The prequels were arguably the
most disappointing cinematic experience for our generation. This
is partly due to expectations inflated by nostalgia.
There's also that irony that the
Hollywood rebel built his own empire, and we feel somewhat betrayed
that he sold out, even though we bought so much of what he was selling
(e.g., toys, video games, comic books, Halloween costumes, toothbrush
holders, pillowcases, etc.). We financed the empire and asked him
to keep pushing ahead with re-releases and the prequels, even if that
meant he renovated our childhoods in the process.
I will be the first to concede that
the prequels were by no means great films, and none of the positives
fully make up for the negatives, but the new trilogy could have been a
lot worse if Lucas was not still the iconoclast who got the saga off
the ground in the first place. That instinct prevailed, and so he
didn't follow the predictable choices that any other big studio exec
would have pushed for in order to maximize ticket sales. For
They got the casting right.
Although they have been criticized for their wooden acting, most of the
blame falls to the wooden dialog and directing that fell short of
humanizing the characters. But they looked the parts. There
might have been more bankable stars who would have been a bigger draw,
but no one ever second-guessed Ewan McGregor as Obi-wan, and Hayden
Christensen and Natalie Portman were undeniably the genetic stock that
might have produced the Skywalker twins we grew up with.
They weren't remakes or
rehashes. Lucas could have milked the original trilogy by
copying elements from the first three films. Instead, we got
something completely original, even if it wasn't to everyone's
liking. Still, I'll argue that anything is better than one-to-one
character substitutions or reenactments of scenes from previous
movies. I don't want movies that pander to us. Cute
references to familiar moments would leave us in our comfort
zone. Movies should challenge their audience.
The plots weren't predictable.
There weren't any clichés in the storylines. For example,
the source of the conflict wasn't a triangle between Obi Wan and Anakin
over Padme. That would have been obvious, but it also would have
been cheap. The conflict between the forces of good and the evil
within Darth Vader is something profound and nuanced. Imagine how
cheap you would feel to learn that Obi Wan set Luke against his own
father simply because many years ago Anakin made off with his best
friend's girl. That's a worse trap than boiling lava, and I'm
glad Lucas skirted it.
The visuals were amazing.
You didn't even question them most of the time, but nearly every shot
was wholly or in part CGI.
- Jar Jar was shit as a
character, but the level of technical ability used to bring him to life
was such that I can't stand to watch the crap effects that produced
Golem or any other CG creature in subsequent movies. They all
look too shiny and artificial. And that was just the Phantom
Menace! They got better and more numerous as the series
progressed. The prequels were filled with so many characters that
were so well-realized, that no one even notices them: Sebulba and Watto
plus several Jedi, and scores of Gunguns and battle droids and
droidekas. Then more battle droids, the Separatists, Geonosians,
Kaminoans, and clone troops, etc. in the next film.
- The backgrounds were digital
in the majority of scenes in the series, even when there were only
human actors present to the point that there was almost no shot that
did not contain a CG element. Whole planets were breath-taking in
their beauty, whether we're talking about the greenery of Naboo or the
rocky fields of Geonosis or the unforgettable skylines of Coruscant.
- Entire scenes were 100% CG:
The pod race, the Gungun vs. droid battle, space battles, etc.
Though it wasn't presented as such, these were largely animated movies,
but they were done do effectively that no one ever thought to regard
them as such.
They were made for children.
We think they should have been made for the generation that grew up
watching the original trilogy, but actually, they're perfect for our
kids as they grow up. In fact, a strong case can be made that
Lucas produced the prequels for one child in particular, his son Jett. More than a decade
after our over-enthusiasm for The Phantom Menace, we're finally coming
to terms with just what we were angry about, and the blame falls on
us. We were embarrassed by the fact that we expected the Star
Wars saga to connect with us as adults the way it did when we were
kids. These were kids movies; we just grew up in the meantime.
The bottom line is that Lucas is
an iconoclast in virtually every way. Even though he's a famously
and wildly successful businessman and the prequels were a guaranteed
money-maker for him, he still did it in his own way at the expense of
alienating so many fans. The market research they did before he
committed to The Phantom Menace told him irrefutably to make Anakin a
teenager. No one wanted to see a nine year-old. He said,
"Yeah, but this is the way I want to do it." Insane, but that was
the story he wanted to tell. I disagree with him (and my own
private rewrite of the trilogy corrects this glaring error), but I
admire him for going the route he felt was more true to his vision
because that's what heroes do. They don't do what everyone tells