Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Better Vader: How the Prequels Could've Been Saved

Darth Vader is one of the most iconic villains in film history. Yet the story of how he became that villain is a mess.

I've been thinking about this post for years. It probably started about four minutes after I walked out of my first viewing of The Phantom Menace, but I've been thinking about it more with Rogue One coming next month. The problem with the prequels is simply the clumsy way the central story is told: how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. He's introduced as a slave boy, who becomes a powerful warrior, who turns to utter evil. The device they chose to get Vader to turn is his forbidden love for Amidala. He fears she will die and submits to the dark side in a fruitless effort to save her.

That's not awful in theory, but it's terribly unconvincing in its execution, and the three movies just collapse because of it. What's really needed is a story that makes his dark-side conversion believable, and also sets up his later redemption when he saves Luke and kills the Emperor. The prequels do not achieve this double-purpose at all. You need to show how Vader became a servant of the Emperor. Vader becomes a vassal of the Emperor, not a partner, and in that subtle reordering we will sow the seeds for Vader's eventual redemption.

The elements are there. What's needed is a tight story that brings them together.

What I've come up with is a story that builds from Episode I to III amid a corrupt, decadent Jedi order and a crumbling Republic. It turns on a new Jedi order established by Qui-Gon and including Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Amidala. The order is dedicated to restoring the old glory, and to fight a group that is killing Jedi, a group led by Darth Maul, whose role will be greatly increased. The final confrontation between Maul and Anakin is the event that turns the latter to the dark side. And that's not even the crescendo. The dramatic peak is an epic battle between Qui-gon, Obi-Wan, Amidala, Yoda, and Vader and the Emperor.