Si Shepherd talks Jedi business...
Over the last 16 years there has been so much written about how disappointing The Phantom Menace, and subsequent prequels, turned out to be. From trade negotiations to Jar Jar Binks, there are many places to attribute blame. But for me there is just one main area that bought these movies down - Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin Skywalker was wrong. He was all wrong. It might be fair defence to point out that it was always going to be difficult to live up to the lofty expectations of the character, but from the dialogue to the performance, Anakin Skywalker, was handled terribly.
Focusing the prequels on the rise and fall of the Jedi Knight turned Sith Lord, the story of Anakin Skywalker could've presented a story to rival any other. After all, Darth Vader is one of the most incredible and revered characters to have ever graced the big screen. The baddest badass that people had ever seen. A character who is ingrained in pop culture legacy. Everyone knows Darth Vader, and as he had once been a Jedi Knight who fell from grace, that story would surely be something that everyone wanted to see happen. It was the prequels, and so, from the moment Padme and Qui-Gon entered Watto’s junk shop to look for parts, it should've been the start of something special. An epic entrance.
Instead, we met ‘Lil Ani’. A nine-year-old slave, raised on the planet Tatooine by his mother Shmi, we are told that Anakin had no father, implying a miraculous birth. Now that's some kind of hokum right there. The whole midi-chlorians idea would've been enough without suggesting he had a Messiah like beginning. For the best part of two hours we're subjected to Jake Lloyd’s wooden, bland appearance. Is it wrong to blame an 8 year old? Yes and no. No, because there are many amazing child actors out there who could've handled the performance much, much better. Yes, because George Lucas shouldn't have cast him in the first place. It was the worst possible entrance for cinema's greatest villain, and, mistakenly, there is little hint of Anakin's future as Darth Vader, save a throwaway quote by Chancellor Palpatine as he befriends the boy, promising to "watch your career with great interest".
After sitting through a torturous two hours of The Phantom Menace, Episode II and III gave us an older Anakin. Improvement? Notsomuch. Hayden Christensen's version of Anakin was whiny, petulant and, save for a few moments (Shmi’s death comes to mind, where he was actually good), utterly disappointing.
I have no overall objection to the love story element, if it had been handled differently. After all, love is a powerful thing, and to show Anakin's emotions and actions affected by his love for his mother and Padme would, on paper, seem a wise idea. But it slowed the story down way, way too much. Again, much of the blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of George Lucas and whatever script doctors he employed. And again, in Attack of the Clones there is little suggestion of the Sith Lord he is to become, outside of a single line responding to Padme saying he's not all powerful, "Well, I should be". Yep, so should I mate.
Revenge of the Sith opens with Anakin a hero, he's a Jedi Knight and a veteran of the Clone Wars. He's no dark lord that's for sure. There is so much damage control to be done and so little time to do it in, that by the time he begins his descent to the Dark Side it feels rushed and illogical.
Anakin Skywalker should have been a tragic hero, a sympathetic figure. Characters like this come along seldomly, and the chance to tell their story is even rarer. He should've been a character who we were rooting for, even though his demise was imminent. We all knew the fate, we all knew where he would end up, but we should've been watching along and praying that Anakin would make the right choice, the smart choice, the better choice, all the while knowing that he wouldn't. At no point did I ever feel this way with Anakin.