Reading Charles Edward Pogue’s novelization of Dragonheart* – for which he also wrote the screenplay – I was struck again by an idea that had flitted through my mind on a previous occasion. This is the difference between the corruption of Einon, the prince in the film* and the novel Dragonheart, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. Obviously, there is a difference in the themes these stories were meant to present, but even with that variance, I think Dragonheart handled the Fall of the Apprentice trope better than the Star Wars prequels did.
Admittedly, in Dragonheart, Einon starts from a position of moral corruption. His father, King Freyne, is a monster and a tyrant. This is an example that his son wishes to emulate, but which he knows he cannot do openly, or it may cost him his life. So he must hide this desire from both his mother and his mentor, Bowen.
Bowen is a knight of the Old Code, which is the name for the chivalric protocol that was established by King Arthur some centuries before. Like Einon’s mother, Aislinn, Bowen seeks to end Freyne’s dictatorial rule by raising his son to be a better man and a noble king. He puts his whole heart and soul into the effort, coming to see Einon as his brother or even his own son.
The prince, however, holds no interest in the Code and lacks the capacity to return his teacher’s affection. He “vomit(s) up” the words of the Old Code to keep Bowen from realizing his only aim is to learn the art of the sword from him. Although it is stated in the novel that part of him wants to learn how to love and receive love in return, Einon has absorbed too much of his father’s barbarity to accomplish this. His lust for power and destruction mean that he will not make the sacrifices necessary to achieve this faint desire. Those sacrifices seem to his barbaric mind to be signs of weakness rather than strength.
Draco, the titular dragon, knows this truth about the young prince better than most. But even he is not immune to the effects of hope over experience; in his effort to restore the connection between man and dragon, he seals his species’ doom when he gives Einon half his heart to save his life. Along with Bowen and Aislinn, he is betrayed by the new king when Einon begins stamping out the rebels who killed his father. Enraged at his apprentice’s seeming change of heart, Bowen blames the dragon who saved his charge rather than recognize they all made a grievous mistake believing that the son was any better than the father.
It is this ostensible fall from grace for Einon that leads to a gripping tale with good pacing, great characterization, and an excellent finale. The critics may have panned Dragonheart, but their reasons for doing so remain a mystery to this author. No matter how one looks at it, the movie is a cinematic jewel, from the script on up to the casting and the special effects. Some of the sequels may be of dubious worth, but the fact that any were made should testify to the strength of the first movie’s value as a story.
Meanwhile, with the Star Wars prequels….
I will be frank: I never liked them. I was young when The Phantom Menace came out, and I had seen A New Hope repeatedly before going to the theater for the new Star Wars movie. Along with fans much older than myself, I could not help but wonder how Lucas went from an epic space opera story to the cinematic mess that is the prequel trilogy.
A number of people have broken down the issues with the Star Wars prequels in more detail, so I will only hit the highlights: making Anakin a nine-year-old was a mistake, as was making Padmé an elected queen. Her age is less questionable if the position were hereditary, as would be her ability with politics and her skill at diplomacy. The reason Leia’s skills are believable is that she was raised to be a princess. Even though she was adopted, the fact that she was taken in at such a young age meant there was plenty of time for her to be tutored in the arts of statecraft, for which she already had a natural aptitude.
We can believe in Leia’s preternatural skill with diplomacy and governance, as well as her charismatic leadership, for this reason. It is documented fact that in a nurturing environment with certain behavioral expectations, the adopted as well as the biological children of a husband and wife will have time to develop their talents and adapt to their situation. This is particularly true if they are young, and whether you agree with Revenge of the Sith presenting Leia to Breha and Bail Organa as an infant or the earlier assumption that they adopted her when she was a bit older, it makes sense.
Padmé’s skills are less believable when one considers that she is elected royalty. Her position also makes less sense when one wonders why a culture would consider it wise to elect children to serve as heads of state. It would be one thing if Padmé ran for office on her own, against a number of adult candidates. That would imply she was a child genius and had the talent to become a leader in spite of her youth and inexperience. But the idea that Naboo regularly has young girls and boys with political aptitude but little to no experience mount adult campaigns for public office on the premise that they are “purer” than adult men and women is asinine.
The large number of young royal heirs manipulated and corrupted throughout history attests to this. More than one prince or princess was used by the nobles and courtiers to achieve their own ends. Louis XVII’s case, whatever one thinks of the royal Bourbon family or the French Revolution, is an absolutely horrifying example. There is no way that Naboo would have been able to avoid dealing with similar issues at one point or another if they really had children running for public office.
Another reason why children have largely been kept out of adult jobs until they are physically and mentally mature is that they are easily manipulated. Until the age of 25, the human mind remains flexible and retains its plasticity. This is why teenagers and young children adapt so quickly to changing circumstances and become adept at a variety of skills, if they put in the time and effort to learn them from a young age. It is also why they are easily influenced and manipulated: the combination of lack of experience – or an inability to put that experience into proper context for some reason – will result in children developing coping mechanisms that may be extremely unhealthy in an effort to survive and reach adulthood.
It is rare for children to see all aspects of a problem due to lack of experience, and if they have a threat to their safety – emotional and psychological, not just physical – hanging over their heads like the proverbial sword of Damocles, they will do or say whatever they are told in order to avoid the punishment, loss, or threat. We have recordings of lawyers and psychologists badgering young children into saying whatever they want them to say on witness stands to accomplish their goals. Putting children even as young as fourteen (Padmé’s age in The Phantom Menace) in the political spotlight as a matter of course is asking for this kind of widespread abuse, even if she herself doesn’t suffer it.
Moreover, the idea that Padmé would not be at risk of such manipulation is one of the things that makes her position in the film unbelievable. The fact that she is supposed to have some slight romantic interest is a nine-year-old boy is also an issue. Anakin having a crush on Padmé is fine; the reverse is not. By rights, she should barely have noticed him, or considered him a possible friend at most. Expecting her interest in him to grow into love as fast as it does when they meet again as adults is difficult because it seems forced. It would have been better if Anakin had been older – perhaps in his mid to late teens – when he first met the Queen of Naboo.
Padmé could still have been five years older than him when he fell head-over-heels in love with her, and this would have given the two of them more time to get to know one another and for romance to blossom between them. The way it works in the prequels, at least prior to Revenge of the Sith, is not impossible on its face. But it doesn’t ring true, either. Not in this particular setting and with all the other problems going on in the background.
Again, Dragonheart does this better. Einon is several years younger than the heroine, Kara. He develops an interest in her which she does not reciprocate, but this is in keeping with his corruption and not an issue. If the story had provided for Einon’s eventual redemption and a true love story between him and Kara, that would have been workable. Using the Dragonheart story as a template, a slight rearrangement of the facts would make the Star Wars prequels practical. And perhaps they might even have been great.
On that subject, Kara’s position is also more believable than Padmé’s. The daughter of the man who leads the rebels against Einon’s father, Kara is the one who nearly kills the prince, resulting in his need to be brought to Draco in the first place. The setting for Dragonheart is past the time of King Arthur and Camelot, but before the Medieval period, when Christendom had succeeded in solidifying the culture and providing remedies for rulers such as Freyne. The Roman ruins upon which Einon builds his castle are still visible, implying the time period is somewhere in the middle or late eras of the Dark Ages (which, contrary to popular understanding, occurred before the Middle Ages and after the Fall of Rome).
In that time period, the Celts – of which Kara is one – were not entirely Christianized. They were getting there but they still remembered their pagan customs and beliefs better than they would a century or two later. Since the Celts have a history and a tradition of warrior queens, Kara’s position on the battlefield makes sense. She may be a peasant, but she is also a Celt, a fact emphasized by her fiery red tresses. Although there were few Celtic women who could and would take up arms on occasion, their existence meant the audience accepted Kara’s position in the story.
Now, if one wishes to compare Bowen to Obi-Wan, it has to be stated that they are two entirely different characters with different personalities. Bowen is more emotional and less likely to control himself than Obi-Wan, which is why he turns from the Old Code to hunt down and murder dragons. He is also trying to atone for his mistake. Although he is doing it the wrong way, that is his aim.
Much like Bowen, Obi-Wan is tasked with training a young man to fulfill a role in bringing about a Golden Age. But in contrast to Bowen’s jovial, relaxed style of teaching Obi-Wan is too controlling. His approach is that of a perfectionist, meaning he criticizes Anakin for small things that would be better overlooked, ignored, or simply dismissed. By trying to rein in his apprentice’s every emotion and motion, he instead exacerbates Anakin’s problems and makes them worse.
Combine this with the corrupt atmosphere in the galaxy – which has infected even the Jedi Order – and it’s not hard to see why Anakin is so easily led to the Dark Side. Unlike Bowen, Obi-Wan is too controlled to seek revenge. Instead, he takes his friends’ infant children and hides them safely away so they can grow up to overthrow their father’s legacy and right the errors he made. In this way, Obi-Wan has some characteristics in common with Draco, as the dragon also seeks to redeem his naïve hope with a more practical solution.
This leads us to the final great flaw in the Star Wars prequels which Dragonheart avoids: politics. Although Revenge of the Sith is better in dealing with this issue, a large part of the narrative in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones devote far too much time to talking about the politics and corruption in the galaxy rather than showing them in a few brief strokes to give the audience the gist of the difficulties which the heroes have to navigate. A New Hope kept the politics to a minimum, allowing the writers of the Expanded Universe plenty of room to explore the policies of the Empire, the New Republic, and the Old Republic when the opportunity arose.
Dragonheart, like A New Hope, sketches the basic political landscape of the protagonists’ world. The king, Einon’s father, is corrupt. His son shows clear signs of admiring him and wanting to follow in his footsteps, signs that the audience can recognize but those closest to the prince miss out of naïveté. Bowen intends to head the prince off at the pass in the hope to make him a good and noble king instead. A rebellion, well-intentioned though it is, has the effect of derailing Bowen’s blind hopes at the same time it puts Einon on the throne and increases the common people’s misery.
It is a much neater, more concise delivery that allows the main characters to grow and expand. While I do not fault anyone for enjoying the Star Wars prequels, the fact remains that imitating them without understanding why they are weaker than the original trilogy with regard to the Fallen Apprentice trope will not help aspiring authors in their craft. Since there is so much baggage of one kind or another attached to the first three Star Wars movies in the minds of many, it may be better to study a different story that handles this trope more ably.
For those who haven’t yet seen the first Dragonheart film with Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, and Sean Connery, I recommend giving it a viewing. First and foremost, it is one of the best tales in the modern era. It also manages a tricky piece of storycraft quite well. A beginning author could do much worse than to spend the time to watch the film from beginning to end.
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If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna, Uranus, and Sol. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she recently had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue and Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue. Order them today!
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