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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kevin J. Anderson Explains the Star Wars Prequels to Me

Star Wars poses no mysteries for the young.

As I mentioned in “How Clone Wars Helped Me Love The Star Wars Prequels,” the prequels didn’t resonate with me the way the original movies did.  At the time I didn’t understand this.  Perhaps I’m just older, and they’re intended for a younger audience, I reasoned.  Perhaps I’m so in love with the original cast that I’m resistant to a new group of characters, I argued.  But there was one fact that was unarguable: the structure of the stories was dramatically different to those of the original trilogy.

The stories in the original trilogy exemplified simple storytelling.  A few key characters pulled you into their world.  The plot of each movie took place over a short period of time, a few days at most.  And each seemed to follow its predecessor smoothly, with little substantive change having taken place in the characters’ lives (or their universe) between the films.  With the prequels, each movie took place over a longer stretch of time.  You met a lot more characters, and many changed substantively between installments.  Each movie dealt not with two competing forces, such as the Rebellion and the Empire, but numerous political and economic factions.  With so many characters and organizations vying for attention, each movie gave me less time to understand them all.  And, unlike in the original trilogy, I didn’t understand many of the types of droids, weapons and technology people used, or how some of the competing factions were structured.

Author Kevin J. Anderson has either written or edited over twenty Star Wars books, so I think it’s safe to view him as an authority on George Lucas’ universe.  At a panel on Transmedia Storytelling at Stan Lee’s Comikaze, he related how the Star Wars prequels didn’t resonate with him as much as the original trilogy.  For an example, he referred to a specific event in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”  After Anakin helps him kill Mace Windu, Chancellor Palpative issues Order 66 to the leaders of his clone army.  To stirring music, we then watch as various Jedi, whether on planets or in space battles, are turned on by their clone troops.  Unlike Yoda and Obi-wan (who survive these attempts on their lives), most of those who die in this event, known as The Great Jedi Purge, were never major characters.  If they sat on the Jedi Council, we were given little reason to care about them.  Others shot down we had never seen before in the movies. 

So, Kevin said, as much as he wanted to be moved by these dramatic moments in the film, he was left unaffected.  The problem, he explained, was that Lucas had chosen to develop all those other characters, and illuminate the other factors I mentioned, in the comic books, role-playing and computer games, and novels that his company put out before (and between, and after) each installment.  Thus, each film represents an iceberg, the most visible part being what we see on screen, with the majority of each story residing beneath the water. 

Each storyteller compiles a backstory for his characters and fictional worlds, and sometimes a story fails because the audience either learns too much, or not enough, about the characters, factions, and events on the page or the screen.  Can such a condemnation be made of the Star Wars prequels?  Was George Lucas’ approach to storytelling in the prequels flawed?  Many of us who are older would argue, “Yes.”  But from the overwhelming popularity of the prequels, particularly among the young, I would suspect not.  The fact is that a person in his thirties, forties, or fifties interprets a story in a different way from a child or a teen.  As much as one would like to go back, and view a story through younger eyes, that is simply impossible.  So, as he did with special effects in the original trilogy, Lucas emerges as an innovator with the prequels, this time with his approach to storytelling.

Through his fiction, his work ethic, and the way he’s remained accessible to his fans, Kevin J. Anderson has given me many reasons to respect him.  Through explaining why the Star Wars prequels never worked for me, he has added one more.  I shall forever be grateful.

Dragon Dave

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