One of the most difficult thing for a writer to write, is a prequel. When you go back to tell the story before the main story, you are automatically at a disadvantage. Trying to detail how the hero became the hero, or how the villain became the villain, is difficult because we the reader/viewer already know what they become. There are no stakes for the protagonist. Only the illusion of danger. At best, you’ll meet and lose a few secondary characters along the way.
When George Lucas announced the prequel trilogy way back when, I, like most nerds, was excited. When I saw them . . . well, let us say history has not been kind. But, this isn’t a rant about the Star Wars prequels. Well, not exactly.
I recently rewatched all the Star Wars movies and I have to wonder: how did Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader get into Jedi heaven?
Remember in Return of the Jedi, following the destruction of Death Star II, when the rebels are partying with those little furry, little, flesh-eating muppets? Luke looks over and sees Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and . . . Anakin Skywalker. Depending on which version you’ve seen, it’s either the distinguished older gentleman, or Hayden Christensen. Regardless, it told us the audience, that for saving his son Luke, and killing the evil Emperor Palpatine, The Force absolved Anakin for his sins and allowed him to be a glowing blue ghost. Cool.
But then the prequels came along. We all remember in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin, now turned totally evil, slaughtered all the Jedi in the temple to include “the younglings” (psst . . . that’s totally PG-13 code for child murder). And everyone in the audience said “Oh . . . shit. Kids? Damn! How could he?”
Yes, how could he? Well, let’s rewind back to Attack of the Clones. Where gangly Anakin, in a search for his missing mother, slaughtered an entire tribe of Tuskan Raiders. We remember those folks right? The weird scavenger people we met in A New Hope? The ones who attacked Luke, knocked the snot out of him, and were going to kill him. Then old Ben came along, made a scary Krayyt Dragon shriek and scared them away. Now, we always assumed the Tuskans were evil. I mean, they have Raider right in their name. So, no harm no foul, right?
No. Because thanks to George Lucas, right before Anakin starts the Sand People genocide, we get a clear shot of little Tuskan “younglins” playing with some reptilian-dog pet. You know, like a normal native family.
And, as Anakin said later in his confession to Padme:
“I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM.”
But Gibby, remember, they stole his momma! They did some pretty mean things to her. She died! And, that is true. But, according to wookipedia: Tusken Raiders, less formally referred to as Sand People or simply as Tuskens, were a culture of nomadic, primitive sentient indigenous to Tatooine, where they were often hostile to local settlers.
Huh. So, a bunch of space honkeys come to a planet, displaced the local indigenous people, and dared to get cranky when said indigenous people strike back at the space honkeys? That doesn’t seem fair, now does it? #tuskanlivesmatter.
But back to the point, seems that while trying to make Anakin dark and brooding, so we understand why he becomes Vader, the movies show that he does some really horrible things. Lucas tried to slowly show Anakins fall and seduction to the dark side. But, it didn’t seem like he was seduced. It seems like he was already kinda dirty and was just looking for that nudge. The movies also eluded to Palpatine manipulating . . . sigh, Midichlorians, into creating his life, somewhat explaining Anakin’s immaculate conception. But, that would mean he was tainted by the dark side from birth? Through the entire prequel series we were led to believe that Anakin’s fall was to save Padme. He married her and she was carrying his twin children after all.
Oh, speaking of, remember when Anakin became Vader, asked where was Padme and screamed “Nooooo!” when he found out she died? Notice how he didn’t even ask “Well, what about my kids?” You know, the ones he tortured, and tried to kill in the original trilogy?
But, Anakin’s sins obviously weren’t contained solely in the prequels. I recently went to San Fancisco, to help promote my books by going on a YouTube channel, Kinda funny, and their flagship video/podcast, Game Over Greggy (GoG). A topic-based show where we BS and talk nerd crap. While pimping my books, I mentioned that Author, Screenwriter, and Video Game writer Gary Whitta was an inspiration of mine. And that after a 2015 appearance of his on GoG to promote his new book, Abomination, it pushed me to keep trying to get my own material out there. Well, he lives in San Fran. They called him, and he came over. It was . . . awesome!
You see, among Gary’s accolades, he wrote an initial script for Star Wars: Rogue One. After the main show was over and we were doing a post show, BS session, I had to ask if the Darth Vader hallway scene was his. He said no, that he had a scene written where Vader stormed a beach and waylaid some rebels. But everyone agreed that the hallway scene, with Vader going full murder-bot in order to get the Death Star plans, was the best scene in the movie.
(Psst . . . that last guy, the one on the ceiling, he was only three more payments away from paying off his student loans. )
And I said, “Yeah, it was cool. But, that scene always troubled me. I get why its there, to move the plot and raise the stakes. But, all it did was make the audience cheer . . . for the cool villain who was committing multiple, horrible murders.”
And they all looked at me like I was an idiot. I repeated that the best part of the movie wasn’t the rebels who died giving the galaxy a chance. It was the villain, murdering innocent men. Again, I was looked at like I was crazy.
Many villains get redemption in books and movies. And some of them earned it. Remember how we hated the Hound and Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones? Now fan favorites. Redeemed for some. And to others, still guilty of many crimes to include child murder, and attempted child murder. They may be going to Westeros Hell, but at least they’ll sell some swag along the way.
Maybe I’m wrong, but with all the films, showcasing all his sins, was Anakin worth redemption? In A New Hope, he was Tarkin’s attack dog, and stood by Tarkin’s side when Alderan, and its billions of peaceful citizens, went boom-boom in a Death Star demonstration. In Empire, he gave zero fucks about torturing Han and not asking any questions. In Jedi he did threaten to turn Leia if Luke wouldn’t give himself over.
Through all seven movies with Vader, for all the child killing, slaughter, torture, manipulation, lies, treachery, and planetary destruction, was one act of redemption enough? One kindness paid to the son he never cared to ask about. One act of self sacrificegranted him blue ghost status?
Man. I guess Jedi Heaven is easier to get into than community college.
And that’s why prequels are hard. We know where Vader ended up. But, the story getting there, to me, makes him beyond redemption. Now he gets to kick it, all blue and sparkly. But, to be fair, there is a Dark Side to The Force. And maybe that he was brought back as a practical joke. You know, to torture Luke into being a grumpy, teat milking hermit. How else do you explain The Last Jedi?
I don’t really have an end to this wandering thought exercise. I know in the universe of Star Wars, The Force is mysterious and there are other factors I haven’t addressed. It’s just something as a viewer, and later a writer, that always bothered me.