Shortly before continuity exploded, the staff of Eleven-ThirtyEight gathered to ponder some of our own “what if” ideas for the Original Trilogy, in honor of the classic Star Wars Infinities comics of the early aughts. I’m now proud to present round two, in which we push further than Infinities ever did, by which of course I mean go backwards, into the great goldmine of ill-considered decisions that is the Prequel Trilogy.
You may notice a new name below, so let me also take this moment to welcome Rocky Blonshine, she of our recent feature article on the Rule of Two, and now our newest full staff member here at ETE! Welcome aboard, Rocky—you break it, you bought it.
Jay: After watching Revenge of the Sith, we’d all wondered how it was possible that Obi-Wan could jump over Maul without injury while the same maneuver pretty much destroyed Anakin. As everyone knows, possessing the high ground gives you a +5 attack bonus. Suppose, then, that Kenobi was the one diced in half at the end of The Phantom Menace instead of Darth Maul — what changes?
Well, first, we might assume that Anakin doesn’t get trained. This changes a bewildering amount of things in the entire Star Wars saga, but I’ll happily dispose of this scenario because I think it is fairly unlikely. Yes, Yoda does say “agree with you the council does” regarding Kenobi’s insistence on training Anakin — but it’s worth noting that it’s suggested this conversation had already occurred. It’s possible that they could have chatted about it on the trip over from Naboo or even while there, but I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that the council had connected the defeat of Maul with the training of Anakin. Indeed, in sending the Jedi back to Naboo, they made it clear that the two matters are completely separate.
So what’s next? Who trains Anakin? It could be anybody, but Yoda would be the ideal choice simply because he is the grandmaster and he has the most to worry about with Anakin’s training. We may well assume that the training goes swimmingly — witness ghost Kenobi’s statement about how he thought he could train Anakin as well as Yoda, but actually couldn’t. There’s a potential wrinkle: what we’ve seen of Yoda’s rather severe training methods, at least in the PT, suggest to me that Yoda may well have hastened Anakin’s fall to the dark side.
Most of us can agree that the PT Jedi order is fairly flawed. It’s emotionally stunted, creepy, and uncaring. Kenobi’s responses to Anakin’s questioning of this orthodoxy is a general “you will obey me, or else” followed by a general mellowing out and tolerance once the two get closer. The combination is toxic. Kenobi first accustoms Anakin to disobedience, and then tolerates it. What we’ve seen from Yoda suggests that Yoda would be less tolerant of diversion from orthodoxy, but he is also better at explaining why things are the way they are: certainly Jedi come to him for counsel for a reason. Yoda nearly succeeded in turning Dooku — if he could strike some empathy with that arrogant old so and so, he could probably find a way to make a disobedient child understand the ways of things.
So, really, they’d have all been better off if Kenobi had just died. Of course, that may have introduced further complications such as Maul killing Amidala, Panaka, and Jar Jar before the Jedi Council returned, but I doubt he would have stayed around once the droid armies had been defeated.
But regardless, destiny had another plan. Kenobi may have had a defensive penalty when jumping over Maul, but Anakin had to be trained a certain way and as such, Kenobi survived the impossible odds of jumping over an enemy with the high ground.
Of course, Anakin in ROTS could have just tried to not be an idiot and jumped anywhere else — but that’s another PT change, and I only get to pick one.
Ben: In a trilogy full of them, it’s a big claim to make but this is the King WTF Moment in the Prequels, as Anakin flips out in front of Padmé on Tatooine:
And in response to this? Padmé gives him a hug!
Would Padmé not indulging Anakin have changed things so greatly? I think it would have amped up the tragedy angle considerably.
We know that of all the characters, it is Padmé that Anakin actually does tend to listen to the most. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that she could have forced him to face the horror of what he did and, in so doing, armour himself against a repetition. No one else would have a chance of doing this. Obi-Wan would get rejected, Windu dismissed and Yoda? Who cares about that all-too-stoic green dwarf?
Would this utterly screw over Sidious’ plans? I do not think so, but it would throw a major spanner in the works. That said, Sidious has the Clone Wars to erode Anakin’s new-found moral leanings. He has time and he’s certainly arrogant enough to think that in a contest of influence with Padmé, he would come out the victor. At this point we have an angel versus demon battle going on, with Padmé and Sidious respectively – even with greater and better self-control, achieved via the incentive and fear of keeping or losing his relationship with Padmé, would Anakin reject Sidious totally?
Here, the problem is that Anakin is simply outclassed by Sidious, he’s not the sharpest tool in the box to begin with after all. All Sidious likely needs to turn Anakin back to him is to ask how Padmé could ever understand a man who can wield the Force. How can she possibly know what drives him or what forces compel him to act? Who is she to judge him? Is Anakin going to let some feeble human boss him around, the way Watto used to? Sidious has no scruples, every psychological trigger or push he can use, he will use and I doubt whatever vestige of control Anakin has developed will suffice against the onslaught.
Might this backfire on Sidious though? Might his slur on Padmé be seen by Anakin as an insult too far? Quite possibly, he seeks any technique in ROTS to save her from what he is convinced is a doomed fate. He may well take on Sidious, there and then – and lose. Which is where Sidious plays another ace – you want to defeat me? Then you must learn from me, only then can you can save your wife. The Jedi are helpless, I am your only salvation, but you must call me master! Sidious does this because he has faith, absolute faith, in the corruptive properties of the dark side.
Why would this improve things? One of the biggest weaknesses of the PT, perhaps the biggest, is Christensen’s portrayal, at Lucas’ behest, of Anakin Skywalker. People really hate the guy and end up counting down the seconds until he goes off the rails as Darth Vader. In short, the tragedy of the Prequels doesn’t work because at no point is there a sense Anakin could have avoided his fate and nor does the audience wish him to! But a more appealing Anakin? One forced to confront his flaws who then tries to combat them, even if he knows he might fail? That the cards are all stacked too much against him? That in Sidious, he has an adversary that out-classes him in every respect but still takes on? Yes, such an Anakin Skywalker may well be a truly tragic figure.
Mike: “This time, we’ll do it together.” – Obi-Wan on the Invisible Hand‘s observation deck, reminding Anakin not to run off half-cocked again
In one of the Chosen One’s most pointless displays of idiocy, when Obi-Wan and Anakin first battle Dooku after the Battle of Geonosis, the latter interrupts the former’s strategizing to run straight toward the Sith Lord—and directly into his Force lightning, knocking him temporarily out of commission. This gives Dooku an opening to disable Obi pretty quickly, and then—wait for it—disarm Anakin shortly thereafter. Only Yoda’s arrival saves the pair’s lives and forces the Count to flee the planet.
From here, the Clone Wars become an endless game of cat-and-mouse as the Jedi (and by “the Jedi” I mean, of course, Obi-Wan and Anakin) repeatedly scramble from one corner of the galaxy to another in the futile hope of engaging Dooku again and capturing or killing him—and all the while Dooku is free to stir shit up and prolong the war that would apparently grind to a halt but for the influence of this one dude.
But what if Anakin wasn’t so freaked about Padmé’s tumble in the sand that he actually waited for two goddamn seconds and they took on Dooku as a pair?
Well, to be fair, they don’t do enormously better on the Invisible Hand three years later (the “doubling” of certain powers notwithstanding), but they do win. It’s amusing to imagine a scenario where Obi loses a limb instead of Anakin, but that’s not really a big change to the mythology. I think it’s pretty reasonable to suggest that they could’ve at least kept Dooku busy long enough for Yoda to show up—and with all three of them in the game, prevented him from escaping. The Clone Wars have more than their share of convenient jailbreaks already, and that just puts us back to square one, so let’s assume that Dooku doesn’t survive the three-on-one confrontation. Do the Clone Wars stop, just as soon as they started?
Well, no, I don’t think so…but it does cause some trouble with The Plan. One of the things I love about the Prequel Era is how stacked Palpatine’s deck is from the beginning; even if you make little changes here and there, it’s easy to see him still coming out on top in the end. But the Clone Wars presenting a plausible existential threat to the Republic was crucial—and without Dooku to guide the petty, bickering Separatist Council (not to mention these people) and to muddy the Jedi’s public image by his mere existence, the path to Order 66 becomes a lot less clear.
Palpatine doesn’t have any extra apprentices waiting in the wings (certainly no one with Dooku’s charisma), so the question becomes, does he make his play for Anakin early? He seems content to let the relationship with Padmé play out until Anakin comes to him of his own volition, but if a tighter timetable became necessary, it’d be a simple matter to endanger her life in such a way that the oversensitive Anakin would sense impending danger and go the same route he did in RotS.
So let’s say Anakin turns, and goes so far as to lead the Separatists in Dooku’s place—because Palpatine still needs the war to happen. Things can proceed more or less normally from here, except for two things—no Luke and Leia, because Padmé still isn’t down with the whole “evil” thing, and Anakin, never having been supplanted by “Darth Vader” in the public eye, goes from Hero With No Fear to Public Enemy #1.
Of course, he’s still the Chosen One, so I don’t think Palpatine would be as happy to get rid of him as he was Dooku, but even if he was able to continue serving in the Empire under the public radar, he’s not a fallen war hero, he’s just some Jedi whelp who turned traitor. He didn’t have three years of war to hone not only his skills, but his sense of duty and his friendship with Obi-Wan. And to top it all off, he’s lost Padmé that much sooner—so what you’re left with is a bitter, cynical Sith Lord who didn’t even have a family and friends to betray. Without the attack on the Jedi Temple, Obi-Wan might have seen his fall (like Dooku’s) as political idealism, not a moral failing, and tried that much harder to redeem him, but remember that this is the Anakin of Obi’s “my young Padawan” phase—I don’t see it happening. I think this time, Obi is toast.
Rocky: Speaking of Clone Wars what-ifs, what if Anakin had actually done the Jedi thing aboard the Invisible Hand, and brought Dooku back to Coruscant for a trial?
For once, Anakin listened to the Jedi, and decided to just knock Dooku out and drag him back to Coruscant. Palpatine protests valiantly, but who would he be to go completely against his Jedi rescuers? It’s true, the Republic would love to see one of the Separatists brought to justice. The war is drawing to a close, and it would be very bad if the leader of the Separatists tells the whole Republic that their beloved Supreme Chancellor is a Sith Lord. Even if it would make for a good show of a trial. What if Dooku tries to turn on Palpatine? It could serve the dual purpose of getting rid of the Sith Lord and ending the Clone Wars.
Even if Dooku is captured and brought back to Coruscant, we have every reason to believe he’ll never make it to trial. Palpatine has a good plan going, and he’s not going to let something like his apprentice getting captured foil the plan. For that matter, Palpatine might even have a contingency plan if something like this happens. We see that every possibility is accounted for throughout the entire Clone Wars, and Palpatine has probably considered the idea of Dooku getting captured or killed early, and maybe even the possibility of Dooku turning on him as a Sith apprentice should. But what about Dooku surviving when Palpatine had figured Anakin would kill the Sith?
After Obi-Wan and Anakin drag Dooku out of the Invisible Hand (perhaps involving an impressive display of landing half a ship), Palpatine has a lot of covering-up to do. Dooku’s going to be feeling very betrayed that his master just let him get captured, and maybe he’s even wondering if he’s going to get replaced by someone else. Palpatine has to make sure Dooku doesn’t just tell the entire Republic that the Clone Wars were all a Sith plot. Maybe Palpatine has another slightly disenchanted Jedi in mind as a new apprentice. As soon as the Jedi start talking to Dooku, they’ll probably find out that things don’t add up; Dooku’s own self-preservation is his chief concern, and he’s probably going to start telling the Jedi things they may not have expected hearing. Plea bargains probably exist even in the Republic.
In the meantime, Palpatine isn’t panicking. Even if he didn’t have a plan for this situation (unlikely), he can certainly find some way to get rid of Dooku before his (now former) apprentice convinces the whole Republic that the Supreme Chancellor is the Sith Lord they’re looking for. Poisoned, perhaps. Or an unfortunate airspeeder accident on the way to a trial. Whatever the circumstance, Dooku is now dead under suspicious circumstances, and the office of the Supreme Chancellor vows to investigate. The Jedi are furious that this happened right under their noses, the war is still going on, and chaos threatens again.
Of course, the Jedi don’t find out anything concrete. Now the government is confused and suspicious as well. Was this perhaps a Jedi plot? They captured a Sith, he died under their care, and no one knows anything. Maybe Anakin starts asking questions. The media most certainly is, and the Senate demands answers. And then Anakin has a little talk with Palpatine about what the Dark Side has to offer. The Jedi finally investigate Dooku’s claim that Palpatine is the Sith Lord, which propels Order 66 into action a bit sooner than anticipated. One way or another, it’s going to end with the Jedi being extinct, Anakin on the Dark Side, and the Republic transformed into the Empire. Just through a more politically intriguing route.
Alexander: Just as with the Original Trilogy, there are many points during the prequels where even slightly altering the course of events could result in a radically different future. Relatively few of those would likely avert the rise of Palpatine’s empire, however – master manipulator that he is, it wouldn’t seem overly difficult for him to compensate for most changes to the story to bring things back in line with his grand plan (unless, of course, he finds his secret identity exposed, in which case you really do have something quite different on your hands).
But what about a point of divergence that does little in the context of the Prequel Trilogy, but sets up a completely new stage for the rest of the saga? I speak, of course, of the famous duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The one point that can truly be said to bind the two halves of the saga together, bringing an end to their years of adventuring together and setting them on separate paths that won’t cross again for two decades. Obi-Wan goes into seclusion on Tatooine with Luke after his victory, and Anakin becomes the masked cyborg Darth Vader, enforcer of the Emperor’s dark will and indefatigable hunter of all those that survived the Purge.
Obi-Wan was clearly the winner of their volcanic encounter, but Anakin still managed to cling to life just long enough for the newly-enthroned Emperor to come to his rescue. Now, let’s ask ourselves, what if he hadn’t? What if Obi-Wan had chosen to end his life then and there, or if he had simply expired before help could arrive? Palpatine would have his Empire, but he’d be robbed of his capable right hand, his most useful servant. He spent more than a decade grooming Anakin for the role, and Vader is clearly far more capable than most (if not all) of the officers around him by the time of the Original Trilogy.
The Emperor might seek out another apprentice to train, but that would take a great deal of time and energy and would still have little hope of achieving the same degree of meteoric success, especially after wiping out the majority of the trained Force-users in the galaxy. He might choose to make up for the loss in quality with quantity, but even an entire legion of Inquisitors couldn’t begin to compare to Vader. An Empire without Vader is also much less of a threat to the fledgling rebel movements and Purge survivors: Palpatine hardly has the time to set about hunting them down personally, and the remaining Jedi have little reason not to join forces and start hitting back if they don’t have to worry about someone stronger than all of them put together swooping down on their lightsaber parties.
Without the specter of Vader hanging constantly over their heads, Obi-Wan and Yoda might feel more confident in their ability to act or even eventually emerge from hiding. The former could still be alive and well into the middle of the Original Trilogy and able to train Luke as he wished (if he hadn’t started earlier) without having to worry about the Dark Lord revealing any inconvenient truths. Surviving to meet up with the rebellion, it might be the name of General Kenobi, hero of the Clone Wars, that becomes a rallying point for all those opposed to Imperial rule, instead of Skywalker. No matter how you slice him, removing Vader from the equation tilts things heavily in the rebellion’s favor, and at the very least offers them a narrow window of opportunity for achieving something approaching equal footing.
Lisa: Despite having seen the OT first and knowing that Luke and Leia’s mother is dead, it always makes me angry when I get to her death in RotS. I’d have much rather Anakin choked her to death and somehow they managed to save the babies than to hear the words:
Med Droid: “Medically, she is completely healthy. For reasons we can’t explain, we are losing her.”
Kenobi: “She’s dying?
Med Droid: “We don’t know why. She has lost the will to live.”
Padmé: “Obi-Wan… there… is good in him. I know there is… still…”
If Padmé still believed there was good in him why in the world was she losing the will to live? Would Anakin have turned if she had lived? We’ve all read the EU books following RotS about Vader’s continued fall to the dark side and doing the Emperor’s bidding. Especially in Luceno’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader we read about how conflicted Vader is to continue down the path he chose. How much he’s in pain despite all the modifications made to keep him alive. What would he have chosen if he had found out Padmé and his children were still alive? Would he have been able to walk away from the Emperor? He gave up hope and turned his anger on the Jedi all because Padmé lost the will to live despite believing there was still good in him. If she truly believed that she wouldn’t have died. She’d have fought to live so she could save the man she loved.
Padmé still being alive would’ve given Luke and Leia a different upbringing as well. It’s possible they wouldn’t have split them up and each could have trained to be a Jedi from the beginning. The Jedi also wouldn’t have been in hiding quite so much because they would have Vader/Anakin on their side as opposed to having someone that powerful hunt them down. The Emperor still would have taken over the Senate and the Republic and perhaps the galaxy would still need to wait for the Jedi to rebuild themselves after Order 66 but with Kenobi, Skywalker and Yoda still alive they might not have had to wait as long. The EU has shown us that the Emperor had plenty of other apprentices in the works but not one with the power and destiny that Anakin had.
Imagine if Anakin found out that Padmé was still alive and walked away from the Emperor. She was able to do what Luke did and since she didn’t die convinced him to step back into the light. Anakin takes on the role of Kenobi and trains Luke and Leia and then all three of them go to take on the Emperor. Three Skywalkers against the Emperor and whatever dark apprentice he has. What an awesome lightsaber fight that would’ve been!