The STAR WARS Prequels: Love or Hate?

If you take the Internet for granted on this particular topic (I wouldn’t recommend it), then even if you haven’t watched these films you know a lot of people hate the Star Wars prequels. According to the World Wide Web’s general consensus, they’re some of the worst sci-fi films ever made, disown the Star Wars name, and turned George Lucas into one of the most hated filmmakers of the last thirty years.

Case in point, I don’t think any of that’s true. The overall story ties in with the original trilogy and overall it works as a saga. In order to make my claims on the prequels, I’m going to go film by film and analyze several different factors, such as production, the script, general reactions at the time, and my own feelings on each film.

 

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Besides the strange title which is actually explained somewhat in DK’s Episode I: The Visual Dictionary (any fan of the saga should have one of these dictionaries, they update quite often), this is the film everyone points to as killing the franchise, leaving it stranded until Disney was ‘finally able to rescue it’ nearly twenty years later. Let’s go back to the late 90’s. Cue favorite late 90’s rock band.

It had been over a decade since the trilogy was finished, and George had just rereleased the Special Editions in theaters as part of a 20th anniversary celebration. Seeing the huge potential of CGI, Lucas realized there was still a part of the story he wanted to tell: how Anakin Skywalker became the masked villain we all love. Production on the film started sometime around 1997, with Lucas returning to write and direct, along with a new producer, Rick Mcallum, who’d be the third producer in franchise history. Episode I was released in May 1999 and was a huge financial hit…but then the fans started to make noise, and we all know what happened.

I’ve watched all of the ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries, and from everything I’ve seen in the Episode I documentary, the cast and crew were excited and determined to do a good job with the film. There’s discussions about if Jar Jar Binks should be a CGI character or a partial CG character, mixed with an actual suit, we see the phases of Jake Lloyd’s process to winning the part of Anakin, along with budget meetings, special effects meetings, footage being shot, the editing department, basically every major step a movie has to go through to make it to theaters.

And again, judging from that footage, it seems like George and Co. knew what they were doing and wanted the movie to be good.

My take on this movie is that it shouldn’t get all the hatred it gets. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but just because it deals mostly with politics and not with a rebellion doesn’t mean the story is bad. In the story George is telling, I think having politics take center stage…works. This is before the days of the Empire, so we have to see how the Empire was created, even if that means listening to Senate debates. It’s a different time period so you have to expect changes. Now, I’ll talk about Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd as a young Anakin, which is what everybody seems to hate.

George, according to the documentary, wanted everyone’s least favorite Gungan to be a funny character, i.e. comic relief. There’s never been a character in the franchise like that before or since (if you don’t count R2, that is), and I can see what George wanted to do, but Jar Jar doesn’t fit most of the time. The only times where he does fit are with the other Gungans. Yes, he can be annoying and the stuff he does mostly isn’t funny, but Amahd Best does give a good performance trying to bring an alien to life, both physical and vocal.

Where Lloyd is concerned, it’s a little tougher to figure out. Every time I’ve watched this movie, he always seems to act just like a nine-year-old boy would. Nine-year-olds are annoying with high-pitched voices and so is he. He does his best considering how old he is and does try to put emotion into some scenes (for example, he does look like he’s having fun podracing).

Overall, Episode I isn’t that bad, its not great, but its not awful.

 

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

One of my favorite Star Wars films as a kid (that’s what my action figure count suggests, anyway), this is the one people seem to point to as completely ruining the franchise, sweeping up after Episode I swept the floor. George and Co. went right from I into II, and because of this writer Jonathan Hales had to help finish the script with George, perhaps contributing to the overall quality of the plot. It was released in May 2002 and was generally disliked by both critics and fans.

I won’t waste any time here: Hayden Christiansen’s performance. He looks like a nineteen-year-old Anakin, at least.

Now, did anyone ever consider the reason he was so monotone was because that’s how George wanted it to be within the story? According to the Jedi Code, Jedi can’t have a lot of emotions that regular humans can, including love. If Anakin followed that code to the letter (as all Jedi are supposed to), then his monotone delivery/lack of vocal emotions could be just because his character was taught to be. This also explains why the rest of the Jedi are monotone too. And as for being whiny, hey, nine-year-old Anakin was whiny and Luke was a little whiny too, so I guess it runs in the Skywalker family!

When you see him and Padame together, Anakin does start to emote and lose the monotone, emotionless side he always had. And even the scene at the fireplace, Anakin can’t explain to Padame what he’s feeling because he’s never been told how too! All these emotions are coming out and he can express them for once, but he doesn’t know what to say! As for the rest of the movie, Christiansen does a fair job with most of the material, considering how his character could be within the story. Although he could emote more and yes, the dialogue is goofy (but so is some of the dialogue in the original trilogy), I think he does capture what George wanted Anakin to be at that point in time.

Also, Yoda was awesome.

My take on the rest of this movie: while I can see why people hate it, I always enjoy a good popcorn action flick, and this is the ‘popcorn action flick’ Star Wars movie. Does it feel like the other movies? Yes. Does the story make sense in the long run? Yes. So, although it’s not the best acted and the action does drag a little bit, there’s enough remaining to keep my attention.

 

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

My favorite of the prequels and a lot of people seemed and still seem to agree. George and Co. delivered and gave us everything we wanted to see, as well as tie the story up. Production began in 2003 and the film was released in May 2005, two years away from the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary. Fans and critics both seemed to enjoy it, and pretty much all agree it was the best film of the prequels.

Why do I like Episode III so much? It’s dark, probably darker than even Episode V. We all know what’s going to happen, but seeing it all unfold is still a worthwhile experience. While Anakin still can’t explain his love for Padame all that well, Christiansen is better in his role overall, especially when Anakin turns sides. He’s finally allowed to be the bad guy and at moments it works well. A dark Star Wars movie is good to keep some variety with the films, as Episode V did with the original trilogy.

Now when Vader finally dons the suit and the despised “NOOOOO!” occurs, remember that twenty-something year-old Anakin is still inside the suit, still loving Padame and pretty much still like he was pre-suit. He hasn’t been brainwashed, you could say, by Sidious yet so his reaction would most likely be the same if he were out of the suit. Vader isn’t going to instantly become the villain we all know from the original trilogy the second the mask goes on, it probably took a good few years (and Sidious’ teachings) before he got to that status.

Again, I really like this movie, even if it does have a few weird dialogue moments or not-so-stellar performances, but hey, it’s a Star Wars movie. Its dark, the fighting’s for real and excellent, CGI is top notch 99% of the time and it’s a great way to complete the saga.

 

I want to mention other favorite parts from the Prequels, first will be acting. Ewan McGregor is wonderful as Obi-Wan and gives the movies continuity you can both see and hear, as well as giving us the idea he does age and learn through the films. The late Christopher Lee is great as Count Dooku, even doing a bit of his own swordfighting in Episode II (good luck if you can figure out which scenes he did and which he didn’t, I can’t). Natalie Portman, Frank Oz, and Liam Neeson all give good performances as Padame, Yoda, and Qui-Gon, respectively, but my favorite performance has to be Ian McDarmind as Palpatine. In every movie, he nails the scenes he’s in, is clearly having a lot of fun playing the part and always keeps you waiting for the change from Chancellor to Emperor. And when it does happen, he keeps on having fun, because playing bad guys is always a fun thing to do.

The lightsaber duels are fantastic thanks to stunt coordinator Nick Gillard and many actors doing their own stunts, the music is legendary (of course), set design is varied and expansive and Ben Burtt’s sounds are (as expected) top-notch, giving fans even more to listen to and attempt to replicate. All of that accounts to Rick McCallum (sorry if I misspelled your name, Rick) doing a good job as producer considering what he was producing. George’s directing and writing, on the other hand, is…well…

I can’t say it’s terrible, because (as he explained in an interview once), if you watch all six movies back to back, the story flows. One day I want to do that and see how right he is, but thinking about it now, his claim makes sense. The story does tie into the original films and the overall style and even how the films are shot all looks like it could be part of the same franchise. His directing isn’t the greatest, but we never really said Episode IV was a wonderfully directed film, did we? So you could say his directing in that was just as good as it was here (if not a little better due to experience).

I don’t think George will be remembered as a director, he’ll probably be remembered as a creative storyteller, visionary, and businessman, and he should be.

 

Overall, the prequels aren’t the worst movies ever and everyone’s going to keep having their own opinions for years to come, but I think they’re pretty decent for what they are.

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