Michael Barryte of Belated Media gave us a sneak peak at “What if Episode III Were Good?” Guess who isn’t in his version of the movie?
(The video is out now! Click here to see it and check out our thoughts on how everything turned out!)
It’s a big week for Star Wars. I mean, yeah, that new movie’s coming out at the end of the week. But what people are REALLY waiting for is just a day away. Michael Barryte of Belated Media is finally going to release his massively anticipated “What If Star Wars Episode III Were Good?” video, completing his tour through the Star Wars prequels as a hypothetical story executive at 20th Century Fox able to tweak and improve the prequel movies into something we’d all actually want to see. We’ve got a first look at some of the storyboards used in the video, and I had the opportunity to chat with Barryte about what’s going on in his version of Episode III.
If you’re not familiar with Barryte’s work on Episode I and Episode II, let’s catch you up to speed a little. Back in early 2012, before even a hint of Lucasfilm’s sale to Disney (and thus more Star Wars movies) had emerged, Barryte (via his Belated Media channel) set out with a simple idea: If he were able to influence the development of the prequels based on George Lucas’s original scripts, how might they have turned out differently?
“It started purely as a list video of, ‘Here are things that are really cool about episode 1.’ Like things that are actually good,” Barryte said. “And then it became, ‘Well, if we extrapolate these components out a little bit, this could have happened.’ And then it turned into, “Let’s just reconfigure certain points of the story to rework things.” So I was sticking within the framework.”
It worked. The video blew up, and today has nearly 3 million views on YouTube. A followup “What if Star Wars Episode II Were Good” debuted with the same idea in August 2013 and has over 2 million hits in its own right.
“Bearing in mind what George Lucas presented to all of us.” That was the great caveat of the entire series, in a way, and to many what’s distinguished it from other prequel complaints. Barryte’s “What if”s are an attempt to fix what’s there, not imagine a completely different Star Wars.
That doesn’t mean no changes, though. The Episode 1 revision aged up Anakin to his Attack of the Clones status almost immediately and shifted more narrative focus to Obi-Wan. Episode II required even more drastic steps.
Well, with [Episode] II I had to change a lot more than I wanted to because the general structure didn’t fully mesh with the focus. We got the strange focus of a love story in the middle of what should be – I mean the title is Star Wars. But instead we got a romance and a lot of buildup to a war. Like that’s all of II. And we need to be seeing a little more unrest. So I had to shift a lot of stuff with II, but whenever I try to tackle these “what if”s I like to look at my start point and my endpoint and them make sure that I’m at least starting and ending at roughly the same spots. So with Episode II, the starting point is, there’s unrest, and the end is, the Clone Wars are definitely happening. So as long as I hit those two things, it allowed me to be a little bit more lose. With [Episode] III, I stuck a little closer to what George initially set up as our start and end.
Barryte said that with his revision of Episode III, it came down more to how specific characters were portrayed. For some, like General Grievous, that still means big changes.
He’s received a bit of an overhaul to be a character who’s intimidating, as opposed to a pushover. Because the thing that’s so frustrating about General Grievous is he, in the [Cartoon Network Clone Wars] miniseries, is intimidating, powerful, scary, and if you’re just a movie viewer you don’t get any of that. And so you come in and you’re like, “Why is this robot coughing. Why are we supposed to be scared of him?” Everybody says he’s scary. They’re always saying he’s a thorn in their side, but then you’ve got the quote from [Mace] Windu of, “General Grievous will run and hide like he always does.” Implying this is an ongoing thing. This guy shows up, is kind of a jerk, and for some reason we’re scared of him. But he’s in hiding all the time. It’s a very frustrating thing to be told conflicting information, to see something that doesn’t make him scary. So I went about at least giving him a scene that makes you scared of him a little bit.
But probably one of the biggest things people want to know is how Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side has been improved. Paradoxically, Barryte’s answer was to show less of it
Well, I can say that, while not spoiling too much, you aren’t going to be seeing the full transformation of Darth Vader in my Episode III. One, because the main character [in my version] is Obi-Wan, and two, because we’re starting so late in the game. If we were starting not constructed around George [Lucas]’s version it might be possible because we can start seeing that gradual decline earlier.
When I tackled Episode III, and really the whole prequel trilogy, a big question for me was – and I say this in the video – what function should the prequels serve? Because there are two conflicting arguments as to what function they should serve. The first is, they’re a prequel trilogy. So I’ve already seen [episodes] 4, 5, and 6. That then grants this prequel trilogy a bit of fan service. But they are numbered 1-6, so the sequential viewer comes in and sees Anakin becomes Darth Vader, and all of 4, 5, and 6’s surprises are ruined for them. And so a lot of what I then had to do was then say, ok, how can I make it so that regardless of what movie you start watching from, some of these moments of huge impact for characters are still intact?
Barryte confirmed that meant we won’t be seeing Luke and Leia born in his version, but it also had other implications, like trimming down the romance in a couple key ways.
First, Padme is no longer the main factor in Anakin’s fall.
Padme is a motivator, but not the sole reason [that Anakin falls to the dark side]. A lot of it is more going back to Anakin’s roots, which in II it’s touched on for a moment that Anakin was a slave. In III, there’s absolutely no mention, to my recollection, that he comes from a slave background…A lot of what I was doing when examining that [Anakin’s fall] was going, “Ok, let’s look back at just the core of Anakin, and what are some of the things that might be important to him that would cause him to fall down a less desirable path?”
Second, that romance in general would be much less of a focus.
Rewatching the original trilogy, you immediately identify that there is romance in those films, but it is very much a sideline issue. Whereas in the prequels, it’s a front and center issue…Luke saves Leia, and then Leia gives him a kiss, and then they go swing across a thing [the chasm in the Death Star], and theres really no other romantic anything. There’s a little bit of banter between Leia and Han but it’s no sexual tension.
For Barryte, he said that was license enough to strip out nearly all of the most-maligned dialogue in both Episode II and Episode III. Plus, with Obi-Wan firmly in place as the main character, it just needs to be hinted at.
Like there’s a bit of a relationship there [between Anakin and Padme], but it’s not delved into, it just happens to exist. We learn about it and we roll with it…a lot of that relationship of Anakin and Padme is only seen through Obi-Wan’s eyes, so he doesn’t get everything.
One of Barryte’s biggest changes in Episode II was reworking Owen Lars’ (Luke’s uncle who raises him) relationship to Obi-Wan and Anakin, which, as Barryte points out in his Episode II video, “is super weird.” His solution was repositioning Owen as a pilot who runs with Obi-Wan and Anakin for most of Episode II. But how will that carry over into Episode III, particularly when Barryte is once again sticking a little closer to the actual movie?
Once I introduce a character and say that he’s going to be a little bit more important, obviously some ripples have been sent out. So Owen is very much present, but he’s not as actively involved in the story as he was in II. But he does have to have some relation to Obi-Wan, and I felt like I needed to establish that by having him closer. He talks pretty spitefully about Old Ben [in A New Hope].
So Owen’s arc is about getting burned by his adventure away from Tatooine and into the wider galaxy?
That’s kind of the angle I’m looking to play. At the start of things, and this isn’t a terrible spoiler, everybody’s talking about what they’re going to do once the war is over. And we basically see that nobody gets what they want, but we have to set that up to just see what this war made them have to do. What it cost them. And in Owen’s case, it’s a lot. Everybody’s giving up a lot for the greater good of the galaxy.
The greater good…which of course ends up becoming the greater evil of the empire. Well done, Mr. Barryte, well done indeed.
But what about our main character? The core of Barryte’s version of both Episode 1 AND Episode II has been Obi-Wan. What’s in store for him?
It’s a weird situation where Obi-Wan is such a critical part of Empire and A New Hope just shaping and informing Luke so much, and yet he’s sent on fetch quests for most of [the actual] Episode II. And [in the actual] Episode III he’s got more to do, but he’s still chasing people. He’s chasing down Grievous and then he’s running to find Anakin. He’s always a few steps behind…It’s never good. And he gets tossed around a ton. Like his fight against Grievous, that’s his first victory. And even that victory is a very haphazard one, he has to scramble and use a blaster, so it’s not even on the terms he would like to be winning. Before that, he gets kicked around by Jango Fett, he gets knocked unconscious in that battle with Dooku. Just, poor Obi-Wan. So I tried to give him moments where you feel like he’s really succeeding. Well, he’s succeeding in some ways and then losing in others.
With Obi-Wan, he actually has the most straightforward arc, because we start him in a place, in Episode 1, where he’s talking about how, oh there were all these great battles that used to be happening, that seems so amazing. He’s romanticizing the valantry of war and Qui-Gon’s like, “Well, war isn’t such a great thing.” Then this whole Clone Wars thing happens and he sees the actual cost of war.
Barryte says this is key to linking up his reimagined prequels to the original films as well, because Obi-Wan comes out of the prequels a battle-hardened veteran who is both jaded about war and had his role reversed – he’s then the cautious mentor for Luke. He also said Obi-Wan will be getting Anakin’s lightsaber in a way similar to the existing movie, and no, we won’t get to see Anakin make his red lightsaber. Too bad.
To wrap up, we talked a little about Barryte’s now nearly four-year journey making this series of prequel “What If”s. Sounds like it’s been quite an experience. Ever since his Episode II video, people have been badgering him about the release of Episode III.
It’s very strange when that goes from curiosity to animosity. Coming from strangers it’s particularly tough, because you wind up in a situation – just imagine for a moment you’re walking down the street and having strangers somehow know your New Year’s resolutions and yell at you, “Why haven’t you lost 10 pounds yet?” or “You’re never goin to lose that weight!” or “When are you signing up for cooking school?” And you’re like, “What? I was just going about my day and suddenly this curious person just popped in and asked very abruptly.” So that sort of weighed on me a little more than I should have let it.
I overthink things to begin with, but then having to take into account knowing that people are expecting it to be really good instead of just, “Oh, I think this is pretty good!” There’s like a handful of lines in there with a disclaimer quality to them, just to kind of smooth things out with perhaps a vocal few.
And what about looking back on the series now? Barryte says there are only a few things he would change.
I’m pretty happy with things. I know there will certainly be people who say, “This component isn’t perfect.” And I’m not trying to make a perfect reworking. I’m looking to just heighten a few components I think could have been better explored. Things like, “Hey, darth maul was a great character and could have been an antagonist. Why don’t we keep that?” Those are the things, when that started going, I got really excited by it.
We’ll have coverage of “What if Star Wars Episode III Were Good?” as soon as it goes live tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks to Michael Barryte for taking the time to tell us (and you) a bit about what went into Episode III and his entire “What If?” prequel series. You can find him and Belated Media on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. He’s a phenomenal follow of you like snarky and informative movie commentary (which we do).
You can also check out more from Jackie Whisler, the storyboard artist for both “What if Episode II Were Good” and “What if Episode III Were Good” at JackieWhisler.com.