Why I Like the STAR WARS Prequels (and Why I’ll Never Love Them)

star wars prequels

star wars prequels good

By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the 4th be with you! With The Force Awakens a big hit and plenty of exciting developments coming out of Disney/Lucasfilm, it’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan. Of course, everywhere one turns, people say things like “Hopefully this all redeems the franchise from the prequels,” or “Now we can pretend the Star Wars prequels don’t exist.”

It is unavoidable that the prequel trilogy lacks the camaraderie, dramatic heft, and humor that made classics out of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The newer trilogy also is not as well-written or acted as the originals. I will never love the prequels as I do those films. What’s more, I think that most of the other criticisms against the prequels are valid. However, I hope to demonstrate that the cinematic rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker deserves more praise than it gets. As Obi-Wan might argue, it all depends on your point of view.

Why I like them

John Williams provided terrific new music. “Duel of the Fates” is fast-paced and phenomenal. “Across the Stars” is a gorgeous love theme that sold me on Anakin and Padme’s tragic romance even when the dialogue failed to do so. Williams’ Revenge of the Sith music is his most full-bodied and emotionally-stirring score in years, highlighted by the epic “Battle of the Heroes.” The soundtrack smartly cherry-picks themes from the entire saga while providing wonderfully dark, haunting, and heartbreaking new material to match the film’s subject matter. 

Why I don’t love them

Unlike the original trilogy, which displayed creative and iconic music in almost every scene, the first two films of the prequel trilogy contain mostly placeholder material that sounds virtually identical to most everything else Williams has done in the past 15 years. Aside from the aforementioned “Duel of the Fates” and “Across the Stars,” it’s mostly filler. But again, Sith‘s score is tremendous.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

(L to R) Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH. © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.Digital work by ILM.

Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid. McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is charismatic, cool, and emotionally engaging. His heartache over Anakin’s fall is terrifically played. Plus he does a spot-on Alec Guiness impression. He actually seems to be having fun in the role. Ian McDiarmid gives an expert portrayal of big-screen evil, making the transformation from subtle wolf-in-sheep’s clothing to scenery-chewing baddie with total commitment and aplomb.

Why I don’t love them

Every other performance is inconsistent at best, cringe-inducing at worst. Hayden Christensen, for example, is terrific in the scenes of his mother’s death and his confession of the subsequent bloodbath, but elsewhere his performance  ranges from solid to laughable to flat. Natalie Portman is too often monotone, while Samuel L. Jackson mostly looks bored.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The light-saber duels rank among the best swordplay in the history of cinema. Fast, furious, and aggressive, with impressive choreography. 

 

Why I don’t love them

Watching all six in order, the duels from the original trilogy now feel slower and more staged, with less pf an element of danger. That said, I understand the counterargument that in the original trilogy Luke was in training, Vader was half-machine and out of practice, and Obi-Wan was old and his powers weak, so it’s not totally inconsistent. But the difference is noticeable.

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Why I like them

star wars prequels

The visual effects are phenomenal. From the massive city-planet Coruscant to the clone wars battle field to the space dogfight that opens Sith, the prequel trilogy is a feast for the eyes and an impressively realized fantasy universe.

Why I don’t love them

No matter what “improvements” Lucas grafts into the original trilogy, the contrast between shiny CGI in the prequels and old-school model work in the originals is jarring. The six films don’t flow organically into one another. A more judicious use of CGI combined with practical effects, real locations and sets, and costumed creatures would’ve lent greater consistency to the series.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The Jedi are imposing warriors; seeing them in combat absolutely lives up to my childhood fantasies.

Why I don’t love them

Most of the Jedi are one-dimensional characters for whom we’re given no history or motivation. We never see them grow or change. As a result, their demise doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it should (this is patched-up somewhat by Williams’ excellent music and fully rectified if you watch The Clone Wars TV series). Plus the self-serious prequels are in desperate need of some civilian spunk, attitude, and humor. In other words, they need Han Solo and Princess Leia.

 

Why I like them

star wars prequels

We only had to put up with Jar-Jar for one film. In the second film he has all of three minutes of screen time, while in the third he’s down to about 5 blissfully silent seconds.

Why I don’t love them

We had to put up with Jar-Jar in the first place.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

Yoda pretty much becomes the action hero of the new trilogy and is given a lot of crowd-pleasing moments.

Why I don’t love them

The goosebumps-inducing scene where Yoda lands on Dagobah was cut from the final version of Revenge of the Sith. It is perfect and should have been left in.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

As a skeletal outline, the story is excellent. Anakin’s fear of loss translating into anger, hate, and finally lust for control is a message well worth sharing, as is the cautionary tale about freedom being sacrificed for security. Palpatine’s Machiavellan rise to power, complete with fear-mongering and jockeying for political position, is absolutely fascinating and cements his position as one of the great screen villains. Obi-Wan’s Dick Tracy style detective work in Episode II is a particular highlight.

Why I don’t love them

George didn’t step out of the way and let better directors and writers hammer out the details of how to tell his great story, like he did with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

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Why I like them 

star wars prequels

To be fair, as a director George Lucas excels at visual storytelling. There are moments in the prequel trilogy that are stunning, not just because of the special effects, but because of the emotional response triggered. There are nonverbal moments of undeniable power. Audiences feel a sense of wonder as the Jedi approach the underwater city of the Gungans; we gasp when Darth Maul, standing alone, brings an entire armed group to an intimidated stop. Scenes of Anakin tearfully and silently making the choice to do whatever it takes to save his wife, leading an army of clones into the Jedi temple, or facing off against his former mentor on a hellish lava planet are nothing short of stirring and iconic.

Why I don’t love them

Again, the dialogue needs work. There’s little subtlety, poetry, or wit. For the most part, people describe what they’re thinking and feeling in a bland, literal way (like dialogue in a children’s book).

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The action sequences are great fun. The podrace, the underwater chase, the flying car chase through Coruscant, the asteroid battle, Obi-Wan dueling General Grevious, Sith’s opening space battle, and more are all terrific moments in escapist popcorn movie history.

Why I don’t love them

Great action sequences need great screenplays to give them meaning.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The dark and oppressive tone once Anakin becomes Vader. It’s moving and deeply tragic.

Why I don’t love them

Anakin’s transformation from hero to villain is too rushed, though there’s some nice nonverbal acting by Christensen and Portman leading up to it.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The moments put in for fans. Yoda force-pushing the Emperor’s guards comes to mind. An army of Wookies. Uncle Owen’s moisture farm. The hair buns.

Why I don’t love them

The prequel trilogy tries a little too hard to please fans. Did we really need a backstory on Bobba Fett? It’s not terrible, and it’s kind of fun, but it feels a little forced (and Fett was better as a mysterious character anyway).

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The moment when Vader’s helmet slides on is total perfection. One could hear a pin drop in the theater. Then came the iconic first breath, and thousands of midnight movie-goers simultaneously got goosebumps.

Why I don’t love them

Vader’s “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” when he learns of Padme’s death is cheesy. Granted, it doesn’t bother me too much becuase, well, one has to embrace the cheese to enjoy any Star Wars movie. Plus, the original trilogy has its own version of this.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The prequels gave us Darth Maul, one fantastically imposing villain.

Why I don’t love them

Lucas killed off Darth Maul (in a creative way, granted) and replaced him with the geriatric Count Dooku. Christopher Lee should’ve stayed in Lord of the Rings territory where he got a chance to shine. Some tinkering with the script, and Maul could’ve been the secondary baddie of the prequels until Vader took his place. (Note: this whole situation is remedied in the excellent Clone Wars TV series).

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The prequels fulfill their purpose of giving us the backstory of Anakin, Obi-Wan, the Clone Wars, the rise of the Empire, and the origins of Luke and Leia. It has some great moments of continuity. For example, now we know why Yoda tells Luke to not underestimate the powers of the Emperor: the little guy has first-hand knowledge.

Why I don’t love them

They ignore details from the original trilogy, like Leia remembering her mother and providing details about her while Luke could not. Some chalk this up to Leia having Force-inspired visions like her father did (and she does say that she doesn’t have memories, but rather just images and feelings) so maybe that one gets a pass.

Why I like them

star wars prequels

The prequels clarify the key difference between Luke and Anakin; Anakin tried to save Padme through selfishly seeking power and control, while Luke saved his father by selflessly being willing to give his own life. Luke’s compassion and altruism ultimately awaken the same traits in his father, leading to his redemption. Pretty cool stuff.

Why I don’t love them

Anakin does come off as a whiny kid for his first two movies. Whereas Luke..well… actually, I guess it runs in the family.

Why I like them 

star wars prequels

The prequels inspired The Clone Wars, the Emmy-winning, fan-pleasing, critically-acclaimed animated TV series which takes place between Episodes II and III. The Clone Wars is essentially the universe of the prequels inhabited by the spirit of the original trilogy, and it got better and better as it went. It boasts solid writing and creative direction while developing the characters and mythology in ways the prequels didn’t. Lucas provided story ideas, but allowed others to make the product. I cannot praise or recommend it enough; even for adults without kids, this is essential Star Wars (and is part of the new official canon). This series did a lot to win over fans who felt burned by the prequels.

Why I don’t love them

Simply put, the prequels are nowhere near as good as the television series which they inspired, with the latter doing a solid job of patching up the former’s weaknesses.

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