I wasn’t born in time for the original Star Wars trilogy. I did however experience their un-re-mastered magic shortly into my time on Earth and I can tell you from memory that it was an enchanting experience. I was still so young, still new to the the language of film, and Star Wars felt like pure mythology to me as opposed to a work of fiction.
But we all know what happens next. The months leading up to Episode I: The Phantom Menace were a giddy blur, with the prospect of a new Star Wars movie never far from mind. It appears that George Lucas had us all by the balls (or boobs – I’m no sexist), and we piled into theatres in our millions, like so many lemmings unwittingly flocking toward mass-suicide.
I couldn’t crystallise the exact reasons why I disliked it so in my juvenile mind, but leaving the theatre I couldn’t shake the weird concoction of feelings that it forced me to experience either: fear, leading to anger, leading to hate, leading to suffering. And if I were a Jedi, The Phantom Menace would have most certainly led me to the Dark Side.
Like many of you out there, I am not a fan of the Star Wars prequels and justifiably so. To its hordes of defenders- I won’t go into a tirade against you, that’s not what this article is about- what I will do is leave you with someone else’s words of immortal wisdom.
There have been years, multiple viewings and much deliberation between then and now, but those prequels just don’t get any better. In fact, the more you know the worse they seem. With the Star Wars Complete Saga released on Blu-ray recently, I feel it’d be improper not to meet it with at least a little resistance.
Join me on my high horse, as I explore just 15 of the innumerable ways the Star Wars prequels sucked. Please be aware this article contains many spoilers, so if you haven’t experienced the saga in its completion then I suggest you click your back button now.
Jar Jar Binks
Jar Jar Binks is almost an inadvertent metaphor for the state of the Star Wars prequels; insidious and saccharine. He is literally one of the most ridiculous, banal characters ever to have been immortalised on screen and that includes Children’s Television.
His inclusion in the prequels was an obvious and uncaringly blasé attempt to further the toyable aspects of the franchise and ultimately shift even more of Lucas’ crappy merchandise.
Poor Green-Screen Execution
The realism of the original trilogy has been digitally washed away in the prequels. They’re so bright that they threaten to give their audience Diabetes, so clean that they lose all connection to reality.
The shot composition follows such a rigid formula that if you compare the dialogue scenes, they play out in almost the exact same way every time. These scenes lack any real tension because there is no true interaction with the setting and even during times of crisis, characters are just walking and talking, sitting and talking or standing still and talking.
Cut to the action and we’re assaulted with such frenetic levels of activity that we might as well be watching a bizarre cartoon – in short they’re disconnected from the rest of the story, like vignettes strung together with the thinnest of threads.
Lucas’ green-screen technique is as sloppy as his writing. Far from creating a fully realised digital environment, his CG settings seem nothing but consistently false.
Let me ask one question: what was the plot of the Star Wars prequels? And not in such broad strokes as ‘Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side’, or ‘Darth Sidious’ rise to dominance’ either. I mean the actual events that drove the narrative and the consequences that they had in the world of the film.
Chances are you’ll remember the Trade Federation and the fact that they had some sort of deal with Sidious. You might remember the self-referencing Cantina scene from Episode II: Rise of the Clones. But as to what it all means to the grand scheme of the plot, I wager most people will have trouble.
In truth, they really have no discernable plot. Sure there are stretches of space between the convoluted action scenes; shadowy organisations make weird, unexplainable alliances with masked men, dickish Jedi’s make unintentionally bad decisions and R2-D2 can fly. But as far as cohesive plot elements go, there are few to be found here.
R2-D2 Can Fly?
Yes, R2-D2 can fly, according to Episode II. Maybe you’ll consider this a nit-picking observation, and maybe it is, although my main gripe isn’t with the tech itself but the ugly shadow of illogicality that it casts all over the original trilogy.
I can think of say a hundred different occasions in the originals where this feature could have come in handy but he of course never utilized it. Don’t bother trying to fabricate any sort of in-world reasoning, just accept that Lucas simply didn’t concoct this one until Episode II and didn’t realise or care that it makes no sense.
R2-D2 and C3PO in General
Did R2-D2 and C3PO need to be given so much screen time? While they are integral to the main canon plot, their story in the prequels is built entirely on clumsy plot devices.
R2 is a normal service droid that is illogically awarded a medal in Episode I, just for performing his function and 3PO is built from junk on Tatooine, despite the fact that he is clearly a mass-produced protocol droid.
There’s really no need to place so much emphasis on these beloved characters in the prequels; it feels like Lucas has forced them in as deep as he can, based on their popularity in the test figures.
Absence of a Main Character
I really can’t see who the protagonist is supposed to be in the Star Wars prequels.
In Episodes IV through VI, we experience Luke’s plight before he ever jumps into the plot. We see his disappointment, his frustrations and through that we can relate. We’re never told but shown – staring off into the binary sunset on Tatooine, Luke dreams of adventure as John Williams subtle score mirrors his yearning.
So who took Luke’s place in the prequels? Obi-Wan never does much of anything outside Lightsaber duelling and generally leading Anakin astray and I have no idea what his plight was. Anakin, instead of experiencing a slow but inevitable perversion to the Dark Side, is painted from the start as a heartless little douche bag who leaves his own mother behind on Tatooine without so much as a second thought.
With no truly relatable characters, the Star Wars prequels grind through their run time with a tedious monotony that simply cannot be defeated by computer-generated eye-candy.
Anakin’s Failure as a Character
Think about Anakin’s interaction with the other characters. There’s no sense of emotional connection with his mother, his friendship with Obi-Wan is only ever explained in exposition and his ‘love’ affair with Amidala is written completely without female perspective. How do we relate to a character who never truly relates to anyone else?
Everything about Anakin Skywalker is wrong. As a child he’s obnoxiously over-simplified and as an adult he’s still completely underdeveloped. We’re supposed to root for him even though we know his fate, creating a sense of dramatic irony but it’s difficult to care when Lucas never attempts to earn it.
The prequels drop the bat at every available opportunity and ultimately fail to maintain the empathy that Vader invoked in Return of the Jedi, after his ultimate redemption.
I suppose this is technically part and parcel of Anakin’s failure as a character, but this line is so terrible that I feel it deserves its own segment.
A far cry from “I find your lack of faith disturbing”, Darth Vader’s only scene in the prequels completely misses the mark, destroying the legendary dark Lord forever. I couldn’t help a derisory chuckle in the theatre, but on the drive home I shed a single tear.
We’re now to be treated to this farcical outcry twice on Blu-ray, as Lucas has shoe-horned it in at the beloved climax of Return of the Jedi (is nothing sacred any more, George?!).
Do you think its coincidence that Samuel L. Jackson is one of Hollywood’s hugely bankable stars? After all, Lucas is a shrewd businessman and it’s unlikely that he didn’t take a quick look at the financial figures before casting this crushing bore of a character.
Despite Jackson’s bankability he is terribly ill-suited for the part of Mace Windu. Famous for his intense, aggressive performances, he looks caged in the Star Wars prequels and thanks to shoddy writing, never has a chance to convey anything of emotional interest whatsoever.
Mace Windu is completely flat, and has a constant air of obnoxious superiority that makes him difficult to like from the start. Combine that with his nonsensical lapses of poor judgement (and his purple Lightsaber) and you have an inclusion into the Star Wars canon that is counter-intuitive to the original mythology in almost every way.
The Devastating Lack of True Moments
There are moments in the original trilogy that blew minds in their time. Of course you remember Darth Vader’s immortal ‘I am your Father’ revelation, from The Empire Strikes Back. We rush back in our minds through two whole movies, insight gathering velocity en route. Finally the true implications hit us with the full impact of a Force push, as Luke chooses certain death over the Dark Side.
Where are these epic moments in the prequels? Their only equivalents (Yoda vs. Dooku for example) have been filled to bursting with frenetic activity, but lack any sort of heart. Lucas seems to believe that he can synthesise emotional engagement with computers. He hopes that by squeezing as much action into the frame as he can then we’ll feel something- anything- for the stiff, cardboard cut-outs that he parades as characters.
Yoda Defeats His Own Purpose
My original understanding of Yoda was that he emphasised the true nature of the Force. Small in stature but capable of great feats he symbolised the triumph of brains over brawn. Thanks to the prequels I now have no idea what his purpose is.
I know that people were excited to see Yoda fight and it was cause for much buzz, but his metamorphosis into CGI and subsequent elaborate duels completely cancel out his original merits as a character. The reason Yoda was so awesome wasn’t because of supernatural agility but rather his frailty. He was physically weak, but mentally unyielding; the true nature of the Force in a subtle visual analogy.
What was it he said back then on Dagobah? Oh yes – “Wars not make one great”. The prequels use Yoda to imply quite the opposite.
Inane Lightsaber Madness
The original movies really use the Lightsaber to full effect. Such an incredible and otherworldly piece of technology, it’s drawn only on those occasions when we know it’s required. These confrontations are slow, at a standstill compared to the prequels, but layered with a depth of subtext that visually conveys the characters’ emotional states.
The duels in the new trilogy, while admittedly spectacular from a technical viewpoint, lack any sort of emotional depth and fail to serve any purpose other than to herd the unruly plot, and dazzle those who believe CGI to be the new story.
Even the long foreshadowed Anakin vs. Obi -Wan duel, which pulls some of the most sophisticated fight choreography I’ve ever seen out of the bag (and is admittedly vaguely exciting for a minute or two into it’s colossal but self-indulgent run time) feels emotionally flat thanks to the fact that we’re never given a real reason to care.
Somehow, Palpatine’s true identity as Sidious was a complete surprise to the Jedi Order.
Even though it is so apparent from the evidence presented in the plot that a brain on a stick could have worked it out, the Jedi are still caught with their pants down. Yeah, I know Sidious clouded the Force – conveniently – but if they had just had a rational thought between them then they would have realised immediately, with no need for clairvoyance.
The original movies stated that the Jedi were omniscient beings of great intelligence and wisdom. Was that a lie?
There’s little worse in a prequel than when the original is referenced haphazardly. True, the entire reasoning behind a prequel is to shed new light on the inspiring source but while its important to connect back in some way, it must be subtle and above all else earned.
The Star Wars prequels hammer in references like a square peg in a round hole. Boba Fett is unnecessarily forced in there based solely on his original toyability, Yoda and Chewbacca are best pals and don’t even get me started on the awkward cinematography nods (Anakin vs. Dooku in Episode II for example, which attempts to mirror the low-lit red and blue colour scheme of Empire’s Luke vs. Vader duel, despite having a tenth of the emotional resonance).
The ways the prequels fail in their self-reference are too numerous to fully explore in this article, but rest assured they are many and rarely serve any other purpose than attempting to win back points from fans of the original trilogy.
I’m not exactly sure what happened to George Lucas between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, but it was a definite negative. His first Star Wars movies were an innovation in cinema but the new prequels make me doubt how much of the original brilliance was actually his.
The truth is that he was creatively challenged back then. He was a relatively new film-maker, with vision but little power in the industry. He didn’t have complete control because he was an unknown quantity. By the time Episode 1 came around, Lucas had made such vast amounts of money, and risen to such levels of influence in Hollywood that he had total monopoly over every aspect of the prequel trilogy.
And he squandered that power, whichever way you look at it. Where he should have delivered a poetic counter point to the original trilogy’s message, Lucas opted instead for greed and laziness; a bitter draught for any audience to swallow.
This article was first posted on September 14, 2011