Monday, December 17, 2012
I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this weekend.
Of all the controversy over this new franchise, second only to its being cut into three separate films, is that it the first major film to be shot in 3D at 48fps. Most of the noise is from detractors, whose complaints can all be summed up as this: it somehow feels less cinematic. It takes you out of the film, makes you more aware of it's nature.
Over the last decade we've experienced similar reactions to new film technology. Ten years ago Star Wars Episode II was the first major motion film shot in Digital. The rise of 3D technology peaked with Avatar, ensuring its place in cinema. Allow me to argue that these particular films, and now The Hobbit, are the best venues to introduce these technologies.
I saw the film in 3D at 48fps, rather than in 2D 48fps, so I cannot attest to that format. The viewing experience may be very different, and the "soap opera effect" may be very hard to overcome indeed.
What I can tell you is this: the first thing about 48fps you notice is that you notice it. There is definitely a learning curve to seeing it in the first minutes of the film. People have described it as seeming to be in fast motion even when things are moving at normal speed. This is very noticeable in the first shots of the film: Bilbo walking about his home, close ups of his hands, and overhead tracking shots of fantastic vistas. If you look closely nothing is sped up, but the movement is almost dizzying, as if you were fast-forwarding a DVD.
This is simple to explain: at 24fps there is half as many frames as 48fps, and each frame, depending on shutter speed, takes in an image for nearly twice as long. Thus fast moving objects will be seen in more than one position in-frame, and you get motion blur. Motion blur has become established as a comforting feature in films to the point that movies that need not have it, such as CG animations that can capture any object in it's exact position perfectly, nonetheless use it to convey speed. Look at Ray Harryhausen's motion capture animated skeletons in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: they swing their swords with perfect clarity, each position of the limbs having been shot completely still and moved incrementally for each shot. The effect looks primitive and herky-jerky today.
So, in The Hobbit, when Bilbo reaches into a chest to pull out a parchment, each frame picks up a more accurate position of the hand and shows it with much less motion blur. In effect this makes it look as if the hand was filmed moving in slow motion, and then the motion was sped up with undercranking. This is why people insist the action looks fast-paced when if you were to see it in a traditional, 24fps version, it should clearly be normal.
Now, I cannot attest to the 2D version of the film, but in my experience in 3D, this sensation diminishes as the film runs. I'd say after no more than 15 minutes, my brain accepted what it was seeing.
There is one other side effect besides the "fast-forward syndrome," and that is the clarity of the frame picks up tons of detail on the settings and props. I've seen a film set up close, and noted how fake the props and construction looked. Clearly, in a production where thousands of props are created, the prop makers have to skimp on some details. 24fps filming is very forgiving, though, and if done well enough you will never notice.
In The Hobbit, though, you can clearly see the seam in Gandalf's hat. Yes, Ian McKellen is wearing contacts. And some sets come in so clearly that rather than accepting it fully as the real thing I had the sensation that I was standing in a recreation of the scene at an amusement park. Such things can take you out of a film. Thankfully, the crew on this film were well aware of the situation, and extra efforts were taken to ensure each prop was built and each prosthetic was applied to the highest quality, so that nothing shouts "FAKE!"
So now that I've defended the "demerits" of 48fps, let me get to the benefits. First of all, the frame rate makes the 3D way, way better. You can easily compare it to the trailers that precede the movie, all at a normal frame rate. Even the animated movies, created in a completely digital 3D space, betray the faults of 3D up until now. They're dim. Fast moving things kind of flicker. The colors suffer. The effect is conspicuous.
Now, at 48fps, depth and form are much more defined. Close-ups of characters faces can be studiously observed. The picture is much brighter, and the colors are vivid. I found that I could follow fast movement without getting a headache. And I noticed how gorgeously the rack focus worked to change the depth of field.
All in all, the increased frame rate vastly improves the appearance of the 3D, and nullifies many of the detractors' complaints about the format. I found that, as I have previously experienced, I started to not notice the 3D consciously, and sometimes had to look for it to make sure that, yes, I am still watching something in 3D. It's just that it was much more natural and easy to this time around.
Before seeing the film, and deciding which of the five, count them, FIVE different formats to see it in, I was wary of the warnings that I had heard about, afraid that the viewing experience could ruin the movie I was going to see. On the other hand, I had seen the lukewarm reviews, and my expectations weren't stratospheric, so I decided to roll the dice. It was a decision well worth it. Not only did I enjoy the format, I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and will now think twice before seeing another 3D film at 24fps.
Lastly, it is worth pointing out the obvious: our initial aversion to this new technology is purely based on our conditioning to see films at the arbitrary frame rate of 24fps. Like scratches in a record, we've learned to appreciate the defects of the format as pure and comforting. It doesn't matter if the technology is better to us, if it somehow feels less magical. Of course, these are fallacious reasons. Simply put, if this was the format you were accustomed to all your life, it might be very difficult to put up with the old format.
It is a bit sad, really, to think that a hundred-plus years of cinema history would be fated to be seen as quaint by some future standard. But it's not enough of a reason to embrace the future. Supposedly after 60fps the eye cannot detect a difference, and I've heard Avatar II will be shot at that frame rate. That is yet to be seen, but that film, just like this one, would be great candidates to try the format with. After all, these are adventure stories, which we enjoy so much to hear. It would be hypocritical not to embrace that spirit.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Breaking News: George Lucas Digitally Replaces Ian Holm with Martin Freeman as Bilbo in Crucial "Lord of the Rings" Scene
SKYWALKER RANCH, Marin County, CA
Kinoflim has learned that Lucasfilm founder George Lucas and a team of digital artists have completed work replacing Ian Holm with a digital Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo Baggins in a key scene in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." The scene in question takes place in the opening prologue of the 2001 film, where Bilbo discovers the One Ring in Gollum's cave. Lucas apparently took the task up on his own, without permission from Jackson.
Kinoflim reached out to Lucas for comment. "When I saw the trailer for the new film [The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]," Lucas explained, "I realized that they were going to use a different actor for the same character from the first films. And to an audience in a movie that can be very confusing. So I took it upon myself to make the changes to the first film in order for the franchise to maintain continuity."
"I ran into the same problem myself with [Return of the] Jedi," Lucas continued, "where Anakin's spirit appears before Luke at the end. Of course in the prequels I had cast Hayden [Christensen] as Anakin, so I needed to go back and replace the first actor, I don't recall who that was, and replace him with Hayden so that the audience would know who was who." Shakespearean actor Sebastian Shaw depicted the aged father of Luke Skywalker in that film.
It is unclear whether Lucas had sought permission for the edit from Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings films and the upcoming Hobbit films. Jackson has since filed a restraining order and threatened legal action if Lucas goes through with the release of the edited film as "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings: Special 11th Anniversary Director's* Edition." The title includes a footnote: "*a director."
"When it became clear to me that Peter would not make the edit himself," Lucas explained, "I got my team together, which was assembling for the next Star Wars. There's gonna be more Star Wars, you know."
Going further into his motivation for the change, Lucas described his personal philosophy of filmmaking. "Cinema is like poetry, in that it rhymes. But sometimes you use 'orange' in one line, which doesn't rhyme with anything. So then in the next line you just have to go with 'apple', and then go back to the first line and change 'orange' to something that rhymes with 'apple.' Otherwise the poem falls apart."
Kinoflim pressed Lucas for an example. "Grapple," he responded, after a pause. "Snapple?"
To achieve the edit, Lucas's team had to superimpose the face of Freeman, who plays Bilbo in the Hobbit trilogy, onto the face of the older Holm, who played Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lucas did not have access to Freeman for the footage he needed, so the team spliced together shots from different angles from some of Freeman's prior work, including "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," "Hot Fuzz," and the British version of "The Office."
The team then had to adjust the intensity and direction of lighting on Freeman's face from the compiled shots in order to achieve a semblance of consistency. This required over 8,000 hours of painstaking rotoscoping and digital painting.
Next, the team had to digitally manipulate the actor's lips in order to sync them with the character's line, again a composite of different lines of dialogue from Freeman's career. "What's this? A ring!" Bilbo says.
"Oddly enough, we couldn't find one instance of [Freeman] saying 'ring' in his filmography," Lucas recounted. "So we had to cut the end off of 'blathering,' which he said once somewhere."
The edit comprises a 12-second shot in which Holm was originally filmed made up in a wig and make-up to appear younger. Editing the footage was completed with a team of 300 artists at an estimated cost of $40 million.
Asked if he would continue to revise other directors' works to match their later work, Lucas affirmed in the positive. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen a movie in a series and thought, wow, that role used to be played by someone else, and now it's played by this guy, which is really confusing for me in the audience. James Bond, for instance. Or Batman."
"It's really confusing," Lucas reiterated. "So as long as no one else is taking responsibility for their own work, I'll be there to fix it."
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
A Reaction to the Lucasfilm/Disney Announcement: Why We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself (And Snakes)
By now the internet has had a chance to collect itself from its collective "WTF?" at yesterday's news that not only is Disney purchasing LucasFilm for $4 Billion, but that they promise to release a whole new Star Wars trilogy. I myself felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in angst that their childhoods had AGAIN been raped. But after shaking my wooziness and regaining my faculties, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, we're overreacting to this news just a bit.
Consider the following arguments:
1. We're too old and wise to be fooled againI recently just happened to have watched Patton Oswalt's bit about time travel, wherein he proclaims that if he could use a time-machine to travel into the past and right any wrong, he would use the opportunity to go back to 1993 and murder George Lucas. This is a typical hyperbolic sentiment of the generations that grew up having loved the Original Trilogy and experienced the unthinkable let-down that was the Prequels. Even young'uns like I, born after ROTJ, couldn't help but fall madly in love with the first films. They were just so magical, so perfect and iconic, that they almost seemed to be ordained to exist by the cinema gods just for their sheer awesomeness. When we found out there'd be more, we instantly reverted to a childhood innocence, unable to wait to see a new Star Wars despite how perfect the OT was on it's own.
Then we were splashed in the face by the cold water of reality, and as Episodes I, II, and III rolled out in succession, we came to realize that these movies were made not by gods, but by men, fragile and fallible as any of us, and perhaps they made them not because inspiration had struck again, but because that is what filmmakers do.
This was a hard lesson to learn. In fact, some among us may not yet be over it. This is where the claims of childhood destruction emanated from. Yet, despite all the trauma endured, one of the most respected badges of devotion to Star Wars is owning a VHS collection of the classic, un-edited Original Trilogy. That is because those films still retain their worth when taken on their own. They remain untarnished by the legacy of Expanded Universe comics, young adult novels, video games, cartoons, and yes, the Prequels themselves.
Somehow, they hadn't been ruined. And we learned from this. For all the hue and cry, we came out of the situation somehow more mature. We are able to appreciate the finer things in life more. So, yeah, there will be more Star Wars, and they might be terrible. But we're prepared for it now. We remember. And what more, however bad Disney makes them, we know they can't destroy the OT.
The worst is over. We will never again be so young and naïve. As the old adage goes: fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me twice.......the point is, you can't get fooled again! A wise man once tried to say that.
That being said, I feel for the Millennials that grew up on the Prequels who don't know what they're in for. Or maybe I don't. I dunno.
2. We should have seen it coming
This is another lesson that has taken time to learn. It wasn't exactly a coincidence that after the first Star Wars was so successful, it was followed by five more films, countless more content, action figures, video games, Legos, puzzles, pajamas, full scale replica models, and on and on.
These things springed not from their inherent worth and desirability, but because that desirability was worth $$ Money $$. From the very beginning, the wild profitability of the franchise drove its expansion more and more into new products and markets to meet the demand from the hard-core audience. Eventually the Lucas properties shed any semblance of a creator-driven studio and became a corporate empire. At that point it existed not simply to craft stories, but first and foremost to make profits and meet payroll.
This is what drove the Prequels to be made. Yes, Lucas had gone on record years earlier to state that he had always planned on making Episodes I-III. But the reason they actually made them was by that point the company required growth in order to make money. And that required new content.
And that's where they're at now. There's still plenty of money to be made off of merchandise and content, but the Lucas companies have expanded so much over the last decade that for them to not generate billions of more dollars by creating new titles would be managerially irresponsible to themselves, their partners, and their employees.
And guess what? Lucas had also gone on the record (before talking it back) to state that he also intended to make Episodes VII-IX. We had written that off until now, figuring that the backlash to his work had soured him to the prospect. But guess what would make making more Star Wars worth it? Billions and billions of dollars. Which, by my reckoning, is what we all spent on the "worthless" Prequels, and what they're sure to get out of us again. And, hey, c'mon. I know I'll be there opening day. And you will be too.
It was always the money driving everything. Just follow the money.
Still not convinced? You're one of those die-hards, huh? George Lucas really did sexually molest your childhood? Okay, well, this one's for you...
3. No more George Lucas!
Did you read those headlines? Disney is paying George Lucas $4 BILLION for LucasFilm.
In other words, Disney is TAKING STAR WARS AWAY FROM GEORGE LUCAS.
There you have it. Yes, George has made some remarks about staying on a bit as advisor to the stories. He's apparently even provided some treatments of how the films could play out. But his involvement seems non-committal at best. It honestly looks like he could just take the money and run.
If that's the case, then you can let the healing begin. There will be no more bad man to ruin the things you like so much. I mean, yes, there will likely be more bad men to take his place, but better the devil you don't know than the devil you know.
Wait, that's not how that goes? Oh.
Well, that's all I have to say about the subject. It's just a shame that we can kiss all that promised productivity goodbye for all the speculating we'll be making over the next decade over these films. Nuts! And we were just getting out of that recession!
Oh, well. See you opening night.
Oh wait... that thing about the snakes
Right..... in all the commotion we nearly forgot about the other elephant in the room. You remember Indy, right? That guy that's already "nuked the fridge?"
We can all look forward to more of that. But with Shia LaBeouf.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Alternate Star Wars Prequels: First Draft
I've recently noticed a lot of bloggers are saying f- it and putting out their own alternate visions of the Star Wars prequels. Even after 13 years it seems us Star Wars fans still can't get past our disappointment. So I want in.
Let me say first though, that this is not an attack on George Lucas. It was inevitable that after such a build-up of expectation a lot of fans would have been let down by anything, as we all had a unique idea of what we were about to see. I applaud Lucas for blessing his fans' adoptions of his ideas for formation of their own offshoots, so I would hope that he would at least permit these fans their thought experiments with good humor. In fact, one might argue that since Lucas has taken such liberties with his films with each new release, that he would consider them to be "living documents," free to be amended.
That said, here's my perspective. I'm not going to dwell too much on the many problems that the prequels suffered from, as others like Red Letter Media have already done a much better job of it than I ever could. Like Plinkett, though, my primary point of concern for judging the prequels is how faithful they are to the Original Trilogy (OT), both in style and continuity. Things like having Anakin building C-3PO strain this. I also don't care about being faithful to the "Expanded Universe" canon of books, comics, games and television. All I care about are the films. For example, the Sith are never explicitly mentioned in the OT, though they have overwhelmingly been established as canon by Episode I, so in my interpretation I could choose to either abandon or accept them for the sake of convenience. All I care about is setting up and not conflicting with the stuff we know from the OT, OK?!
So what the f- do we know about the back story to Star Wars from the OT? Well, not much in terms of detail, it turns out. Here's whatta we know:
-The Jedi were guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.
-The Republic was replaced during the "dark times" by the Empire.
-Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi were good friends.
-Anakin Skywalker was a great pilot and strong with the force.
-Obi-Wan tried to train Vader but failed because Vader was seduced by the dark side of the force.
-Vader "killed" Anakin Skywalker (though we know they are both one and the same).
-Obi-Wan was trained by Yoda, a Jedi Master, and was a General under Leia's father in the Clone Wars.
-At one point Obi-Wan calls himself reckless in his youth.
-Vader helped the Emperor by hunting down the Jedi.
-Luke and Leia, Vader/Anakin's children, were put into hiding by Obi-Wan.
-Leia has some memory of her real mother, but Luke does not.
-Luke is raised by an aunt and uncle who have some knowledge of his father (and are therefore concerned that he turn out like him).
So that's what we have to work with. Acknowledging these facts and being faithful to them is one of my goals. The other is to have my series of three films prefigure and follow the structure of the OT, which is essentially this:
Episode IV: Luke learns about the force, leaves home, goes on an adventure and saves the day.
Episode V: Luke leaves his friends to train as a Jedi. He has to choose between continuing his training or saving his friends, and in doing so tests his resolve. After discovering Vader is his father and after crippling attacks by the Empire, he and the Rebel cause, respectively, are at their lowest.
Episode VI: Luke faces his father and nearly succumbs to the Dark Side, but chooses the right path. The Emperor is killed and the empire falls, allowing the restoration of the Republic.
Therefore I've broken down the prequel trilogy to fit the following structure:
Episode I: Obi-Wan meets Anakin and teaches him about the Force. They go on an adventure that simultaneously sets the stage for the Empire. Anakin saves the day and commits to being trained by Obi-Wan.
Episode II: Anakin leaves his old life to train with Obi-Wan. Much of the film is about this training. However his attachments cause him to break from Obi-Wan which leads to a confrontation. Obi-Wan fails in training him and Anakin begins an existential descent. The Empire is formed.
Episode III: Anakin sides with the Emperor to combat the newly formed Rebellion. In his fight he fully embraces the Dark Side and begins to purge the Jedi. Obi-Wan faces Anakin but fails to redeem him. However, the Rebels survive, giving hope to the future.
The set-up is crucial. Siding with almost unanimous consensus, we start with Anakin much older than in The Phantom Menace (TPM), focusing much more on his character development. The OT was all about the characters’ exploits against the backdrop of the larger conflict. The prequels should be as well.
So, here we go again...
Episode I: The Clone Wars
The second you heard Luke say "The Clone Wars" in A New Hope (ANH) your ears perked up and you were like, what's that? So we have to cover that in this first film. Also, the clones as they were interpreted in Attack of the Clones (AOTC) were sort of disappointing, and as David Christopher Bell points out, implied that the Jedi condoned human slavery so long as it helped them kill robots. So let's turn that on it's head, shall we?
Ep. 1 (25 years before ANH) can start exactly as ANH did: a blockade runner is pursued by a military battleship. Only this battleship belongs to the Republic and is rather small, and instead of being aggressive it is firing warning shots across the bow of the runner in search of illegal contraband as they orbit the planet Kessel.
Upon boarding the ship, they discover that it is transporting an illegal cargo of slave clones in direct violation of the law. Before he can be arrested, the owner of this ship, Maul, seems to use the Dark Side of the Force to kill the boarding party and then turns on the starship with his ship's guns. Before the ship is destroyed, the co-pilot, Amidala, escapes in a pod to the planet below and sends out a distress signal. Maul pursues the pod to capture the occupants. This sets us up for a classic "damsel in distress" plot point.
On Coruscant, the widening rift within the Republic is made clear. This necessitates a bit of the political mumbo-jumbo that made TPM so dull, but the issue will be a bit more important, so that will help (besides, ANH had some political dialogue on the dissolution of the Senate, so there’s a precedent).
The rift is between the industrial Inner Core planets and poorer Outer Rim systems. The industrial planets are served by droids, but the Outer Rim systems depend on humanoid slaves cloned to be servile.
The Chancellor, Qui-Gon Jinn, is an avid abolitionist but needs the support of a divided Senate to enact change. Outer Rim senators defend the issue by insisting that the clones are as soulless and mindless as their droid counterparts. To champion his cause, Qui-Gon introduces to the discussion an ex-slave and impressive orator, Palpatine, who is disfigured and hunched by mutation but clearly demonstrates his humanity. He's the Frederick Douglass of Star Wars, and his eloquence is without question. In a surprise move, Qui-Gon appoints him Vice Chancellor to further serve his agenda. This act infuriates the Outer Rim planets, who see the writing on the wall and secede from the Republic. Now we have a cause for war that as an audience we can root for, and an allusion to the American Civil War to give us context.
Now we meet Obi-Wan (40 y.o.). As a Jedi Knight, he's sort of a wandering monk, sought after for his insight and advise, but beholden to no man. There are no massive Jedi academies in any form.
Qui-Gon and Palpatine’s Jedi counselor, Yoda, refers them to Obi-Wan. They ask him to lead a special mission. They have received the distress call and believe that capturing Maul could strike a blow to the slave trade and lead them to the Secessionist leaders. Palpatine in particular impresses on Obi-Wan the importance of this task. Obi-Wan accepts but requires a pilot and a contingent of commandos (they are in the white uniforms of Stormtroopers but are made up of humans and many species of aliens).
Obi-Wan first consults Yoda, his mentor. He then goes to the flight academy to choose a pilot. In Anakin (20 y.o.) he finds someone cocky and unconventional, but intelligent and with good marks. Obvious comparisons to Han Solo. He's hired for the mission.
En route, Obi-Wan and Anakin get to a-talkin'. Anakin is loyal to the Republic but sees some hypocrisy inherent in it vis-à-vis droids. So there're hints of moral ambiguity but loyalty is his top priority. In contrast, Obi-Wan has very conservative viewpoints but is somewhat anti-establishment. It's sort of a healthy disagreement of opinions, and they each kinda respect the other for it. Obi-Wan also senses the Force flowing through him and tells him a little about the Force.
They review the distress call in an homage to ANH and Anakin is clearly struck by the beautiful Amidala and her visage of strength in peril.
Upon exiting hyperspace, they unexpectedly find themselves surrounded by the Secessionist Fleet, which has gathered around Kessel. Clearly Maul is bigger game than they took him for. Taking evasive action, Anakin pilots them through a hail of fire. His actions seem almost impossible (perhaps his sensors or even he himself is temporarily blinded by something). Obi-Wan realizes that the Force had guided Anakin through the danger (this would nicely warrant Obi-Wan's training exercise with Luke years later).
On the planet, Maul's men have finally tracked down Amidala. They plan on killing her to keep her silent. In a bold raid, Obi-Wan and Anakin lead their troops to confront Maul. However, in a rare disregard of orders, Anakin insists that he rescue Amidala no matter what. Reluctantly, Obi-Wan allows this and takes it on himself to find Maul.
Obi-Wan encounters Maul and discovers he has dark powers. As Anakin saves Amidala and prepares the ship for escape, Obi-Wan and Maul duel. Obi-Wan is outmatched and wounded, but Anakin shows up in the ship. Maul tries to crash the ship with the force, but Anakin somehow counters this. As Maul runs, Obi-Wan insists that Anakin go after Maul, but Anakin remains to save Obi-Wan. However, Anakin somehow plants a tracking device on Maul's ship.
As they leave the planet, they are attacked by Secessionist fighters. Manning the guns, Amidala takes them out and proves her mettle. They escape into hyperspace, and the Secessionist fleet flees to a new hiding spot.
Back on Coruscant, they track the fleet to its location in a new star system. Qui-Gon assembles a fleet to combat it and capture Maul and the Secessionist leaders. The pilots refit for the attack, but by now Obi-Wan has seen Anakin’s potential as a Jedi. He pulls some strings to have Anakin released from service in order to train him. Anakin accepts, but insists that he complete this one last mission.
Before the fleet leaves, Anakin confronts Amidala, who is still recuperating, and admits that he had remembered her from training from years ago and hadn't forgotten her. Their romance starts to bloom.
As the fleet comes out of hyperspace, the large ships use tractor beams and ion cannons to hold the Secessionists from further escape. It becomes a battle of fighters versus fighters.
At one point, Anakin is almost killed, but Amidala, who has joined the pilots after all, saves him. They knock out the ships and take them prisoner, ending the Secessionist momentum.
With news of the victory, Qui-Gon prepares for an address to mark the end of the conflict. He first tells Palpatine of his intentions to make peace with the captured leaders and to restore unity, combating slavery only through legislation. Palpatine, unsatisfied, uses the Force to have Qui-Gon declare himself unfit for service in front of the Senate, then throw himself to his death (this can be done in sort of a clumsy way, as if Palpatine is just learning how to wield his power). With Palpatine now Chancellor, he commits to unceasing war with all disloyal systems (not just slave systems).
Palpatine then orders the captured leaders detained indefinitely on Mustafar to extract information, and he faces Maul in isolation. It is revealed that Maul, obsessed with the Dark Side of the Force, was a former Jedi who had cloned Palpatine to experiment with its power. Palpatine decides to leach knowledge of the Force from him.
The mood is lightened a bit with a triumphal parade, in which Anakin, Amidala and Obi-Wan take part. Anakin recommits himself to training, and Obi-Wan, leery of Anakin's fondness for Amidala, cautions him on all attachments. They receive their medals and everyone's happy.
This establishes our characters as important players in the larger story, though by no means does anything center on any of them. No prophesy, no dire warning about Anakin’s inner darkness, and no convoluted machinations involving a Sith plot. Just characters reacting to events beyond their control.
Episode II: Rise of the Empire
22 years before ANH. Under the banner of abolition, Chancellor Palpatine continues to prosecute the many wars against the remnants of the Secessionists. However, his zealotry starts to ride the line between fighting slavery and fighting for fighting's sake. For a former slave, the power is just too tempting.
While Anakin had been allowed to leave service to train with Obi-Wan years ago, he nonetheless has continued to volunteer on the side of the Republic periodically as the wars expanded, and has built a name for himself in doing so. He values his Jedi training and fighting alongside Amidala almost equally. Their mutual attraction has become hard to ignore. While they're stationed at a forward base planet, Obi-Wan arrives by transport and gives Anakin an ultimatum: choose his former life or the way of the Jedi. After a difficult decision, Anakin chooses to follow Obi-Wan. They leave Amidala behind as the Republic prepares for a new offensive. To them, it seems unlikely they'll ever see each other again.
Obi-Wan brings Anakin to the alpine heights of Alderaan, a fitting locale for his intensive training. Obi-Wan, becoming the guidance figure, tries his best to impart on Anakin the wisdom that Yoda bestowed on him. The frigid environment gives him opportunity to test Anakin's stamina and self-control. His envelopment by nature brings him closer to the flow of the Force. Specific attention is given to the dangers of attachment.
Anakin is disciplined and introspective, and challenges Obi-Wan on some issues. While Obi-Wan tries his best, at times he struggles to address every point adequately. He finds he may have bitten off more than he can chew, and starts to question his own abilities.
Meanwhile, the Republic offensive begins. It targets a Secessionist stronghold, Geonosis. Amidala serves admirably, and the invasion of the planet is a success. With the successful operation, millions of clone slaves are liberated. Their sheer numbers inundate the ill-prepared army, and they wonder what can be done about them.
Back on Alderaan, Obi-Wan tests Anakin in a similar way as Yoda's test of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back (TESB). Anakin is confronted with the fact that the Force can be wielded for good or for evil, and that such extremes do exist in the universe. He is forced to confront the possibility that he could be led down the wrong path. It is a breakthrough in his training, and he begins to accept Obi-Wan's teachings without question.
On Geonosis, as the Republic prepares to evacuate the freed slaves, a massive Secessionist counterattack comes out of nowhere and annihilates the Republic fleet. It leaves Amidala, her small contingent of troops, and the slaves completely cut off on the barren planet. They immediately become a target for this massive army, hell-bent on recovering their lost property.
Just as Anakin's training nears him towards enlightenment, he suddenly senses a great disturbance. He is unable to pinpoint the threat, but he fears it centers on Amidala. Obi-Wan cannot sense it, and cautions Anakin to control his feelings. Anakin begins to lose track of his training.
On Coruscant, Palpatine learns of the plight of Geonosis. He is furious at the setback, and orders the planet retaken before the slaves can be recaptured. He also rails against the weakness of the Republic fleet. His advisers caution him that their military is stretched dangerously thin. He therefore orders the conscription of soldiers from every star system and the building of an Imperial Navy (this is the first use of the word Imperial and its use is noted apprehensively). Yoda, as his Jedi adviser, urges him to control his emotions and gives him advice that he does not like. Palpatine begins to discount Yoda’s opinions, judging the Jedi in the same light he judges Maul. The order is sent out across the galaxy and the recapture of Geonosis is stepped up.
On Alderaan, Senator Organa requests the presence of his old friend Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan orders Anakin to remain behind and continue his training while he goes to the planet capital. There he learns of the Conscription Order. Senator Organa is opposed to sending his peaceful citizens to fight in an ever more nebulous war, and calls for a plebiscite to refuse the order. He asks for Obi-Wan's guidance, and asks if he would defend their cause. Obi-Wan realizes the threat but believes it is the right thing to do, and valiantly offers his sword.
An emergency vote is had, and the planet decides to defy the order. Anticipating trouble, Obi-Wan is assigned as a general in defense of Alderaan. Word quickly reaches Palpatine, and the infuriated chancellor orders a detachment of his forces re-routed to occupy the rogue planet. This divides his advisers into hard-liners like Admiral Tarkin and those opposed to the attack of a peaceful planet, like Yoda and Mon Mothma. Yoda and Mon Mothma resign their posts, further cementing Palpatine's ire of the Jedi. Tarkin volunteers to rein in Alderaan.
Anakin, being suspicious of Obi-Wan's departure, uses his powers to infiltrate the capital and learns of the Conscription Order and of the Battle of Geonosis. When he encounters Obi-Wan, he asks him for his permission to let him go to help save Amidala. Obi-Wan refuses on the grounds that Anakin is too emotionally invested in Amidala and that they must defend a helpless people. Obi-Wan reminds Anakin that he has pledged to give up his old life. Anakin is torn between two noble yet completely conflicting causes, but his old soldierly loyalty wins out and he decides he must side with the Republic. Having reached an impasse, Obi-Wan rolls the dice and gives Anakin one last test: if he can be defeated in a lightsaber duel, he'll give Anakin his leave. Fully resolved, Anakin submits to the test. In the hallowed halls of Alderaan, the two have at it.
The fight is less emotional than it is a proving of each other's wills; it's more technical than anything, like a fencing match. Anakin continues to seek a compromised solution and promises to return to his training after saving Amidala. Obi-Wan's hardened stance is that it must be one or the other, the path of light or the path to darkness. This confuses Anakin, who still sees the righteousness in his mindset. Obi-Wan continues to challenge Anakin on letting his affection for Amidala influence his judgment. To him, defending Alderaan is the moral path. Pressing his master on his intransigence further, Anakin demands an explanation. Reaching the edge of a precipice, Obi-Wan relents. He explains that he knows the risk from experience: he had once yielded to temptation and fallen off the path for a lover. In doing so he had committed a crime against the Force: he had fathered a child, creating a presence in the Force that was not his to create. The Force chooses who it does, and it is not to be meddled with by mortals.
Anakin cannot believe that his stodgy old master could be capable of this, but Obi-Wan continues with his revelation: it's true because Obi-Wan is Anakin's father! Anakin becomes flooded with emotion. It can't be! Obi-Wan insists it’s true. After he was born, Anakin was placed where Obi-Wan could watch him from afar. He was pushed into the academy to be watched over by trusted friends, and was never destined to become a Jedi. However, when Obi-Wan saw his potential, he took the risk of training him. Anakin becomes enraged. How could Obi-Wan have fathered and abandoned him? How could he lie to him all this time? Anakin sees the hypocrisy that even his steadfast master is guilty of.
The fight becomes more heated. Obi-Wan genuinely cannot understand where this anger is coming from. He is backed to the edge of the precipice and Anakin uses the Force to disarm him of his lightsaber. Poised to finish him off with both sabers, Anakin, shaking, backs off. Around them the Republic invasion force begins their landing. Anakin tells Obi-Wan that next time he will kill him. He drops Obi-Wan's saber and runs off to leave the planet. Obi-Wan watches him go, then runs off to Senator Organa, lightsaber in hand.
As the people flee the coming army, Anakin faces a group of approaching Imperial Walkers led by Tarkin. When a squad of Stormtroopers tries to arrest him (despite his insistence that he is on their side), he turns on them. Even after his exhausting duel, he has no problem mowing down these inferior soldiers. Tarkin, recognizing him, halts the fighting and allows Anakin a ship if he submits then and there to serving his forces. Anakin does, and in doing so Tarkin becomes his new master. He takes a Republic fighter and joins the fleet heading for Geonosis.
In the capital, Obi-Wan valiantly defends the huddled people of Alderaan, fighting off Stormtroopers with his lightsaber and their small volunteer home guard. In the end, though, they are no match for the Republic's waves of walkers. Organa and Obi-Wan retreat to a mountain stronghold.
On Geonosis, Amidala and her troops struggle to hold off the advancing army on the surface. They arm some of the clones themselves, who prove capable defenders. Anakin arrives as the Republic reinforcements battle pell-mell with the Secessionist fleet. The battle is intense but Anakin fights his way through to get to the surface. As the battle in space tilts in favor of the Republic, Amidala is overrun in the battle on the ground and is captured by one of the Secessionist leaders, Jango Fett. Sensing the war is lost, though, he takes Amidala hostage as a bargaining tool. He steals her away in his last group of ships and takes off.
As Anakin descends he spots the departing ships. Concentrating intensely, he's able to tap into Amidala's mind and pinpoints which ship she's on. One by one, he takes out the other ships, until it's just Jango’s ship. However, he can't do any more without risking her life, and, facing his limitations, backs off. Amidala communicates to him that she will hold on strong until they meet again. Helplessly, he watches as Jango’s ship escapes the planet and goes into hyperspace. The rest of the troops break through and retake the planet. Despite the victory, Anakin is at a low point.
In the mountains of Alderaan, Organa is prepared to give up. Obi-Wan knows what he risks, and implores him to save himself by blaming the planet's defiance as being the work of Obi-Wan using Force influence. Reluctantly, he agrees, and Obi-Wan escapes on a ship into space and into hiding.
Palpatine personally oversees Organa's surrender in the capital of Alderaan, with Tarkin and Anakin in the ranks. Palpatine generously spares Organa's life but forces him to resign from the Senate. Instead, he appoints him King of Alderaan to act as his puppet, with his wife, Lady Organa, serving in obedience to her husband as Senator. Strike one for Alderaan.
When the discussion among him and his advisers turns to the status of the freed clones, Tarkin remarks that they proved to be capable defenders when faced by foes. Palpatine therefore orders that they be "offered" recruitment into the military, paving the way for a massive, all-humanoid force of Stormtroopers.
Anakin recommits himself to the two crusades at hand: rescuing Amidala while finishing off the Secessionists, and tracking down Obi-Wan.
This naturally sets up both the rise of the Empire and Anakin's seduction to the Dark Side for morally ambiguous reasons. With real people and not battle droids as the enemy, we are truly emotionally invested in who will win. Also, a revelation on the scale of the one in TESB catches us by surprise, yet is entirely compatible with the OT and in fact allows us to see it in a new light. The fact that Obi-Wan doesn’t reveal this later to Luke is plausible since there were other things he kept secret from him.
Episode III: The Fall of the Jedi
20 years before ANH. As the last remnants of the true slave-owning Secessionists are wiped out and their clones liberated, the continuing wars have blurred completely into a war against all disloyal systems. Frightened systems kowtow in fealty to the new Emperor, while dissenting systems are increasingly harassed. A bold few have secretly begun to form in secret a Rebel Alliance, focused not on secession but on saving the galaxy from tyranny.
On the remote planet of Utapau, Amidala is still being held captive by Jango, but hasn't given up hope. This is the last haven for the retched Secessionists. Having discovered their location, Anakin infiltrates the base disguised as a sympathizer. Upon locating her, he wipes out the Secessionists and frees her, leaving only young Boba Fett alive (even he wouldn’t kill a child!). Anakin and Amidala finally embrace.
Back on Coruscant, Palpatine reveals to his council the growing threat of the Rebel Alliance. The end of the Clone Wars makes little difference to his warmongering. It is agreed that the Jedi are in collusion with the rebels. Palpatine, sensing Anakin's betrayal by Obi-Wan, draws him close. They both want him found; Anakin so he can confront him, and Palpatine to locate the Rebels. While Anakin is loyal to Palpatine, he still has conflicting feelings on Obi-Wan. After all, he is his father.
Around the planet Dantooine, the Rebel Alliance assembles in preparation for the coming war to decide where to move the fleet. OWK, Yoda, Lady Organa (still defiant), and Mon Mothma are present. They agree to rendevous with Admiral Ackbar's hefty fleet at Mon Calamari (essentially Kamino from AOTC). Despite the coming storm, Obi-Wan still feels he must seek out Anakin, who he still feels is good at heart and can be turned. Yoda cautions against this.
After her lengthy ordeal, Amidala has become very fragile. She reveals to Anakin that she is pregnant. Anakin is overjoyed, but given what he learned from Obi-Wan, is concerned over the implications of the birth. His drive to find Obi-Wan intensifies. Acting as now Grand Moff Tarkin’s agent, he pursues known Jedi and has them sent to Tarkin's special forces to be pressed for information.
Palpatine senses Anakin's frustrations with his own limitations. If he had been stronger with the Force he might have prevented Amidala's kidnapping. The two can relate: both are unholy products of meddling of the Force. Palpatine tempts him with access to the knowledge he's gained from Maul. Anakin pledges his loyalty, and Palpatine reassigns him temporarily from Tarkin to himself. Palpatine informs him that he need not look too far, for Obi-Wan will seek him out.
Confronting Maul on Mustafar, Anakin learns how powerful his offspring will be. Despite his years of solitude, Maul's twisted obsession with manipulating the Force is invigorated by Anakin’s situation, and he toys with Anakin's emotions. Foreseeing Anakin’s child will be his own downfall, he refuses to teach him anything. With rising hatred, Anakin uses Force choke to kill him. Nearby, Palpatine reveals his secret: this, the power of hatred, can unleash such strength.
Anakin is paranoid that if Obi-Wan discovers the pregnancy he will spirit the child away to a secret location, as he did to Anakin. He orders that Amidala be brought to him at the secure base on Mustafar to be protected.
Obi-Wan is smuggled into Coruscant by Lady Organa and seeks out Amidala. As she leaves for Mustafar, he stows aboard her ship. However, Lady Organa's involvement has been discovered through Admiral Tarkin’s torture of the Jedi. This is strike two for Alderaan. Lady Organa faces a choice: give the location of the Rebels or be killed along with King Organa. In a moment of weakness, she reveals their location. A massive navy of Imperial Star Destroyers under Admiral Ozzel is assembled to wipe out the Rebel Alliance in its infancy.
Arriving in Mustafar, Amidala and Anakin meet and he urges her to remain there to have the baby. Obi-Wan appears from the depths of the ship. Nervous to see him, Anakin nevertheless seems willing to settle their differences if Obi-Wan stays away from the child. Learning of the pregnancy, Obi-Wan's heart sinks. He had yet to reveal the full truth to Anakin. As a result of his birth, his mother had been drained of life force, and this fate undoubtedly awaited Amidala. Anakin breaks down. His hatred swells. If Obi-Wan had revealed this truth sooner, Amidala's life could have been saved. Obi-Wan argues that the important thing now is to keep the child safe. But Anakin has entered a fugue state, advocating for a scorched earth and proclaiming that if Amidala should die then the child deserves to as well. Amidala, overhearing this, is distraught, and maternal instinct tells her to leave. Obi-Wan intervenes to protect her escape, and the two of them fall into battle.
Meanwhile, the Rebel Fleet, led by Mon Mothma and Yoda, enters the Mon Calamari system and links with Admiral Ackbar. No sooner had they arrived, then they encounter the Imperial Navy, which had been waiting to finish them in one blow. It's a trap! An epic battle ensues for the future of the galaxy. Entire starships are blown to pieces and plummet to crash into the ocean surface below.
Back on Mustafar, Obi-Wan continues to try and turn Anakin. However, he senses both hatred and his inability to see past his emotions to the big picture anymore. Amidala makes her way back to her shuttle with her guards, but is stopped by Stormtroopers. They fight their way to the ship to attempt to escape this domain of evil. From his bunker nearby, Palpatine becomes aware of the happening and draws up reinforcements to assist Anakin. He orders the Secessionist and Jedi prisoners eliminated just in case.
Above Mon Calamari, the fate of the Rebels looks grim. They are no match for the Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters. In desperation, Yoda draws up all his strength and uses the Force to cause two destroyers to collide. The engulfing fire forces the Star Destroyers to back off, and the Rebels disappear into hyperspace, narrowly escaping annihilation. The Rebels live to fight another day.
Obi-Wan finally gives up on Anakin. Summoning all his strength, Obi-Wan severs Anakin's arm and disarms him, taking his lightsaber. Disowning Anakin, he leaves to help Amidala. Awakening from his rage, Anakin realizes what has just happened. As the Emperor's reinforcements arrive, he refuses help. Instead, with nothing to live for, he walks to the mouth of a volcano and self-immolates. Bathed in flame, he destroys himself. In horror, Palpatine calls off the pursuit and has his troops recover Anakin and rush him to the bunker.
Obi-Wan catches up with Amidala and with his help they fight their way through to the shuttle. Escaping the planet, Obi-Wan attempts to save her by inducing the labor; perhaps no one need die after all.
Back at the bunker Palpatine utilizes technology and the Dark Side to revive Anakin. It works, but he is mutilated and no longer himself.
In transit, they try to save Amidala by inducing labor. However, they discover she is carrying twins, and the drain on her life is much stronger than they realized. Upon delivery, they keep the newborns nearby to keep her strength up. She asks who Anakin's mother was. Obi-Wan answers Leia Lars. Amidala names the girl Leia and names the boy for her father, Luke. She slips into unconsciousness.
Protected in his hermetically-sealed suit, Anakin renounces his past and declares himself Darth Vader. He’s accepted Amidala’s death, but vowed to win back his offspring. Palpatine has salvaged his strongest partner in the war against the Rebels and the Jedi.
Yoda leaves the Rebels at Dagobah. Though his power is an asset, his presence is too risky to the fleet, but he'll be needed again someday.
Amidala's ship slips into Alderaan where they leave Amidala and Leia under the care of the Organas, believing hiding the girl in plain sight is the best. Despite Lady Organa's betrayal of the Rebel cause, they vow to bring up the girl when her mother passes, as she is sure to.
For Luke the risk is too great to take any chances. Obi-Wan takes him to a place so remote he can never be found. On Tatooine, Obi-Wan arrives at the Lars homestead with Luke. There he meets Owen Lars, the son of Leia Lars from another father. Owen despises Obi-Wan for being responsible for his mother's death and then abandoning him there. However, his wife, Beru, takes pity on the child, and they agree to raise him. Obi-Wan retreats into the desert, once more the wanderer, to watch over his grandson from afar.
This gives us a chance to see the beginning of the Rebel Alliance, another point of interest to fans. And the continued attention to Alderaan, an important Planet in Star Wars, adds poignancy to its ultimate destruction in ANH, while further illuminating Tarkin's decision to destroy it as punishment towards three disloyal Organas.
Although Anakin has fallen, we understand why, and we can still accept his eventual redemption. Obi-Wan’s actions make sense, but he is tragically flawed as well. Thus we have been faithful to the style and structure of the OT while illuminating things the OT referenced and adding new and interesting elements.
Again, this is not a perfect version, and it may ignore certain requirements to the story or contradict something. The characters motivations might be tweaked. This is of course what new drafts are for. But it’s a strong start, and maybe as valid a version as any out there. What we got instead was an imperfect version as well, and though it doesn’t amount to much when we re-imagine what it could have been, what the f-! It’s still fun to do.