It’s been a year of continuous thrills for the fan communities— the latest installments in the Marvel cinematic universe, “stay-tuned” trailer releases and announcements like the upcoming films in the worlds of X-Men and Harry Potter, a Christmas special for Sherlock fans. And this week’s treat, the release of the brand-new, no kidding, no spoilers Star Wars sequel.
In some ways, I feel like I’m a kid again. Star Wars is everywhere. Except this time, it’s not just in my imagination. It’s on mugs, advertisements, slippers, t-shirts, Facebook. However, one thing I don’t remember from my childhood growing up with Star Wars is the violence that seems to be breaking out about people spoiling the movie. I realize that when these movies came out, the internet wasn’t nearly the thing it is now, but in the past few days, I’ve come across several threats that people have posted on social media warning about the terrible things that they will visit upon those who might spoil anything about the new movie. I suppose you could say that my nine-year-old self’s determination to be a Jedi when I grew up led me to follow more peaceful ways, but I’m thinking that a bit of balance in the Force could be beneficial for all the fans. Remember, people. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And we all know where that ends up.
When I was younger, Star Wars was my jam. The put-it-on-everything, makes-every-piece-of-toast-what-it-should-be jam. Before my friends and I were granted our first lightsabers, we used Hot Wheels tracks (all orange unfortunately, but extremely accurate in terms of the pain you might feel if you were actually hit with a lightsaber). We dressed up as Star Wars characters for Halloween and for laser tag games. This part of my life coincided, for better or worse, with a time when I could memorize almost anything without trying. So even now as an adult, I can tell you the designations for droids that only make the re-mastered edition widescreen cuts of the original films, as well as name the Jedi masters on the council, even if I can’t remember a phone number that I was just given thirty seconds ago.
I tell you this because Star Wars was foundational in another way. This time in my life is when I fell in love with story. I had always been an enormous fan of reading. But with Star Wars, I learned how to step into a fictional world and explore it. Oh, the stories my friends and I would tell. Our universe looked very different from the one in the movies, but it existed alongside and was informed by it just the same with no conflict, something only a child’s mind could manage. And I loved it there. I traveled to dozens of alien worlds, saved innocents, went to college*, worked as a spy, trained in the Jedi arts, and only used my powers for good.
I suppose the trouble came around when I liked my stories better than the ones that made it onto film. My friends and I, properly attired, saw Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith on opening day (too young for midnight premieres). But after I left the theater, I didn’t watch them again. To this day, I still haven’t seen either movie again. This was a rather disconcerting thing for someone like me, who, as you might remember, said Star Wars was her jam. These movies just didn’t have the right vibe.
You’ll find plenty of fans who like Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith. I’m fully prepared to take the flak when I tell people that The Phantom Menace is my favorite. But even that one, I admit, has some big problems. What I now realize is that it’s the storytelling in these that doesn’t satisfy. They don’t build thematically, they don’t focus on a central narrative that reflects the earlier movies, they are much more interested in showing the discussions behind action rather than action itself, content to tell us about bonds between people instead of showing them. The spectacle of what is possible with CGI shoves the story out of Palpatine’s office window (too soon?). The people are lost in dizzying battles with infinite clones and droids, and lost further still in the grand landscapes and colossal buildings they walk through. And in the end, story should be all about the people. After all, we don’t tune in to Sherlock to see how 221b manages to get through another day.
What I have to share with you is something that I don’t ordinarily watch. I stumbled upon Michael Barryte’s rather brilliant series of short videos that retell the prequel movies using the question, “What if they were good?” as a guiding light. I usually stay away from re-tellings and fan theories, just because they are the tribbles of the fan universes: fuzzy, not really useful, prone to gather in dark corners, and usually snow me under. But if you have a bit of time, I wholeheartedly recommend these videos on Barryte’s channel, Belated Media (with a language warning, just a heads up). He presents a very convincing case for how the three prequels could have been revised for much more satisfying films, but more importantly, revised for a much more powerful story in terms of emotion and theme.
After I saw them, I can’t tell you how much I wished that the versions he has written were actually the ones I had grown up with. Barryte has an impressive understanding of the core of a good story, and tells the story of each film in a way that rekindled some nostalgia from when I used to tell stories with those characters. In short, watch these if you’re in need of a new hope that good stories can still be told within this story universe. At least I know that I’m a little more excited to see the new installment.
*Don’t laugh—at that age, college is just as imaginary as Tattoine
**But then again, maybe it’s redundant to say I went to alien worlds and college