In Defence of the Prequels

23rd May 2016

star-wars-prequels

The Star Wars prequel trilogy has been criticised extensively since the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, and still is to this day. Although I will not claim that the prequels match the excellent quality of the original trilogy, I will explain why I believe much of the criticism the prequels receive is unfairly negative and explain why I believe overall they are very good (though not “very great”) films.


Background

Over the years it has become fashionable to dislike the Star Wars prequel trilogy. But how much of this this criticism is justified? I hold the rather controversial view that many people hate the prequels so much because they feel they should hate them rather than actually hating them. Again, I do not hold them in equal regard to the original trilogy but do believe they are overall good films but with obvious shortcomings and flaws.

Things The Prequels Did Wrong

Before I defend what I believe to be the strong points of the prequel trilogy, I will start by explaining a few points where I do agree with many others that the prequels went wrong.

  1. Reliance on CGI: One major criticism of the prequel trilogy that is often made is that it had an over reliance on CGI and other computerised special effects. Used sparingly I do believe these can improve the telling of a story but they must not drive the story forward or be the main focus of the film where it risks being more a demonstration of film technology than a well made film to tell a good story.
  2. Plot Holes/Inconsistency with the Original Trilogy: I do believe the prequels did an okay job of explaining some of the backstory behind the original trilogy. But as we all know there were some major plot holes and inconsistencies between the original trilogy/prequels. Some of these inconsistencies and plot holes have since been explained either in fan theories or additions to the Star Wars canon (in comics and books etc). Some of these inconsistencies include (among others):
    – Leia “remembering” her mother: Inconsistent because her mother (Padme) died in childbirth.
    – Han “not believing” in the Force: Han Solo was a child around the time that the Jedi Purge began, during the time of Revenge of the Sith. But he was old enough to have remembered a time when the Jedi were widely known and plentiful. Yet he has not seen anything to make him believe in the Force or the Jedi.
    – Trade Federation:
    There is no mention in the original trilogy of this large political and military power which existed in the latter years of the old republic and no remnants of its presence are shown which seems unrealistic considering that in real terms A New Hope does not take place too long after Revenge of the Sith.
    – Owen and Beru Lars Do Not Recognise R2-d2 and C3PO: Despite having seen both droids previously.
    – Obi Wan’s Age: It has often been pointed out how unrealistically much older Obi Wan looks in A New Hope in comparison to how he looked in Revenge of the Sith although it is only meant to be set no more than twenty years later.
  3. Too Much Emphasis on Kid-Friendliness For The Franchise: I believe that many of the problems with the prequels came from LucasFilm being too concerned at the time with marketing the film to children to create a new generation of fans while ignoring the older fan base and not having as much of the timeless charm that the original trilogy had in appealing to all ages. This meant that to many of the prequel trilogy’s critics, the films were dumbed down in many respects and were at times very silly in their use of humour and quirkiness.
  4. Characterisation and Dialogue: There were a few examples of great acting and characterisation which I will elaborate on in the next section, but overall one of the major faults of the prequel trilogy was having (to put it gently) not so great acting and poor characterisation. Many of the characters were just not well developed enough to give the audience any connection to them. This was directly the opposite with the characters presented to us in the original trilogy, where even villains like Vader and Tarkin were popular with audiences.

Things The Prequels Did Right

As I have established I do believe the prequels are good overall despite their obvious flaws. Following are some things which I believe the prequels did very well:

  1. Backstories: Many of the characters had their backstories further elaborated on in the prequel trilogy in a believable manner. We found out about Boba Fett’s origins, Anakin’s origins, met Leia’s adoptive parents, Obi Wan’s master, and also discovered what the Clone Wars were, and how the old Republic and Jedi orders was structured and governed.
  2. Politics: Although the prequels are often criticised for being too focused on politics to be interesting, I for one hold the rare opinion of thinking this is one of the trilogy’s redeeming features. Yes, the trilogy may have edged a little over the limit of being too politically focused. But I do believe this gave the prequels a sense of realism as it gave us the reasons and an explanation for how the galaxy came to be in the political situation of being under the control of an autocratic empire in a manner that was believable. Believable because similar rises to power have happened in real world human history.
  3. The Jedi: The prequels made the Jedi a believable presence in the pre-Empire era: a long history, a key staple in political and spiritual life, and being an organisation not inherently good or evil and sometimes struggling with its own moral dilemmas and treading careful ground to keep watch on the galaxy while not becoming overly involved in politics. The prequels established the Jedi as a viable target for Palpatine who would have saw them as a threat since they could not be bought or controlled through political means and through implication had a function to protect the democratic nature of the senate that stood in the way of Palpatine’s quest for ultimate domination.
  4. Acting and Characterisation (in specific examples): The prequel trilogy did give us some very interesting characters in Qui Gon Jinn, Darth Maul, Palpatine and Obi Wan as a young man. In fact Ewan McGregor (Obi Wan), Ray Park (Darth Maul), Liam Neeson (Qui Gon) and Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) are a few of the actors who despite the heavy criticism of the prequel trilogy are very highly praised for their acting in the films which made their characters more compelling.
  5. Action: It cannot be denied that the prequels did provide us with some of the most visually appealing battle and fight scenes of the Star Wars saga. The Battle of Naboo, Battle of Geonosis, and Battle of Coruscant, and the Duel of the Fates (ObiWan/QuiGon vs Maul) are a few excellent examples that come to my mind.
  6. Lasting legacy: Although the prequels do not have a great reputation, in many ways the fact they are so hated is a victory for the trilogy. They may be hatefully remembered or looked back on as being hilariously bad, but it could be argued this is better than a trilogy of films being so bad that they are easy to forget. The prequel trilogy still enjoys a cult following and some of the cult following are paradoxically attracted to the films because of the “it’s so bad it’s good” mantra (often said of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Troll 2 etc.). I do not believe the prequels are bad enough to earn this reputation but I do believe for the prequels it could have been worse if they were just forgotten.

Conclusion

Although the prequels certainly were nowhere close in quality to the original trilogy, I do whole-heartedly believe they were overall good films even with their obvious flaws. However, some flaws that are commonly pointed out (annoyance of characters like Jar Jar and poor dialogue etc) can really just as easily be said of the original trilogy despite its overall excellence. In the original trilogy, characters like C3PO and the ewoks were at times far more annoying in my opinion.

Although I do like the prequels and believe them to be generally good films, I also believe that it was a shame the prequels were not as good as they could have been. I believe the foundations were great and there is no reason the films could not have been excellent and on par with the originals if the basic points had been executed better and if there were not so many strange narrative decisions or poorly timed expositions.

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