This is a long one but hang in because I really think the point is a good one and I'm going to beat you over the head with it while vainly hoping that somehow this will become a wave-thought that makes it clear to Marin County.
George Lucas made a very critical mistake back in Episode One: The Phantom Menace and he's stuck with. Well, we're stuck with it too.
You see, Episode Two has just hit theatres. I haven't seen it so I won't be giving anything away but I already know I'm going to come out of the theatre feeling let down. I know this'll be the case with Episode Three as well and unfortunately the let down now even affects negatively how I see the original trilogy of Four, Five and Six. All because George Lucas made a big mistake on Episode One.
The mistake was in his theme or as the heading says his focus.
The focus of the original Star Wars (now known as Episode Four: A New Hope) was Luke Skywalker. His discovery of his destiny, his learning the ways of the Jedi, his temptation by the Dark Side and his eventual triumph over that even to the point of redeeming his father, Anakin Skywalker - aka Darth Vadar. (By the way, if I've gotten any of the spellings wrong give me a break, I don't care enough about it to waste more money on Lucas approved reference material – the guy's rich enough already! Use your addled brains and figure it out. The point I'm making is that focus of Episode Four, Five and Six was a good guy triumphing over evil.)
Do I have explain the problem any further? No, probably not. The smartest people on the planet read this so I already know you've figured it out. But just in case you accidented here let me explain.
The problem with Episode One, Two and Three isn't JarJar Binks who is just about the most annoying thing since Ewoks were created and who makes Yoda look like an Oxford English Professor, the problem with the "first" trilogy is that the focus of it is Anakin Skywalker. His discovery of his powers, his natural mechanical talent, his ascension to Jedi, his seduction by the Dark Side, his turning against good and presumably his leading of the hunt to wipe out the Jedi forever.
Lucas argued that for him the story of Star Wars has always been Anakin, starting with what he created for Episode One and ending with his redemption in Episode Six. Anakin?!
George, Anakin is the bad guy!
And we know this! We've known this for decades! We know this even as we watch him as a cute kid, cavorting around with his robot, eyeing his mother with love and affection, building his "race car" to help her and then leaping into a fighter he's never seen before to save the day.
We should be caught up in things, we should be excited by his actions, we should... wait, no we shouldn't because from the moment we first see him we know he's going to become Darth Vadar, he's the bad guy!
The petty mistakes Lucas made in Episode One, the cuteness of it, C3PO being built by Luke's father without ever mentioning it to Luke or any of these things, well they're going to happen, you can't catch everything when you make a movie, particularly a multi-part epic and yes, you can't make everyone happy. It's not those little mistakes that hurt the franchise, it's that big one!
When my five year old nephew comes back from seeing Episode One at the theatre and plainly asks why did the movie star the bad guy that's when you wonder, what was George thinking?
Is he really trying to say the Jedi brought this upon themselves by removing Anakin from his slave mother and making him wise in the ways of the Force because that's the only message coming across! The Jedi did it to themselves! What kind of message is this?
Aim the movie at pre-teens, so what? Alienate your core audience, fine. But the fact is the end of Return of the Jedi, the redemption of Darth Vadar, wasn't a big enough pay off to justify the way Lucas is handling the first parts.
The discovery that Darth was Luke's father hung in the air a long time, festering betrayal and making the fans hate Darth more. The switch, the moment where Luke decides that he's going to help his father, redeem him, turn him to the Light side of the force before it's too late, that decision comes very close to its success and even while he's struggling the audience feels that the best he's going to get is the defeat of his father.
Its a bittersweet victory where at the end he's left more with "what might have been" than what was but even then I remember that when Luke actually does succeed in saving Darth Vadar we in the audience felt betrayed. He's the bad guy!
For many of us it felt like a cheat, the guy turns on Obi Wan, blows up planets for fun, kills underlings for telling the truth, cuts off his son's hand after failing to turn him to a life of evil, freezes Luke's best friend and nearly kills his sister, beats the snot out of him in front of the creepiest pervert outside the Catholic church and then at the last moment sees the error of his way and kills the puppet master that ruined his life.
Lucas is deluding himself if he thinks anyone saw Darth as the focus of Episode Four, Five and Six and he's even more deluded for anchoring the pivot on Anakin in One, Two and Three.
Think about this, imagine a six part movie series showing Hitler as a child, cute and loving, he grows up, bitter, turns on everyone, establishes a dictatorship, isolates his followers, dedicates himself to a mission of genocide and wipes out millions in the single most inhumane campaign of history but then, in the last reel a young kid comes along and as Hitler is dying the kid converts him to Christianity, baptizes him and he's saved. Not very palatable is it? There wouldn't be protests in the street, theatres would get burned down for this!
But not for George Lucas, for George this is perfectly fine.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, the "first" trilogy, Episode One, Two and Three should have been anchored around Obi Wan.
We should have seen him come to the Jedi, grow in the ways of Force under Yoda's instruction, shepherd Anakin into the Jedi, watch him grow strong, attempt to reign him in as he gets too involved with Luke's mother, be tempted himself by the Dark side and humbled by the loss of his student Anakin as he turns on the Jedi.
Obi Wan would then run off with the baby Luke, in hiding as the remaining few Jedi went underground until the time was right for their return.
That should have been the thematic focus, it would have heralded well for the Episode Four, Five and Six focus and even allowed another generational transition to Episode Seven, Eight and Nine were they to come about.
The fans would cheer for Obi Wan, worry when he strayed too far into darkness and understand why he fought so hard for Luke, even beyond death in leading him to Yoda.
The fans would understand this and the "first" trilogy would ring of excitement and wonder instead of the shadow it's shrouded under now.
Small wonder Spiderman did so well, that's the focus audiences want and cheer for and pay money to see, that focus is what lasting themes are built around, that focus is good.
Considering ticket prices are nearly three times what they were when Star Wars Episode Four came out, how much more money would Lucas have gotten if he'd started with a workable theme instead?
I saw Episode Four 12 times in the theatre and will never watch it again, more because Lucas destroyed the essence of it (and the pacing) with his Special Edition release. I remember when George used to believe that special effects can only help a story and should never be used in place of one. Bring back the original version George, on DVD if nothing else, it was better!
I saw Episode Five 16 times and this was the movie I bought the most merchandise off. It was brilliant, edge of your seat, with the coolest story and characters that breathed. Han Solo came into his own in this film and it was chilling. It made you anxious for the next chapter. The best second act in history. Thankfully George's monkeying around for the Special Edition had the least impact here.
I saw Episode Six twice. The first time was the first day it was released, I waited five hours in line to get in, got there at 7:00 am and was sixth in line back when that was considered dedication. After years of waiting I sat in the theatre stunned at what I was expected to believe and deeply wounded by the clearing house Lucas did with every single thread from Boba Fett to Yoda, from Jabba to Darth's redemption. It was painful to endure and the last third seemed so familiar I thought I was watching a bad remake of the first movie. The second time was in the Special Edition reissue, Jedi was the most improved by the mucking about Lucas did, but then he couldn't have made it worse.
I never saw Episode One in the theatre. From the first ad I realized and rallied here about his decision to base the "first" trilogy around Anakin/Darth. I saw it on video, I got bored and hit the fast forward a lot. It wasn't the cuteness, it wasn't even Jar Jar (who I still assert was to Yoda a reverse of what the Ewoks were to Chewy), it was the theme, I couldn't watch the kid without thinking that he was baby Hitler, how could anyone expect us to cheer for baby Hitler?
As for Episode Two. I might see this in the theatres, once. I want to see Yoda fight, I did enjoy Ewan's tribute handling of Obi Wan but this movie can't connect to my inner child because my inner child knows it's about a bad guy and that just doesn't play with my inner child. It doesn't play with my nephew either who would rather see Spiderman again.