I haven’t seen the Star Wars movies in years, but recently I’ve been revisiting that whole part of my life, beginning with finding the box of childhood lego and ending with reading hundreds of comic books. I don’t really know why I’ve been doing this, but I think it’s because, at 23, I’m afraid I’m past it. So the last week or so has been a nostalgic reminiscipackage and an attempt to recapture my childhood enthusiasm for things that go “voop” and “pew pew”. And along the way I’ve been reliving some defining moments in the development of my love of both science fiction and movies; namely The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Everyone knows that the Star Wars prequels were terrible. It’s one of those things in life where, if you’re told something often enough, you start to believe it. Glass is actually a slow-moving liquid. 9/11 was an inside job. A human life has intrinsic worth. Buying a house is a good idea in this market. You take on the junk of the world and believe, if you hold on to it long enough, the lies that you’re told. You appropriate them. They become your reality. And unless you make a solemn effort to change your opinions you’ll never grow as a person: you’ll persist in believing the same things at eighty that you believed at eighteen. The Star Wars prequels are terrible – that’s just a fact. George Lucas is a terrible director who spit in the face of the fans to pursue his own maniacal ideas at the expense of an iconic fictional universe. Jar Jar Binks was a terrible idea. Everybody knows this.
So; to recap. I’ve been watching the Star Wars prequel trilogy. And I’ve discovered something that will shock you: they’re actually pretty good movies. Here’s why.
Author’s note: for the benefit of people not totally immersed in the Star Wars mythos, I’m providing a colloquial plot synopsis before I make a point.
The Prequel Trilogy Works
Big things have small beginnings. If there’s any particular lesson to the prequels, this is it. A seemingly-unimportant blockade of a planet is the actual event that sets the whole thing in motion : the Clone Wars, the overthrow of the galactic senate, the rise of the empire and the galactic civil war. It all comes down to the operation of these really negative frog-like dudes called the Trade Federation who just dump a bunch of ships around a planet called Naboo and stop, um, trade from happening. The republic, which is like a nightmare version of the British parliamentary system, gets all pissed off and sends a couple of Jedi to sort everything out, but they get totally 86’d and then the shit really hits the fan.
Big deal, right? Exactly. The frog dudes and the trade federation get defeated and it looks like everything’s going to be okay. Wrong! The frog dudes are being manipulated by some guy on the dark side who wants to take the whole system apart. The stuff that happens in the first film like the Jedi getting involved actually precipitates a whole bunch of other planets to get pissed off at the Republic and form a splinter faction, which initiates the Clone Wars and keeps the Jedi so busy they don’t notice the bad guy maneuvering himself into a position of total power. And when everything really goes to shit the Jedi get their asses kicked and presto!: you’ve got a galactic empire.
What I mean by this plot synopsis is that a series of seemingly-unconnected events – the Naboo blockade, the Trade Federation and allies getting all uppity, the wars and the collapse of the Republic – are all one plot and the good guys don’t realise this until the last five minutes of the third film. The whole thing comes seamlessly together in a way that you only see if you watch the films sequentially. A lot of criticism was directed at The Phantom Menace for being underwhelming in its plot. That was the point, dummies. It was meant to look like some routine bullshit that kept people distracted while the real power play was going on behind the scenes. The trilogy – and I mean this in tones of real awe and amusment- comes together. In a really clever way. The whole time the Jedi and the good guys are dealing with local affairs, totally blinded to the fact the local affairs mean jack shit because something way, way bigger is going down right under their noses.
Lets be honest : the Godfather trilogy wasn’t that tightly-plotted.
Events Are Not Contrived
So there’s this kid who happens to be sort-of-a-badass (and pretty annoying) and is one day going to grow up to be a kick-ass jedi before he becomes Darth Vader, right? Well, get this, the whole crew from Naboo just happen to crash-land on his planet and just, like, bump into him. They’re not led there by disturbances in the force or anything, it just happens. And I mean this kid is going to grow up to be, like, pivotal in the whole Empire thing, but right now he’s just an annoying brat. anyway, he gets mixed up in the whole Naboo thing and sort of saves the day pretty much by accident before he becomes a jedi and the whole thing is set in motion.
I’m not much good at calculation, but the odds against landing in a particular port on a particular planet and bumping into a kid who just happens to be awesome at the force are pretty slim, but that’s what happens. Let me rephrase it: if all the Naboo stuff had happened a day later, there wouldn’t have been a Darth Vader and probably no Empire. These things weren’t meant to happen – they just did. That’s the kind of slender thread that events hang by. No stupid Podrace? No Darth Vader, no Empire, no Death Star, no planet-getting-blown-up-in-A-New-Hope, no stormtroopers, no Death Star 2 : Crush Groove. That it all just happens pretty much at random is sort of terrifying but also sort of great because it disposes of the whole destiny thing that people keep talking about. There is no destiny. This shit just happens.
The Dialogue Is Relative
Spot the crap dialogue! Which of these phrases come from the original trilogy and which from the prequels? “When I left you i was but the learner, now I am the master.” “You were the chosen one!””I love you.””I know.” “May the force be with you.” “Ani, I’m pregnant.” “Laugh it up, fuzz ball.” “I am not a committee!” Give up? That’s because there’s no discernible difference in quality. The prequel trilogy got lambasted for having laughable dialogue and terrible romantic scenes, but i think what really pissed people off is that they couldn’t admit that there hadn’t been an improvement over the old movies. Things had stayed the same, not gotten better in line with our expectations, and that pissed some people off. In short : the old movies had some truly terrible, cringe-worthy moments but were afforded respect because they were iconic. The new movies weren’t because you can’t immediately award iconic status to a movie.
The Annoying Characters Are Also Relative
Jar Jar Binks was the single worst character in any movie, ever, and I’m not going to dispute that. The second-worst characters? Those Ewoks in the third original movie. The Ewoks have a slight edge of the monstrous “comedy” abortion of Jar Jar because they were designed by Jim Henson studios and I find it hard to totally dislike something that was made by the same people behind A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. But that is the only reason. There are, if you think about it, plenty of annoying characters in the original trilogy : C3PO, those pig-dudes on the cloud city, that robot in the snow, etcetera. Jar Jar himself wasn’t the single worst character in the prequels – credit goes to Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker for the “character I’d most like to drop-kick into a mine shaft full of razor wire” – and he wasn’t the worst character of the whole six films – that would be C3PO, the most irritating robot in existence. I think it’s neat how Lucas turned things around, and this refers back to what I was saying before about continuity, because Jar Jar Binks is primarily responsible for the galactic civil war that kills billions of people, because its’ him that the good guys use as a scapegoat in the second movie to get the whole war thing rolling. I like that the “comic relief” of the first movie ends up being tacitly connected to multiple genocides. Again, tight plotting.
So there you have it. Four reasons the prequel series deserves re-evaluation. I have to stop typing because I feel carpal tunnel coming on. If I think of any more I’ll call you at home.