(Warning: spoilers for the first two Star Wars prequels, and a spoiler for The Incredibles, to follow.)
So, the third Star Wars prequel movie is coming, and I’m looking forward to it as much as anyone. The trailer certainly looks good. And if nothing else, once it’s over we’ll at least have all the hype out of the way.
The new trailer has gotten me thinking about the thing that’s really spoiled the prequel trilogy for me so far. And no, I don’t mean Anakin the Whiny the Younger, Anakin the Whiny the Elder, or even Jar-Jar the Annoying Minstrel Stereotype, either. Those were things I could deal with. What I’m talking about is one of the most blantant examples of the idiot plot that I’ve ever seen.
My pet term for this particular brand of idiot plot involves the phrase “sleepgas the holodeck.” It actually comes not from Star Wars, but from a Star Trek: the Next Generation episode of a few years back. This particular episode was actually several different kinds of stupid: it took the two most-overused-and-misused plot elements of the entire Next Generation canon—the Prime Directive and the malfunctioning Holodeck—and blended them together into one of the worst episodes I can remember.
The situation is this: the Enterprise has come to pick up an anthropologist studying a primitive tribe on a planet that’s about to be destroyed by its sun going nova, or some other such astrological disaster. The anthropologist pleads with Picard to rescue the tribe he’s studying and transport them to another planet, but Picard refuses; the Prime Directive forbids it. (Never mind the fact that the Prime Directive is meant to protect developing cultures, not cultures that are about to be wiped out by an act of nature.) The anthropologist proceeds to hack the Enterprise’s eminently-hackable computer and beam them aboard anyway—into the holodeck, which is set up to simulate their native environment. The idea is to take the tribe on a “journey,” gradually adjusting the holodeck environment around them to look like the uninhabited planet where they’re going to be dropped off (since Picard has no choice but to go along with the anthropologist’s plan now that he’s rescued the people; it was apparently okay to let a supernova kill them but not okay just to chuck them out the airlock afterward). The problem is, the holodeck is malfunctioning, and Geordi LaForge has to go to all sorts of craziness to keep the holodeck up and running so the tribe doesn’t find out they’re really on a starship.
The thing is, in other episodes it had been shown that the Enterprise could be entirely or partly flooded with anaesthezine knockout gas. So about halfway through this episode, I was yelling at the screen, “You morons, why don’t you just sleepgas the damn holodeck and keep them out long enough to fix it?” Yeah, the tribe falling all unconscious at once would be a bit unnatural—but a lot less so than their whole world flickering out of existence into a black and yellow grid around them! And given that the anthropologist had already been accepted among them as some kind of a prophet figure anyway, he could have come up with a suitable explanation.
But, if they’d done that, they wouldn’t have had the necessary Dramatic Tension. So the characters all acted like idiots for the sake of the plot. Hence, idiot plot.
And the first two Star Wars prequels suffered from one hell of an idiot plot point between the end of the first one and the start of the second one.
“So, this kid you’ve ripped away from his mother has just saved your queen and your planet a couple of times over. What do you do for him? Throw him a big parade? Train him as a Jedi? How about send someone back to Tattooine and buy his mother? Hell, if you’re clever you can probably get her for less than one of Amidala’s fancy dresses costs. If nothing else, trade a starship for her, you’ve got plenty to spare.”
But nobody did. Which meant that ten years or so later, Anakin gets to have bad dreams and, as soon as his mentor turns his back, rush back to Tattooine just in time to catch the tail end of his mother being tortured to death by Tusken Raiders. Say hi to Darth Vader!
Yes, yes, I know the Jedi are egotistical and vain and all, they think little of messing with others’ lives, and it was probably more convenient for Jedi training not to have the mother around anyway. But Amidala is a more sensitive type; she’s been with Anakin enough to know what he really misses, and she would have the wealth and power to do something about it. Yet we’re supposed to believe she wouldn’t? Are we supposed to believe that out of every single person who knows Anakin’s story not one would do something to help?
Of course we are. Without the Great Tragedy of Anakin’s mother, they don’t have a Darth Vader plot. Hence, idiot plot.
It’s pretty much the opposite of The Incredibles in that regard. Ironically, the incident within the first ten minutes of The Incredibles that sets up the plot of the rest of the movie also involves a child prodigy who turns to the dark side because of something his elders failed to do—Mr. Incredible failed to take “Incrediboy” (nee Buddy) seriously. Unlike Star Wars and the Jedi, however, we can hardly fault Mr. Incredible for making this mistake—Buddy is the very stereotype of the Annoying Fanboy, even if he is a very talented annoying fanboy; we the audience don’t take him seriously either. There’s no idiot plot here, because the audience isn’t any smarter than Mr. Incredible at this point. That’s one of the things that makes the movie so charming.
But the Star Wars prequel trilogy just misses the boat here. It’s a pity, as aside from that one idiot plot point, the films are pretty good. Not on the level of the originals, but still pretty good.
Hopefully the third one will be better.