A Young Boy's Complaint
Portrait of the Writer as a Young Boy, October 1977
I was a young boy in the summer of 1977. I cannot overstate how much I loved the movie Star Wars, how it changed my creative thinking, and how it raised my expectations for every science fiction show or movie that followed it. I collected an army of Star Wars action figures, stared at my posters and movie stills, and listened to The Story of Star Wars, on LP (!), until I had huge swaths of dialog from that first film committed to memory. I still remember, without having to check, that the Millennium Falcon is “the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs,” and that Luke Skywalker “used to bulls-eye womp rats in [his] T-16 back home. They aren’t much bigger than two meters.”
I did all this while waiting impatiently for the next two films to arrive. This was at a time, before even VHS was readily available, when the next time I could see Star Wars was when it came back around to my local movieplex.
I am, of course, not alone in my devotion to this movie. There are millions of us, through the decades, all over the world. Together, we made George Lucas a very rich man.
Unfortunately, Lucas was completely unprepared for fans like us.
He jealously guarded his property from the corporate raiders at 20th Century Fox, but he unwittingly ceded control of his universe to us, the kids who loved his movies, who played with his merchandise and ran around in our backyards, pointing our fingers and shouting “Choop-choop! Choop-choop!”
He never understood, for instance, why Boba Fett was so popular. After all, the bounty hunter played only a small role in Empire and Jedi, and had almost nothing in the way of a speaking part.
But, Boba Fett was a cool toy! For those lucky enough to have the 12” version, it was a fantastic gift, a toy on the scale of Buzz Lightyear. But even the small version of Boba Fett was full of fascinating details – a mysterious, paladin-style helmet, a missile on his back, a thing on his wrist that could have been a gun.
(I did not ever own a big Boba Fett, but I did have one of these. He was a favorite.)
In a promotion from Kenner to get us psyched up for the upcoming Empire, we were able to get a free Boba Fett action figure with a few proofs of purchases. We had these toys for months before the film was released in the theater. By the time we were sitting in our seats, waiting for the lights to dim, Boba Fett was already a legendary villain, the focus of thousands of hours of imaginative play. (I think, more recently, Darth Maul went through a similar transformation. Our fascination with this character far outstrips his screen time.)
To put it simply, we were not passive consumers of Lucas’ entertainment product. We were active participants, deeply invested in the characters and storylines. And if Lucas was going to make random, wholesale changes to those storylines, such as making the villain the father of the hero, or making the hero and heroine siblings instead of romantic partners, he should have consulted with us first!
The contradictions and random plot twists of the Star Wars storyline has been discussed at great length in other forums, as have the flaws and shortcomings of the second trilogy (Episodes 1-3), so I won’t spend too much time on this here. I must say, however, that as a young boy, I found them painfully difficult to accept.
How could Darth Vader be Luke’s father, after Ben Kenobi had clearly stated something different in the original Star Wars? Watching Alec Guinness, one of the most respected actors of his generation, squirm through the drivel Lucas had written for him to explain this plot twist, was embarrassing. That scene in Jedi justified my indignation two years earlier. I had been right, and Lucas was wrong.
And Princess Leia is Luke’s sister? That was just a cheap out of the Luke/Han/Leia love triangle. Couldn’t you have thought of something better?
Lucas was working from an obsolete set of dramatic rules, based on the old movie serials that he grew up watching. As he has said in interviews, the serials ran one per week, all through the summer. By the time you got to episode eight, you had forgotten much of what happened in episode one, since you only saw each episode once. The writers had the freedom to contradict themselves in the name of coming up with intriguing and exciting plot twists.
The closest contemporary equivalent we have to the old matinee serials are serial dramas, like Lost. Lost, an amazing blend of realistic drama and bizarre fantasy, was also known for its inconsistencies and random plot twists. But, with Lost, we knew we had signed on for a wild ride. (Polar bears on a deserted tropical island?) The contradictions and plot twists came so fast, we couldn’t keep them all straight, especially if we had only seen each episode once. Only when the DVDs came out could we really deconstruct the show and point out elements that never made sense or were poorly explained.
The problem with applying this model to the Star Wars series is simple: we had all seen the movies multiple times. We had years between movies to ponder and play, fantasize and memorize. If I knew that a womp rat was bigger than two meters, if I knew Mos Eisely was, not just a bad place, but a “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” I sure as heck knew Darth Vader and Luke’s father were different people!
We know what’s wrong, but how can we fix it? Lucas tinkers away with his flawed masterpieces without improving them, while creating more problems than he attempted to solve. The “Han Shot First” campaign is a mess of Lucas’ own making, a tempest he brewed in his own teapot.
No more tinkering. Removing Jar-Jar from Episode One soothes the pain but does not heal the wound. I’m going to start over again, this time with a clean sheet of paper. Nothing will be sacred or given – everything, from this point forward, is up for consideration. Some of my revisions are radical, and I don’t expect that everyone will agree with me. I will do my best to uphold the spirit of the Star Wars universe that we know and love.
Following Lucas’ example of what not to do, I won’t start in the middle and work outwards. I’m going to start at the beginning – before the beginning, even. This is Episode Zero.
My first assertion is the cry of my younger self: Darth Vader is not Luke’s father; Luke and Leia are not siblings.
That would make Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker different people. We can keep Padme Amidala, the brunette, as the mother of Leia, but we still need a father for Leia and a mother for Luke.
I’m OK with Senator Palpatine being from Naboo, the same place that the Amidala Family hails from. And, I like the idea that he orchestrated some conflict which resulted in him becoming Chancellor, and eventually Emperor.
I like Maul. In fact, I like the idea, presented in the You Tube video “What if Episode One Didn’t Suck?” that Maul survives and continues on as a key enemy of the Jedi in Episodes Two and Three.
This eliminates the need for General Grievous. I would rather have two or three fights between Obi-Wan and Maul, with higher stakes each time.
Count Dooku can stay, but maybe in a different role. He’s too noble and smart to be Palpatine’s lackey. Perhaps he is a genuine leader resisting an over-reaching Chancellor.
Before I go on, I need to take issue with something that is, at this point, embedded in the tradition. The name “Darth” has become some kind of Sith title. Darth Maul, Darth Sidious, Darth Revan. It sounds cool, but what about Darth Vader?
In my re-imagining, Darth Vader is his own guy. He does not take on this name after murdering/transforming Anakin Skywalker. He’s Darth Vader from the beginning.
If you read the original novel or watch Episode Four again, there is no indication that “Darth” is a title. In fact, Princess Leia very mockingly calls Darth, “Lord Vader.” If “Darth” is a title, why also call him “Lord?”
Check also the scene in which Obi-Wan and Vader face off in the Death Star hanger bay. Obi-Wan says, “You’re only a master of evil, Darth.” Here, he does not have the mocking tone of the young princess. He is speaking to Vader, teacher to pupil, much as Dumbledore speaks to Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: “You should not have come back, Tom.”
Darth is Vader’s first name. That’s my assertion, and I’m sticking to it. So, Darth Maul is now just Maul. When Palpatine is wearing his black robes, he is Lord Sidious.
One more thing: I can get through this whole story without mentioning metachlorides or calling anybody “The Chosen One.” I was never sure what was meant by “bringing balance to the Force,” so I’m skipping that, too.
I think that’s enough to get started. Let’s move now into Episode One.
There’s a conflict on Naboo, something easy to understand, that pulls on our heartstrings and exposes the corruption in the Senate. Let’s make it about mining rights, something similar to Cameron’s Avatar. An evil corporation (Czerka, or its contemporary equivalent), has obtained Republic Mining Rights to valuable resources on Naboo. This was done without the consent of the Nabooan government or their Royal Family. Resistance from Nabooan landowners are met with fearsome attacks by Czerka mercs and war drones. The Jedi are dispatched to Naboo to review the situation, re-establish order and negotiate a settlement.
I’m making subtle but significant changes here to the set-up of Phantom Menace. The Amidala Family is Nabooan Royalty. This is an inherited, rather than an elected, position. Padme is one of the younger members of this family. Her father is King, mother is Queen, and she has brothers, too.
In my party of Jedi, there are four: two established Jedi, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and two up and comers. Darth Vader is being mentored by Obi-Wan, and green-eyed, blond-haired Reyna, the future mother of Luke Skywalker, is Qui-Gon’s pupil. She is a Jedi Sentinel with good sabre moves and a strong connection with the Force. For this mission, Obi-Wan brings along his buddy, crack pilot Anakin, to fly their ship. Anakin’s co-pilot is his trusty ‘droid, the spunky R2-D2.
Darth Vader is a Jedi Counselor. He has great reverence for the Force and its mysteries. However, he is socially awkward, as well as physically clumsy. He does not move with the light grace of the other Jedi, nor is he terribly proficient with a lightsaber. The Council has paired him with Kenobi, a Jedi Guardian, so the two can work on Vader’s saber skills.
Vader also is very “law and order.” He resents how casually Qui-Gon treats Council edicts, and he is alarmed how this rebellious attitude is rubbing off on young Reyna. Vader was drawn to the Jedi life in part because of the Jedi Code, which prohibits sexual relationships. (Being a nerdy “Force Geek” who is hopeless around beautiful women, he sees this as an advantage, rather than a drawback, of Jedi life).
So, he is terribly jealous when Reyna and Anakin start flirting with each other. He hides his jealousy in indignation that she is breaking the Jedi Code (but the others are not fooled). Vader is likewise appalled when Reyna, sensing in Anakin some latent Force aptitude, begins teaching the dashing pilot some Jedi techniques. “The Secrets of the Jedi are for the Jedi alone!” he cries. Again, no one listens.
Thus, Vader is not an angel that will suddenly fall from grace. Resentment, anger, jealousy – paths to the Dark Side of the Force - are present in him from the beginning.
The Jedi battle the Corp’s cronies and robot drones. Maul makes his appearance here. He and Qui-Gon square off, but Maul retreats when the other Jedi join the fight. (Since Anakin is already with us, there’s no need to go to Tatooine and get him, so we don’t go there. Thus, Darth Vader has no idea where Tatooine is or that it is Anakin’s homeworld.) The bad guys win the day, but the Jedi escape with young Padme and head to Coruscant to bring word to the Council and the Senate
At Coruscant, Padme meets, for the first time, an important man in her life – Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan. Naboo and Alderaan are both part of the Pacifist Coalition. They are staunch supporters of the Jedi, and oppose efforts to bring back the Republic Army and Armada. The Amidala and Organa Families want to strengthen ties between their two nation-planets, and they are using a tried and true method to do so: they have arranged a marriage between Bail and Padme.
(This may seem strange to American ears, but this practice is actually quite common around the world.)
Padme and Bail have never met face to face before, though they have communicated over the Republic’s fancy video phone system. Bail is significantly older, 10 + years, maybe. He is a leader in the Pacifist Coalition. He is eager to show his young wife around town, but there is no rush to consummate this relationship. They want to get to know one another and build a working relationship first.
Meanwhile, the Jedi meet to discuss the situation on Naboo. Qui-Gon makes a startling assertion: Among the Czerka mercs was a Sith Knight.
The Council is immediately in an uproar. “The Sith have been extinct for a century!”
I’m making another subtle but important break from the original Episode One. There, the Sith have been extinct for a millennium. That is simply too long a time. If the Sith have disappeared for one thousand years, that means no one on the Jedi Council, not even venerable old Yoda, has any first-hand knowledge of them. All their learning would be from ancient holocrons. If the Siths were able to stay hidden for that long without the Jedi being aware of them, Sith beliefs and practices over that time are likely to have evolved so much as to be completely unrecognizable. Think of the changes to Christianity over the last thousand years. The new Sith would be as different from their ancient ancestors in look and ritual as Baptists are from Medieval Catholics.
But, if it’s only been one hundred years, then many of the older Jedi on the Council would have had a hand in the defeat of the Sith. They would, understandably, be reluctant to admit their bitter war had been in vain, and that the Sith have survived are now returning.
This would also allow for some perceived unjust action of the Jedi to be within recent memory. Maul mutters something in Phantom Menace about taking revenge on the Jedi. Maybe during the final battle a particularly revered Sith teacher was killed or a treasured, ancient holocron destroyed. Perhaps there was a “Malachor V” style catastrophe for which the Jedi were to blame. Something happened that burns, not just in Sidious’ mind, but in the minds of countless others.
Word of this atrocity spreads from person to person, as do the Sith teachings. Sidious’ master was perhaps an eye witness to this event. Count Dooku was likely there, too, at the final defeat of the Sith, as a padawan, and witnessed what happened. Maul would have had someone in his life, a father or uncle maybe, who was full of anger and resentment because of the actions of the Jedi. This would have made Maul more open and susceptible to Sidious’ teachings.
The most senior members of the Jedi Council, perhaps with some guilt on their conscience, at first deny that the Sith have returned. But, Qui-Gon’s story cannot be completely discounted. A new enemy has emerged.
Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, a passionate and articulate Padme Amadala is eviscerating Chancellor Valloran for allowing the mining rights deal to go through without the consent of the Nabooan people. Her “States Rights” argument touches a nerve, and, with Palpatine’s help, they are able to force a vote of “No Confidence” against the sitting Chancellor and get Palpatine elected in his place.
Palpatine then nominates young Padme to be his replacement as Senator from Naboo. Though she is inexperienced at Republic politics, the thought is that she would have both Palpatine and Bail Organa around to mentor her. Palpatine incorrectly assumes that she will feel indebted to him and go along with whatever he proposes.
With the mining rights rescinded by Palpatine, the Jedi return in force to remove the Corporation from Naboo. The Jedi rally the Nabooans and push back the mercs. Anakin, no accidental warrior in this version, is a key fighter for the good guys.
Maul still fights and kills Qui-Gon. He flees, however, in the face of Obi-Wan’s fierce counter attack. [Maul is brilliant with his double-bladed saber, but he lacks the connection with the Force that the others have. Nor is he particularly courageous. When threatened, his instinct is to retreat.]
As Naboo celebrates the defeat of the corporate raiders, the Jedi gather to discuss next moves. This time, Maul is alive, and he is a trail that the others can follow. Who is he? Why did he become a Sith? Who trained him?
The Jedi of Episode 1 let this matter drop, but only after one more confusing, exasperating line from Yoda: “There are always two, and only two: a master and an apprentice.” (Who says there are only two Sith at a time? Haven’t you ever played KoTOR?) Mace Windu follows up this nonsense with the absolutely inane: “But who was killed, the master or the apprentice?”
Strangely enough, one of the Phantom Menace trailers, released well in advance of the film, had this line correct: “There are always two, a master and an apprentice.” At this wise utterance, the other Jedi should just nod their heads. Somebody taught Maul to do his tricks, and we don’t know who it was!
Lucas brushes aside this question and wades deeper into his quagmire of a plot, to the detriment of us all. The result is that the good guys never figure it out. There is no “a-ha!” moment when Obi Wan and Yoda realize that Palpatine has been playing them for fools for a long, long time. In my story, there will be such a moment.
 Jedi Counselor, Sentinel and Guardian are classes of Jedi explored in the Knights of the Old Republic video games.