Take the Good with the Bad: The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

Note from the writer: To those of you who are still reading at this point, I warn you my stance on the prequel trilogy differs somewhat from the general consensus, and I would not be hurt if you decided to turn away from looking at the trilogy through my eyes.  If, by some chance, you have been living under a rock and have never seen Star Wars, please turn away and come back once you have returned to the world of the living.  However, if you love Star Wars for what it is as a whole, please continue with me.

PrequelTrilogy

Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out one month from now.  Can expectations get any higher?  At this rate, only if J. J. Abrams decides to give us a few more teases.  (Did anyone watch the trailer that was released overseas?  It showed a ton more than any stateside).

But as we look forward, we tend to look back.  At our faults and failures—more precisely—George Lucas’s faults and failures of the prequel trilogy that had wrapped up ten years ago.  With such huge hopes for success in Disney’s first massive galactic endeavor, we pray nothing but the best and greatest from our Lost creator and Star Trek reviver, J. J.  It’s 2015.  What could possibly go wrong with The Force Awakens?

About twenty years ago, Mr. Lucas decided it was high time to go forward with those other three movies he had been planning on making down the road.  He initially asked his friend Steven Spielberg to jump on the band wagon and direct the new epics.  Spielberg, however, told his pal that only the original Star Wars director could successfully take the world to new stars and planets far away.

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Begrudgingly, George Lucas went to working on the story leading up to A New Hope.  And what came out in 1999, 2002, and 2005?

The majority of family, friends, pals, fans, acquaintances, etc., say the prequels suck.  Plain and simple.  A few say there are elements of good, but about 99% of them will say how much they hated Jar Jar Binks.  Although I do not like Jar Jar, I do not think that justifies to hate on the prequel trilogy—especially The Phantom Menace—whatsoever!  Can we please look past the movie-comic-sidekick that could have been?

Anyways, in looking at the trilogy as a whole, is there good reason for hating on it so?

Let us start by examining selected cons of the trilogy, beginning with The Phantom Menace:

A) Jake Lloyd

jake-lloyd-as-anakin-skywalker-in-star-warsAlright.  We’ll tackle the bad casting decision straight out of the gate.

Before watching The Phantom Menace…and assuming the general fandom watched the originals first…we all knew what was what: Anakin = Darth Vader.  Nothing shocking there.  But we all wondered where he came from and how he evolved.  And there is very little to be found wrong with Anakin Skywalker as a character in the film—but our friend Jake Lloyd did not help matters at all.  It is evident in scenes that he is having trouble repeating his given dialogue, does not like Natalie Portman, and is consistently sitting or standing with a scowl or…frown?

In his shoes, could any of us done differently?

Perhaps if the casting of young Skywalker had been altered to someone who was not stiltered on screen, we would have been a lot more forgiving of the character.

B) Obligatory Screenplay

This point does not cover the entire story.  However, there are definitely forced scenes (no phun intended) throughout the movie.  If not the scene entire, the extended moments.  Jar Jar is an example of this, being provided to us as the comical goof that will journey through the movie with us.  But Jar Jar, as we know, fell flat on his face and did not straighten it out.

The obligatory screenplay is more evident in two and three, in my opinion.  But some of the scenes with Anakin, Padme, Naboo, even some of the battle near the end just seem like they were trying too hard.

C) Bad Guys

star-wars-villain-chartThe villains were not very threatening.  Although Maul was really cool with his dual lightsaber, there was nothing exceptional about him other than his horns.  The main antagonist of the movie seemed to be the Trade Federation, being the ones with the army holding our heroes at bay.  The Sith were more hinted at than shown.  So, it was heavy tease, but nothing special outside of the Dual of the Fates.

I will not bash this movie hard for that, though.  Plot-wise, it makes sense.  There was no reason to throw both Sith lords at the good guys.  That would escalate things way too fast.

Moving into The Clone Wars.  And I have to share this review from imdb.com, by bigstonemonkey, from July 2, 2002.  Bigstonemonkey, from me to you: Thank you.  Here’s a snippet of his review:

The movie flows like a frozen sewage runoff. It goes from high speed, high altitude car chases, to boring, forced angst by the fireplace. To say that Christensen and Portman have no chemistry is to say that the Middle East might be facing some political problems. Their romance is about as believable as grass growing on the moon. Maybe they could have done better if the script hadn’t been written with crayons.

I thought these prequels were about Anakin’s spiral downward from the path of balance into the Darkside. Is that ever going to happen or are we going to be forced to watch a third episode of video game previews for the Game Cube? We were given a lackluster hint with the slaughter of the Sand People but that barely cuts it. It wasn’t even shown, thereby castrating the power of the scene. We just have to hear Anakin whine about it for about three seconds. Usually, when someone butchers a whole village of men, women, and children there’s a whole lot more soul searching going on afterward. Of course, Lucas goes the pansy route and glosses over the whole thing. Most people I’ve talked to didn’t even remember the scene until it was brought up to them.

I’m probably one of the few people completely disgusted witht the Yoda fight at the end with the unimpressive Darth Sarumon (Lee plays the exact same character in LOTR: former wizard turned evil lackey=former jedi turned evil lackey). It’s almost as if instead of a hand being up Yoda’s posterior they’ve inserted a heroin suppository. Lucas has, in a brief half-minute, meaningless fight scene, destroyed the mystery of Yoda. The entire fight was unwarranted. If Yoda can raise ships from swamps and hold big chunks of pillar in the air, why can’t he just pick up Count Poopoo and bang him against the wall a few times, soften him up a little, so to speak. Why? Because Lucas has toys he must abuse, that’s why.

The real star of this movie is the CGI. And CGI doesn’t make good film. CGI is a support for a movie, that’s it.

Thanks, bigstonemonkey.

D) Hayden Christensen

Okay.  Another casting flaw.  Major flaw.  Episode II was bad for Christensen on so many levels…and whatever he brought with him for the CGI-layered sequel, he attempted to revive in Revenge of the Sith.

I honestly have no idea what George was thinking when casting Hayden.  Did he have the look?  Did he have this annoying boyish attitude we just could not escape?  Was that what you were going for, George?  In linkage to the next point of this blog entry, George Lucas said this in the video below in concordance to Hayden’s performance of Anakin: “…He does have a sort of edge.  He’s like a James Dean…solemn edge to him.”

George, George, George…I think not.

More directly hurtful to Christensen’s acting chops is his chemistry with, well, everyone.  Portman specifically, but even his behavior with his master, Obi-wan is awkward.  A little more painfully obvious than Hayden’s predecessor, Jake Lloyd.  I hate to bash him, but he was definitely a weight that pulled Attack of the Clones down in a bad way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTpjVf0lk5Y

E) Love Story

Ah, yes.  One of the biggest flaws in the entire Star Wars Universe.  One of the main reasons some fans despise the entire prequel trilogy.

Episode II had high hopes as far as subplots go.  The majority of them I was okay with.  The public seemed pretty intrigued with the political arch the trilogy was taking us.  However, what the original Star Wars trilogy lacked in the romance department, Lucas and friends decided to make up for it all in Attack of the Clones with teenage Anakin and wooden Padme.  Taken directly from thegeekblock.com’s entry over this love story, Wesley Williams writes: “This stylized and formal form of romance is exactly what George Lucas was trying to depict in Attack of the Clones. Everything from the dialogue, the setting, to the visuals were carefully selected to fit this literary tradition of courtly love that I’m afraid was lost on much of the modern audience. George Lucas himself says in his commentary of the movie, “It’s intended to be overly dramatic, even overly operatic.” The tragic and forbidden love affair of Anakin and Padme is told in the same tradition as other tragic couples with forbidden loves like Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, and of course Romeo and Juliet.”

star_war_anakin_skywalker_padme_amidala-HDI will jump into defend Lucas for a minute.

Our idea of love, romance, and sexual content in the Star Wars galaxy was expounded and limited to the chemistry between Han Solo and Leia.  It was an implied romance that was mainly teased throughout The Empire Strikes Back, then gently continued in Return of the Jedi.  The significance of Han and Leia’s love story compared to the one at hand: two totally different stories.

I believe we love the subtle flirtatious nature in Empire compared to wincing at the bad Shakespeare in Clones because that was what we were first introduced to in the saga.  It was too much of a jump or our expectations were radically different.

This is not to dismiss the love story of Anakin and Padme.  Their scenes together are incredibly uncomfortable and cheesy to watch.  But when we cross-examine it with Han and Leia’s budding romance, one has to note the significant difference between the two.

If I had the time to review their love story on its own, I would.  Another day, another blog entry.  But in case you are further interested to explore the relationship of the tragic couple, here you can find the rest of the thegeekblock.com’s entry:

http://www.thegeekblock.com/455/

Episode III and the prequels in general are summarized in this point:

F) Inconsistent Screenplays

The first ten to fifteen minutes of Revenge of the Sith is all over the map.  Not plotline, just sheer chaos of where the screenplay is going.  I admit that I enjoy it, but I am still confused to this day if it is meant to be funny, scary, thrilling, or Star Wars.  Here’s some of the scenes that did not make the final cut that just prove what a ridiculous amount of fluff and filler remained in the film (if not on the big screen):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICsryK_w9P0

The first half of Episode III is, much like II, a filler to what is inevitably coming: Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side.  It was what we went to the cinemas to see.  We wanted him to break out the Darth Vader mask and see him unleash hell.

And although Revenge of the Sith showcased a good turn of events for the Republic and the fall of the Jedi, it did not use its first hour very well.  We were reintroduced to Padme and Anakin’s love—need I go on describing what a marvelous cinematic relationship that is?—then we were reminded of Hayden’s upset tummy—I mean, disgruntlement with the Jedi not making him master and using him to get close to Palpatine.  Although we got to see some of the galaxy at war, none of it really mattered, so much as General Grevious’s decommission.

Episode I was intended to remind of us the galaxy we knew and introduced it before the fall of the republic and the rise of the empire.  A new set of characters were inducted into the Star Wars realm, and you either agreed to follow along with them, or not.  Then Episode II’s purpose was to set up the Clone Wars and moonlight the conception of Luke and Leia.  Episode III topped everything off with the decline of the Clone Wars, the rise of the Sith, and the collapse of the republic, “handsomely” leading us into A New Hope.

Pretty simple, right?

It is an ambitious project, to follow-up to three of, considerably, the greatest movies of all time.  It shakes the foundation of the story and characters and galaxies we had grown to care for and love.  Is showing the beginnings of the Skywalker family a bad move?

There is a heck of a lot more to the prequels than given credit for, that much is for sure.  A number despise ’em, others love ’em, and some are very indifferent.  But we should take the good with the bad, right?  So let us shed away this dark curtain of negativity and make way for the light.

I will narrow it down to three points:

A) CGI

maxresdefaultOne of the strongest reasons for doing the prequels, George Lucas was not wrong when he said the CGI had caught up with his imagination.  Even after fifteen years when the technology has evolved far past The Phantom Menace, we can still marvel at the pod race, the battle in space, and the Gungan war to this day.

If the prequels had been made in the eighties, we would be examining films totally different from todays gemstones.  The bulk of the movies would have been unfeasible and downright impossible to shoot!

We should note a couple of flaws in the special effects, though.  More specifically, CGI characters.  Jar Jar and Yoda (Episode II) were not good for computer effects, and they should have stuck with their original ideas with puppets.  They even filmed Jar Jar as a puppet and had to paste the computer image over every shot!

One more flaw is that weird sphere Anakin levitates in Episode II.  I mean…what the foxtrot?!?  It is almost as awful as Logan’s claws in the bathroom scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

B) Score

john-williams-4e633e208d78cWhat more needs to be said than John Williams is a modern-day music master!

If you found nothing redeeming about the prequel trilogies whatsoever, you can at least appreciate the resonant power and consistency Williams’ brought back to the table when crafting the new films.  There is enough of the old, but enough of the new!  A nearly pitch-perfect balance to the saga.  Period.

C) Strong Cast

Yes, even all those things said about Hayden and Jake, I still rate these films with a stellar cast.  Huge, ambitious cast, actually.

Who could argue with the return of some of the originals, newbies like Natalie Portman, Ewon McGregor, Christopher Lee, and most importantly, Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn.  Oh how marvelous a cast it makes!

SW-Table41

star_wars_ring_theory___Mike_KlimoSomething that should be said in overview of the entire saga is something called The Ring Theory.  Heard of it?  Concerning our beloved Star Wars?  Here’s the link to the website: http://www.starwarsringtheory.com/

More or less, George Lucas had a vision.  A similar story arch for series of movies.  He focused on the last three and spent a lot of time honing in on the story and the characters, then with the first three he expanded the universe and led up to the characters in the last three.  Make sense?

Naturally, nothing will be able to trump the Original Trilogy.  But at the same time, nothing can trump or forgive or remake the Prequel Trilogy—right?

You guessed it.  Now we look to the future trilogy.  The Third Trilogy.

The Force Awakens is nothing short of ambitious.  I like to think of it as Lucasfilms’ most dangerous project yet!  So much is at stake.  There is an opportunity to mix great storytelling and memorable characters with an enormous universe and great special effects.  But will become mere eye-candy?  Or will it become something engrained within our hearts and minds akin to the Original Three?

There is a lot of money riding on The Third Trilogy.

But looking back over the last six movies, can we be fair and say they all stand together as much as they stand alone?  The prequels in comparison to their brothers is easy to rate as “less great”, but if we looked at them on the own—outside the universe—I think we would be looking at some priceless movies.  I think we are!

As Christmas, and the future of the Star Wars multiverse enters our world, let us not forget the fairness we should put on each and every episode entry in the saga.  It is a grand, epic space opera, after all.

My letter to Disney will be only six words in total:

Dear Disney, Don’t Crush Our Dreams.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-2015-poster-ultra-hd-wallpapers-800x450

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About Morgan

January 2016 Update: This blog is under reconstruction. Please be patient while we gradually remove old material, posts, and pages, and create new ones. Thank you.
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