Phantom Menace to Society

In 1990, before George Lucas made his Phantom Menace to Society, someone asked me what the prequels might look like. My answer was published in the Lucasfilm Ltd. magazine…

LLR color

I’ve read much speculation by fans as to the nature of the first three films in the Star Wars saga and felt it was about time to put my two credits in. Being a screenwriter, I’ve spent much time pondering the fates of these marvelous characters.

If you want an idea of what they MIGHT be like, read the trilogy by Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus; and Antigone. They offer many Aristotelian glimpses into the characters of Ben and Anakin. Anakin will no doubt be aware of his future downfall—through some glimpse into the future (like the oracle in Oedipus)—yet be likewise unable to prevent his transformation into Darth Vader, as Oedipus was unable to prevent killing his father and marrying his mother. Therefore, we will be able to sympathize with him.

Anakin is a tragic hero, and Aristotle’s Poetics will give you some probable aspects of his character. Some people I’ve mentioned this to are worried. “But tragedies are so negative. How will we get the same upbeat feeling as in Episodes IV, V and VI?” You can’t, directly. Tragedies do play more to hidden emotions. On the surface, these films cannot be as bright and gay, but that doesn’t mean that upbeat feelings can’t come from them. The secret here will be in designing the films to attack on two levels: (I) a deep level of drama and tragedy for the young/ now older fans of the original, and (2) a surface level of action, excitement, and visual pageantry for a younger, newer generation of viewers. Tragedy can, ultimately, be uplifting. Ever see Camelot?

If you haven’t read it already, the novelization of Return of the Jedi, by James Kahn, offers some tantalizing glimpses into this prehistory not available in the films. Key pages are Ben’s speech, pp. 62-67; The Emperor’s musings, pp. 69-70; and Anakin’s death, pp. 174-175. Now, how many of these clues are Lucas’ and how many are Kahn’s handywork, I don’t know.

Notice how Ben uses the word “pride” twice in the paragraph that begins, “When I first encountered your father…” on pg. 63. Aristotle considered pride to be the main vice of many tragic heroes, which may lead us to conclude that the first trilogy might be Ben’s tragedy, and he may very well be the main character rather than Anakin. This makes sense. After all, we could never feel completely empathetic with Anakin knowing that he will become Vader. “If I was wrong … it certainly wouldn’t have been for the first time,” Ben says of Anakin. “We fought. .. your father fell into a molten pit…” (Shades of Temple of Doom!) “So I took you to live with my brother Owen, on Tatooine (emphasis mine).” This raises an interesting question: is it Ben Lars or Owen Kenobi? Notice a strange similarity here and between a line on page 174, when Luke notes of his dying father: “For a moment he looked not too unlike Ben.” Why say this? Are there still further secrets to be revealed? Could Ben, Anakin, and Owen have been brothers? Could he still be Luke’s Uncle Owen, only as in Uncle Owen Skywalker?

The droids 3PO and R2 will be in the first three films, of course, probably as servants to Mrs. Anakin Skywalker in some respect, and are passed on to Leia by her mother when she’s adopted by the Organas.  “… your mother took Leia to live as the daughter of Senator Organa, on Alderaan,” Ben says, so it follows that the droids must have, also, hence their appearance with her in the opening of Star Wars. This could add an ironic twist to Ben’s line in Episode IV: “A droid? I don’t ever remember owning a droid?” (An episode of the Droids TV series had Threepio carrying a bundled baby. Why do I have a feeling we’ll be seeing that image again?) PP. 69-70 give a wonderfully dark picture of Senator Palpatine (a.k.a. The Emperor) and his rise to power. He probably won’t be the only heavy villain in Episodes I, II and III.

We only get a sketchy picture of Mrs. Anakin Skywalker in these pages. She’s a “hardworking, honest pauper,” I would guess (p.65). And Ben says, “the Force … is strong with all your family,” so I would guess she possesses the Force, also. Perhaps she’s like the character Halla in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

Also, one thing I’ve noticed, Lucas seems to leave clues as to where his inspirations are derived. For instance, the name Palpatine is close in spelling to the name of the hill where Aeneis, in Roman mythology, was suckled by a she-wolf; and “stormtroopers” comes from a name given to some of the troops of Hitler, who was obviously some inspiration for the Emperor. You will find many such coincidences in researching Mr. Lucas’ sources.

It’s fun to speculate … well, I’ll let you ponder the rest.

Shawn Stewart
Ft. Worth, TX.

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