I have seen lots of bad movies in my life. Most of them are soon forgotten. But only one film betrayed me to such a degree that I continue to think about it years later. I am speaking of coarse of the ruination of Star Wars with the prequels (yes, I can be that much of a geek sometimes). Fixing these stories is the subject of hundreds of fan made YouTube videos and thousands of webpages, so at least I’m not alone. I shutter to think of hours that have been spent as fans discuss what it was that made Star Wars jump the shark. Was it Jar Jar? Midi-chlorians? Or was it Lucas lavishing attention on special effects and zipping around the galaxy trying to squeeze as many creatures, star ships, Jedi, planets, and cities into the movie as possible while leaving plot, character development, acting, and dialog as a mere after-thought? I think we all know the unfortunate answer to that question.
I actually (surprisingly) can not watch them again. Unlike the originals which I can watch over and over, I can not sit through the prequels again. I almost believe the entire prequel series was nothing more than an extravagant commercial for the Lucas Arts games (which are quite good by the way).
A new, new hope?
There is no doubt (for me) that the films will eventually be remade (please let it be in my lifetime). There is too much interest in it. As soon as Lucas decides he is ready to make another billion dollars, he will remake them. And this time, I hope, he will let someone else do the writing and directing. So, in anticipation of a remake, I am offering my opinion. I also hope that by publishing this, I can once and for all exorcise the demons that haunt me and free my mind from the psychological burden Lucas has shackled me with.
Pretend with me that the prequels never existed, and let’s come up with a new story. Frankly I don’t care about episodes 1 or 2, they can and perhaps should be set 100’s or 1000’s of years before (how far back do we need to go in order to get different some new characters?). 1 and 2 and can be truly unique stories featuring the Jedi at the peak of their power. I am only concerned about the one that supposedly connects with the original trilogy. The rise of Darth Vader.
What was wrong with prequels?
If you don’t know, I’m afraid I wont be able to explain it to you. It is obvious for anyone over the age of 12 and there are a ton of reviews online that explain it well and for the most part I agree, yes, the dialog in movies was bad, yes the acting was bad, yes I thought having all the same characters as the original made the universe small, but my main complaint is the story itself. The story of how Anakin Skywalker was corrupted by the dark side. In a movie filled with impossible things, the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader as Lucas told it seems the most impossible. Why? Because nothing in the human experience suggests that corruption works that way.
The corruption of Anakin Skywalker – Lucas Version
A loose cannon Jedi investigating a Trade / Banking conspiracy find a small boy (born from a virgin mother no less) who has high concentrations of Midi-chlorians (cellular bacteria similar to mitochondria and chloroplasts that make the force work). They take him to see the Jedi council for evaluation. They forbid training because (surprise) the boy is too old (nothing new here, apparently this is what they always say). So the Obi-wan trains him. Training Jedi consists of following another Jedia around and smarting off (even Luke had more training than Anakin). By the time he is about 19 he meets his childhood crush and a relationship develops into a cheesy romance. He starts having dreams in which she dies. These dreams, a few speeches about how the Jedi are holding him back, and a few conversations with the Lord of the Sith, are all the motivation he apparently needs to switch to the Dark Side. He walks into the Jedi school, and kills a dozen kids, then tracks down Obi-Wan and tries to kill him. His wife dies, his arms and legs cut off, he is rescued and put into his suit and renamed Darth Vader. Does that make any sense at all to you? It doesn’t to me.
It is impossible that THIS was the life of Anakin Skywalker. It is so inconsistent, so shallow, so unbelievable that I refuse to accept it into my Star Wars universe. Just like I never accepted The Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage (1984) , Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985), The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), or Star Wars: Droids (1985) to be “real” Star Wars” films, so I have disowned the prequels. As Yoda would say: “That bad, they are.”
The true nature of good and evil
The story of Darth Vader should be a story that explores the causes of corruption. What defines a villain? What makes someone evil? This is a topic that is very important in today’s world. As the means of the corrupt get ever more sophisticated, the public needs a good lesson every now and then to build up its immune system against real “evil”. People need to learn again why certain things are wrong, why others are worth fighting for, and to remember that we all have a great capacity to do good and must be on guard against the “Dark Side” of human nature. The truth is, it is very easy to slip into the Dark Side. It happens to good people all the time – its called: “Just doing your job.”
What is evil?
My definition of evil is pretty simple – “to act, or fail to act in way that causes or allows suffering”. As there are degrees of suffering there are also degrees of evil. “Failing to act” means apathy, indifference, willful ignorance, or compliance (“Just doing my job”) with policies that lead to death and suffering.
The causes of evil
Buddha may claim suffering is caused by attachment – I’m not disputing that. But causing others to suffer is done because they have something you or someone you work for wants or needs and you are unable or unwilling to make them a fair trade to get it. They are somehow in your way. The root cause is obvious and has been documented for hundreds of years and known as the seven deadly sins:
- Lust – Dante described Lust as an “excessive love”. When does love become excessive? In my opinion it happens the moment it overpowers reason. The man who puts his family, his career, his own life in danger for one night. If you’ve ever been watching the news and wondered what they were thinking, you’ve probably seen someone whose reason was overwhelmed – temporary insanity, lust – the animal within overcomes the thinking man.
- Gluttony – the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Nothing describes the current American consumer better. Excessive, unsustainable consumption leads to resource depletion, environmental degradation and reduced ecological health. In order for America to exist the way it does, in order to preserve our “keep up with the Joneses” mentality, we have to use the resources of the entire planet. For everyone on earth to do that, we would need 5 planets. See the StoryofStuff.com. In the longterm these effects can lead to increased conflict over dwindling resources and in the worst case a Malthusian catastrophe. (In agriculture – http://www.themeatrix.com/)
- Greed – Greed is, like Lust and Gluttony, a sin of excess. However, Greed is applied to the acquisition of wealth in particular. These include disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, or treason, especially for personal gain, for example through bribery. Scavenging and hoarding of materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by means of violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are all actions that may be inspired by greed.
- Sloth – Apathy, an unwillingness to care, to act, to reach ones full potential. In my view, a failure to take a risk in order to do what is right or to stop suffering. Although it is often seen as one of the lesser sins, in aggregate it has the largest impact. The only way small minorities of people are able to commit the other sins and cause suffering is because the rest of us are sloth. If we all acted as Jedi, or as police of our own communities and took a stand for what was right, no tyrant could exist. Tens of thousands of soldiers have had the opportunity to stop war crimes (maybe even war itself) but for sloth did nothing. War can not happen without the soldiers. Corporations can not rape cultures without workers. Good people have a role in everything bad. You may say, “they will just put someone else in that role” – maybe, but not if everyone said as you do – this is not acceptable, I will not do it, I will fight this.
- Wrath – Dante described vengeance as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite“. Wrath may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. These feelings can manifest as vehement denial of the truth, both to others and in the form of self-denial, impatience with the procedure of law, and the desire to seek revenge outside of the workings of the justice system (such as engaging in vigilantism) and generally wishing to do evil or harm to others. The transgressions borne of vengeance are among the most serious, including murder, assault, and in extreme cases, genocide. (See Crimes against humanity.)
- Envy – St. Thomas Aquinas described Envy as “sorrow for another’s good”. It differs from Greed in that with Greed, you want things – in Envy, it is not so much your wanting, as it is you wanting others NOT to have it. “If I can’t have it, no one can”. In Dante’s Purgatory, the punishment for the envious is to have their eyes sewn shut with wire, because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low.
- Pride – In almost every list Pride is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and indeed the ultimate source from which the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others. Dante’s definition was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbor.”
So these are all very human emotions. Any one of them is motivation for evil. Both you and I, dear reader, no doubt have all seven active in us right now. What differentiates good from evil is weather you acknowledge and try to fight these things, or if you plot and cultivate them.
Why good people do bad things
From my experience there are a couple only two valid reasons for people turning really, obviously bad: Chemistry and Culture
Chemistry: I would wager that almost all really big time evil-doers are chemically imbalanced in some way either due to genetics, drug addiction, or disease. Chemicals are at play in all emotions. Change the chemicals you change the nature and the intensity of the emotion. Change it enough and the person loses control. If I was to rewrite Star Wars I would probably give Aniken a drug addiction. Nothing so completely changes a personality, alienates, and dehumanizes people as an addiction to a mind altering drug. Lucas most likely did not want to do this to maintain the family nature of the movie. But come on, if you are going to cut off a mans head in the opening scene I think you should at least warn people that this is an avoidable path you do not have to go down. The most avoidable dehumanizing, desperation causing element in modern society (other than poverty) is drugs. A heroin addiction should do the trick.
Scientists have discovered a trait that thrill seekers seem have in common – lower levels of a brain chemical called monoamine oxydase which seems to control dopamine levels. The less you have, the more a rush you get when something happens. Over time, as with any chemical addiction, your brain adjusts to the higher levels and you need more and more to feel the same high. While most of us can get our fix from everyday life, these people feel the need to jump out of planes, swim with sharks, etc. What starts off as laughing when you are tossed in the air as an infant by a parent, develops into a love of the high dive at the pool, horror movies, roller coasters, sky diving, etc. Anakin does seem to have this thrill seeker trait in the films, but it is not a clear motivation for switching to the dark side. Even the surfer movie Point Break does a better job of equating thrill seeking with crime.
Culture: By far the most damning human control mechanism is loyalty to a grand vision – otherwise known as “the end justifies the means”.
Here is how it works: a leader paints a picture (as he should and as all leaders do). It is a vision of something good. Something you agree with, something you can really get passionate about and believe in. Maybe its is a perfect society, a land of milk and honey, maybe its increased profits, a higher stock price, Christmas bonuses, maybe its a cure for cancer, a higher crop yield, cleaner water, a safe zone for commerce, lower crime, a drug free America, a secure border, an afterlife with God (and seventy virgins), universal health care, or maybe it’s just good old fashioned Freedom. Whatever it is, you agree and you want it. You believe in it, and you want to help make it happen.
So you sign up. You join the military, you take that corporate job, you pay your membership dues, you do what it takes, you go to work. Fine, so do I.
But eventually, there is one small detail, one small bump in the road, one barrier between US and OUR goal. Something you may not totally agree with, but the end justifies the means right? If one man has to die so 100 can live free, thats ok right? We need to dam this river for water and electricity but these people must lose their homes. But hey, that’s progress right? We can get cheaper labor in China and not pay medical benefits. There is gold in that mountain, but to get it we have to pollute that creek. These farmers are growing drugs, we have to burn their fields. We need to move this inventory. We need sell this house – this guy will buy it but he has bad credit – be creative. That meat is bad but we can’t afford to throw it out – be creative. Those people disagree with us, they are ruining our plan, we have to shut them up – be creative. That man is a terrorist. He must die.
Lot’s of bad things happen all the time but most of it is institutionalized. That means the blame is spread out so that each little part is, in and of itself, mostly harmless. It doesn’t trigger anyone’s sense of moral outrage. Even if it is bad, people justify it by “looking at the big picture”. “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” they say. Testing these bombs and building this arsenal ensures our security and provides a deterrent for war. These people are a backward tribe of savages – why shouldn’t we take their resources, if they aren’t using them, someone should. We are just making better use of the land.
“Ok – fine, but wait Ben, now your talking about evil at the large scale of a whole society. What does this have to do with Darth Vader?” you ask.
“That’s right,” I say, “I’m talking about the Empire – the society and culture Darth Vader lived in.”
The Lucifer Effect
The original Star Wars films drew sharp lines between good and evil. Darth Vader was a symbol, a focal point of the culture he lived in. He represented the Empire. He was an emotionless man, entrenched in an emotionless bureaucratic (and evil – i.e. causing suffering left and right) system that dehumanized death and suffering. Remember, in the first movie, the empire (not Darth Vader) committed the biggest atrocity – an entire planet (Alderian) was destroyed just to demonstrate the power of a battle station – the Death Star. The destruction of Alderian was the by far the biggest crime in the entire series and justifies the rebellion. Vader did not pull the trigger or order it himself, but he was an enabler and stood by while it happened. Why? What was the grand vision so large and inspiring it would turn a Jedi into a man that would stand by while that happened. In fact, every one on that Death Star went about their lives as if nothing happened. Did they believe the Empire was bringing peace to the galaxy? Did they think that planet needed to be destroyed? I am reminded of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhicker’s guide to the galaxy where earth is destroyed in the first chapter in order to build a hyperspace bypass. While this is so ludicrous and irrational it is funny, if you suspend disbelief as we are asked to do in a film, you would expect outrage from the characters.
In that system, The Empire, you can understand how a man like Darth Vader could exist. There are easy parallels to governments and corporations on earth. You don’t have to envision Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany to find the effects of institutionalization on individuals. Look at the Stanford prison study an experiment where college students were randomly assigned roles as either prisoners or guards. Once given uniforms the students began to behave violently toward each other. The guards became abusive, the prisoners depressed to such a degree the experiment had to be stopped.
Heroes and Villains
Star Wars created powerful icons in the first films. Icons are useful to society to help us communicate complex ideas very quickly. There are many icons that have this power but Darth Vader was one that stood for ruthless machine-like determination to accomplish an end and to gain more power no matter what the personal cost. He we was willing to destroy his son, even his own body to achieve his goals. In this respect he was no different than any other henchman. But how do people become that way? I imagined that he had been trained to follow orders, without question, to complete the task no matter what must be done. He is the ultimate example of a man who believes the end always justifies the means. It wasn’t until the very end that he discovered he was ruining his own and other people lives for nothing…other than to give more power to the emperor.
After watching the prequels I was very disappointed. Aniken had no strict military training and no discipline. The empire which in the first three films was made up of officers that we even more evil than Darth Vader yet we learned they we all clones in the prequels? huh? The backstory Lucas was telling looked good but made no sense.
Darth Vader Was a Bully
Some kids are bullies. Bullies enjoy being cruel to others. They have contempt for the weak and view them as their prey. They lack empathy and foresight, and do not accept responsibility for their actions. They are concerned only about themselves and crave attention.
- The bully who does not understand social cues and therefore reacts inappropriately and often physically. This is the person that interprets everything as an attack. When accidentally bumped into takes it as an attack and fights back.
- The bully who plans his attacks and is charming to everyone but his victims.
- The bullied bully who gets relief from his own sense of helplessness by overpowering others – 40% of bullies are bullied at home or at school – but Aniken does not seem to be bullied in any sense.
- The bully who is cold and calculating. Since his parents do not monitor his activities or take an interest in his life, he learns to abuse others when no authority figure is looking. His bullying can be planned and relentless, as he constantly humiliates his victim, often getting other children to join him.
- The bully who is prejudice or racist and has not learned empathy and compassion. The parents of these bullies often have prejudices based on race, sex, wealth and achievement. Other people are just competitors who stand in the way. They encourage the child to always be the best in sports or academics, and others must be kept in an inferior position. Aggression is rewarded and respected, and humiliating others is tolerated. Compassion and empathy seem like weaknesses.
There is an excellent article on bullies at http://www.byparents-forparents.com/causesbullies.html
The real story of Darth Vader
This is my version – Aniken had joined the Republican Guard right after high school when he is 18. His strength, determination, courage, and loyalty had rewarded him with promotions eventually putting him at as the right hand man of the emperor (not second in command, but more of a hit man, a dark guard). If you watch the HBO series Rome you see an example of this in the character Lucius Vorenus a soldier of Julies Caesar. From what we learned from Ben Kanobee we imagined they were colleges who at some point in the coarse of carrying out there orders, were faced with a moral delimia, perhaps they we sent a target that contained no enemy combatants but just civilans. OB1 wanted to abort the mission, Aniken disagreed. “We complete the mission.” It is his ruthless determination and lack of compasion that make darth vader an icon in the first films. None of that exists in the prequels.
Changes to the prequels:
Part of me wonders if the prequels should even be about Darth Vader at
all. It seems odd that a Jedi could turn to the Dark side at all, the
only way that could really happen is if, like in real life, the lines
between good an evil we not so clear. Aniken would need to be a man of
strong beliefs and a certainty that the right end justified any means. After thinking about, I have come up with a few options:
Option 1) Aniken Skywalker and the Sorcerers Stone
I would use a more Harry Potter type of training environment. An academy for Jedi where there are classes, tests, and skill challenges. At some point, they are taken to work with Yoda, on Dagobah (thus explaining the bunker Luke and Yoda encounter in Empire Strikes Back). Yoda only trains a few Jedi at a time. Ainikin’s turn comes when his master is in trouble on another mission (similar to what happened to Luke). He almost immediately wants to leave because he believes there is nothing for him to learn there (since Yoda does not teach fighting but rather the more spiritual side of the force) and second, that his friends need him. He leaves one night but instead of helping Ainikin is then captured by the Sith and goes through a tourture process that is meant to break him down and make him convert (similar to to the prison sequence in V for Vendetta that Natalie Portman’s character goes through) . Before releasing him, they inject him with a serum that will make him turn to the dark side.
Once home, medical scans reveal nothing. The other Jedi, even Obi-Wan accuse him of making the whole thing up. He lashes out in anger and violence. At night he has nightmares every night that the serum is turning him. He gets increasingly angry at everything. Tired from lack of sleep, his body gets weaker, his resolve fails. Previously unbeaten in practice deuls he begins to lose to even the weakest Jedi – hurting his proud self esteem. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan decides to investigate if maybe Aniken’s claims of being captured by the Sith might be true. He goes to see Yoda. Yoda retrieves an ancient book on Sith practices. Obi Wan asks why aren’t these files in the Jedi Archives. They are Yoda explains. But in this world of science, only that which is testable remains fact. Over time, with the Sith extinct, these stories went from fact, to history, to legend, to myth. They are still in the archive but now they are tagged as myths. Among the pages, Obi Wan finds the story of how the Sith would inject their protege with colored water. The “serum” would be undetectable by scans (because there is nothing there) but would eat at the young jedi’s mind. It would turn his friends against him and weaken him. Horrified Obi Wan rushes to find Aniken. But Aniken, after being defeated again in a practice deul, losses his temper and takes his real lightsaber and kills the boy.
When Obi-Wan arrives he, he is too late, Aniken stands over the fallen boy, he disarms Aniken and confronts him. In an emotional scene he explains that the serum was just water – Ainken is convenced other wise, he sees this as a final blow to his dignity and is enraged, he grabs his light saber and challenges his master to a deul. In his weak state and frantic state he is no match for Obi-Wan and is defeated and injured quite badly. When Aniken awakens he is with the Sith again. They kidnapped him while he (one of the Sith work at the academy) was unconscious but explain to him that they rescued him. That Obi-Wan had tried to kill him. They fix him up and tell him that he can join them and become a Sith. That they appriciate his power, and that he doesn’t understand the mission of the Sith. They are trying to bring real peace to the galaxy. That the Jedi are corrupt, that they serve a Republic that has made slaves of all systems in order to feed its unbridled overconsumption. They show Aniken the dark side of the galaxy, sweat shops, toxic waste, a string of planets left uninhabitable. The Sith want to bring balance back. But he must prove himself and his loyalty. Aniken, feeling he has no choice and believe in the big picture, accepts. He kneels and is given his weapon and cape. He is trained with the Sith. We see him learning powerful tricks of the Dark Side. At the end of his training he is required to fight to the death with his training partner. He wins. Darth Sidus tells him is now a Jedi Lord and gives him name and his mission.
Option 2) V for Vendetta – This movie is so perfect for the Star Wars remake I honestly believe the Wachowski brothers did it to show Lucas up. Even going so far as to cast Natalie Portman opposite the dark, vengeful, masked hero. Both V and Vader commit crimes, but there is an important difference. The motive is very clear and understandable with V and we can actually relate and cheer him on. Every line, every scene of V could be adapted into a Star Wars Prequel. Apparently I’m not the only one that feels this way either.
Update: The original video that I listed here was removed from youtube and I have not been able to find it again. If you have it, please let me know. It was http://www.youtube.com/v/fxi47t8Q3I4
In fact, I feel so strongly about it that I have developed a kind of selective amnesia that allows me to blissfully pretend that V for Vendetta tells the real story of how Aniken became Darth Vader. In my version the back story has him captured and tortured by a corrupt government with a secret so vile it would destroy them if told. He is forced to by his since of duty to infiltrate and destroy an evil administration.
In a touching scene, Natalie Portman discoveries that V is responsible for a man’s murder.
“Did you kill him?”
“Will you kill others?”
(Very short pause) “Yes.” (only a very slight sense of remorse, as if he is sorry that it is necessary, not sorry to do it).
Watch V again and you’ll see what I mean. It is a perfect replacement for Star Wars, just add the theme music, change the mask (or not – I don’t think the Guy Fawkes version looks half bad), let James Earl Jones voice do the voice over, add a scene where he sleeps with Natalie Portman, (off camera please) to explain how she has his kids, and instead of dieing at the end, he survives (but barely) and now his suit has life support (so in the prequel he where’s a suit but no heavy breathing in this one, save that for A New Hope). Oh, and instead of three prequels, just have the one…you can even keep the name V for Vendetta – the V stands for Vader.
Keep the plot, the script, the actors, and all the scenes – just change the scenery a little (don’t go overboard damnit!). Now, about the ending….obviously, we need the emperor to survive which does throw a bit of a kink into things…personally I think Star Wars jumped the shark with the introduction of the emperor in Empire Strikes Back, if there was an emperor, he should have been a normal man (no force) and let Vader truly be the last of that religion (except Ben and Yoda…and Luke, and Leia?).
Looks like someone else has the same idea! Take a look at this video:
The only real problem with my V for Vader concept is the same problem the prequels had – which is Vader can not be a lone wolf in Episode 3 and then be entrenched in a bureaucratic hierarchy in A New Hope. I mean, where did all those officers come from.
A much better version with Padme as the emperor
Option 3) “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’… I release the safety-catch of my light saber”
In order to write a truly good prequel to Star Wars we have to examine the real life stories of the evil second in command. Take for example Herman Goering. This was Hitler’s right hand man. A truly evil man. (It is not until he wakes up on River World that he finds redemption – totally different story). Let’s see if this man’s life would be suitable for adaptation in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.
It takes time to work your way up the evil chain of command and it involves a level of detachment from society, ruthlessness, and a flair for the dramatic – this man had all of these. World War 1 flying ace (achieved through lies and trickery – he steals a plan to pretend to be a part of the air force – but perhaps earned in the end), a true flare for the dramatic including fixing up a castle and dressing in medieval attire, joining the Nazi party where he is injured at a rally (shot in the groin), starts using morphine, becomes a dangerous and violent addict, is locked up in an insane asylum, loses touch with reality.
His famous quotation (which is always apt in these times of war) shows he had the :
Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. …Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
At the end of the war in the Nuremberg Trials the verdict was read:
“There is nothing to be said in mitigation. For Goering was often, indeed almost always, the moving force, second only to his leader. He was the leading war aggressor, both as political and as military leader; he was the director of the slave labour programme and the creator of the oppressive programme against the Jews and other races, at home and abroad. All of these crimes he has frankly admitted. On some specific cases there may be conflict of testimony, but in terms of the broad outline, his own admissions are more than sufficiently wide to be conclusive of his guilt. His guilt is unique in its enormity. The record discloses no excuses for this man.”
Any of these, I feel would be better options. And now I send these ideas out into the web and at last the child in me that loved Star Wars can rest in peace. (But I still want to see them remade.
Lucas, you call me when your ready.
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