One of the most controversial series of films released within the past twenty years is the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. In all seriousness, the Star Wars prequels do get a lot of flak for not living up to the precedence of the Holy Trilogy. But I’m here to say they’re not the travesty of film that a lot of us make them out to be.
By no means am I saying they’re flawless. I grew up with Star Wars and can’t recall a time in my life where I didn’t know the story of the classic three. I saw The Phantom Menace for my eighth birthday and loved it for all the reasons an eight year old would love The Phantom Menace (that is: Qui Gon Jinn). I thought Attack of the Clones was, well, whatever, and Revenge of the Sith was fantastic. Then I didn’t watch any of the prequels for almost six years.
So I watched them again a few months ago and, well, they’re not that bad.
Oh, they’re definitely not amazing. They lack the sweeping narrative and engaging characters of the originals. Where the originals were character driven adventures, the new ones are more poorly-written political dramas. We lose that sense of grand adventure in favor of stories weighed down with unnecessary intrigue. While the Classic Trilogy had Luke, Han, and Leia getting out of all sorts of scraps, in the new ones we watch the heroes navigate pointless discussions in the Senate and other assorted politicking.
But there are things the prequels did do right – they’re very pretty. We’re afforded a deeper peek into the world: more ships, more planets, more buildings, more people. There’s this tangible life to the world. The podrace in The Phantom Menace would never have been possible when the original movies came out. The new movies took the technology afforded to them and built a world. A world without particularly engaging characters, but a world nonetheless.
Building on that, the action and fight choreography stands unrivaled by few other movies. From Qui Gon’s encounter with Darth Maul on Tatooine in The Phantom Menace to the final duel on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, every fight is a joy to behold. This is sword fighting like we always wanted just never knew we did. Fast paced and intense we watch them fight for, um, because they have to? But that’s beside the point; the fights are great and even though we’re not sure why we’re invested in them we’re still drawn to them. They’re flashy, but somehow they still strike an emotional chord with us.
And that’s because of the music. John Williams’ score for the prequels stands as one of the best of his particularly illustrious career. Duel of the Fates gives the climatic duel in Menace the appropriate grandeur and gravitas. Likewise, Across the Stars actually makes you almost care about the horribly written romance between Anakin and Padme. An echoed refrain of the theme that plays back during Revenge instantly tugs at your heartstrings. More so than in the original movies, the score in the prequels pull you into the movies and makes you feel what the writing and acting does not. It’s easy to look back on them and realize how they aren’t that good, but while you’re watching them the music and the visuals are simply captivating.
But they never quite measure up to the original movies.
The prequels failed because of, yes, poor writing and lousy characterization, but also because they just didn’t feel like Star Wars. The Holy Trilogy was an adventure. The new ones, less so. Rather than following characters we’re following the plot as it develops. We’re not watching Luke become a Jedi, we’re watching a trade dispute lead to war. It’d be okay in another movie, but it feels too impersonal and distant to be Star Wars. That is the movies’ falling.
When I think of Star Wars I think of the Empire and the Rebellion, Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon, and Luke and Vader. Despite being the ‘intended’ age when the prequels came out, The Empire Strikes Back and the rest of the Holy Trilogy are my favorites. But, like I’m trying to say, the prequels aren’t that bad.
Writer’s Note: I know there are literally hundreds of other arguments about the prequels’ failings. I’m not gonna get into them because we’ve heard them before. I’m making an attempt at a defense (which kinda gets bogged down because, well, yeah).