Back when I first got wind that George Lucas was going to do the prequel trilogy, I had a holy shit moment. I realized what the last scene of the third movie was going to be. Here’s that shot:
FADE TO BLACK.
SFX: A strange mechanical breathing begins and repeats three times.
FADE TO HEAD SHOT OF A BLACK GLISTENING DARTH VADER. THIS IS THE FIRST SHOT THE AUDIENCE SEES OF WHAT HAS BECOME OF ANAKIN SKYWALKER.
I have just described the scene that I (and just about everyone else) has been waiting for since the mid-90s and I’m finally going to see it. While I’ve been waiting, there’s been a whole lot of bitching about the first two episodes and, yeah, they did suck. They were visually appetizing, but… they… they weren’t Star Wars.
I listened to it all. Poor acting, Jar-Jar Binks, poor directing… blah blah blah… I generally agree with much of the bitching, but as the very positive reviews of Revenge of the Sith start to show up, I finally put my finger on the most significant problem with the first two episodes.
Nothing actually happens.
Everything that I’ve been wondering about since the end of Return of the Jedi actually occurs in Revenge of the Sith. Darth Vader. The arrival of Luke and Leia. The death of their Mom. (Padmé, still a dumb name) The elimination of the Jedi… the fall of the Republic. The banishment of Obi-Wan and Yoda… wow, there’s probably more and I have no idea how they’re going to fit it all into one movie.
Now, quickly, tell me what happened in the first two episodes. Hmmmm… Well, Darth Maul was pretty cool aaaaaaand the sound effects on those ships in the pod races were stunning aaaand then there was the second movie. Stormtroppers, right? And that three second shot of the future Death Star… I was all a’flutter.
Nothing happened folks. George Lucas put together one the greatest story specifications together when he was writing Star Wars and he clearly put a lot of thought into the back story which occurred before A New Hope… in fact, he liked his back story so much he teased us right out of the gate titling the opening credits “Episode IV: A New Hope”. We immediately ask, “What happened before this whole mess?”
A lot did. The prequel trilogy is the story of the fall of Anakin Skywalker and that back story needed to exist to tell the of his eventual redemption, but that fall just isn’t that interesting… anyone can fall in a hole, it’s how they climb out that’s a compelling story.
Star Wars is Darth Vader. He is the story arc which ties the first trilogy to the second trilogy. It’s his story and it’s a helluva tale, but as I sit here with my fingers crossed that Kevin Smith isn’t lying to me and that Spielberg’s tears are real, I realize why I feel my enthusiasm has been wasted on the first two episodes. When Lucas picked the number four for the first episode he’d film, he may have made a mistake. He locked himself into three prior episodes and he simply didn’t have the content to fill three movies.