My Revised Star Wars Prequels Pitch

While the Spanish Dub / English Sub experiment with the Star Wars prequels was fun, the movies were still not as satisfying as I wanted. I like what George Lucas was trying to do with these movies, and I like how the expanded universe (both Legacy and Canon) have tried to honor what he did with these films by filling in the blanks.

With that in mind, I decided to join all the other people who have tried to re-envision the Star Wars prequels. I don’t want to be cynical about it, though. Again, I think Lucas had a good story that he was trying to tell. I just think it needed to be re-structured with clear plot points along the way. So, I present my prequel revision. This is my attempt to tell the story that George Lucas was trying to tell. For me, this is a revision not a re-imagining.

Episode 1 – The Long Night

Last_Stand_On_Ord_Mantell_art
From Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell

In the revision, episode one will be a completely different film. There is growing unrest in the Republic as planetary factions become increasingly distrustful of Republic economic policies. Many systems believe the Republic is failing and that individual systems should set their own policies. Sort of a Federalist/Anti-Federalist vibe here. Into this environment, Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi have a standalone adventure. Through this adventure, we learn Qui-Gon’s back story. Qui-Gon first trained under a rather unorthodox Jedi master. This master challenged Qui-Gon’s understanding of the Force, the Jedi Code, and the Order’s place in the Republic. However, his master vanished and was presumed killed on a covert mission to system Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are currently in. Yoda took over Qui-Gon’s teaching, but Qui-Gon never forgot what his previous master taught him. Like his master before him, Qui-Gon continues to be unorthodox, though less antagonistic. He sometimes finds himself at odds with the will of the Jedi Council.

As to what Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon investigate, I admit that I haven’t come up with something I’m satisfied with at the moment. The situation deteriorates, however. Against the Jedi Order’s recommendations, the Republic chooses to use economic sanctions to keep the peace. This fails and a few planets secede from the Republic.

Along with the Jedi/Republic plot is the story of another master and apprentice. Darth Plaguies and Darth Sidious have manipulated Republic economic policies in a centuries-long Sith plot to destroy the Jedi. They aim to bring back the Sith Empire. In typical Sith fashion, Plagueis starts to pit his apprentice Sidious against his prized assassin, Maul. Plagueis also has an interest in ancient Sith alchemy, and has been trying to recover Sith teachings on manipulating the Force to create or influence life. He believes that by manipulating the Force, he may be able to create an army of unstoppable Sith Warriors.

Sidious kneels before Plageuis
From the cover to Darth Plagueis by James Luceno. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

In the end, Plagueis underestimates Sidious’s cunning. Sidious and Maul turn against Plagueis. With Plagueis dead, Sidious becomes the new Master with Darth Maul as his apprentice. What Sidious does not know is that Plagueis had been successful in his experiments.

The Republic now stands on the brink of war. The Republic has no standing army. It must rely on the Jedi to resolve the Separatist threat and keep more planets from leaving the Republic. If the Separatists become aggressive, however, there is nothing the Republic can do to stop them.

Episode 2 – Attack of the Cones

The Separatists are now led by a council composed of Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, representatives of the Banking Guild, and the mysterious Count Dooku. The Trade Federation insists that Gunray is acting on his own. The Separatists engage in their first military campaign against the Republic: the invasion of Naboo. The Separatists reveal their droid army, and easily conquer the planet. An assassin attempts to kill Senator Palpatine of Naboo. The Jedi council sends the newly knighted Obi-Wan in search of the assassin while Qui-Gon goes to Naboo. Neither Jedi has taken on an apprentice. Obi-Wan’s arc unfolds in much the same way it does in Attack of the Clones. He discovers the Clone army that was ordered by Sifo-Dyus (which was Sidious masquerading as a Jedi). He is imprisoned on Naboo, meets Count Dooku, and learns that Dooku was Qui-Gon’s old master.

Dooku Interrogates Obi-Wan
From Attack of the Clones. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

Qui-Gon, meanwhile, attempts to get Queen Amidala to safety. As in the original Phantom Menace, they run the blockade, end up on Tatooine for repairs, and discover a TEENAGE Anakin. Qui-Gon is amazed at how strong Anakin is in the Force. Qui-Gon gains Anakin’s freedom and, after getting Amidala to Coruscant, takes Anakin before the council. The council refuses Anakin as a Padawan. Palpatine also briefly meets Anakin, and is extremely impressed with him. He senses Anakin’s power, but also senses something dark, something familiar.

Palpatine manipulates Amidala to cast a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum. The movie culminates with a massive droid/clone battle on Naboo rather than Mustafar. Qui-Gon rescues Obi-Wan while Anakin helps Amidala retake her throne. Darth Maul appears, and the two Jedi fight him. Dooku reaches out to Qui-Gon, revealing himself telepathically through the Force. He urges Qui-Gon to join him. Qui-Gon, in a moment of shock at sensing his old master, is killed by Darth Maul. Obi-Wan fights and kills Darth Maul. Dooku escapes as the Separatist army retreats from the planet.

Darth Maul fights Obi-Wan
From The Clone Wars animated series. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney.

Maul’s presence has now alerted the Jedi that the Sith have returned and are somehow involved in the Separatist movement. Obi-Wan takes on Anakin as his apprentice to honor his fallen master. The Jedi Council does not approve, but they don’t forbid it. Anakin and Amidala begin a forbidden romance, though are not married at this point. Palpatine is elected chancellor of the Republic and is granted executive orders to fight against the aggression of the Separatists. He has the clone army at his command. The executive powers given to Chancellor Palpatine are not without precedent in the Republic, but in the past they had been used for economic aid or disaster relief. This is the first time they have been used for war.

Before the final credits roll, Dooku meets with Sidious and reveals that Maul died at the hands of the Jedi. He reveals that the Jedi now know the Sith have returned. Sidious appoints Dooku as his new apprentice. Dooku also mentions a powerful young man, Anakin Skywalker, to Sidious. “At his core is a great darkness, though I sense the Jedi could extinguish it.”

“Yes,” replies Sidious. “He could be a powerful ally. We must watch him closely.”

Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith

This movie unfolds much like the original. Anakin and Amidala were married in secret between eps 2 & 3. Major changes to this movie are that Amidala reveals the marriage to Obi-Wan late in the movie. This leads to a growing suspicion in Anakin that Amidala is seeing Obi-Wan behind his back. Amidala isn’t killed, but when Anakin uses the Force against her, it creates complications with her pregnancy. She is left in extremely fragile health, and, in the end, retires to Alderaan with Leia. She will die within two years. Palpatine is disappointed at Anakin’s defeat and the loss of his body. He hopes Vader’s strength in the Force will make up for the loss of his body.

Sith Lord Darth Vader with his Clone Army
From Revenge of the Sith. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

It is never explicitly stated, but Anakin was the first and only Sith Warrior created by Plagueis. Plagueis created him in secret and had planned to pit Anakin against Sidious. However, Plagueis died before this could happen. Instead the Jedi found Anakin and planted seeds of the Light Side that eventually flourished in Luke and Leia. Sidious grew to suspect who Anakin was, but the Anakin’s defeat at the hands of Obi-Wan limited Anakin’s abilities.

In the end, Luke as son of Plagueis’s Sith warrior, helps Anakin fulfill the destiny that Plagueis had intended: the death of Darth Sidious. However, rather than ushering in a new Sith Empire, Anakin destroys the Sith just as he helped destroy the Jedi, leaving the future of the Force in the hands of Luke Skywalker.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Death Star throne room.
From Return of the Jedi. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

While I know Lucasfilm has said the Star Wars saga films (Episodes 1 – 9) are films about the Skywalker family, I think it would be more interesting if the saga films were key points in the history of the Force. While other movies, books, comics, and shows could tell stories with or without Jedi and Sith, there is something satisfying about the saga films dealing with turning points in the Star Wars universe. The prequels are about the Sith destroying the Jedi and the Sith Empire finally destroying the Republic. The original trilogy is about the final downfall of the Sith at the hands of the non-Jedi freedom fighters with the help of the last Jedi. And it looks like this sequel trilogy (7-9) is about the future of the Force: What happens now that Jedi and Sith are gone?

So, obviously, we need saga films that explore the history of the Jedi and their conflict with the Sith. If you are interested, Lucasfilm, I have a pitch for Knights of the Old Republic. . . .

Star Wars Revenge of the Sith – Spanish Dub/English Subtitles

Overview

The Clone Wars have been raging for three years. The Separatists have boldly assaulted Coruscant and abducted the Chancellor. Anakin and Obi-Wan engage in a daring rescue that will set into motion the end of the Clone Wars, the rise of the Galactic Empire, and change the Jedi Order forever.

Revenge of the Sith blu-ray
Revenge of the Sith blu-ray cover. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm

Story:  8

It’s hard to know if this movie would be as good without the context of episodes 1 and 2. I almost wonder if I could do my own “machete” order that starts with The Clone Wars animated series and continues with Revenge of the Sith. Context aside, this movie tells a clear story of Anakin’s manipulation and fall. Palpatine preys on Anakin and works to drive a wedge between him and the Jedi  Order. And while this is the culmination of Palpatine’s conspiring, I think the fall of the Jedi Order and the Republic are clearly communicated in this story. I would love to tweak some things, but of all the prequel films so far, this one works the best with minimal (though still occasional) bad dialogue.

Characters:  8

This is Anakin’s story, and with the Spanish dub, it really works. The dialogue and the performance align better than they did in Attack of the Clones. There are a few missed opportunities to drive home Anakin’s mental and emotional struggle (and it would have been nice to see more wedges placed between Anakin and the Order in the last film), but overall, this story works.

Padme, unfortunately, has very little to do but be the pregnant wife and victim. The strength and drive of the character from previous films is missing. Her character beats fall flat, and Portman’s performance seems weaker than anything we’ve seen of her up to this point. Maybe she saw that the end of her contract was near.

Ewan McGregor is great, as always. Ian McDiarmid turns in a memorable performance, and while he goes often goes over-the-top, it at least works for the dialogue he had to quote. But, British over-the-top can still be fun. And I think this is where the characters largely succeed in this movie: they are fun where before, they weren’t.

Themes: 8

While the rise of tyranny is a strong theme in this movie, I was actually more engaged in the tension between the Jedi and the Sith. While the Sith are still somewhat enigmatic, mainly being characterized as “virtually identical to the Jedi,” the Sith don’t seem to have the detachment of the Jedi. The Jedi and Sith seem to be opposite extremes. And while there is truth in Yoda’s advice that death comes to all and Anakin should learn to let go, not recognizing the pain in Anakin pushed him further toward the Sith. This was a grievous struggle for Anakin. Palpatine effectively maneuvered him into a place where his idealism came into conflict with Jedi teaching. Dooku was a Sith Lord, and so he should die because Jedi kill Sith. But Anakin regretted this action. In an attempt to redeem himself, he urged Mace Windu to take Palpatine prisoner so he could be put on trial. Mace refused, revealing to Anakin that his idealism may have been misplaced.

I still think, however, that the believability and tragedy of Anakin’s fall would have benefited from more information about the Sith and their disagreement with the Jedi about the nature of Force.

Presentation: 8

This movie starts strong with one of the best depictions of full-on space warfare I’ve seen in a Star Wars film. It reminded me of those moments in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the camera would zoom over the caverns of Isengard to Gandalf, then down the side of Orthanc into the orc forges. The perspective shifts from high-level to personal, connecting to Obi-Wan and Anakin in their fighters. In fact, Lucas may have been paying a slight homage to this. Even the music starts with a dominant drumbeat.

There is a level of passion and excitement on the screen, which makes me think Lucas’s heart was more fully in this film, that this was the movie he wanted to make, but felt the others needed to provide context. This movie has great action choreography, a tighter pace for the storytelling, and more gorgeous cinematography.

Anakin walks to the Senate building
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Commander Cody recieves Order 66
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Ki Adi Mundi betrayed
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Lord Vader enters the Jedi Temple
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

After the disappointment of Attack of the Clones, I was worried about Revenge of the Sith. These concerns were unfounded. Apart from the occasional off line and some over-the-top performances by Natalie Portman and Ian McDiarmid, this movie was far stronger that the previous two. However, being so close made these occasional moments stand out. They left me wishing for one more script draft and one more take on a few scenes. That said, I was eager to continue the saga after finishing this film. If I had more time, I probably would have jumped right in to A New Hope. George Lucas left me wanting more, and that is certainly a great way to end this trilogy.

Final Rating: 8/10

Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones – Spanish Language Dub

Overview

This is part two of my experiment to see if the Spanish Language dub of the Star Wars prequels make these movie more enjoyable. In the previous post, I evaluated The Phantom Menace, and found that I liked the movie better. My problem with the prequels rests more on the dialogue and performances, so I theorized that the Spanish voice actors might do a better job delivering the lines. However, since I don’t speak Spanish, I have to watch the movies with English subtitles. Sometimes bad dialogue is easier to swallow if performed well or read.

So, how did Attack of the Clones hold up?

aotc-bluray
Attack of the Clones blu-ray cover. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Story:  7

After Senator Amidala narrowly escapes assassination, Obi-Wan and Anakin are assigned protection duty. While Obi-Wan investigates the source of the hit, Anakin guards Amidala as she returns to Naboo for safety. However, Anakin is at the mercy of a growing obsession with Amidala. The two soon fall in love—causing Anakin and Amidala to compromise their professional duties. But before these two can fully sort out their feelings, Obi-Wan’s investigation uncovers a conspiracy that threatens both the Republic and the Jedi Order, and plants the seeds to change both institutions forever.

Let’s start positive. Ewan McGregor is good, and the Obi-Wan plot is interesting. Maybe this is my preference for investigations, but it was fun trying to put the pieces together with Obi-Wan. Unfortunately, he comes across as a bit of an idiot when trying to find Kamino in the Jedi archives. These scenes were a bit of a misstep, but Obi-Wan tracking Jango Fett and discovering the Clone Army propel this movie along. As a long-time Star Wars fan, it was fun to finally learn what the Clone Wars were after their tantalizing mention in A New Hope, something I had wondered about for years. (Along with the Journal of the Whills, which had an interesting name drop in Rogue One).

Now for the bad . . . . The love story does not work. The Spanish language dub cannot save it. By using the English language dialogue, the film fails to salvage this story. The disconnect between the dialogue and the music made this excruciating. The love story between Amidala and Anakin is essential to the prequel story, and it just does not work. I never once believed these characters liked each other, let alone fell in love. In fact, the line delivery in the Spanish dub, when combined with Christiansen and Portman’s performances, almost changed the way I perceived these two characters.

Characters:  5

Anakin is written with no subtlety. The voice actors playing Anakin and Amidala do the best they can, and while their deliver is much better, they are working with horrible dialogue. To make matters worse, Hayden Christiansen chose to play Anakin as obsessive and frustrated while Natalie Portman played Amidala as uncertain and confused. The obsession and frustration combined with his frequent outbursts makes Anakin feel like a sexual predator who is manipulating the woman he is supposed to protect. Amidala never really seems to be in love with him, and so her growing acceptance of their relationship seems almost psychologically abusive. At times, I wondered if Anakin was using the Force to manipulate her. I don’t think this is what George Lucas was going for, and it was incredibly disturbing. For this reason alone, I don’t think I can watch the Spanish dub again. With the lines spoken in English, they come across as bad performances, which is much easier to take.

Themes: 6

I enjoy the recurring conflicts between Jedi, Sith, and Mandalorians in Star Wars. This played out again and again in the Legends stories, and thematically appears here with Jedi, Sith (Sidious and Dooku), and Mandalorians (the clones based of Jango Fett). This is a millennia-long conflict, and the Clone Wars mark the long-sought victory of the Sith and Mandalorians over the Jedi. Although, again, it isn’t quite as simple as the Mandalorians have split into factions, most for peace but one in particular for war. But that isn’t in this movie, and I don’t know how much of these ideas were in Lucas’s mind.

Beyond these themes, I don’t know that there is much to work with here. This movie seems less interested in saying something than paying homage to some of George Lucas’s film influences. Sometimes identifying these influences helps pass the time when the story drags. There is an interesting story underneath all this, a story about the rise of tyranny in times of threat and uncertainty. There is something brilliant about storytelling deep, deep beneath this. Unfortunately, I sometimes think this is more fan theory and wishful thinking than something that is actually on the screen. As with The Phantom Menace, I appreciate this film more and more as I think about it. And I will continue to do so as long as watch it as little as possible.

Presentation: 6

The cinemagraphy in this movie is good. Just look at these shots.

Anakin on Naboo, morning.
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Anakin questions Jawa
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Amidala embraces Anakin, Tatooine
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Additionally, Lucas pays homage to a lot of influences in this movie. First up is Christopher Lee, which makes a nice bookend with fellow Hammer Horror alum Peter Cushing.

Count Dooku talks to Sidious
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Then, of course, there is Jango (Django) Fett, which brings in a bit of the Western vibe (which The Clone Wars explores further in “Death Trap” episode.

Boba Fett mourns his father
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

The Geonosian arena feels very Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Geonosis Arena
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

We get a bit of a Blade Runner tinged Noir with the neon lights of Coruscant.

assassin-coruscant
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

And some of the battle scenes at the end of the film have a war documentary feel.

Clone Army
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Certainly, few films look like this. Few films look this diverse. Lucas is really flexing his visual presentation muscles here. It’s just a shame that the character moments and pacing aren’t as developed in this film. Maybe that’s not fair. I’ve definitely seen worse, but it feels bad because I think he was close to making it work.

Personal Enjoyment: 4

The Spanish dub of The Phantom Menace went from annoying to watchable. The Spanish dub of Attack of the Clones didn’t provide much in way of improvements. This romance in this movie still doesn’t work, not because of the performances, but because of the script. The love story is essential to Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, but at no point did I believe these two characters fell in love.

The movie also felt too long. The imprisonment and showdown on Geonosis takes over an hour! Often, pacing issues and length are more a consequence of not engaging with the movie, and that was definitely present here. I wanted to give up when I saw I still had an hour left and this was after having to slog through every scene with Anakin and Amidala, watching poorly written dialogue be delivered as best possible by two actors who had no chemistry or experience delivering lines this bad. It is because of this movie that the Machete Order doesn’t work for me. The movie looks good, there are interesting homages with the camera work, and Obi-Wan’s investigation is interesting. Everything else falls flat. I want to be positive. I want  to say the Spanish language dub covers a multitude of problems. But I can’t. Maybe with a different script, something could be salvaged. With the current script, though, it just doesn’t work.

Perhaps one day I will see what R. A. Salvatore did with the novelization. Until then, Attack of the Clones goes on the Rifftrax shelf.

Final Rating: 5.6/10

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – Spanish Language Dub

Overview

I want to like the Star Wars prequels. Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are great. John Williams continued to compose good scores. The cinematography and the location designs are beautiful. But two things continually trip me up: the dialogue and the performances of Anakin Skywalker, Jar-Jar Binks, and Padme Amidala. (Natalie Portman is hit-and-miss throughout the trilogy) Even the Machete Order doesn’t work for me because it doesn’t matter what order I watch the films in, the dialogue and bad performances don’t change. I’ve tried a few fan re-cuts, and those don’t work for me either because, while they may reduce some of the performance and dialogue issues, they introduce awkward cuts or pacing. Like it or not, as-is the movies are edited well.

I wouldn’t have spent so much time evaluating alternate versions of the film if I didn’t care. Again, I want to like these movies.

But recently, I took inspiration from foreign films and anime. What if I treated the Star Wars prequels like they are foreign films? What if I changed the audio track to another language, and turned on the English subtitles. Would that create enough distance between me and the dialogue to enjoy it? Would the voice dubbing provide different performances? A foreign language dub would also preserve the sound effects and the music. So I picked up The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, both of which have Spanish language tracks. I’m going to try each of the prequel films to see how they hold up. If they don’t, there’s still Rifftrax.

Here is part one: Spanish Phantom Menace.

TPM
The Phantom Menace blu-ray cover. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney.

Characters:  6

I’ll touch on this in the story section, but this movie tries to do too much, and with that, gives us too many characters to keep track of and connect with. And I don’t think we really connect with any of them. This movie essentially introduces a new world. It is a new era of Star Wars, and it looks different from anything we have seen before. We need a character to ground us, and that would obviously be Obi-Wan. But, if I had to pick a character that seems to be the focus of this movie, it is Qui-Gon. We see his journey. But we don’t get much indication of who Qui-Gon is. We need more moments to get his backstory, to connect with him emotionally. None of the characters really have a moment where we get to see who they are or what motivates them until very late in the movie. The biggest character moments are when Anakin goes back to hug his mother, when Qui-Gon defies the Jedi Council to take on Anakin as an apprentice, and when Amidala kneels before Boss Nass. And all of these happen very late in the movie. There are hints of antagonism between Qui-Gon and the Council. Why? What did Qui-Gon do in the past? Sidious and Maul talk about a plan that has been long in the making. How long? What is the plan? And, for that matter, what, exactly, are the Sith? Why do the Sith and Jedi fight each other? None of this is established in this film. We don’t get clear motivations for any of the characters, good or bad.

Now, I had difficulty watching The Phantom Menace in the past because of performance and dialogue. The Spanish performances are better. Much better. Spanish Anakin provides a good amount of emotion that wasn’t present in Jake Lloyd’s performance. I thought I would miss Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor’s performances, but I quickly got over it. And Jar-Jar is tolerable. There’s something about not having to HEAR the bad dialogue. In fact, the subtitles attempted to recreate Jar-Jar’s dialogue as much as possible, which looks like gibberish when you have to read it. In fact, it was easy for me to just not read it. I could easily skip over or skim his dialogue. I could even pretend that Jar-Jar was attempting to speak English (Basic, if we want to use the in-universe term), but frequently slipped into his original language, a type of Gunglish, if you will. The Spanish actor does attempt a Jar-Jar imitation, but not hearing the English dialogue made me able to tolerate it better.

Story:  6

What amazed me about watching the dubbed version is that it actually engaged the analytical side of my mind. Previously, I was too distracted by the bad performances and dialogue to be able to think about the movie beyond my emotional reaction. With the Spanish actors providing good performances, I could engage with the story in a new way. And, honestly, the story doesn’t quite work. I think it was an ambitious one, but this movie tries to do way too much. I think George Lucas made a mistake by starting this new trilogy with a highly political story. There isn’t adequate context for what he is trying to do in this movie. Everything is new. Despite this being the fourth Star Wars movie, we really don’t have a context for the Jedi Order, the Republic, the Sith, the Trade Federation, and pretty much every other thing in this movie. The only familiar things are Yoda, Obi-Wan, the Droids, and Tatooine. And it would make perfect sense to make Obi-Wan the focus of this film since he has the most reason to be on an adventure, and we are already familiar with him. As stated before, the main character, the character that we connect with as Lucas builds his world, is not evident in this movie. And honestly, in world building, it is better to move from simplicity to complexity. The Star Wars prequels should have started simple and become more complex as they went along. Oddly, despite not liking the derivative nature of The Force Awakens, by rehashing many plot points from previous Star Wars films, the movie actually becomes simpler. We’ve seen this before, which grounds us in this new paradigm. Now that we know the characters, we are ready to move into new, more complex territory.

But The Phantom Menace tries to do too much, and in doing so, it confuses the viewer, creates emotional distance between viewers and characters, and muddles the stakes. Since we have no context, we have difficulty caring about the stakes. I think this is why people find this movie so boring. Political maneuvering can be entertaining. We have a movie about Facebook and litigation that is extremely engaging and tense, so don’t tell me we can’t have an exciting Star Wars movie that is both political thriller and sci-fi action. The movie is boring because the stakes aren’t clear. I think Lucas should have started this trilogy with a different story, one that introduced us to this Star Wars era and these characters first, a simpler story that held hints of the complexity to come.

Themes: 7

In Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there is the idea that victory comes from unlikely places. Power and might lead to overconfidence. This is why a group of seven (and then two) had to destroy the Ring rather than send an army. It was an unlikely plan, a foolish plan, but one that Sauron would not have expected. The same thing lurks deep underneath The Hobbit, the idea that a group of 14 destroying a dragon and restoring the dwarf kingdom of Erebor would be inconceivable to the Necromancer, that this action would smash his influence in the North.

The idea of the arrogance of power and victory through unlikely sources appears in multiple Star Wars movies. A single exhaust port can destroy a battle station. A group of teddy bears can take on a trained military. A young boy can destroy a droid control ship. A bumbling klutz can accidentally be a good fighter. Victory from the unlikely. It is obviously an idea that resonates with George Lucas. In following the Force Qui-Gon recognizes that we cannot see how actions will play out, how an unlikely hope can turn the tide of war and re-shape the universe. Put another way, the Force works in mysterious ways.

Presentation: 6

Not being distracted by the characters let me see how rushed this story was. Again, the movie tries to do too much. It still looks good, the effects are great, the music is good, and the final lightsaber battle is fun. George Lucas can still direct a great space battle. But the stakes are confused. It is hard to keep up with what is going on and why I should care. Better performances by the Spanish actors made it more evident that the characterization was unclear. Sadly, the very fact that I had to listen to the Spanish dub to enjoy this movie is a huge strike against it, though huge praise to the Spanish actors and actresses. There is a good story underneath this movie, but it just wasn’t told well. At one time we had the Legends novels and comics to fill in the context, but now those are gone and this movie currently has to stand on its own as an introduction to the prequel era.

TPM-cinematography
The Phantom Menace cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

With The Phantom Menace, I felt like I came in to a movie that was already in progress. Even though Disney and Lucasfilm have currently shown no interest in fleshing out this era, I would love to see them do something to provide context for The Phantom Menace. Okay, ideally, I would love for them to do a complete prequel-era reboot. In fact, I’m writing a three-film outline that I will post here soon. I want to re-imagine the prequels and try to tell the story that George Lucas was trying to tell. I don’t want to give my ideal version of the prequels. I want to find a way to tell Lucas’s story in a way that would be engaging, clear, and not contradict the rest of the canon. (I love The Clone Wars animated series, so I want to preserve that as much as possible.) But as it stands, TPM tries to do too much. It doesn’t do good world building. It doesn’t give us characters we can connect with who have clear motivations. That said, I enjoyed watching The Phantom Menace for the first time. I have never enjoyed this movie, but the Spanish dub works for me, and I can actually see myself revisiting it in the future.

Final Rating: 6.4/10

I hope to update next Friday with Spanish Attack of the Clones, then the Friday after that finish up with Spanish Revenge of the Sith. I’ll round off my Spanish Prequels experiment with my pitch for a Star Wars Prequel revision.

In the meantime, I would be interested to hear your thoughts. I’d encourage you to try out a dubbed version of TPM. Let me know if you do. Also, there have been a lot of negative words written about TPM. So, let me know what, if anything, you like about the movie.

Thanks for reading.

Star Wars Legends: Revan

Overview

Revan was written by Drew Karpyshyn, who was part of the team that developed Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic. The novel continues Revan’s story, providing linking material between KotOR 1 and 2, shows what happened to Revan and The Exile (Meetra) after KotOR 2, and provides background on the Old Republic MMO.

Cover for the Revan novel

Story:  9

Revan is divided into two parts. Part 1 shows why Revan vanished between KotOR 1 and 2, and largely portrays events Revan’s search for Mandalore’s helmet and the elevation of Canderous Ordo to the title of Mandalore. These events were mentioned in KotOR 2. However, Revan’s secondary motivation is to discover a planet covered in storms, a planet that he saw in his dreams. But along with Revan’s story, we meet Lord Scourge, a Sith assigned to protect Darth Nyriss, a member of the Sith Dark Council. Scourge prefers actions to talk and politics, which is unfortunate since he is quickly manipulated into an insurrection against the Sith Emperor, who Nyriss believes will one day destroy all life in the galaxy in order to ensure his continued rule. Agreeing that the Emperor is insane, Scourge joins the insurrection. Eventually, they capture Revan.

Part 2 of the novel takes place after KotOR 2, and deals with Meetra’s search and rescue of Revan. In the end, Scourge, Meetra, and Revan find themselves working toward a common cause: assassinating the Sith Emperor.

From what I have seen, this novel has been divisive. While people tend to enjoy part 1, part 2 has been criticized for retconning Revan and Malak’s turn to the Dark Side. And yes, this novel does indeed retcon their change. This was fair game, however, as we never saw where Revan and Malak went in the Outer Rim beyond finding the Star Forge, and the Exile started off for the Outer Rim to search for Revan after KotOR 2. According to the Wikipedia article for KotOR 2, the planned third game would have dealt with the Exile encountering Ludo Kresh’s faction of the Sith, the group that didn’t side with Naga Sadow’s plan to invade the Republic. While Revan doesn’t go with this original story, it does play on the idea of a Sith Empire remnant, and it embraces the idea that the Sith Emperor saw Sadow’s defeat, and decided the Republic was too strong to attack. Instead, he decided to bide his time, and later corrupted Revan and Malak in an attempt to see if the Republic had weakened. When the two fallen Jedi did not return, he decided to continue waiting.

While I know this annoyed many fans of Revan, I enjoyed the attempt to bring resolution to Revan and Meetra’s story. (A story I know is dealt with further in the Shadow of Revan expansion for The Old Republic. I’ll get there eventually). This story may not have been the one Bioware or Obsidian would have told at the time, but it did juggle the pieces well. And since I read this novel while I was also playing KotOR 2, I was impressed with how well they fit together.

Characters:  8

Yet another area in which this novel is divisive, fleshing out somewhat blank-slate character that gamers were able to inhabit can be tricky. While Revan and The Exile have back stories, the emphasis of both games was that their pasts didn’t matter; who they are as player characters matters. Add to that the question of Revan’s gender, and polarization can occur. So what is Revan’s gender? There was a line early in KotOR 2 where Kreia mentioned Revan being female. There is a dialogue option that says, “I heard Revan was a man” or something to that effect. I think it was a clever addition on the developers’ part to do this since it allows players the option of continuity between the two games. Later in the game, Mandalore referred to Revan as male, and I assumed that was influenced by the dialogue choice early in the game. But does this make Revan male or female? I don’t know if Bioware or Obsidian had given a definitive answer to that question until this novel.

That said, I like that they alternated gender. I really enjoyed the Exile’s story more, and I was thrilled that she became a major character in the second part. I also liked that T7 and Canderous appeared. I was disappointed that Bastilla didn’t play a larger role and that the other characters didn’t appear. For example, what happened to Atton? He and the Exile headed off into the Outer Rim at the end of their game, and he didn’t get so much as a mention in the novel.

But the characters we got were good. I liked how Nyriss played Scourge. I also enjoyed Sechel and the exploration for how Sith with almost no Force sensitivity could use manipulation and deceit to move up the ranks. But what really impressed me was how Karpyshyn orchestrated Revan, Meetra, and Scourge’s team up. He did a great job of unifying them in a common cause and of showing Scourge’s musings of the Jedi and their philosophy of the Force. No, they were never going to be friends, but at the very least, Scourge grew to respect their differences so long as they had a common cause. In the end, Scourge’s decision when they faced the Emperor made sense according to his journey. In a way, his ending is as tragic as the others. It reminded me a bit of Paul Atreides’ decision in Dune: what is the best of the bad scenarios?

I would have liked more about the Sith Emperor himself, but I think that will have to wait until The Old Republic. (My character is probably nowhere near meeting the Sith Emperor. So far, I have a Jedi Knight and a Sith Agent characters in Chapter 1 and the Prologue, respectively.)

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

As far as I can tell, it was trying to set up SWTOR while bringing some amount of closure to the KOTOR games.

Was it successful in doing it?

Somewhat. I think some fans will say no, but it fit well enough with what was set up in the games. I would have liked to see more of the characters from the games, but the leads were covered. And the way this novel ended probably didn’t help people like this one more.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

Yes, as I’m always up for seeing the Old Republic era in the new canon.

Style: 8

Karpyshyn is a good writer. His prose is clear and easy to follow. I liked how different chapters were from the third-person perspective of the character they followed. Thus, we gained information as Scourge, Revan, or Meetra gained it. It was fun when the chapters switched between Scourge and Revan while Revan was imprisoned. We got to see how each manipulated the other. The book is a quick read, too. I look forward to the next SW book by Karpyshyn, and I may check out some of his non-SW books.

Personal Enjoyment: 9

I really enjoyed this one. I read it as I played KOTOR 2, so everything was fresh in my mind. I think the book supplemented the game quite well. I didn’t mind the retconning, probably because KOTOR was just okay for me. But I enjoyed getting some small amount of closure to those stories (until I get to Shadow of Revan, which will hopefully resolve more). I also can’t wait to journey further into the SWTOR era through the books, comics, and game.

Final Rating: 8.4/10

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Overview

Lost Stars is by Claudia Gray, and it is the first Star Wars young adult romance novel. I was apprehensive about picking this up when I first saw it. I don’t remember hearing about it when the Journey to the Force Awakens line was announced. But word of mouth has been positive. In fact, word of mouth has largely been that Aftermath, the “adult” novel set after Return of the Jedi in the new canon was a disappointment and that Lost Stars is the novel we had all been waiting for. I haven’t read Aftermath, so I can’t judge this, but I do know of its reputation. I’ll get there soon enough.

Lost Stars Cover

Story:  7

Lost Stars is about Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. Both are from the planet Jelucan. Thane is an aristocrat and Ciena is more of a peasant villager. Their positions in society would normally keep them apart, but they bond over their love of flying. When they were young, they met (and impressed) Wilhuf Tarkin. Both dream of joining the Imperial Academy. They spend their youth training with the Kyrell V-171. They eventually join the Academy, they become star pupils, and they each have promising careers ahead of them. Well, until the Death Star and Alderaan. After Alderaan, Thane finds his loyalty shaken. Ciena’s loyalty is shaken as well, but the loss of innocent Imperial lives (and friends) at the hands of Rebel terrorists ultimately strengthens her resolve. Soon, the childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of the galactic conflict and struggling with their growing feelings toward one another. In all, a very personal story played out on the galactic scope we have seen in Star Wars. Everything culminates in the Battle of Jakku, the final stand of the Empire against the Rebels.

While the story is well told, it shines with the new material: the Jelucani culture, the experience of the Imperial Academy, Thane’s time on the crew of The Mighty Oak, and the Battle of Jakku. But I confess I lost interested when the novel covered episodes from the original trilogy. Sometimes it seemed like Thane or Ciena were doing things just off camera. Ciena disabled the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon on Bespin; Thane was a soldier who investigated the abandoned Rebel base on Dantooine. It put me in mind of some Lord of the Rings video games where your character is part of the B-Team, having the same experiences as the leads, though of slightly less importance. This can be fun, but I think I have grown weary of it. So much of the emphasis in Star Wars right now is on the Imperial/Rebellion era. This feels like the Star Wars galaxy is shrinking. But this is also why I enjoyed the moments that took us to new places. I’m eager to see this new era of Star Wars build the canon, not give fans more of the same.

Characters:  8

Ciena and Thane are memorable and distinct. Because Gray goes deep into their heads and emotions, we get a lot of information about who they are and what motivates them. I enjoyed Gray’s perspective on why someone would continue to support the Empire after Alderaan. She created Imperial characters that were not evil or corrupted by Sith. These were people in conflict with their personal ideologies and trying to find a way to remain faithful to their beliefs even when evidence challenged that. This is a very human struggle. And since the Empire as portrayed in the original trilogy was not based in religion or mysticism, this had to be a secular struggle.

But along with Ciena and Thane, many of the secondary characters are good. We meet people who are killed in the first Death Star. We see how an Alderaanian officer responds and copes with his loss. We meet new friends and old, and all the characterization seem to fit.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Lost Stars tried to be an entertaining, YA Star Wars novel while shining new light on what happened after Return of the Jedi.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yeah, I would say so. I can’t speak for where it ranks in the YA romance genre, but it was largely entertaining.

Was this a good Journey to the Force Awakens?

Yes and no. Again, where we covered old ground, I was less engaged, but I enjoyed learning about the Battle of Jakku. Even more, I enjoyed seeing some of the power struggle after the Emperor’s death. There was good stuff in these sections, though far too little.

Style: 8

Gray’s style is immensely readable. I only had two complaints: the font (not her fault) and a few places where transitions weren’t clear. This may have been an editing issue. While we spend far more time in characters’ heads and emotions than I was accustomed to for a Star Wars novel, this is likely due to YA conventions. Regardless, this book can probably be read over a couple of days, despite being over 500 pages.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

As stated before, the parts of this novel I didn’t enjoy as much were the “behind the black” moments, the moments where this novel takes place just off camera of the original trilogy. I would have preferred more post-Jedi content, but what we got was good. And I really enjoyed the moments on Jeluca and with The Mighty Oak crew. Lost Stars isn’t my favorite of the new novel in the canon, but it is certainly an enjoyable one.

Final Rating: 7.6/10

Star Wars Legends: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords

Overview

Knights of the Old Republic was made by Bioware, but KotOR 2 was made by Obsidian. I have enjoyed games by both companies. I was a bit nervous about KotOR 2, however, because I wasn’t impressed with KotOR 1 and I had read that KotOR 2 has many bugs due to a less than ideal release schedule. I picked the game up during a Steam sale and used the Sith Lords Restored Content Mod, which purports to restore much of the content cut from the game and to fix most of the game-breaking bugs.

kotor2loadscreen

Characters:  9

As with its predecessor, KotOR 2 has very good characters. You play as the Exile (named Meetra Surik in later Star Wars Legends novels. I will refer to the character as Meetra). The Exile has been traveling the Outer Rim since she was removed from the Jedi Order, her punishment for following Revan against the Mandalorians. The Exile was the only Jedi to return to the Council for judgment. As the game progresses, you pick up a number of companions, each is memorable, and a couple even start as adversaries. The characters have distinct motivations, and your interactions in relation to their motivations increases or decreases your influence, which dictates how much about themselves they reveal. The NPCs are also interesting. When you find the Jedi Masters that exiled you, each has a distinct personality that makes them memorable. The NPCs help make the game-world feel fleshed out.

Story:  8

The story of KotOR 2 is much more complex than KotOR 1. Where the first game was a straight-forward Star Wars story of good versus evil with a very good twist, KotOR 2 is a meditation on war, consequences, autonomy, power, meaning and hope. It is a far darker game, and this darkness comes from the ideas it explores. The titular Sith Lords also represent ideas, from Sion who is the Lord of Pain to Nihilus, the Lord of Hunger. KotOR 2 lives in the grey areas of the Star Wars mythos. It outright rejects the idea that the Sith are evil and the Jedi are good. Instead, the Jedi are flawed humans with immense powers whose philosophy didn’t help them when they faced near annihilation. The Sith are also humans, but they are ruled by desires that have taken over all other impulses. Much like C.S. Lewis’s description of damnation, the Sith Lords are humans who have given themselves over to an idea to such a degree that they have ceased being human and are now a living expression of that idea.

As part of this exploration of the grey, the Exile awakens on Peragus Station, an Outer Rim mining station. She doesn’t remember how she got there, but after exploration she finds only two living beings on the station: Atton, a rogue, and Kreia, a Force user. Hostile droids roam the station, and dead bodies of station workers fill the halls. As you investigate the station and try to find a way off, a Republic cruiser arrives at the station, and Kreia warns of the Sith Lord on the ship. This opening is extremely creepy and unnerving, and it strongly sets the tone of the game through the music and visuals.

Eventually you learn that the Jedi have vanished. Many people think you are the last Jedi. With the Jedi gone, the Republic is on the verge of collapse due to the cost of the Jedi Civil War. The Republic has also committed to restoring the planet Telos, one of the first planets to be devastated by Revan. Telos has become a symbol of the Republic’s ability to restore peace and heal the galaxy from the war. Unknown interests have placed a large bounty for any Jedi, so you have bounty hunters hounding you. Also on the hunt are HK-50 droids that are being produced from an unknown location. Their mission is to kill you. And through all this, Revan, once Sith Lord now hero of the Republic has vanished. With a new Sith menace striking quietly from the shadows, the Exile and her team are the only ones who can stand against the new threat, and your decisions in the game determine if the Jedi Order will be restored or if it will die out, and the Republic along with it.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

I think it was trying to continue the story of KotOR while adding new depth and philosophical analysis to the Star Wars mythos.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yes . . . though with caveats. The game was full of bugs, and while the mod fixes many game-breaking bugs, there are still quite a few issues with pathfinding, team warping/response, and random background changes during dialog scenes. These bugs are distracting and take away from the story. Additionally, sometimes the plot and motivation are not clear unless you take certain dialog options. While I don’t think there is anything drastic here, these small issues add up over the course of the game.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

This is a great story with a lot of critique of the dualism present in some Star Wars stories. So, yes, I would love to see this story adapted into the New Canon in some way.

Gameplay: 8

As mentioned above, there are a lot of bugs. While nothing broke the game, there was one bug that I feared would. While dealing with the Red Eclipse assault on the Ebon Hawk, when the mission ended, the game would load the next map, and my character would die. On the third attempt, I made sure I had maximum health before initiating the final dialogue for the mission, and this fixed the problem.

There isn’t much change in basic gameplay from KotOR 1. There are a few new Force powers, new Feats, and new Influence mechanics. I also liked that my ratings on different skills sometimes offered different dialogue options . . . and these weren’t always better choices. Sometimes they might annoy the other character. But while the gameplay hadn’t changed much, there was something about the game that was more fun than KotOR 1. Maybe I understood the combat better; maybe Obsidian tweaked it a bit. Either way, I enjoyed it more.

The level design was much improved in this game. I think the only places that I didn’t enjoy the level design were revisiting levels from the first game, and that was only Dantooine and Korriban. All other planets in KotOR 2 were new, which I appreciated. They felt like real spaces, and I could often get a feel for where things were without constantly referring to the map.

Also, there are a few places where you get to play as NPCs or as one of your companions. One mission had you play a re-programmed protocol droid, one was a solo mission for HK-47, there were frequent instances of playing solo as Mira, and in one section you get to choose a team to rescue the Exile. These missions broke kept me on my toes and forced me to use characters that I hadn’t specifically used. They forced me to branch out a bit, and I appreciated this.

And the music definitely fit the game. While Jeremy Soule’s music in KotOR 1 was good, Mark Griskey’s score for this game was atmospheric, dark, brooding, and always seemed to fit the situation.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

I struggled to quantify this category. Up until the end of the game, KotOR 2 was a solid 9. The ending, however, is sudden and lackluster. A third game was definitely being set up, but that has, sadly, never come to fruition. (Although, the Revan novel builds off some of the ideas that were setting up the sequel, though doesn’t go in the direction that Obsidian was initially planning.) When I finished the game, I didn’t have that feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing a great game. While I enjoyed most of my time playing the game, the ending definitely doesn’t feel worth it. I was very glad that I was reading Revan alongside KotOR. It provides a type of epilogue. But more on that later.

In general, I think KotOR 2 is a conceptually stronger game than KotOR 1. The improvements made to level design and the new Feats and Force Powers are great, and I love the philosophical questions and the story in this game. There are a few places where KotOR 2 could have improved on gameplay over the first game, and the bugs that are still present even with the mod are highly distracting. And again, that ending is just not satisfying. Overall, even with these flaws, I still prefer Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords over its predecessor. If you liked the gameplay of the first game and want to wrestle with some deeper questions about the Force, the Jedi, war and mass destruction, hope, and redemption, I recommend checking out this game . . . with the Content Restoration Mod, of course.

Final Rating: 8.2/10