I’m over the heartbreak of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, I really am. I left the theater after Star Wars: Episode Worst – The Phantom Menace trying hard to convince myself I had enjoyed it. Once I realized I’d been conned, I was angry. Then, with some time and distance, I was angrier.
At last, after seeking solace from various Internet flame forums and finding only emptiness, I settled into a practical place: Star Wars was just an old flame. I’d see the next two movies, for old times’ sake, but the passion was gone, and we’d never really have our special relationship ever again.
I’ve been able to rekindle just a little of the old spark by introducing the whole franchise to my kids. My three little indiscriminate media-lovers are smitten with the whole glowing mess — the action, the sound effects, the puns, even Jar Jar. They pay no mind to discussion of trade disputes and sewer district mergers and parking meter privatization and whatever else those three episodes were about.
Their enjoyment is all that matters. I just wish we could enjoy it together.
Still, there is still one thing I just … can’t … excuse: poor characterization. I mean, characterization, the most important part of a story — more important than plot, more important that effects or finales. If you find you don’t care about the characters and the consequences of their choices, the storyteller has wasted your time.
The Prequel Trilogy should have been a feast of characterization. After all, this is the story of a good kid who was given all the chances to walk the path of good, yet chooses the path of evil instead. That’s a pretty compelling premise! What causes him to rebel like this? What is he running from? What is he running toward?
But the journey toward a full-blooded Anakin Skywalker was derailed by the banditos of excessive whizbang, clunky acting and worst of all: bad dialog.
After re-watching Star Wars: Episode III – Send in the Sith with the Oldest Boy and Younger Boy (ages 9 and 6) there’s one moment in particular that stuck in my craw, the thing I can’t let George get away with. It’s the pivotal moment early on when Anakin has defeated Count Dooku, and is holding two lightsabers at his neck.
The kidnapped and restrained Chancellor Palpatine obeserves this all from just a few feet away. Remember that the kidnapping was an elaborately staged hoax by the chancellor, ostensibly for the purpose, however unlikely, that Anakin could be coaxed closer to the Dark Side. So in this scene, Palpatine needs to goad Anakin to act on hatred, not on his Jedi training.
When Dooku is at last at Anakin’s mercy, here’s how Palpatine accomplishes his dastardly plan.
Chancellor: Good, Anakin, good. Kill him. Kill him now!
Anakin: I shouldn’t.
Chancellor: Do it!
Dooku’s head: Plop!
“Do it”? That’s it?
That’s all the encouragement necessary to turn Anakin against all he’s been taught? To betray the trust of his masters? Feh. Feh, I say!
I can’t leave it alone. I need to improve this scene. Not by way of a total rewrite — that’s too easy and has been done in fanfic across the Interwebs. Thus I give you:
The Dialog Challenge
Let’s say we’re on set filming this scene, everyone is tired and ready to quit, and we won’t get Ian McDiarmid back on set for another three months. George turns to us and says, “You know, that ‘Do it’ line just isn’t getting the job done. Can we give him a something else to say that’s a bit more convincing?”
I’m on it, O Bearded One.
Here are a few of my attempts, each exploiting Anakin’s emotions and desires. If you, dear reader, have any improvements or suggestions, please leave ’em in the comments. If we can come up with one line perfect enough, we can imagine it every time we watch this scene. Together we can save Star Wars! (Er, in a totally pointless, retroactive, make-believe way that can be fruitful only in our imaginations.)
10 Things Palpatine should have said instead of “Do it!”:
“Don’t tell me all Jedi are weak. Finish the job, boy!”
“Listen to you parrot that Jedi spinelessness. Give him his justice, or free me so that I can.”
“You’re the best of the Jedi, Anakin. Your way is their future. Why do you still serve their past?”
“Spare the republic from endless war — spare your loved ones.”
“The so-called virtues of your ancient order are outdated and irrelevant in these times. Follow your heart. You know what’s right!”
“You and I both know you’re not like them, Anakin. You can be more than a Jedi.”
“You’re not a peacekeeper, Anakin. You’re a warrior. My warrior!”
“Shouldn’t? I daresay you’ve done many things a Jedi shouldn’t do. That’s why you are destined to be the greatest of them all.”
“He’s counting on your Jedi weakness. Just as he’s counting on his Sith tenacity to see his revenge!”
“Sith will always be more powerful than Jedi. If you squander your momentary advantage, he’ll make you regret it.”