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Star Wars Prequels Movies

An Animated, Open Letter To J.J. Abrams About Star Wars 376

Posted by Soulskill
from the ease-off-the-lens-flare dept.
juliangamble writes "Designer Prescott Harvey has written and animated an open letter to J.J. Abrams about the plans for the next Star Wars movie. He says, 'Like so many people, I've spent most of my recent years wondering why the original Star Wars trilogy was so awesome, and the new movies were so terrible. What are the factors that make Star Wars Star Wars? I took an empirical approach, determining what elements were in the original movies that differed from the prequels. My first major epiphany was that, in the originals, the characters are always outside somewhere very remote. The environment and the wildlife are as much a threat as the empire. All three movies had this bushwacky, exploratory feel. Contrast that with the prequels, where the characters are often in cities, or in the galactic senate. In order for Star Wars to feel like a true adventure, the setting has to be the frontier, and this became my first rule.'"
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An Animated, Open Letter To J.J. Abrams About Star Wars

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  • I couldn't find a transcript of the video. The video on YouTube didn't even have a (non-automatic) closed caption track. Where should I read what's going on?
    • Re:Transcript please (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:07AM (#44983273) Homepage Journal

      1. The setting must be gritty. Star Wars needs to happen in the "frontier," and city settings and government intrigue are an anathema. (Apparently no one's ever set foot on the Death Star or Cloud City.)

      2. Technology must be old. Shiny things are right out. (Again, apparently neither the Death Star nor Cloud City exist.)

      3. The Force must remain mysterious. Ooh, mystery.

      4. Cute things are bad. Gungans are right out. As is Anakin Skywalker. (Ewoks are okay though?)

      ...Basically, it's a load of nostalgia and action-flick obsession, and the letter's authors will be perfectly fine if the new Star Wars movies are indistinguishable from JJ Abrams's cookie-cutter take on Star Trek. Importantly, the authors completely failed to touch on any of the prequel trilogy's technical flaws—y'know, the incoherent plot, the stilted dialogue, the terrible directing, the miserable editing, the textbook cinematography. For anyone actually interested in understanding what's wrong with the prequel films, watch the Plinkett reviews [redlettermedia.com] of the three movies; there's some remarkable footage buried in there of the exact moment when George Lucas realized he had produced a heap of garbage called Episode I.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        1. The setting must be gritty. Star Wars needs to happen in the "frontier," and city settings and government intrigue are an anathema. (Apparently no one's ever set foot on the Death Star or Cloud City.)

        Maybe they weren't gritty, but they were alien, unfamiliar, threatening places where anything could happen. The audience didn't know what was in a Death Star or a Cloud City (or space port or ice planet or desert igloo farm or jungle planet or whatever) or what could happen next, and they and the protagonists were uncomfortable.Galactic Senates and the city where Natalie Portman lived were just sci-fi updates of things I see every day. Yawn.

        2. Technology must be old. Shiny things are right out. (Again, apparently neither the Death Star nor Cloud City exist.)

        The idea doesn't have to be true 100% of the time, with no exceptio

        • Re:Transcript please (Score:5, Informative)

          by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @01:26AM (#44983585) Homepage Journal

          I actually agree with your perspective on those matters as well, and was mostly just trying to be flippant. Certainly they're key to the tone of what makes Firefl—I mean, Star Wars—what it is.

          However, the prequels committed much worse crimes than merely not being Star Wars-y, as Plinkett thoroughly demonstrates, and that's a much more important consideration. If the prequel trilogy had been made with a competent and coherent artistic vision, it wouldn't have caused such a nostalgia-hugging cringe response. I bet these same people would now be accepting Star Wars as a bigger universe than just the operatic romp encoded in episodes IV–VI. The Expanded Universe covers a ton of subject matter (admittedly, I haven't read any), not just gritty frontiersing, and yet it's still been successful as a book series. This is despite having Spooky Space Mitochondria and Senate debates for decades. Perhaps most surprisingly, Midi-chlorians have been Star Wars canon since 1977 [wikia.com], before The Empire Strikes Back was even written.

          That's not to say it wasn't good sense on Lucas's part to keep such exposition out of the actual films (especially the embarrassingly bad names—seriously? Darth Plagueis? You couldn't even remove the "e" so it would look like you were at least trying? Thank god he didn't get a shout-out or we'd never stop laughing), but they're not really barriers to competent or captivating cinema on their own. These other elements could most certainly have been put together into good pictures that could mesh naturally with the original trilogy, and they'd still feel like meaningful parts of the Star Wars world, despite the different tone, as demonstrated by the contrast between Battlestar Galactica and Caprica.

          • The expanded universe novels and other media are hit and miss. Really hit and miss in some cases. Though you'll probably have most fans agree on at least one thing: Timothy Zahn's works are the best of the lot. Especially his original Thrawn trilogy, which was the first post-Return of the Jedi stories, and he had quite free reign as to how to handle the entire universe. His later works suffered somewhat for being saddled with baggage from some of the ... less-than-good novels. Though this wasn't all bad...

            I

      • by MisterSquid (231834) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @01:15AM (#44983539)

        1. The setting must be gritty. Star Wars needs to happen in the "frontier," and city settings and government intrigue are an anathema. (Apparently no one's ever set foot on the Death Star or Cloud City.)

        Both the Death Star and the Cloud City seem, to my mind, are outside the usual milieu for Star Wars action and development. The Death Star was hyper-polished and space-age minimalist, unlike the maximally baroque surfaces of the Millennium Falcon or the claptrap hulls of the rebel alliance X-Wings. In a sense, the Death Star was the home of the Other, the mirror world of the Empire that (arguably) was one part of a two-chambered narrative setting that was "A New Hope".

        The Cloud City seemed even more a "respite" from the action of the Star Wars narrative. It was a political and environmental paradise and the Star Wars narrative resumed the moment Calrissian revealed he had purchased the safety and sovereignty of his city by selling Jabba Solo.

        tl;dr: The Death Star and the Cloud City in some ways are exceptions that prove the rule that Star Wars "happens" on the frontier.

  • by capaslash (941889) on Saturday September 28, 2013 @11:36PM (#44983139) Homepage
    If you wanna know why the original trilogy worked, read about Joseph Campbell's book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces [wikipedia.org] "George Lucas' deliberate use of Campbell's theory of the monomyth in the making of the Star Wars movies is well documented. On the DVD release of the famous colloquy between Campbell and Bill Moyers, filmed at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and broadcast in 1988 on PBS as The Power of Myth, Campbell and Moyers discussed Lucas's use of The Hero with a Thousand Faces in making his films.[11] Lucas himself discussed how Campbell's work affected his approach to storytelling and film-making." "I [Lucas] came to the conclusion after American Graffiti that what's valuable for me is to set standards, not to show people the world the way it is...around the period of this realization...it came to me that there really was no modern use of mythology...The Western was possibly the last generically American fairy tale, telling us about our values. And once the Western disappeared, nothing has ever taken its place. In literature we were going off into science fiction...so that's when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, and I started reading Joe's books. Before that I hadn't read any of Joe's books...It was very eerie because in reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classic motifs...so I modified my next draft [of Star Wars] according to what I'd been learning about classical motifs and made it a little bit more consistent...I went on to read 'The Masks of God' and many other books." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell [wikipedia.org]
    • If you wanna know why the original trilogy worked,

      I disagree (PDF) [drbeat.li]

      I'm pretty fucking certain that the original saga worked because it was the 70's and people were fascinated by us pushing the human exploration space frontier (Now we just whip around in orbit, and joe 6-pack don't care), and that Lucas accidentally stumbled upon a the birth of a new type of special effects, and tripped into a cast with chemistry (Come on, it's not like Harrison Ford was destined for the role, he was a janitor), then bumbled into a plot with twists because he didn't know h

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.slashfilm.com/watch-this-70-minute-video-review-of-star-wars-the-phantom-menace/

  • Rule #4 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Saturday September 28, 2013 @11:37PM (#44983143)

    Contrast that with the prequels, where the characters are often in cities [...]

    Which brings me to rule #4. Have characters.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      More importantly: have likeable characters. I'm really hard pressed to find a character in the prequel that the audience can actually latch on to in order to get a focus on the movie. The protagonist is either too young to be the centre of attention, making the entire movie feel directionless, or he's an unlikeable jerk who makes many obvious and way too telegraphed mistakes for no good reason other than "DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE".
      • Not likeable, just interesting. Alex from "Clockwork Orange" sure as hell wasn't likeable, but you still wanted to see what happens to him next.

        • by dwywit (1109409)

          You betcha. You can like or dislike a character, but if your response is "meh", then the story-tellers have failed. It might be the script, direction, or acting, but someone, somewhere has not done their job.

    • More like rule #1, and it is illustrated ingeniously in Mr Plinkett's epic 70-minute Episode I review [redlettermedia.com].
      The aforementioned review is also widely accepted as the best thing to come out of the wreck that is SW: Episode I.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Saturday September 28, 2013 @11:43PM (#44983171)
    The key seems to be that nobody would say no to Lucas. Yesa sir Jar jar be a good character that peoples will loves. So has JJ Abrams reached that point where he is surrounded by Yes men? Or is there someone who will say, "That sucks." Not necessarily someone who can order him around but simply someone who isn't a simpering fool and has good taste.

    I recently read about LucasArts and all the bizarre choices that were made there. Basically they jumped from whim to whim. Hopefully those people are left by the doorstep by Disney. I suspect that they will weasel their way into the "creative" process and ruin everything anyway.
    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      I'd say that same issue exists everywhere. For a lot of people who had an initial smash hit, reproducing that success is hard because your entourage no longer does the necessary job of pushing back. This happens not just with directors, but also music, books, etc. Just look at how many popular authors have had difficulty reproducing their first great success, even if you ignore the bar they've set for themselves. I'd also point out the numerous singers who get a success and then consider themselves to be al
    • Yes. Yes. Yes. THIS.

      For the prequels there was absolutely no one, not one single person that could or would say no to Lucas. I myself believe that with minor changes all of the prequel movies could have been great instead of jus merely ok.

      This of course is ironic because what the prequels really need is some serious "special edition" treatment but Lucas is only willing to special editionize the original trilogy (again because one could tell him no).

    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:30AM (#44983779)

      So much this.

      I've long thought that Lucas is actually a really creative guy with a lot of good ideas. The only problem is that, just like the rest of us, not all of his ideas are good ones, and his success has led to him being given free reign to explore his ideas, regardless of whether they're good or bad. It's been my observation that pretty much everyone who is considered a visionary is full of really bad ideas too, and for as good as their good ideas are, their bad ideas are just as bad. If you read through the various rumors and stories circulating around Steve Jobs, you discover the same thing, but he had a group of people around him who were able to talk him down from various dumb ideas he had over the years (though not all of them).

      I once saw an interview with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg about the writing process for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and in just reading through it, you really get the sense that Lucas is the "let's think of crazy stuff" guy and Spielberg was much more in the role of editing Lucas' ideas and figure out how to make all of those "ooh shiny!" things that Lucas gets distracted with actually become a part of a cohesive whole. The original trilogy had similar constraints on it as well that kept Lucas in check. He didn't have free reign on A New Hope since he wasn't wildly successful yet, and he had Kershner on Empire Strikes Back. For Return of the Jedi, he didn't really have a strong person in that role, and the film suffered for it, though not nearly as much as the prequels that came decades later when he tried to recapture the glory days.

      And then you look at the latest Indiana Jones. As I understand it, Spielberg basically left it up to Lucas to do almost all of the writing, and then directed the thing, rather than having a major hand in putting it together from the get-go like he did with the earlier ones. Which isn't to say that he was uninvolved with writing, simply that he wasn't as involved, and it showed.

  • ... and he liked this. Enough said.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday September 28, 2013 @11:48PM (#44983193)

    He already turned Star Trek into a battle-oriented space opera. If anything that shows he has a decent handle of what Star Wars is. More than he has on Star Trek at least.

    • He already turned Star Trek into a battle-oriented space opera. If anything that shows he has a decent handle of what Star Wars is. More than he has on Star Trek at least.

      Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

      • Perhaps most remarkably, Into Darkness is not even the first weird amalgam of The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country in the Star Trek film catalogue; that honour belongs to Nemesis [redlettermedia.com].
        • by CyprusBlue113 (1294000) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:51AM (#44983445)

          Perhaps most remarkably, Into Darkness is not even the first weird amalgam of The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country in the Star Trek film catalogue; that honour belongs to Nemesis [redlettermedia.com].

          Nemesis ranks up there with the last Matrix movie though. It was horrible.

          Wrath of Khan is probably the most memorable moment of the entire franchise's universe. My point was, Star Trek wasn't turned into war operas by anything recent. It's been that way ever since it had a 2 hour format.

    • by hpsandwich (1750300) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:05AM (#44983261)

      He already turned Star Trek into a battle-oriented space opera. If anything that shows he has a decent handle of what Star Wars is. More than he has on Star Trek at least.

      He was never into Star Trek. At one point in an interview he stated that he never 'got' Star Trek, which is why the new Star Trek movies don't feel like Star Trek at all. There was always more of an audience (unfortunately) for space action rather than the hardcore sci-fi and intense Socratic dialogue that Star Trek is famous for. On the other-hand, he has stated multiple times that he was always a Star Wars fan, so theirs something to be said for that. Being a fan himself, he would probably be better equipped to make a movie about it.

      • For what it's worth, the Star Trek films were never that clued into the style of the shows themselves anyway, with the exception of The Motion Picture. They were cash cows; a chance to give the audience high-quality action scenes with characters who they knew were already established as morally upright and sophisticated. The difference in style is not entirely a bad thing—early drafts of The Wrath of Khan ended like this:

        As Enterprise approached the planet, its engines were badly damaged, and Spock sacrificed his life to get them back online in time for Kirk to fight the Reliant off. Later, Khan and Kirk would fight a psychic battle in a variety of exotic locations, using quarterstaffs, whips, and swords. Khan, who had acquired impressive mental powers during his isolation, eventually won, but Kirk survived because he understood that the weapons were only illusory. The film ended with a pitched space battle in orbit around the planet, in which Kirk defeated his enemy with his superior tactics. (source [memory-alpha.org])

        But, then again, the people making the original Star Trek films weren't always in

  • I always felt that the original trilogy was a better story (and better written), underdog heroes fighting a massively superior enemy and the story of the rebirth of the Jedi and their fight against the sith. I felt that the prequels on the other hand were poorly written and they didn't mesh properly with the original three movies, there were severe continuity issues. Some of the characters were utterly ridiculous, such as the much reviled (and deservedly so) Jar Jar Binks and we all knew that our heroes and

  • by Marc_Hawke (130338) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:00AM (#44983231)

    Rule 1: On the frontier.
    Rule 2: Old (well, at least broken) Not 'squeaky clean.'
    Rule 3: The force is mysterious?
    Rule 4: It's not cute.

    All of those perfectly describe Firefly, (except the Force thing, and that's not really applicable.)

    In fact, Malcolm Reynolds is a pretty accurate analogue for Han Solo, as Serenity is to the Millennium Falcon.

    Who knew we liked Firefly for the same reasons we originally liked Star Wars?

    • It wasn't so much of the "wild western" aspect as it was all the characters we loved were renegades!

    • by Dan East (318230)

      Considering Firefly came a quarter of a century after Star Wars, your question should be "Firefly is Star Wars?"

    • If it helps any, perhaps now is an opportune time to point out that River had psychic abilities. Fairly mysterious ones, at that.
  • My first rule of Star Wars Done Right is: cut out the CGI. It's crap. It never works. There isn't one movie I can think of, in fact, where CGI actually works to complement the actors doing their thing, ever.

    There's something about actual models and props that makes the interaction with humans so much more lifelike and realistic than _any_ greenscreen "let's pretend we're talking/holding/prodding something imaginary" type of activity. And don't get me started with painting over scenes with computer gener

    • The original Star Wars trilogy, before stuff was retconned in, had no CGI.

      (I mean, none of the immersive stuff that's supposed to integrate seamlessly with scenes, not talking about the primitive graphics displayed on targeting computers)

    • by Dan East (318230)

      Yeah. The CGI in LOTR totally sucked. I kept thinking how much better Gollum would have looked as an actual puppet. Actually I didn't think that at all.

    • Marvel Avenger's all CGI New York was pretty damn impressive.
  • tooo complicated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:07AM (#44983269) Homepage Journal
    Why was the first Die Hard movie incredible, the second passable, the third tolerable, and the rest awful. It was originality, the desire of Bruce Willis, who had been told he could never be a leading man, but proved himself on Moonlighting, to work hard, and the lack of expectations. With each sequel the stars get greedy, the studio get greedy, and the investors get greedy. It no longer becomes about making a movie but about making everyone rich.

    Star wars is no better or worse than any other story, except that it had the potential to be told over a number of movies.

    Movies are also pressured to maximize the use of technology to tell a story. This can work, but with episodes i,ii,and iii I think the advanced technology worked against the story, and in any future movies will be a fx tour de force, rather than story telling.

  • Short version (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pwizard2 (920421) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:09AM (#44983283)
    Dear JJ Abrams,

    We heard you're making the next Star Wars movie. Please don't fuck it up like George Lucas did with the first two prequels.

    Thanks,

    Star Wars fans everywhere
  • a clueless whore (sorry, I don't usually call people names but I simply have no better word for someone who does anything for money) not to be himself? To him and the studios is all about making money. JJ Abrams has no clue how to design a story line, have plausible characters, or stay true to the spirit of the series. He tramples over everything that was there before him, ignores the fans that are begging him to stop and comes up with the most idiotic ways to justify cramming in more special effects. But w

  • It is the guy in charge...Lucas had help directing AND producing the first round of movies. By the time the prequels came out Lucas had grown to believe his own hype, that he was the 2nd coming of Christ in the form of a director and producer, which we all quickly found out was not true...

    • [...] Lucas had grown to believe his own hype, that he was the 2nd coming of Christ [...]

      Let's just be glad he hasn't decided to rewrite other stories based on this belief. I can see it now. From the Gospel of Lucas, 24.1-4:

      1. And he was laid in a tomb for three days. 2. When the women arrived to anoint his body, they discovered an angel sitting on the tomb, who spake thus as in a strange tongue: 3. "Fear not, for Isa bringin you great tidings. Hesa havin high midiclorian count, so hisa dyin not stickin."

  • ... many years ago and did something about it. The result was called Firefly and Serenity. Harvey described Firefly! There might be something wrong with the theory, though, because look how that turned out: one series that didn't even make it to Season Two and a single movie, no "franchise" in sight.

    I'm not at all convinced that Prescott Harvey is a cinematic genius. If Joss Whedon can't make it work, the formula ain't ready to leave the drawing board.

  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday September 29, 2013 @12:44AM (#44983419) Homepage

    ST:2009 was the best film [wikipedia.org] by Academy Awards, inflation-adjusted box office, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and IMDB. Abrams blew it with ST:ID. While ST:2009 had great special effects, Abrams was so overly focused on special effects with his Trek-unprecedented $190m ST:ID budget that he forgot about the plot.

    Lucas suffered a similar problem. Oh, Lucas didn't forget about the plot in the prequel trilogy -- in fact it was richer in the prequels. Lucas was so focused on special effects in the prequels that he left all the character development on the cutting room floor. The prequels would have been much better with the cut scenes that are available on the DVDs. Couldn't let the special effects budget go to waste on the cutting room floor, you know.

    Resource constraints increase creativity. Thus, I sadly have little hope for Abrams Wars.

  • First rule is get rid of the midichlorians and get an alternate explanation for the Force. That's something that could actually be explored in the first movie.

    Han Solo finds a strange artifact that turns out to be a communication device which puts him in contact with an enigmatic race of time travellers. These time travellers lead Han Solo and a group of adventurers to a distant planet from far in the future. But during the time jump the Millennium Falcon is severely damaged and starts to plummet towards th

  • Enough of Star [Trek|Wars|Gate]! Been there, done that. We need to move on.

    "Harry Potter" did it right. They did the series of novels, in sequence, and then stopped. There's no "Hogwarts, the Next Generation".

    • "Harry Potter" did it right. They did the series of novels, in sequence, and then stopped. There's no "Hogwarts, the Next Generation".

      Yet. . .

    • Yet. There were a few years between TOS and TNG. Give Harry Potter time.
  • Okay, bear with me.

    While thinking about good and bad sci-fi inspired by the success of "Star Wars," I thought about "The Black Hole," an example of the latter. And since I was already using my internet-box-thing, I checked the wikipedia entry. And I came across this gem:

    In November 2009, it was reported that Disney has plans to remake the movie. Director Joseph Kosinski (who directed Disney's 2010 blockbuster Tron: Legacy) and producer Sean Bailey are attached to the production,[5][13] and Jon Spaihts, who wrote the original script for the Alien prequel Prometheus, was confirmed as writer for the project on April 5, 2013

    Light bulb.

    Give this project to Abrams instead -- he can't make it much worse -- and we let Star Wars rest in peace without further damage to the series. Everyone's happy.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Sunday September 29, 2013 @02:10AM (#44983685)

    How hard does it have to be to see this?

    They were all likable and they argued and sniped and competed with each other bitterly while also being friends.

    Meanwhile, the next set of movies had essentially no character conflict at all except Jar Jar.

    Darth Maul vs Qui-Gon

    They fight.. then they sit.
    And they sit.
    And they sit.
    And then they fight and Darth Maul wins.

    We don't learn a thing about either of them.

    meanwhile Jar Jar.. spearfishing Fruit irritates the hell out of the otherwise completely stoic Qui-Gon. "STOP!"

    In fact, some of the only character building banter (such as the whether the welded door will hold or not between Anakin and Kenobi) are CUT from the film-- giving us more scenes of people not saying anything and being pulled up the sides of buildings on magic ropes.

    Give us characters.

    Have those characters say things.

    Give them points of view.

    Have them show ordinary emotions like...
    Romantic Interest
    Foolishness
    Excitement
    Overconfidence
    Lust
    Depression
    Happiness
    Enjoyment of food and drink.
    Snarkiness
    Rude statements they regret.

    Make them believe they are the best and then throw them in with each other and see which ones are best and how they react to finding out they are not quite so good- or that they are good (confident? humble?)

    One of the great things about Admiral Thrawn was that he was brilliant-- he kept figuring out every move the rebels made-- and then he made an error-- a reasonable error but he was so smart he couldn't believe he could make an error. Fantastic! The plot flowed FROM the character's traits. A very strong villain makes the hero's seem even stronger.

    Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters Characters

    It's not about the scenary. Good writing with good characters can take place in a one room set and be fully engaging-- because we care.

    The original 3 insulted each other. Almost constantly. And they also liked each other.
    And the actors found ways to make the characters likable-- that's what actors do.
    But actors need good writing to start with. Then they put little twists on the words or in the way those words or delivered-- the subtext.

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