I’ve been a Star Wars fan pretty much my whole life. The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was Return of the Jedi when I was 7. As a kid, I was Han Solo for Halloween 5 years in a row (no joke). When I was in college, Lucas released the Special Edition Original Trilogy, so I had the chance to introduce Sunny to the series.
So you can imagine my delight in now sharing these movies with my own children. I had some minor surgery in October for a deviated septum, but knowing that I was going to be confined to the couch for a few days, Sunny gave me an early birthday present: the complete series, remastered and updated. So for the past few months, we’ve enjoyed watching all six films together as a family. Now, each day I field at least a dozen Star Wars mythology-related questions: Why does Anakin go over to the dark side? Why does Yoda tell Luke that he must kill Darth Vader? If he killed Vader, wouldn’t that make Luke evil, too? Good questions, right? And they’ve forced me to think long and hard about this series that I loved as a child.
I used to argue that the Star Wars franchise was the greatest saga in cinema. That was prior to Peter Jackson’s superior LOTR trilogy. If I remove the nostalgia from the equation, there are quite a few flaws in Lucas’ oeuvre. It’s still an incredible tale and the bells and whistles of the final three films make up for some of the grievances. But there are still plenty of things I’d change if I were Lucas for a day.
To wit, here are the Top 10 improvements I’d make to the Star Wars franchise:
- Scrub up the dialogue. I once read a quote Harrison Ford gave in an interview where he was asked about the corniness of some of the original trilogy’s dialogue. Harrison said something like, “Yeah, I used to tell George on the set, ‘George, you can write this stuff. You just can’t say it.’, which is why Ford ad-libbed a great deal of his lines, including his infamous “I know” reply when Leia confesses her love for him. I wish Hayden Christensen would’ve employed the same latitude in the latter trilogy. His scenes with Natalie Portman as Anakin and Padme are falling in love are some of the most poorly scripted in the entire series. Episode III is clearly the best of the recent films, but the climactic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin is ruined for me by cheeseball lines like this one (spoken by Anakin): “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.” The best thing we could do is rewrite some of these forced, canned, cliched lines, especially Anakin’s.
- Jedi. There are so many things wrong with this film. For starters, Han Solo, the most interesting character in the entire franchise, is basically benched for the whole film. He spends the first half bumbling around blind; he spends the second half baby-sitting teddy bears. Beef up Han’s thread here; put his life on the line; heck, I’d even be okay with killing him off in some sacrificial, save-my-friends-for-the-sake-of-the-mission sort of way. Anything’s better than what we get. And I don’t mind the Ewoks…I mean, my kids love ’em, so whatever. But it’s just crazy that they help overthrow the Galactic Empire with twigs and rocks. Also, Boba Fett is arguably the coolest bad guy in film history. He deserves a better demise than the bungling “accidental” offing he gets at the hands of Han. Give us a more satisfying square off between these two. If you need ideas, watch this clip for inspiration:
- No Jar Jar. Period. I get what you were thinking, Lucas. But this was just a bad idea. Not cheesy bad, like this bad idea. Not cute bad, like this bad idea. Nope, Jar Jar is just plain bad bad. Meesa say the series would benefit from a cosmic mashing of the delete button here.
- Han shoots first. In the new version of Episode IV, Lucas changed Solo’s encounter with Greedo at the Mos Eisley Cantina. In the original, Solo quickdraws Jabba’s green-faced bounty hunter; in the edited version, Greedo fires first, misses at point blank range, prompting Han to shoot out of self defense. Lucas defended the edit, citing a desire for young fans of the series to understand that Han’s hand was forced and he had no choice but kill Greedo. Come on. We all know Han shot first. And we’re all okay with the character’s moral ambiguity. In fact, it’s what makes his development all the more compelling.
- CGI Yoda in IV, V, and VI. One of the best elements of the new trilogy is the unshackling of Yoda. The wizened Jedi has new life as a computer-generated character, freed from the shackles of Muppetdom. We see Yoda moving about freely, teaching younglings, even sparring with Dooku and Palpatine. His facial expressions — strained and contorted in the original films — are capable of a more holistic range of emotions when digitized. This may sound like sacrilege, but I’d love to see CGI Yoda throughout the entire series.
- A better opening scene for Episode I. In Terry Brooks’ fantastic novelization of Episode I, he begins the series with an opening chapter detailing Anakin’s life as a young child on Tatooine. I think that’s a much stronger introductory scene than Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan’s visit to the Trade Federation space cruiser. Go for mythological, not political, in your opening shot.
- Midichlorians? What? We were already on board, Lucas. This explanation was unnecessarily scientific. Just say, “Look, the Force is responsible for this one, boys.” We were willing to look the other way.
- A Qui-Gon appearance in Episode III. Since the whole Obi-Wan appearing to / communing with Luke is such a big deal in the original trilogy, it would’ve been nice for Qui-Gon to make an appearance in Episode III to set up this whole plot device. Think about how dramatic the scene would be: Qui-Gon comes to Obi-Wan either before or after his climactic duel with Anakin and enlightens him on this new discipline he’s learned. Instead, we get Yoda saying, “Oh, by the way. Your old master stopped by. Said he’d learned how to resurrect himself. Hope you figure it out, too.” Weak.
- Better casting. I’ve already picked on Christensen, but for the most part, he’s a quality Anakin in II and III. Jake Loyd, on the other hand…well, let’s just say he has the whole brooding thing down pat. Not much else, though. I’d love to recast this part with someone who can imbue the character with a bit more mystery, a little less “Yippeee!”
- More Darth Maul. Hands down, this is the coolest character in the Star Wars pantheon. Sure he wears too much makeup, but a) he has horns, b) he drives a sweet, sand-dune crawlin’ hawg, and c) he was rocking the double light saber before Count Dooku made it uncool. (And for the record, “Dooku” ranks as the worst science fiction character name of all time. Ask any five year old, he’ll tell ya.) The only bad thing about Maul is how little screen time he actually gets. Why create such an awesome character only to kill him off so quickly? Think about how awesome it would be if Dooku had never existed and Maul carried his story forward instead? In my rendering, Maul survives his initial showdown with Obi-Wan, leads the Separatist army in the Clone War (destroying many a world along the way), squares off at the end of II with Obi-Wan and Anakin before engaging in an epic light saber duel with none other than Yoda himself. He narrowly escapes, only to be hunted down and executed by Anakin at the start of Episode III. That, boys and girls, is a character arc. And nobody has to hear the name “Dooku” ever again.