What one thing would I change about each Star Wars movie?by Todd King, contributing writer
Why Ask Why?
What one thing would I change about each Star Wars movie? Why would I even entertain this idea? Why would I try to answer that question anywhere but on the Internet? Like Émile said in Ratatouille to his brother Remy when asked why he was eating garbage, "I don't really know." Consider these musings below to be nothing more than mental explorations. This probably says more about my mind than it does about anything regarding criticism of the movies.
I don't know where this question came from, or if I heard it or read it somewhere. Some time ago I jotted it down as a possible question to explore here in this column. What one thing would I change about each Star Wars movie? The easy answer is, "Not a thing! They're perfect!"
The quck and easy path leads to the dark side, and, well, they're not perfect (not all of them anyway).
After watching these movies many times over, it's difficult not to imagine if small (or large) aspects of the film were changed, you know the old, "if I were in charge!" idea. I'm neither critic nor director, but I am a student of language and writing, and there are some small changes I'd make to Star Wars. I would only ever propose these ideas for my own entertainment or at most, a conversation with friends. Hello, friends!
What are the, um, rules?
Since this is my list I can make my own rules. So, there are no rules. And now I'll break that rule and say there are some rules:
- No eliminating movies wholesale; I must work with what is there.
- Let's only deal with the George Lucas-helmed stories of the saga (episodes 1 through 6), for no other reason than time (and the latest trilogy is too fresh on the mind for this exercise, in my opinion).
- No eliminating characters; but changing something about them is accepted.
- Finally, I can only change one thing; it may have domino effects, but it should have some limit in scope (I know that's vague but I can't just Jedi mind trick and expect no consequences).
There may be other rules I am imposing on myself unconsciously so I cannot state them here.
The Phantom Menace
Darth Maul had quite the screen presence--gone too soon. © Lucasfilm.
elephant gungan in the room is JarJar Binks. I would change Jar Jar, right? As much as the character saw consternation back in the day, he holds greater acceptance nowadays. From a movie-making point of view, if we didn't get Jar Jar, we wouldn't have gotten Gollem from Lord of the Rings. So, while my own rules say I can't eliminate a character, I wouldn't eliminate him anyway. Would I change him? Perhaps, but since I'm limited to one change per film, I think there's something else I'd change that feels more meaningful.
Critics of Episode I often say that the character of Obi-Wan should have taken more center-stage, and therefore the character of Qui-Gon Jinn is superfulous. This I wouldn't do, either. Although I do think the movie needed more Kenobi, the relationship of student and teacher between him and Qui-Gon is just too good to change. As it is, there is a great and even subtle dichotomy between them that enriches the story.
So, those are things I wouldn't change. What would I change? George Lucas seems to live by the Jedi philosophy to let go of attachments—but in storywriting! We as fans love so many characters, even the ones off to the side of the screen for only a few seconds. We love the prominent characters as well, of course. Lucas is a bit fearless in his writing and knows the power of not just building up a character, but also the drama of knocking them down. There's so little we knew about Darth Maul, but what a presence he had on screen! By the end of the movie, Maul was cut down and killed off. I would have let Darth Maul live to frighten us another day.
I know you're already saying that he did survive. Yes, he was brought back to life in The Clone Wars. His destiny took a drastic turn and was fascinating. It just wasn't the same as if he got away at the end of Menace and Kenobi had to deal with feelings of revenge for Maul killing his master Qui-Gon. We ourselves put focus on Darth Maul when the story had other intentions. Lucas put more value in the drama of Darth Maul's (supposed) death than the potential of what he may, or may not, do next.
Attack of the Clones
Anakin's revenge on the Sand People. © Lucasfilm.
Episode II was full of surprises, which, in my opinion, was both good and bad. I've mentioned before that the film has pacing issues in comparison to the other quick and snappy movies in this saga. The movie is unabashed in its slower delivery and oddly, that becomes a trait of the story. So, no, if I could only change one thing, it wouldn't be to give it another pass through the editing room.
Some might wonder about the love story thread of the film, where it's a bit unrealistic and cringey. Again, if I could change more than one thing, the building of the romance could use some touching up. Besides, the love story is awkward in a good way.
What I think the movie needed the most was some dark drama. In one of the movie's strongest sequences, Anakin journeys to find his mother, only to catch her on her death bed. He's then flooded with emotions and bursts in a fit of anger. He takes out these aggressive feelings onto the Tusken Raider tribe that held his mother hostage. However, just when he begins his rampage, the film cuts away to Yoda who senses the despair of Anakin's heart. What I think we all needed to witness, even if difficult, was Anakin's violent rage aganst the Sand People. This murder-spree is what truly sent Anakin on his downward spiral in a big way. We needed to see what it meant when a Jedi became completely unleashed. We needed to see what would happen so that when Luke later resists the temptation to kill, we realize even more fully what he resisted.
Revenge of the Sith
Palpatine promises unnatural power to Anakin, but how does it work? © Lucasfilm.
Based on my change above I hope you wouldn't think we should see Anakin's attack on the younglings. No, the implicaiton onscreen as it is now is enough. The Raiders weren't his comrades. Killing them wasn't good; it was his violence out of control. The killing of fellow Jedi learners was abject betrayal. What we saw was plenty. So, I wouldn't change that.
Would I change Padme's fate? It seems that in order to keep some continuity, Padme should have lived to raise the kids, even for just a short while. It would make sense that instead of having "lost the will to live" she would have loved to live and see Luke and Leia grow. However, in the context of the story, Lucas was trying to put together a symbol of life and death. As the film rolls Anakin "dies" and Darth Vader rises. It costs him everything, even the thing he was trying to save: Padme's life. If the Sith had some magic power to keep people from dying, it didn't do a very good job. The real power was Padme's love; her belief that Anakin still had good in him was enough to keep him alive, but at her expense. It is powerful and dramatic so no, I wouldn't change that. But speaking of the magic...
I would change something about the Emperor's promise to Anakin. He says the Sith have the power to keep people from dying. It's a vague promise, however, and we don't get to really see what that power can actually do and what it takes to make it happen. Let's see something that really makes Anakin go, "Wow! That's the power I want, and I'll do anything to get it!" Instead, it's ambiguous and a lie. And yes, that's what the Emperor is all about, but it makes Anakin's turn less about saving lives and makes it more like he was tricked into it.
Star Wars (A New Hope)
No change. It's perfect.
OK, suppose it didn't have the Jabba the Hutt scene then, yes, it would be absolutely perfect. Wait, Han should shoot first, right? Then it would be perfect, period. Honestly, if those things remained, they aren't enough to pull the movie down to be anything less than a fantastic work of art. So, there really isn't anything I would change, but maybe there would be something I would add.
A deleted scene from STAR WARS where Luke's friend Biggs reveals he will join the Rebel Alliance. © Lucasfilm.
There are a couple of deleted scenes that I think could add some value to a final cut of the movie. There are scenes with Luke Skywalker and his friends down on the desert planet, Tatooine. Luke is still the most youthful of the group, brash and a bit naive. They call him names, mostly in a teasing way, because he always has his head in the clouds, always thinking of things far off. But one stands up for him and believes him. This friend is Biggs Darklighter, who tells Luke he's going to join the Rebellion.
These scenes may at first seem unnecessary and slow the pace of the movie's first act. Well, that isn't wrong. However, what these scenes do are two things:
- It gives us more insight into the character of Luke. We see him as an outsider not just from his job or from his uncle, but from his friends. Luke is ambitious, he yearns for more, but is always a companion of truth. We see glimpes of these traits in the actual release cut of the film, but when you watch these (you can find them online), you see a deeper picture of Luke that was always there; and...
- It establishes the friendship with Biggs who we meet later in the space battle against the Death Star. Biggs and Luke talk about home and how to proceed in the fight, and the fate of Bigg's strikes harder when you know the bond they once had.
So, yeah, I'd add in those deleted scenes of Luke back into the picture. Modern audiences can take longer films, anyway.
The Empire Strikes Back
No change. It's perfect.
Really, it is.
OK, OK, there is one teeny tiny thing I would change. And it actually isn't really a change at all. It's a change back. What do I mean by that?
Darth Vader is often a man of few words. © Lucasfilm.
You may remember that in 1997, the original trilogy re-released into theaters as "The Special Edition." I won't go over all the changes but Empire was somewhat spared from a lot of needless tweaks unlike the others. And why not? It was already perfect... well, one change that really didn't need to happen came very late in the story. After Luke gets away from Darth Vader on Cloud City, Vader is seen marching with a few troops when he says, "Alert my Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival." We then see his shuttle fly out, then dock on the ship, and Vader disembarking. This scene may seem fairly innocuous and frankly, it is.
In the original version, however, the sequence is much shorter. We don't see his shuttle at all—not taking off, landing, or with disembarking passengers. All that was there originally was Vader marching with his troops as he barks the order, "Bring my shuttle!" That's it. That's the scene. My change is to restore this moment. But why? It still seems innocuous, kinda. What this short scene does—with much shorter dialog—does better than the extended paste job of the Special Edition is show the audience all you need to know. It shows Vader leaving the City, he seems to be in a hurry, and while he does demand his shuttle (which is all the informaiton we need to know that he left Bespin and got on his ship), he doesn't just politely ask people to get ready for him to show up. He is angry. His plans didn't work out and he doesn't want to tell the Emperor he failed.
Still, the movie is pristine the way it is so I'll stop now.
Return of the Jedi
It's not about what's better, it's about what fits. The Rebo Band fit, but were replaced. © Lucasfilm.
Of all the original trilogy films, this is the one that keeps surprising me. There seems to be a continuous wealth of things to see and learn upon all rewatches. What would I change, though? You think I would say Ewoks? Nope. I know the Ewoks are a bit too cute and seemed to have merchandising strategy woven into their cute fur but they're fierce and surprisingly inventive. They represent the lesson of Yoda on a larger scale—people are much more than what they appear.
The change that ought to happen is similar to the one I mentioned above in Empire. There was a new scene added in the Special Edition that replaced a scene in the original that was perfectly fine thank you. The sequence with Jabba the Hutt is a great, almost stand-alone, adventure with a fantastic build and an epic payoff with a tense action scene. In the middle of all this is a musical number. A what? They added a musical number in the Special Edition? No. There already was a musical number in the original but for some reason it was replaced with a newer terrible musical number.
After C-3PO and R2-D2 are assigned new jobs in Jabba's palace, the vile ganster and his guests are treated to some jazzy banal song from his house band—well, new Special Edition band. They play a number that sounds so out of place you'd think someone switched movies to a failed jazz band documentary. Wait, backup. What was the original? It's hard to describe but it sounded like something from another galaxy that would fit the tastes of a sociopathic slug in the desert. It even had a name, "Lapti Nek" and featured three aliens on strange instruments performing it for a couple moments. The new one, somehow called, "Jedi Rocks," sounded earthy, with barely disguised saxaphones and horns led by terribly dated CGI creations along with backup singers in a setup that just seemed a bit too elaborate for what was originally a three-piece band with probably barely more function than a court jester. It just sticks out so gratuitously and lasts so long that any humor it may have had fell flat as soon as the first notes blared out of the speakers. It was just so unwarranted.
And I'll stop there before I go on like a jaded music critic.
What one thing would you change?
Very late response here, so I'll be (sort of) brief! (I found I had this bookmarked and never responded when I first read it)
I won't go into a film by film list (though I do agree a lot with your Jedi Rocks entry for RotJ).
The thing(s) that bugged me for many years (until they released the "original theatrical versions" on DVD, IIRC, a few years after the Special Editions) follow:
There were 2 minor dialogue lines that were edited in the VHS and DVD releases of the films even before the Special Editions. I somehow remembered these from the theater, I guess, because the modified lines never sounded right to me and stuck out like a sore thumb.
1) In The Empire Strikes Back, when R2 gets spit out by the swamp creature on Dagobah, Luke's response for many years was (in what sounded like a very hurried line that was squeezed in as an edit) "You were lucky to get out of there!". The original line was "You're lucky you don't taste very good!".
I'm not sure why they felt it was necessary to change that at all. Maybe it was considered too comedic for the start of Luke's serious journey with Yoda while on Dagobah? I doubt anyone not directly involved with this change back then will ever know.
2) In Return of the Jedi. when Han is hanging from the skiff as Chewie holds him from falling and shoots the Sarlacc tentacle that is trying to pull in Lando, Han's line following Lando's "No way, I thought you were blind!" was changed too. Originally Han response simply with "It's all right. Trust me". The change was a hurried "It's all right, I can see a lot better now!".
I never understood this one either. The way it sounds in the edit is just horrible, IMO. I also thought the "Trust Me" line was much more meaningful for the recent history of Han and Lando in ESB (i.e., comments he made to Leia about not trusting Lando, but he was his friend, etc.).
I guess I'm not the only one who ever thought these were weird and/or confusing. Some people on a thread here have similar thoughts in the mid 2000's. That thread makes it even worse as to wondering which was "original" and why it was changed.
Those are the ones for me that just make me say "Why?!". I also agree with your Vader line "Alert my Star Destroyer to prepare or my arrival". That one in addition
to being unnecessary, also sounds different than any of Vader's other dialogue and suffers the opposite fate (IMO) from the 2 edited lines I described above. This sounded way too slow vs. any of Vader's other lines.