Sympathy for Darth Lucas
George Lucas has been painted as the devil.  He took away something fundamental to our collective childhood and replaced it with what my generation sees as a cheaper version of the story, but maybe we aren't giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe we're so focused on what disappointed us that we overlooked many of the good qualities of the new movies.

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 instance:

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 them to.

Copyright 2012 Ale[X]-wing fighter.
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