Defending the ‘Star Wars’ prequels

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows how much I love “Star Wars.” 😉 I have “Star Wars” memorabilia on my desk at work, there’s a whole shelf on my bookcase at home devoted to “Star Wars” books, and yes, I’ve even dressed up as a Jedi for a “Star Wars” movie premiere. “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, and I’ve watched all the “Star Wars” movies more times than I can remember.

While “Star Wars” probably has some of the most devoted fans of any film franchise, those fans are bitterly divided on the subject of the prequels. Most fans agree the original trilogy — “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — are beloved space opera classics, but not everyone loves the prequels.

I do have to admit that I enjoyed the prequels, and I’ll readily acknowledge that’s not always the most popular confession to make among fans of science fiction (if you want to leave a comment on this blog and tell me I’m crazy, I won’t be offended). 😉 I do recognize the films have weaknesses, and my goal in this article isn’t really to refute some of the criticisms that have been directed at the prequels. However, I think there are good things in each of the six “Star Wars” movies, and when taken as a whole, I believe “Star Wars” still is one of Hollywood’s best film franchises (though of course I’m a little biased).

I think one of the main reasons I ending up enjoying the prequels more than some fans is that I encountered both the prequels and the original films around the same time. If I had grown up watching just the original films, I can definitely see how my reaction might have been different when the prequels were released. I didn’t see the films in order, either, so that also might have impacted my views on the movies. I do respect the opinions of those who were very disappointed by the prequels and wished George Lucas had just stopped after “Return of the Jedi.” I think there’s definitely room for discussion among fans.

Some of the common criticisms leveled against the prequels include dialogue, some of the performances and character portrayals, and a few of the new characters, such as Jar Jar Binks. Whether or not you agree the above items are weaknesses, the prequels do have some strengths I think aren’t always highlighted.

The prequels are visually spectacular. The CGI work is rich and detailed, and I like how each of the new cultures/planets created for the films have a distinct architectural and geographic style. The space battles are impressively detailed, with sleek ships in a wide variety of designs. The lightsaber fights also are very well choreographed, almost like precisely executed dances (the two duels that stand out are the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul duel in Episode 1, and the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin duel in Episode 3).

Another detail I enjoyed about the prequels is the costumes. In the original trilogy, the galaxy is going through a more difficult period of war and conflict, and the costumes reflect this tone. The prequels take place in a more prosperous and extravagant era, and so characters have a more elaborate style of dress. The costumes almost have a sci-fi/medieval feel. Although some fans have given the prequels flak because Padmé has so many costume changes (she has a new outfit in almost every scene), these costumes are very detailed and beautifully designed.

The prequels also have excellent soundtracks, thanks to John Williams. While I don’t know if it’s possible for John Williams to compose a bad film score (his film scores are always excellent), the songs he wrote for the “Star Wars” prequels are among some of my favorites. It’s tough to beat classics such as the original “Star Wars” theme and the iconic “Imperial March,” but there also is some very nice work in the prequels. Episode 1’s heart-pounding “Duel of the Fates” — with its relentless melody backed by a majestic chorus of voices — fits perfectly in the film. And regardless of how you feel about the whole Anakin/Padmé romance and how it was portrayed in Episode 2, the gorgeous theme Williams composed for their characters, “Across the Stars,” has a beautiful, aching melody; it’s worth buying the whole soundtrack for.

The prequels also have added some good characters to the “Star Wars” saga. Ewan McGregor was an inspired casting choice to play the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. He captures the essence of the older version of the character, played by Sir Alec Guinness in the original trilogy, while at the same time creating a believable younger Obi-Wan. Fan favorites Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) are both good Jedi characters that are featured in the prequels, and Darth Maul is arguably the coolest “Star Wars” villain (after Boba Fett, of course). 😉

I’ve read quite a few of the “Star Wars” expanded universe novels, which fill in a lot of the behind-the-scenes details about the prequels. These novels flesh out quite a few of the characters and events that appear in the films, and so now when I watch the movies, I have all these details in the back of my mind, and it adds to my film-watching experience. Knowing some of this additional story information definitely impacted my view of the prequels. For example, General Grievous, the cyborg military leader in Episode 3, becomes a lot more interesting if you read the “Star Wars” novel “Labyrinth of Evil.” You find out more about who he is and what his motivations are. I wish more storyline details like this had actually made it into the films. The currently-running animated “Clone Wars” TV series is actually quite good, as well; it features some solid character development and raises interesting ethical debates, particularly in regard to the clone soldiers. Even if you didn’t enjoy the prequels, I’d recommend checking out this series, and some of the expanded universe novels.

So, what do you think about the prequels? Are you a fan? Or do you think the “Star Wars” saga would be better off without them?

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10 thoughts on “Defending the ‘Star Wars’ prequels

  1. Nice post.
    I am a huge Star Wars fan, and like you I enjoy the prequels and will defend them forever.
    Were they as good as Episodes 4-6? No. But I still find them very entertaining.

    What I still can’t understand is the level of sheer hatred some folks have for the prequels. It’s been 13 years and people still foam at the mouth at the very mention of Jar-Jar Binks.

    The whole “i hate the prequels/George Lucas ruined my childhood” mantra has tainted a lot of discussion (especially online) about the Star Wars universe. I know it’s not going to stop, but if you can’t talk about Star Wars without going on a anti George Lucas rant, I think you should find another film series to watch.

    Again great post. It’s nice to see positive Star Wars reviews online every once in a while.

    PS – I do enjoy the Clone Wars series. I haven’t been as faithful a viewer as I would like to be, but I’m catching up with the DVDs.

    • Thanks! I’m glad to find a fellow supporter of the prequels. 🙂 There are a lot of intense feelings about the prequels. I personally thought they were fun, and I enjoyed them. Especially if you look at the Star Wars saga as a whole rather than separate movies.

      I’m a little behind on the Clone Wars series, as well, but I’ve enjoyed the series. I hope Netflix eventually adds them to instant viewing.

  2. I am one of those people who can’t talk about Phantom Menace w/o anger and I think George Lucas should have gotten three real directors & consulted w/ Lawrence Kasdan for the prequels (as well as the Crystal Skull fiasco). However I own all three films and there are many many things I like about them.

    1. Attack of the Clones is a great movie I like it more than Return of the Jedi (I think Revenge of the Sith is about on par w/ Return of the Jedi) Thought the last chapter of the original trilogy was a bit disappointing.

    2. Loved the casting. Ewan McGregor is perfect as Obi Wan and Natalie Portman can change outfits as many times as she needs to.

    HOWEVER the kid from the first movie is awful. Just plain awful. Whose cousin is that?

    3. The battles and effects are intense. You mention two good ones. I would add, Yoda vs Dooku.

    BUT I did not like the slick new ships. I guess you’re right that after years of imperial oppression the tech is crappier but that doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the Empire’s tech is also crappier in the original.

    4. I appreciate the fact that Jar Jar’s involvement lessens in the 2nd & 3rd films and I like the fact that he is easily manipulated in the senate to bring about the rise of the Empire. It should be his fault.

    BUT his role in the first film gives me pain. I find him to be racist. And I mean that. He is a racist (Step & Fetch-it) characterization of Black Americans in early hollywood. He is disgusting.

    Have you seen the fan edits of the Phantom Menace? Episode 1.2 is my favorite. It takes out many Jar Jar comic relief asides and changes his dialogue to an alien language w/ subtitles. It also removes the pod race cereal box toys-r-us saturday morning wacky races silly marketing ploy. It is a much much much much better film. The fan edit of Phantom Menace is my favorite of the prequels. George, of course, sued the shit out of them and destroyed them all.

    But what the fan edits told me is that if Lucas had hired directors instead of doing them himself there is a possibility everyone would have been happy.

    My list would be #1. Star Wars (because it is awesome & 1st) #2. Empire (because it rocks) #3. Attack of the Clones (because I love the relationship between Ben & Anakin) #4. Revenge & Return tied (Though I would have preferred Revenge of the Jedi & Return of the Sith – better titles) then………………………………………….. everything else in the Star Wars universe (Love The Clone Wars show)…………………………and last. #1,957,302. Phantom Menace (because as it is, it is garbage)

    Sorry about the length of the comment. It’s a subject I am adamant about.

    – Mel

    • Thanks for reading, you bring up some great points!

      I forgot about the Yoda/Dooku duel too, that’s another good one. The Yoda/Palpatine duel was good too. Another thing I like about the prequels is that you get to see Yoda as a Jedi in his prime.

      Yeah, Jar Jar is definitely not my favorite character either. It is somewhat ironic that he is pretty much the one responsible for opening the door for Palpatine to take power and set up the Empire. 😉

      I haven’t seen the fan edits of the Phantom Menance, but I like the idea of dubbing Jar Jar’s voice in an alien language. I do think that would have made him and the Gun-Guns (not sure if I’m spelling that right) more interesting characters.

      My personal Star Wars ranking would probably be: 1) Empire Strikes Back; 2) Revenge of the Sith; 3) A New Hope; 4) Attack of the Clones; 5) Return of the Jedi; and 6) The Phantom Menace.

  3. Have you seen The People vs George Lucas? It’s a documentary that sorta explores what your talking about.

    I’m with you on defending Star Wars. I think part of it has to do with age. I was in 5th grade when Phantom Menace came out. I was already a huge fan, but the prequels were my Star Wars films. It was my chance to experience them like my dad and those who were my age when the original trilogy was being released.

    I think some fans also forget about how much they demanded from Lucas. He gave them what they wanted, even if it turned out not to be exactly what they thought they wanted. The documentary does a good job addressing that. There’s even a clip of Coppola saying that Star Wars basically ruined Lucas, because that consumed his life. He stopped making movies and ran the Star Wars empire. Lucas did good stuff outside of Star Wars.

    Oh, and check out Star Wars: Uncut. That’s another reason why Lucas deserves some brownie points. He lets his fans do shit like that and helps them.

    • I haven’t seen the People vs. George Lucas, I’ll have to check that out, as well as Star Wars: Uncut. I was also young when the Star Wars prequels came out, and so I grew up with both trilogies.

      I agree that having to manage the entire Star Wars empire has probably been somewhat stressful for George Lucas, and has maybe prevented him from exploring other projects. I was very excited (and shocked) to hear Disney has now purchased Lucasfilm. I was concerned at first, but now I think this is probably for the best. Lucas can maybe pursue other projects, and I think Disney will do a good job respecting the franchise. I’m also thrilled at the thought of more Star Wars.

  4. Well, what can I say?
    Th 2nd half of Ep III isn’t as turgid as th rest of this trilogy, but then, it is a nostalgia trip, nothing more.
    I rather enjoyed th pod race from Ep I – got a soft spot for th pot-shotting Tusken Raiders, & th Jawas.
    Darth Maul was cool and flashy, but his scenes were completely without substance.
    Who was Liam Neeson playing? I don’t think even Liam Neeson cld explain who this was. Cracks me up every time someone refers to Qui Gon as a “character”(!)
    Sitting thro Episode II was 1 of th most painful experiences I’ve ever had in th cinema – to think it was th SAME cinema where I enjoyed Episode V…
    Cheers!

  5. Pingback: To boldly go: Re-watching the Star Wars prequels | Box Office Buzz

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