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Can ‘Star Wars: Episode III’ be saved?

We’ve got one more year before George Lucas finishes up his “Star Wars” prequel trilogy with the as-yet-untitled Episode III, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to resolve the ongoing storylines of “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” in such a way as to lead directly into Episode IV, the original 1977 “Star Wars,” but he has to overcome t

We’ve got one more year before George Lucas finishes up his “Star Wars” prequel trilogy with the as-yet-untitled Episode III, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to resolve the ongoing storylines of “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” in such a way as to lead directly into Episode IV, the original 1977 “Star Wars,” but he has to overcome two of the most soul-killingly dull storylines ever put on film. I mean, really — I’ve seen more interesting films on sandwiches I left in my fridge too long. Is there any way for Lucas to salvage the series in a single movie? It would take a great disturbance in the Force, but it’s not impossible.

Hire some real behind-the-scenes talent

Considering that most of the worst ideas in the last two films came from Lucas himself, he might start by handing over the reins to another filmmaker.

It might be difficult to convince Lucas to go along with it, but if necessary Lucas could probably be tricked by telling him that Joseph Campbell is waiting with a documentary crew to massage Lucas’ ego by interviewing him about his wonderful mythic imagination. When Lucas shows up, knock him out, encase him in a block of frozen carbonite and put him out of the way somewhere until the movie is out in theaters.

Give creative control entirely to a new directing and writing team — it almost doesn’t matter who — and tell them to ignore “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” entirely. Rethink Episode III as a standalone story with one simple plotline: Anakin Skywalker has just married Padme (who is, unbeknownst to him, pregnant with the twins Luke and Leia who’ll show up in the next film). Seduced by ambition, Anakin leaves behind his wife, his life and even his own name to join the evil Emperor Palpatine as Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith.

It’s a story that lives or dies depending on how skillfully and sensitively a filmmaker can deal with the emotional content, and Lucas is not a filmmaker who appears capable of doing that anymore. Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia in the original trilogy, has said that “When George was directing, he'd only say two things: 'faster' or 'more intense.'” Fire Lucas as director, who has no sense of control over his storyline, encourages flat and affectless acting, and shellacs every scene with such a frenzy of special effects that they assault your senses like a strobe light.

While you’re at it, fire Lucas the writer, who has not come up with a single witty or memorable phrase in the four hours of prequel trilogy out so far. The first trilogy didn’t have this problem: For instance, “The Empire Strikes Back” had the help of the great noir writer Leigh Brackett.

Having better writers would save Lucas from amateurish nonsense like his decision to give Anakin Skywalker the emasculating nickname “Annie.” Perhaps he was planning to have him break out into a rousing chorus of “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”?

Or the totally unnecessary invention of microbial “midichlorians” to explain how the mystical Force gives Jedi knights their powers, perhaps the stupidest idea to come out of “Phantom Menace.” And that's really saying something considering all the cringe-inducing, thinly disguised sci-fi rehashes of racial stereotypes like Jar-Jar Binks. Thankfully, the “midichlorian” concept quietly dropped from the story in Clones.

Recast Darth Vader

Alfred Hitchcock’s dictum that “the more successful the villain, the more successful the picture” is of primary importance to Episode III, since the rise of Darth Vader is the heart of the story. Lucas has already done more than enough work on another Hitchcock maxim, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

Fire Hayden Christensen, whose single emotive capacity is sullen petulance, and whose attempts to put on the magisterial rage that must become Darth Vader’s hallmark instead sound like a tenth-grader whose dad won’t let him borrow the car. This is essentially the story of a guy who becomes Space Hitler, which is already hard enough to get people to take seriously without casting a scowly teen. And cut off that stupid-looking ponytail too, for crying out loud.

Clear out the dead wood

While you’re at it get rid of Natalie Portman, who as Queen Amidala has all the regal presence of a mallrat shopping at her local Fashion Bug. Keep Samuel Jackson, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, and Ian McDiarmid, and thank your lucky stars that you’ve got Christopher Lee, who’s been showcasing his considerable talent in Z-grade horror flicks for decades and knows better than perhaps any living actor how to pull a terrific performance out of truly awful material. Tell Ewan Macgregor, who’s proven elsewhere he’s a fine actor, that it’s safe to come out and emote now. Fire everyone else.

Hire Ed Wood

In many ways, “Phantom” and “Clones” were the answer to the unasked question “What would the director of ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ have done with a talented effects crew and a $200 million budget?” Well then, why not bring Ed Wood back from the grave to direct Episode III? Sure, it’s a farfetched idea, but it’s easier to swallow than “midichlorians.” We can see it now: Darth Vader develops a sudden fetish for angora sweaters, and mocks people who fall for his Jedi mind tricks with “See! It’s your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

Rip off more Kurosawa

It’s no slur on the genuinely great first “Star Wars” that much of the plotline and characterization was lifted straight out of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress.” Reusing older plotlines is a terrific way to shore up the fact that you have no interesting plots of your own. And after all, the extremely talented Kurosawa dipped into Shakespeare’s well of ideas more than once — and Shakespeare himself lifted many of his plots from earlier plays. For Episode III, rip off Kurosawa’s ripoff of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and retell the “Throne of Blood” storyline as Darth Vader’s journey into evil.

Parody the whole concept

Maybe the best thing to do would be to get Anakin to embrace the Dark Side as quickly as possible, perhaps by forcing him to confront some terrible disappointment that will haunt him for the rest of his days. We suggest this two-line scene set in a Coruscant restaurant:

WAITER: Here’s your green salad, sir.

ANAKIN: What? You fool, I told you NO CROUTONS! Aaaaaaargh!

Anakin puts on his black helmet and storms off to his local county clerk’s office and fills out the paperwork to have his name legally changed to “Darth Annie Vader.” (He later quietly drops the middle name, realizing it doesn’t help his macho image.) And then for the next two hours, it’s all special-effects spaceship battles, which is the real reason most of us will go to the theater anyway. Fade to black.

Christopher Bahn is a freelance writer in Minneapolis