STAR WARS: The Alternate History

I still care about Star Wars. My heart breaks every time I watch bits of the prequels. There’s great Star Warsey action but the story – the story! – doesn’t work.

In a burst of sheer summer holiday geekery I have constructed my own version of how the Star Wars prequels could have gone. These are my initial ideas and I’ve only sketched the main characters. Ernest Hemmingway said ‘all first drafts are shit’ and this is no exception. But it’s a good start, in my geeky opinion, (if a mite excessive and rather pointless). It lays the foundations for three films I would like to have seen instead of the films we were given. If you’re not interested in Star Wars I won’t blame you for ducking back to Facebook or youtube about now.

Marcel Currin presents …

STAR WARS: The alternate history

 

Problem One: Boring Jedi farts

A foundational problem with the Star Wars prequels is their answer to this question: Who are the Jedi?

The prequels’ answer is that the Jedi are a council. They sit in leather seats making political decisions from their council chambers on Coruscant, a planet that is 100% city. If they didn’t remind us that they are Jedi by having lightsabers tucked into their belts or by saying every so often, “I feel a disturbance in the Force,” there would be nothing to distinguish them from any other bland circle of politicians. Not even Samuel L. Jackson is cool in this setting.

When things get a bit rough one or two of them will go off on missions. That’s where they get to exercise their swish Force powers. But they do so in a bored, detached kind of way. It’s not until we see Obi Wan and Anakin in action together during the first 20 minutes of Revenge of the Sith that anyone seems to be having any fun.

The Jedi that we grew up with, the Jedi that we saw in the original films, would never have put up with sitting around in stuffy board meetings. They would not have spent most of their time on a planet that’s been choked to death by cities. The Force is organic, earthy, mysterious. No self respecting Jedi would box himself up in concrete.

Problem Two: Too many Darths

In the original films Darth Vader is bad ass. He is the most bad ass of the bad asses. He is awesome. Darth Vader is the most bad ass thing to have ever happened to the galaxy.

Rewind to the prequels and Darth Vader turns out to be a pouty teenager. (At least we know where Luke got his whinge from.) Plus, there is already a rash of other Darths all over the place: Darth Maul, Darth Tyranus, Darth Sidious. When Anakin turns to the Dark Side he becomes one more Darth in a long line of Darths. This means he’s not actually that special. So George Lucas has to TELL us that he’s special. Therefore we get a lame prophecy about Anakin being the Chosen One. He’s brimming full of ‘midichlorians’. Obi-wan tells Anakin that he’s a greater Jedi than Obi-wan could ever hope to be. Having heard all this, when we see Anakin turn to the dark side we are expected to nod and say ‘oh yes, and now he is going to run off and be the most bad ass Sith Lord ever.’ We know that he will be bad ass because we’ve been told. We get told a lot of stuff in the prequels.

The golden rule of storytelling is ‘show, don’t tell’. George Lucas nails this rule in the original films and breaks it throughout the prequels. There is too much extraneous material, there are too many politicians and too many explanations required to hang everything together.

So let’s wipe the slate clean, pretend the prequels never happened and imagine an entirely different scenario. In doing so we will create an entirely new backstory that brings us to Star Wars: A New Hope. We will need to reconsider many things: who are the Jedi, who are the Rebels, how the Empire came to be, who the Emperor is, who the Sith are and ultimately how Anakin became Darth Vader.

Starting from scratch: The Jedi and the Sith

In my alternate Star Wars universe the Jedi Masters are loners. They are like interplanetary monks. People are genuinely in awe of them. The sight of a Jedi Master is something special. They are not interplanetary police or peace keepers but you know that if a Jedi Master turns up justice will probably follow. Their focus is on mastering and using the Force. They have a code of ethics and a way of doing things. They band together only on rare occasions. They don’t have a unified voice that gets involved in political matters although they will help out when needed. Yoda is the most venerated of the Jedi but he’s not the president of an organisation that takes minutes at their AGM. Being a Jedi is not a job. It’s a lifestyle, like being a Christian or a vegetarian or having a black belt. You can clean toilets for a living and be a Jedi at the same time. Probably not a very good one, you might not make it to becoming a Jedi Master, but it’s possible.

It’s also a minority thing. When sceptics in the original movies call it ‘that ancient religion’ that’s exactly what it is: ancient. You have to be pretty weird to get tangled up in the ways of the Force. Most people don’t believe in the Force. It’s not taken for granted that it exists. You don’t run home and announce “I want to be a Jedi Knight!” without expecting your folks to clip you round the head and tell you to get back to your droid-programming homework. The Star Wars galaxy is a place for laser guns, spaceships and hyper-drives. The Force is a load of bunk, certainly not mainstream.

Accordingly there are very few genuine Jedi in the galaxy. There is no Jedi training academy. A Jedi Master will identify someone with whom the Force is strong and then take that person under their wing.

In short, Jedi are mysterious free agents. If there is any regular cooperation at all among Jedi it is done to keep the Dark Side in check. Sometimes a Jedi will go off the deep end and become a Sith. There are a few Sith scattered around the galaxy. The Sith are more ambitious, think mostly of themselves and are power hungry. Where Jedi become ‘Masters’ the Sith call themselves ‘Lords’. Sith are also more likely to end up in politics. Jedi, by their very nature, avoid the public office. (And they don’t have a uniform. The clothes that Obi-wan Kenobi wears in Star Wars: A New Hope are not the same clothes that he spent his early Jedi years wearing, nor are they the same clothes that every other Jedi wears. Nope. They’re simply good for the desert conditions of Tatooine, which is where he lives at that time.)

However, over the course of the three prequels, as the threat to the galaxy grows, the Jedi order will assemble together. Like an elite team, the way superheroes sometimes join forces. The Jedi will ultimately be all but wiped out. And here’s an important point: it’s not the Clones who turn on the Jedi. It’s Darth Vader himself who will kill them off, one by one until only Yoda and Obi-wan are left. More on that later.

Don’t vote for the Empire

The galaxy is populated with different planets, each with their own political systems. There’s no Republic, no Empire. The galaxy is neither united nor divided. Different planets and planetary systems talk to each other with varying degrees of cordiality. Sometimes there are wars but mostly planets keep to themselves. After all, space is a big place.

There is, of course, a kind of United Nations organisation that many of the planets in the galaxy acknowledge and are part of. But let’s not go visiting any of their board meetings. For lack of any better name, let’s call this organisation the Inter-Planetary Council Thing. Boring, I know. Mr Organa, the man who will eventually adopt Leia, is a central figure in this crowd. We will also require a military figure: a General to lead and advise on the battles.

When the series opens, strategic planets and strongholds are being attacked by Clone armies. No one knows who is behind these attacks. During a critical battle, the Clones will be about to win. Just when things can’t get worse, more Clones turn up. But these new armies turn out to be Stormtroopers – never seen before now – who help turn the battle and defeat the Clones.

It will transpire that the Stormtroopers have been sent from a little known war lord who lives on the planet Mustafar. His name is Palpatine. Everyone is uneasy about accepting his help but they have little choice.

Eventually they will learn that the Clones and the Stormtroopers are essentially the same army. All are controlled by Palpatine and it’s all part of his dastardly plan. His empire begins to take control of the galaxy, planet by planet. It is made possible by his kick-arse lieutenant, Darth Vader, who dominates wherever he goes.

The Empire promises peace to each planet but its more like a protection racket. Storm troopers get stationed and are in control. They become the first ever galaxy wide police force. Oh, and they’re not clones of Boba Fett, either. They’re just clones.

The Inter-Planetary Council expresses concern but most or all of the representatives get killed off by Darth Vader. Some planets try to rebel or fight back but the Empire squashes them down.

Anakin Skywalker

Anakin Skywalker is a pilot, a very good one. That’s his job, that’s where we first meet him. (Opening scene of Episode One: a battle.) Along the way he learns that he can do things other people can’t do, like dent metal doors from a distance when he gets cross. He will meet a Jedi call Obi-wan Kenobi and his training will begin. Is Obi-wan also a pilot? Maybe. It would certainly be more convenient if he is. But it’s also possible that Obi-wan is a grease-covered starship mechanic. In fact, let’s insert a class system and give Anakin a higher ranking than Obi-wan. It immediately becomes a kind of social transgression for him to start hanging out with Obi-wan. But Obi-wan is mysterious and powerful, with authority. Anakin is too intrigued by the Force and by Obi-wan to resist.

For the duration of the prequels, let’s watch the friendship of Anakin and Obi-wan. This is where the heart of the story is. Anakin’s gift with the Force is unprecedented, boiling over in ways that he can barely control. It terrifies Obi-wan who begins to feel out of his depth as he struggles to guide his younger apprentice. Yoda is called in, or some other wise Jedi.

So the bulk of Episode I will follow Anakin through various adventures as he meets Obi-wan, wins the girl (Padme) and learns about the Force. There will need to be a major assault on a significant clone facility. Obi-wan joins this battle, kind of reluctantly. Let’s put Padme in the middle of the facility during the attack too, to give Anakin someone to rescue before it blows up. Padme is no pushover though, she’s a good fighter – part of the attraction. And by the way, in this alternate universe there are no rules about Jedi being single.

We don’t yet know who is the mastermind of the clone army. So, from that perspective, we could still title Episode I ‘The Phantom Menace’. Maybe.

Descent into the Dark Side

After their initial big defeat the Clone Armies will regroup and the Clone Wars will continue. Anakin and Obi-wan lead an attempt to curb the resurgence of the Clones. They are partners in crime, so to speak, exchanging banter as they dispatch the enemy. Anakin is becoming more and more reckless, more uncontrolled. More likely to kill his enemies, more likely to use the Force with brutality.

By now we are probably into Episode II. At the end of the first act there needs to be a critical battle in which the Clones will be about to win. This is where the Stormtroopers turn up to save the day, courtesy of Palpatine.

At some point Anakin will find himself face to face with Palpatine. Palpatine is not a snaky politician, he is simply ambitious and transparently bad. He’s already deformed and we don’t need an explanation for that. The ‘secret’ behind his ambition is that he is a Sith Lord.

How about this: Palpatine is recruiting other Sith Lords. Anakin recklessly tries to take some of them on, which lands Obi-wan in trouble. Obi-wan is captured by Palpatine’s forces.

Such is Anakin’s growing power and presence that, while fighting some of the Sith, he actually recruits them to help rescue Obi-wan: ‘help me or die’. The rescue takes place at the expense of a greater mission, resulting in an entire starship of civilians being destroyed. This will anger Obi-wan. It will also torment Anakin and he will then lash out to kill some of the other Sith Lords with unrestrained violence – much to Palpatine’s delight.

The Jedi start to assemble as a crack unit and work together when they realize that Palpatine is a Sith Lord. This is an unprecedented gathering of Jedi Knights. Awesome. Let’s milk that moment and make it really cool. (See how much better this is than stuffy council meetings?)

Obi-wan will caution them against Anakin due to his dark tendencies. Cue resentment and the start of the breakdown of their friendship.

Padme

Padme starts and ends Episode II pregnant. We don’t get three trimesters in one film. There certainly shouldn’t be any birth scenes in Star Wars. Despite their friendship, distrust is building between Anakin and Obi-wan. Obi-wan is struggling to curb Anakin’s dark impulses; he is there for Padme at times when Anakin is not, which makes Anakin resentful. Anakin is starting to get paranoid and unreasonable.

A key scene will be when he clenches his fist in anger which brings on the infamous Vader chokehold. This is the first time we see it. His unintentional victim is Padme. But instead of releasing her straight away, Anakin peers at his hand, curious at the power he has. He flexes his fingers open, altering the effect of the choke. Obi-wan is demanding that he release her. This is the moment Obi-wan realises Anakin is in serious trouble with the dark side. It is also the turning point for Anakin and Padme.

Somehow between here and the conclusion of the film, Anakin must increasingly embrace the Dark Side’s anger while still refusing to submit to the Emperor. He’s feeling left out of the Jedi action and betrayed by Obi-wan. We need to believe it when Anakin and Obi-wan start fighting each other.

On the slopes of Mount Doom

The Jedi decide to launch an attack on Palpatine. Palpatine hangs out or hides out on Mustafar, a fitting place for a deformed, evil war lord. Anakin takes matters into his own hands in defiance of the other Jedi. It will play into Palpatine’s hands. Obi-wan will try to stop Anakin. This will lead to their showdown, the one in which Obi-wan says, “I have failed you, Anakin.” The volcano scene on the planet Mustafar was always in George Lucas’ head so let’s keep it. But I’m not happy with Obi-wan slicing off Anakin’s legs and leaving him for dead. Ugly and un-Jedi-like. Anakin will “die” by his own hand, the result of his fury getting out of control. He flings his lightsaber at Obi-wan but Obi-wan catches it. He uses the Force in anger to hurl a massive crane or piece of equipment at Obi-wan. Obi-wan can barely counter this, but inevitably it will result in a volcanic splash of lava or a collapse of infrastructure. Anakin will disappear beneath a great fountain of lava or appear to be crushed beneath the crane. It has to really look like he couldn’t have survived and it has to leave Anakin mortally wounded on the slope. (Somewhere in the battle there still needs to be time for Obi-wan to yell passionately about how he loved Anakin. But not after chopping his legs off and watching him sizzle to death.)

So Obi-wan thinks Anakin is a goner. Palpatine finds Anakin on the volcano slope and says something like, ‘Look what your friends have done to you. I can finish you now and end your misery, or I can save you. Join me. This is your final chance.”

The counter-point battle to this climactic scene involves other Jedi trying – and failing – to defeat Palpatine’s Sith colleagues elsewhere on Mustafar. Obi-wan must return to Padme with the bad news.

Episode II ends with that great scene where the helmet clicks into place and Darth Vader breathes for the first time. Roll credits.

Episode III

See what I did there? I proposed that Anakin becomes Darth Vader at the end of Episode II. That’s because we need more time to see the bad ass Darth Vader we all love. (We certainly don’t want our final images of him to be yelling NOOOOOO over some girl.) I’m proposing that Darth Vader’s royal bad ass-ness properly manifests after he’s in the suit. This happens in Episode III, which tracks the rise of the Empire and the final defeat of the Jedi Masters.

It is a story in which the Jedi and others make a last ditch attempt to curb the Empire, but Darth Vader is too awesome, too bad ass, and he kills off the Jedi one by one. Think ‘The Magnificent Seven’ or any other great film in which heroes you have followed fight alongside each other and fall. No rushed musical montage where they all get shot by stormtroopers. That scene from Revenge of the Sith is heavy handed and expository. The audience is being instructed to feel sad. But if we have journeyed with these characters through the prequels and watch them fall one by one over the course of the film then we don’t need to be told to feel sad; we will feel sad.

Episode III, then, is a series of battles between Darth Vader and the Jedi. Obi Wan thinks he dealt with Anakin in Episode II. Think of the drama when he comes face to face with this new black helmeted foe and realizes it is Anakin!

During this episode we also need to put a family in mortal danger: Anakin’s wife and twins. Padme will want to see Anakin again, not believing what he has become. The Jedi spend the movie protecting the family. But she will leave her twins – by now one or two years old – with Obi Wan, as she goes to confront Vader. She will end up facing Palpatine, defiant and unafraid as an indignant wife. But check this out: what if the Emperor kills her, you know, with his zappy blue lightning? And what if Darth Vader is too far gone at this point, watching impassively despite her pleading? How much weight will this give the identical scene 30 years later when Darth Vader stands watching his son suffer the same fate?

The climactic battle surrounding this scene will need to be devastating, in which the Empire defeats a key planetary stronghold, the last line of defence, which implies that the rest of the galaxy will crumble under the Empire’s authority. In ‘Revenge of the Sith’ the Empire is created at a meeting. Give me a break. Why bother with votes when you’ve got Darth Vader and the Dark Side of the Force? This is really important: the number one reason the Empire wins is because of Darth Vader. Without Darth, Palpatine can’t do it. Somehow, that needs to be shown. The Empire should be more like the Romans: just take over. Send in the Boss Man. That’s how the Empire is created. By the time we get to the original films Palpatine has an empire so he can call himself the Emperor. Easy. No politics.

Obi-wan and Darth Vader will need to have a final face off, which Obi-wan will lose. Perhaps Yoda can come in and give Palpatine a cool fight, but Yoda will lose too and it’ll be over. Yoda will run off to hiding and Obi-wan will take baby Luke to Tatooine. The last thing we will see is something important exploding, a entire planet, perhaps, reflected in the mask of Darth Vader.

Now that’s bad ass.