It’s been 15 years since George Lucas gave us the continuation of his Star Wars saga with the prequel trilogy. As we enter another phase of Star Wars fandom, Episode VII is in production and the Galaxy Far Far Away now under new leadership and direction, I wanted to discuss the Star Wars prequel films.
On RottenTomatoes.com you can read movie reviews that are both current and from a film’s original relelase. It’s an interesting time capsule of how tastes have changed and how classics were immediately received. When you look at the reviews for the 5 Star Wars movies that were produced after the original A New Hope in 1977, you see phrases like
“…it’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation”
“I’m not sure at all that I understood the plot”
“…began with long, intensely complicated message about who was doing what to whom in the galactic confrontations…”
Is this reviewer referring to one of the much maligned Star Wars prequels? Because, of course, everyone “knows” that these are far inferior films to the original three. These quotes are all pulled from a negative review of the Empire Strikes Back dated June 15, 1980 in the New York Times. Read it for yourself here.
The Star Wars prequels are the butt of jokes the world-round, but the fact that they are universally disliked is a myth spread by a far too vocal minority that exist in the shadows of the internet, dismissed by claims of poor acting and a reliance of CGI and green screen.
The prequel trilogy (or PT in internet shorthand) broke away from the stark black and white, good vs evil story of the original trilogy (OT). What we did get was the story of how a republic becomes an empire, and one man’s fall from grace into darkness as a metaphor for the galaxy as a whole falling into darkness. At it’s best, the prequel trilogy is a Shakespearean tragedy channeled through Buck Rogers.
The Jedi were supposed to be the good guys, but they were the ones who kept secrets from their own members, too wrapped up in their own dogma and rules to see the knife being slowly pushed into their hearts. The Sith, on the other hand were clearly evil, but yet in a dramatic twist we find them nearly always telling the truth, knowing clearly that no one would believe them until it was too late. The prequel trilogy is three movies of the bad guys winning.
The prequel trilogy gave us deeply flawed complex characters mirrored with their original trilogy counterparts. While the original trilogy was pretty clear in it’s delineation between black and white, the prequel trilogy was a quagmire of gray. The dark side has corrupted everything and tainted everyone.
A common complaint is the lack of a cynical Han Solo type of voice in the films. That cynical voice has no place in the galaxy of the prequels. While we, the audience, can see all the pieces falling into place for the rise of the Empire, the characters can not. They continue to hope for the best. They still have hopes and dreams of a happy ending. It’s not until the Empire has crushed all that optimism from the galaxy that you get a cynical Han Solo character.
One of the loudest complaints is the filmmakers reliance on CGI and visual effects. This is one that is simply false, and is clearly someone who is misinformed and does not understand modern day filmmaking. Yes, it’s true that there were digital characters, set extensions and a “virtual backlot” that doesn’t mean that everything we saw in the movie was a computer generated image.
The prequel trilogy contained as much model work or more than the original trilogy. The visual effects were simply combined using digital technology. It’s common practice for nearly every effects heavy movie to use those same techniques today, but yet, only Star Wars is viewed negatively because of it. Complaining of too much CGI in Star Wars movies is a sign that you really have no idea what you are talking about and are merely parroting nonsense from the internet.
It’s no secret that I am a huge Star Wars fan. I will freely admit that I am biased towards anything Star Wars. I recognize and freely acknowledge this bias. I understand that not everyone is going to like every movie, especially something that has had as much impact as Star Wars. However, I do ask that people criticize all 6 films equally. A vast amount of complaints leveled against the prequel trilogy can just as easily be used against the original trilogy in the same context. They all sprang from the imagination of a single person and were shaped into being by those same hands.
Most love the original trilogy because they were young and impressionable when they saw them. The prequel trilogy came along after years of anticipation and hype. The audience had spent a decade or more imagining what could be. As we approach the new era of films with Episode VII and beyond, I would hope that Star Wars fans go into the movies with an open mind and an open heart.
Star Wars has been and always will be a kids movie. It’s a story for both the young and the young at heart.