Well, not ruined per se, but it was something the Prequels and the Sequels haven’t been able to live up to. Or perhaps they forgot about it — a key dramatic element of the Original Trilogy.
Everyone remembers the time they first saw that dramatic scene in Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader tells the young hero Luke Skywalker that he is in fact his father. The shock would plague some of us for nearly 3 years waiting for the release of Return of the Jedi. Yes, I was a kid, 8 years old, back then and saw it in the theater. I’m not sure I even believed it. I figured Vader was lying to Luke just to get him to turn to the Dark Side.
See, I was naive and believed Obi-wan Kenobi when he told Luke that Vader betrayed and murdered Luke’s father. Yet, once I saw ROTJ and the audience got its confirmation that Ben Kenobi lied, I learned a very important dramatic element of story telling. Some call it the “big reveal” or some might say “the redirect”. The goal is to surprise your audience with some information they weren’t expecting. This information is meant to change the dynamic of the characters relationship with one another. Not only providing melodrama but layers of complexity to the story.
Now, when the Prequels debuted in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, we knew this was going to be a story about a young Anakin Skywalker — Luke’s father. But what we didn’t know was how and what drove Anakin to the Dark Side. So millions of Star Wars fans waited and then we were disappointed. Okay, fine, we saw how he fell to the Dark Side, yet George Lucas made it a very long turn. Instead of something dramatic, we were told that Anakin was troubled and manipulated by Palpatine — spending over a decade slowly mind controlling him.
We all have the version of new Star Wars we wanted in our heads. My imagination over 20 years allowed me to think of a few different versions of the prequels. Yet, I know that is the definition of exaggerated anticipation — and there’s no way to be completely satisfied with the result. This is a common affliction in a Star Wars fan. We put too much of our own desires into future stories that we hopelessly know will never become reality. This is why a Star Wars fan can hate and love a movie at the same time.
In my Star Wars, Anakin fell to the dark side in one tragic and dramatic moment. Something very similar to what we saw in his final moment of his fall in Revenge of the Sith. But something much more powerful. I saw him using the Dark Side only to save someone he loved — i.e. the “young queen” (mother of Luke and Leia) but because it truly was the only way to save them. Almost to say, he sacrificed himself to save them. But this isn’t my point. Yet, I mention it as this could have been the “I am your father” moment. And maybe it should have been.
In all aspects of the Prequels, we never got this “reveal” moment. We were never shocked or surprised by the story. It really felt like the three movies were telegraphed to us in a very long exposition of images. I blame George Lucas for not giving us our surprise. Where was “I am your father” in the Prequels? We didn’t get it! Maybe Palpatine should have told Anakin that he was Anakin’s father? Or that Qui-Got was? Something. This is the same thing that happened in the Sequels. We almost had it with the tease on Rey’s parents but then we didn’t get anything. I believe if we had gotten this moment in Attack of the Clones or in The Last Jedi, those trilogies would be inherently better. But then, what do I know….