Buzzfeed recently published a list of Star Wars jokes that only Star Wars lovers would understand. There was a fair bit of prequel-bashing among the jokes, as is expected. What was not expected were a couple of champions for the prequels among the commentators. So, it got me thinking, are the prequels really such a travesty?
Watching Star Wars was a seminal moment in a lot of people’s lives. Those who weren’t born when the originals were first released had the golden opportunity of revelling in the special editions. I remember I used to live on the Star Wars website at the time, in an effort to relive the entire film experience, and I’d look on the top banner of the site which featured unfamiliar faces and the tag line ‘The Saga Begins’ with much suspicion. Who are these imposters?
Then ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ was released. I went to see it. And for me… it was love at first sight.
The prequels get a lot of flak. Admittedly, my initial reaction to this is usually, ‘haters are gonna hate.’ But, that knee-jerk reaction aside, there is no doubt that those films are flawed. Having said that, the original trilogy isn’t without its own imperfections – Episodes IV, V and VI fail the Bechdel test, put Leia in a bikini (seriously!), have only one important character of colour (Lando was forcibly inserted into the storyline after eyebrows were raised), and the big bad’s big scary machine constantly gets destroyed by one tiny ship. By comparison, the prequels have a fairly poorer standard of acting, give Amidala less and less to do, present Anakin’s mommy issues, introduce Midi-chlorians and star Jar Jar Binks. And those are only the flaws that my love-struck eyes can see – Some people hate the originals for destroying the true art of cinema and introducing the concept of the blockbuster. Everyone hates the prequels because… prequels!
At the risk of sounding like the great defender, I often feel that critics and reviewers just love flogging the same dead horse. Everyone must hate and love the same things and people, because individual opinion appears to belong to the ‘80s.
The original trilogy was ground-breaking. It was sci-fi with fabulous effects, featuring an intergalactic coming-of-age story. The characters were relatable, likeable – the farmboy-turned-saviour Luke, the mercenary with a heart of gold Han, the stoic, strong and intelligent rebel Leia, the villain turned hero Lando – and that’s just the good guys. The original trilogy was and remains the ultimate escape into a galaxy as complex as our own, replete with real emotions and conflicts.
What the prequels brought was a freshness and vibrance to an established universe. Did we really need to know the origins of Anakin? Well, it may not have been at the forefront of our minds, but humanising villains is a film-favourite. The expanded universe gave us more to dream about and a few additional holiday destinations (summers in Naboo, and winters on Coruscant?) The prequels re-introduced creative imagination and a sense of originality. They weren’t a re-tread, but incorporated enough references to its predecessors to draw in new viewers and maintain old fans as well.
There’s the question of style over substance. The original series bagged an Oscar for Alec Guinness and a Golden Globe for Mark Hamill. I think the new trilogy got a couple of Razzies probably for Hayden Christensen. I don’t refute that the acting was relatively poor, but it never took me out of the universe. At the very least, the prequels run on a steam engine of engaging stories and immensely emotional battle sequences. Not to mention the deeper understanding of the Jedi and their own apparent hypocrisies.
Let’s be honest, we all knew Anakin was going to become Darth Vader. But it still shook me when he was left for dead by Obi-Wan who couldn’t bring himself to strike the final blow and finish off his friend. It was an expected dénouement that remained original. Is that not good direction?
Of all of George Lucas’ faults (selling out to Disney being the biggest) I firmly believe that the prequels are not one of them. The novelty of the originals will, hopefully, never wear off. But the grandeur of the prequels should not be neglected either.
I am still in two minds which of the two trilogies I prefer. As I’ve said, both trilogies suffer flaws, some greater than others. I’ve re-watched these films countless times, and the sheer joy I get from each viewing seems to undermine everyone else’s opinions regarding them. I cycle through all six films when collating my personal Top 10 films list. I don’t believe we need to choose just one. I also think it’s time to break out of the herd mentality and give the prequels some due credit. They gave the next generation something that a lot of us had already got used to – the novelty that is Star Wars.
(This entire debate is written on the assumption that you love Star Wars. You do love it, don’t you?)