Back in the day, when “A New Hope” was called “Star Wars” and the only other released video of that galaxy far, far away came in the form of an unwatchable holiday special, there was talk of at least a dozen Star Wars movies, beginning with the story of how Darth Vader got that black, evil mask. When “Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” was released, Mark Hamill went on NBC’s the "Today" show to tell Jane Pauley what the long-range plan was.
“It just so happens that the next trilogy after the next film will go back 20 years earlier, and tell of the young Alec Guinness character, and how Darth Vader came to power,” Hamill said.
As a 10-year-old kid, I couldn’t wait to see that trilogy. I imagined it would begin with Anakin Skywalker turning to the Dark Side, probably within the first 15 minutes of the film. The rest of the movie would be Vader unleashed, only to be stopped by Obi-Wan at the lip of a volcano, where the Sith Lord would fall, burn and then rise as the cyborg we all love to hate.
The second film would have been Vader tracking down all the remaining Jedi, and the odds would have been against him at first. One bad guy versus an army of the galaxy’s greatest warriors? He’d have no chance. Only Obi-Wan would be able to see the rising threat of the nascent Empire, and Vader would triumph against all odds so that the bad guys could win. I imagined the third film of a prequel trilogy would take place in a universe where Vader has already won, and a scrappy band of rebels is only beginning to take shape.
We’ll never see those movies. George Lucas decided that the logical beginning of the prequel trilogy would actually be the end, and he gave us two completely disposable films that tell us nothing of consequence and which are worse than pointless. We got to see Darth Vader as a kid, which is a story no one needed or wanted, and Darth Vader as a whiny teenager who hates sand, which, again, was not the stuff of any kid’s imaginations.
"Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" finally gave us some of the good stuff, but none of it made much sense. Five minutes before turning to the Dark Side, Anakin tries to turn the Emperor over to the Jedi Council, but then, inexplicably, he pledges himself to evil and starts slaughtering children for no good reason. We don’t get the iconic Vader suit until the last few frames, which are ruined by a melodramatic “Nooooooo!” that echoes through cinematic history as one of the cheesiest onscreen moments since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein.
The late, great film critic Roger Ebert once described a film as “like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way.” That’s how I feel about the prequels that we actually got.
Which brings us to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which is a delight from beginning to end because it’s actually my childhood version of "Episode III" brought to life. Despite the Sith Lord’s limited screen time, it gives us some of the best Darth Vader moments in all of the series, and it’s easily the best Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.” Quite simply, it’s everything "Revenge of the Sith" should have been. So how about we go back and redo the first two prequels as well? There are a lot of overgrown 10-year-old kids who would love to see that happen.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.