Leaving aside for a moment any deficiencies in the storytelling, the Star Wars prequels are a wonderland for fans of sci-fi tech. Each prequel movie has about as many first appearances of new ships and vehicles as any two of the classic movies. If one of Lucas’s goals for the prequel trilogy was create more toys (and you are free to take that figuratively or literally), he succeeded, in spades.
However, as I’ve noted that Mike’s noted, few if any of the ships and vehicles from the prequels have the same level of iconic design as, say, the Millennium Falcon, or a TIE fighter. In part that may be deliberate; as we saw in the last post, sometimes the ships of the prequels are deliberately more evolutionary than revolutionary. I also wonder to what extent the comparative lack of whoa-ness of the prequel designs is an effect of seeing each one so briefly, since so few are seen in more than one movie. We never get the familiarity that we have with X-Wing fighters or the Falcon. Maybe instead of hitting us over the head with dozens of new things each episode, it would have been better to have some more technological continuity.
In particular, no ship from the prequels feels like home the way the Falcon does, or carries the same freight of memories. The most obvious candidate for the good old reliable starship would be one of the silvery Naboo cruisers: there’s at least one in every movie, and they’re the only ships other than fighters that the characters ever take when they go haring off on adventures. But there are four versions in three movies! Admittedly, one gets blown up, but still, it’s excessive. Better to have one ship, or two copies of the same model, all the way through. It would give the audience a familiar touchstone through all three movies, something that might–like the Millennium Falcon–come to feel like a character in its own right.
(Quick question: if the Falcon hadn’t made it out of the second Death Star, would you have been more upset by the death of Lando or the destruction of the Falcon?)
The next question in this imaginary prequel rewrite is, which shiny sliver spaceship should the filmmakers have chosen? Let’s review the contenders.
First, the SR-71esque Naboo cruiser from TPM.
Second, the B-2esque Naboo cruiser that gets blown up at the very beginning of AotC.
Third, the retro/pulp Naboo yacht from AoTC.
Finally, the Naboo star skiff from RotS, which looks like a smaller, faster, cooler version of the B-2esque one from AotC.
So which one should it be?
It can’t be the one from TPM. It’s a pretty silver SR-71, but it’s still an SR-71, and therefore too Earthy to be a contender for the next Millennium Falcon. (I know, there will never be another Falcon. It was a figure of speech.) Ditto for the B-2 from AotC, and besides, that one hardly looks like something that would be fun to take out for a spin. Very Driving Miss Padme.
In my mind, the only serious contenders are the AotC needle and the RotS boomerang. But which?
Much to my surprise, the AotC needle is growing on me. In The Clone Wars it basically does function as Padme’s runabout, or maybe I should say “they basically do”, since Jar-Jar accidentally destroys one on Rodia and another is left behind on a doomed Separatist ship. It’s not devoid of coolness. But in the end, I just can’t get totally on board. It’s too simple. There’s no there there. And it’s a bit distracting, like a straight up 50s atomic rocketship that took a wrong turn at Mars and ended up in the used universe of Star Wars. Take your three tail fins, land vertically upon them, and your journey to the pulp side will be complete! In the final analysis, it still reminds me too much of Earth, even though that Earth is the shiny world of futures past.
That leaves the star skiff. And lest you think it only wins by default, I do have some genuinely positive things to say about it. I like the overall design. It looks fast in a way that its bigger cousin doesn’t, and it looks a bit aggressive, and most of all it looks like it would be a blast to fly (imagine banking it into the Death Star trench–and then imagine trying that with any of the other three). I like the not-entirely-shiny engines and the (small) patches of exposed machinery. It looks like a Star Wars ship that happens to be mostly smooth and shiny, not like Lucky Laser of Space Patrol blundered into the wrong universe. Slight changes and modifications to the exposed machinery from movie to movie could illustrate the decline of design aesthetics as the galaxy slides into war. Finally, although we never saw them fired in RotS, the star skiff does have guns, which I’ve already established as a prerequisite for any self-respecting Star Wars vehicle.
As shown in RotS, the star skiff is a bit too small to serve all the roles that the shiny silver ships serve in the prequels. In particular, it could not hold the retinue of handmaidens, advisors, Jedi, and assorted pathetic lifeforms that TPM requires. So I’d scale it up by a factor of maybe 1.5–big enough to hold a few more folks, not too big to be awesomely swooshable. And instead of destroying it with a bomb at the beginning of AotC, I’d have the assassin launch a missile that is heroically, fatally intercepted by one of the escort fighters. The wrecked fighter could crash on the landing platform and its pilot, Captain Panaka, could die in Padme’s arms. (Possibly I’ve given this too much thought.)
Well, that’s my vision of semi-shiny pseudo-Falcon for the prequels. What would you do?