This shouldn’t be news to you: Start Wars Episode XII: The Force Awakens is coming out Christmas day. Like millions of fans around the world, I am delighted and can’t wait to see it. Anticipation of the new movie is causing a lot of people to start talking about Star Wars again. Much to my annoyance however, this talk seems to inevitably lead to the repeated trashing of the Star Wars prequels (Episodes I-III) in comparison to the sequels (Episodes IV-VI).
I simply do not understand the hatred directed at the prequels. Every single Star Wars fan seems utterly certain that none of Episodes I-III deserve to call themselves Star Wars films. WHY?? I am not a professional film critic and have no authority to my claims, but I am going to try my best in this post to explain why I believe the prequels were vastly superior to the sequels. Please challenge me and show me why I’m wrong. I want to know why I’m not seeing straight.
The first thing always cited when thrashing the prequels was that their acting was atrocious. This is when I start banging my head against the table.
Someone please explain to me how a cast including Ian McDiarmid, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, and Ewan McGregor gets beaten by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. Who is Mark Hamill? Somehow we let the performance of Hayden Christensen as Anakin undermine a star-studded cast to the point that they’re beneath Mark Hamill.
Anakin Skywalker was the toughest role in the whole series. Evolving from an innocent desert boy all the way to Darth Vader is something few actors can pull off. Hayden Christensen was tasked with the most dynamic Walker White-like role and gets no credit for his efforts. Luke, Han, and Leia have simple static characters (other than the cringy love story that serves absolutely no purpose). They start off as good guys and they finish as good guys. In the middle they might’ve gotten angry or had to let out a scream, but it wasn’t convincing. One could argue that Darth Vader was dynamic character, but no one can seriously believe that breathing heavily and saying “Nooooo” is good acting.
Finally, there’s Jar Jar Binks. I personally am a great fan and love saying “Me sa hungry” just as much as doing Chewbacca roars. I can why so many found him utterly annoying though. Lucas Films saw the same thing too! They almost completely redacted Jar Jar from the scripts of Episodes II and III to appease its fans. However, amid all the protests biased against the prequels and its characters, the elephant in the room never got mention: C-3PO. This stuttering linguist somehow worked his way into every movie in the series! Nobody likes C-3PO. He has no memorable quotes and slows down every scene he’s in with his cowardliness and impeded speech. The prequels are to blame for introducing C-3PO, but the biases fans kept him alive.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was initially just Star Wars a standalone film. This is understandable; a studio does not know whether a movie will be successful enough to warrant sequels. However the plot must suffer from such a decision. Here’s a one-sentence synopsis of the original film: An orphan boy finds out he has mystical powers and a destiny to overthrow an evil empire, which he accomplishes. Now go to your local library, checkout a random pre-teen fantasy novel, flip to its back cover, and you will find the exact same words! Maybe the 1970’s were different, but today Star Wars has neither a refreshing nor a deep plot. Things don’t get better with the next two films. Episodes V and VI extend the original in the typical Hollywood style:
It seemed like there was a victory at the end of the first movie. Wrong. The Empire still rules the galaxy, Darth Vader is still alive, and even the Death Start is being rebuilt. Nothing was accomplished and thus we need more movies.
It turns out the main protagonist isn’t actually an orphan and his father has been playing a major role from the start. Luke was told definitively his father was dead, but it makes for a much better mid-movie/life crisis if facts get conveniently reversed.
The main protagonist is actually even less of an orphan than we thought; his sister’s been with him all along. But don’t worry, she falls in love with the only other prominent male character so we can have the obligatory useless romance. It almost seems like that in the next film we should find out that Chewbacca is a sentinel secretly sent from Luke’s mom to keep him safe. (Please don’t do this Disney.)
On the flip-side, the prequels set the exposition for all the cliche twists in the sequels. This is accomplished with a plot actually meant from the start for three movies and is much more original and satisfying:
The “Chosen One” theme is used again, but this time he does the opposite of what destiny says. Besides the point that Anakin does eventually destroy the Dark Side, this is unprecedented and very moving.
Romance is used for a purpose other than making you feel uncomfortable while watching with parents. Love, the most infallible good in the world, was what set off the chain of events to make Anakin evil.
No war of “good vs evil” was responsible for the Empire rising to power. The Emperor accumulated power by orchestrating a fight in which he lead the good side. Instead of warring around like medieval tribes, politics won in a way reminiscent of many more modern events.
Maybe in 20 years the above points will no longer seem significant and every pre-teen book will tell the same story. However in today’s world that is not the case. The prequels’ plot is far superior.
I know Star Wars is set in a fantasy galaxy very different from real-life on Earth. However there are still expectations of believability that must be met. The films must seem consistent with the rules of universe. Both the prequels and sequels had flaws here, but the sequels are just atrocious.
I might actually be in the majority with this point: Stormtroppers are the worst elite fighting force in the Galaxy. In a world that surely had infrared goggles and seeking missiles, the Stormtroppers and Tie Fighters could never stop missing. The only major target the Empire hit in all three movies was a planet! Meanwhile, the Rebels and their couple dozen star-fighters are able to put up a fight. Everyone loves rooting for the underdog, but nobody’s satisfied if the incumbent throws the match.
Speaking of throwing fights, how did the Death Star get destroyed twice? I already mentioned how bringing back the Death Star was a cheap plot trick, but it’s almost insulting if the battle station is brought down in almost the exact same way:
Rebels spies steal plans exposing Death Star weaknesses. (From a computer security perspective this shouldn’t even be an issue.)
The Rebels send about a dozen star-fighters to take down a moon-sized warship. There were additional larger cruisers sent in during Episode VI, but they never attacked anything and literally only served the role of getting trapped.
The teeny Rebel star-fighters find a way to shoot at the Death Star’s core with their teeny weapons. Somehow this is sufficient, the Death Star blows up, and the fighters escape faster than the nuclear explosion.
If my trillion dollar planet was blown up, the last thing I’d do is spend another trillion to build it in the exact same way with the same weaknesses. Why didn’t they weaponize an existing planet (with a non-nuclear core) or something different with similar scale? It’s aggravating to watch a movie and have questions like those above pop up.
If it wasn’t for the prequels, I would think Lucas didn’t care at all about maintaining his Star Wars universe. The prequels show us all the things that could exist in Star Wars without giving the feeling of being Force-fed. There many fantastics planets, diverse alien species, and advanced technologies. The Droid army again sucks, but it’s excusable this time because of their AI. The Clone army actually has numbers that reasonably rival the Droids. Sure, it’s probably the case that the prequels on achieved their better realism via modern CGI, but I’m not going to scale up the sequels’ just because their special effects were so groundbreaking for their time. The same goes for casting and plot. When I watch a movie the only thing that matters is the picture and sound, not the age.