous foe had been present in all three Prequels. A villain like Darth Vader—one we all secretly wanted to be, our own dark alter-egos. Thus, Anakin and the audience become the real villain to confront—ourselves.
Maul puts a face on that villain, before that face is covered with Vader’s mask. Maul is the raw, the blatant, the primal. Vader is the shadow, the hidden, the veil to hide behind.