Well, what a summer of Star Wars it has been! It’s been a little over five months since I started my great re-read of the prequel era stories, starting with Darth Plagueis back in April. Since then, I’ve read quite a few novels and comics, although not everything that has been published in this timeframe – I’m not that much of a masochist. There have been ups and downs, for sure, and there’s a part of me that does still think I should perhaps have read everything, as I doubt I’ll be reading the odd Clone Wars graphic novel just for the sake of it, you know? But I’d still be on this re-read project in twelve months’ time, if I were to do that to myself…
On the whole, it has been a lot of fun. There were some short stories in here that I’d not read before, and there were a few books that I’ve only ever read once before, so it was nice to have the opportunity to read them again, and reacquaint myself with them. Especially because I read these things when they first came out, 20-odd years ago. Of course, when reading these things as one continuous story, cracks do appear, and it’s these cracks that I kinda want to explore a bit today.
So let’s take a moment to reflect back on the last five months of reading…
The Clone Wars
A common theme throughout my rambling “reviews” of these things is that I have been a bit disappointed by how the Clone Wars turned out. I’d be lying if I said I was fascinated by the idea of what the Clone Wars were since watching the original trilogy as a child – I had always just thought of it as a piece of history, there to give depth but nothing more. Knowing that the galaxy is now in a post-war period is all part of the setting, I didn’t have a thirst to know precisely what those clones were up to that caused a war.
Having the clones be the “good guys” was definitely a reversal that I don’t think many people had seen coming. Ever since Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy from the early 90s, we had the suspicion that the clones were the bad guys, and were led by evil “clone masters”. The threat of another clone wars was something that hung over a lot of the decisions being made by the New Republic, alongside the ethical battle of growing people specifically as soldiers.
The execution, though, does feel more than a bit slapdash. I mean, I struggle to think of this as a cohesive war, which is probably a problem of the galactic scale. The only common theme is that the clone troopers are fighting droids, but they do so on a variety of battlegrounds with seemingly no thought to strategy whatsoever – the end result is almost like galactic whack-a-mole, as the clones are deployed to a planet maybe because it wants to secede from the Republic, nothing is ever really explained as to what is going on, it’s just “here’s a battle! Here’s another!”. There’s talk of “Separatist space” as if there are borders, but this honestly isn’t the feel that we get from the various storylines, either in novels or comics (and certainly not the films, because they don’t show the actual war, after all). We never learn if it is better to live under the Separatists rather than the Republic, we don’t see much of the little people as the war goes on. There are “insurgents” and “freedom fighters” but we don’t really get any explanation of what the hell is going on. It’s like we just have to take it on faith that there’s a war happening because reasons.
Is that really the best we can expect?
The villain of the piece is Count Dooku and his Separatist Movement, something introduced in the middle of the second film of the trilogy. His name is just thrown out of nowhere, and we’re left a bit bewildered as to what on earth is going on. But the movies do look awfully good.
I’m not about to launch into some kind of “if I were in charge…” moment here, but I think the prequel trilogy would have made more coherent sense if we had significant plot points from the first two movies shuffled round. It’s almost to the point of episode two becomes episode one, where we could have Count Dooku deployed as part of the diplomatic mission to Naboo, he sees the political stagnation and, possibly, Qui-Gon’s death, and he decides to leave the Jedi. Given his influence, many worlds begin to think similarly and he begins the Separatist movement before the end of the film. Episode Two then becomes a war film, basically depicting the push-and-pull of the clone wars as we see the Jedi trying to diplomatically stop worlds from seceding from the Republic, while the Separatists actively invade others – possibly a retaliatory strike on Naboo where Anakin’s heroism can be shown, and provide a more credible love interest for Padme (but I’ll get to that later). One of the big let-downs of the trilogy, I think, is how we basically get the start of the war towards the end of one movie, then the end of the war near the start of the next, and there’s just not enough meat on the bones to allow it to make sense.
In many of the novels from this period, we get comments that tell us the Jedi were never supposed to be fighting the war, the war is going against everything the Jedi stand for, etc. Depa Billaba makes the point quite beautifully in Shatterpoint. It’s interesting how the war is almost designed to make the Jedi into something else, but again this is something that isn’t really delved into within the movies. It really makes it clear how the war is a fabrication, intended to break the back of the Jedi and pave the way for the resurgence of the Sith, but it’s unfortunate that more of this couldn’t be explored in the films, due to the massively condensed timeframe Lucas was working with.
I think if more explanation were given for why the clones are actually fighting, what brought about the actual conflict rather than a nebulous situation where planets want to leave the Republic but the Republic won’t let them, it would maybe make more sense. In some ways, the clone wars could have simply been a series of events like The Approaching Storm, where the planet Ansion tries to leave the Republic so the Jedi are deployed to mediate. What I want to know is, why did mediation get replaced with warfare? Were the Separatists forcing planets to secede? Doesn’t fit with the ideology. Were the Republic forcing planets to stay in the fold? Kinda proves the Separatists’ point. It’s just never explained why the clones are fighting. If the clone wars are actually nothing more than local disputes using the Separatist crisis as an excuse, like we see on Haruun Kal in Shatterpoint, then that’s a bit rubbish, though at least we’d get more of an explanation.
In Shatterpoint, there is the sense that both sides are arming opposing local factions to better-fight their own, local war. But why? The Separatists are trying to cause chaos, and perhaps make the Republic look bad by not being able to defend planets. But this is never properly explained, and it’s a bit of a rubbish take on things if that is the case. The other main problem with this, of course, is that it isn’t explained in the films.
I also think Lucas kinda wrote himself into the corner by calling A New Hope episode four – he has a maximum of three films to give the backstory, and it’s just not enough. It tries to cover too much ground, and in the end we have everything without enough justice done to it.
“…he was a good friend”
Obi-Wan fondly remembers Anakin when he’s telling Luke about their exploits. There’s an element of shielding Luke from the worst of it, for sure, but at the same time, you can tell that Alec Guinness has genuine warmth in his performance. When we get to see them together, the two of them are bickering, between Anakin’s petulant outbursts of “it’s not fair”. We spend so much time with him as a child in episode one, establishing that he’s basically the nicest kid ever, that the rest of the arc is rushed as we have the ever-present “he’s gonna turn into Vader, look!” kind of overshadowing.
Episode Two really misses a trick when they split up, and Anakin is given the task of having picnics and fireside chats while Obi-Wan is tracking down bounty hunters and uncovering mysterious plots. Now, I get it, Lucas wanted them together so they fall in love, but really Anakin should have been with his master. This is kinda where we get back to the idea of episode two being episode one, though – where it could well have been the case that Anakin and Obi-Wan were on a mission to track down bounty hunters and uncovering devious plots together, which leads to the clone wars breaking out. Then in the new episode two, when Anakin is tasked with defending Padme while Obi-Wan is leading the defense of Naboo, they have the time together to fall in love, once Anakin has a name for himself as something other than the winner of one podrace.
Unfortunately, there are only two, probably three scenes in the entire prequel trilogy where Anakin and Obi-Wan come across as actual friends. Which makes Obi-Wan’s remark in episode four a little out of the blue, much like how Count Dooku must be behind the plot to assassinate Padme when we have no idea who he is or why he’d be trying to kill senators.
The Rise of Darth Vader
George Lucas’ main objective with the prequel trilogy was to show how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, and to give that whole family saga arc to his six films. We start off with him as a small child, then leap forward ten years and miss out a great deal of his life. Rather than having the whole slave issue and tying everything back to Tatooine, I would have preferred it if we had begun with Anakin as a padawan learner, and we follow him on his adventures much like we end up following Obi-Wan. I mean, there’s a case to be made that the prequel films have a better storyline in making the saga about him, rather than Anakin. I know that Lucas had intended the six films to be about Anakin, but the original trilogy’s focus on Luke didn’t need to start with him as a little boy, so I think it would have been equally valid to start with an older Anakin.
I wish we’d had Anakin as a padawan in episode one, but as a generally good guy. Maybe he breaks the rules to get the job done, but he’s generally good. Then in episode two we get to see how good a war leader he is, and maybe he gets a taste for the power that comes from being in command of an army. He grows closer to Padme, and becomes enraged at the thought of losing her. When Palpatine plays into the possibility that he may well lose her, he goes over the edge and ends up in the black suit.
It’s an unpopular opinion, but I also think the old plot device of Palpatine stoking Anakin’s jealousy, making him think Padme and Obi-Wan are a couple, would be what comes between the two friends. It’s no doubt cliché, but then wasn’t the whole original trilogy?
As it is, I have no idea why Padme is interested in Anakin. His “it’s not fair” tantrums must be what get her going. Either that, or Palpatine is clouding her judgment too. Padme’s whole story arc is unfortunate though, as presented through the films. I have read some great fan theories online that try to explain things to us so that we get a different slant on her death, but sometimes you do need to squint and/or use some huge leaps of logic to understand them. As it is performed on screen, Padme goes from a teenage queen with a spine of iron to a battered wife who has nothing to live for, her twin babies notwithstanding.
The constant need to foreshadow Anakin’s fall to the dark side becomes an intrusive distraction within the expanded universe material, also. Yes, we all know he will turn into Darth Vader; even his costume in episode two is meant to foreshadow the black suit of the original trilogy. I think we end up with too much of this sort of brow-beating, and the story actually suffers for it. He’s never allowed to be a nice guy because the authors of these stories always have to show the simmering rage under his surface. It’s a comparison I’ve probably made before, but I’m continually drawn back to comparing Anakin with Horus, of the Horus Heresy series. In the first book, Horus Rising, Horus Lupercal is a genuinely nice guy, beloved of his legion and favoured son of the Emperor. His brother primarchs think highly of him, and he’s generally just a good man. He then gets injured in the next book, and falls into the hands of the wrong ‘un, Erebus, who takes him for some cult healing on Davin where he has his eyes opened to the Ruinous Powers, and he falls to Chaos, launching a crusade of violence against his brothers and father. Unless you count the schmaltzy kid bits of episode one, we never have nice-guy Anakin, and it’s to the detriment of the saga. I’m not suggesting the prequels should have been 54 movies long, but we need at least some good in there before it all goes to hell.
This blog is now getting slightly unwieldy though, and I’m thinking I might be on the way to a 54-volume critique of the prequels, myself!
More random thoughts
As it stands, we have a lot of interesting things going on here. I think it’s possible to make something more coherent out of what we have, just shuffling stuff around here and there. Lucas has obviously stayed true to his own vision, and while they’re enjoyable enough (at times!) I do think something is lost when you try to watch them as part of a coherent storyline. You could make similar comments about how we never really see “the rebellion” in the original trilogy, but rather there is a family saga unfolding with the rebellion as a backdrop, but it is nevertheless much better than the same saga’s origins being told against the backdrop of the clone wars. I have nothing against Jake Lloyd, but I do think it was a mistake to have child Anakin in episode one. Going back that far has caused too much of a time jump within the trilogy and it causes quite a bit of friction with the story.
When he was writing the initial drafts, Lucas said he split the story into chunks (quarters, then thirds) and made the middle bit first, because the first bit was more of an intrigue/noir story and he felt it wasn’t exciting enough for the time. I think it’s really only Obi-Wan’s storyline in episode two that comes close to that, but again I’m thinking of the missed opportunity for showing how worlds secede from the Republic, and how the Jedi could be leading covert ops into Separatist heartlands as part of the main war story for the Clone Wars.
But that circles around to the problem of what the clone wars turned out to be. A disparate series of nebulous conflicts, with no real clarity. Was that the point? It’s not like the rebellion, which is clearly a band of freedom fighters going against the oppression of the Empire. Most of the time, it is unclear why the clones need to be deployed to a battleground, or how a particular conflict seems to have escalated. In the EU material, we see Dooku leading worlds such as Tibrin to secede from the Republic, which is all fine and good. Would the Republic seriously throw a clone battalion at the Ishi Tib and bring them back by force? Surely that’s proving the Separatists’ point? As I said earlier, I guess I just don’t understand why a Separatist movement has caused so much actual physical conflict, because it is never spelled out for us. We’re just told to accept that some worlds want to leave the Republic, and now there are clones shooting the place up. Enjoy the lightshow!
I sound like I really hate the prequels, don’t I? I don’t, honestly. I think there is a great political storyline in there, which is why I enjoy novels like Cloak of Deception so much. I love seeing the machinations of the Sith, and the intricacies of their schemes. Following Palpatine’s plan through the various media is often a real joy, as we see just how many contingencies and how far reaching he actually thought. There are many missed opportunities for political thriller type stories, I think because in general there was a backlash to the politics as presented in episode one. In many respects, it has fallen to James Luceno to attempt to stitch everything together with the political narrative through his novels Darth Plagueis, Cloak of Deception and Labyrinth of Evil. There are so many moments that I enjoy from those books where there is almost that eureka moment, “ah, so that’s how it happened…” and the like. I still love the way Luceno shows how Valorum was discredited through Cloak of Deception, tying in beautifully to The Phantom Menace and making the whole thing just make so much sense. Labyrinth of Evil is similarly required reading for Revenge of the Sith, although I do feel like the balance is slightly off in the later book, and he was probably more constrained by writing a book that was published before the movie was released. Cloak is able to delve quite freely into so much more than Labyrinth is able to show, principally, I suppose, in the need to avoid spoilers. I think if it too had come out after the movie, then we could have had much more in terms of the tie-ins, perhaps more made of Bail Organa and Mon Mothma (with correspondingly more given to Padme than simply a disappointing meeting with the chancellor and then watching in horror as Coruscant is invaded). But that’s a minor point in the scheme of things.
I do have issues with how the Jedi have been turned into some kind of corporate entity, with Yoda as chairman of the board of directors (Jedi Council). It’s never stated one way or another in the original trilogy, of course, so there’s no actual case for saying “that’s not how it was supposed to be!” However, I do like the Jedi that we see in the Tales of the Jedi comics, where there are roving teachers who have a small group of students/followers/disciples, all learning at the feet of the master. I suppose it’s that image of Yoda teaching five or six students who have crossed the galaxy to learn from him, that has been in my mind prior to episode one. I’m sure there are old references to the Jedi being akin to wandering samurai or something (I’m not really up on that lore), so having them as a centralized organization just seems to fly in the face of its mysticism. But then, that’s nothing in relation to the midi-chlorians… For all that I dislike the direction taken with the Jedi Order, I nevertheless enjoy reading about what they get up to, especially in the pre-Clone War days.
During my re-read, I incorporated a lot of stuff that I would ordinarily not have read as part of “my personal canon”, to lend a phrase from goodreads. Stuff like Outbound Flight and Shatterpoint were included because it has been so long since I read them, but ordinarily I would confine myself to just a small handful of novels and then most of the Republic comics. In retrospect, I probably could have shaved a couple of months off this re-read if I had stuck to what I wanted to read! But anyway, it has been fun to go through these stories again, even if I am berating them for their lack of coherency, or the fact they aren’t showing the war, etc!
However, this blog has now rambled on for far too long, and I’m not sure anybody is even that interested in all this nonsense!
6 thoughts on “The Great Prequel Re-Read, 2022”
Man, it’s been 5 months already? This year is screaming by.
I really like your idea for how the prequels should have gone.
On an unrelated note, what’s your average word count for your posts?
I know, here we are staring down the barrel of Christmas…
Thanks! I was worried it might have all sounded a bit garbled really. Maybe I’ll indulge in a bit of fan fiction at some point again 😃
Years ago, I read somewhere that 1000 words is a good size for a blog post, so I usually try to aim for near to that (it’s not normally difficult, the way I ramble on!) but this blog post was over 3500 words… eek!
If you look at your wp stats, what does it say your average for the year is?
Blimey, it’s been a while since I’ve had a look at those stats, they’re kinda impressive, really! 1238 words, on average, per post. 132 posts so far this year! And there’s still three more months of the year to go!!
Nice! I think my average is 550, hahaha 🙂
Yep, lots of time to go for the gusto…