Star Wars Re-View: The Prequels

Hello there.

Now, I will freely admit that I have, in fact, previously stated that I try to avoid making a recommendation out of something already really popular and or well-known — basically, properties that are in need of no introduction also don’t need to advocate for them.

So, doing a whole big thing about the entire Star Wars franchise kinda runs counter to that. Star Wars is one of the most popular and beloved film series of all time.

Maybe even the most popular.

That being said, Star Wars has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been watching Obi-Wan Kenobi, rewatching Rebels, and playing the Switch re-releases of the Knights of the Old Republic games (planning recommendations on those later).

A timelapse of the movement of the stars across the night sky.
Pictured: Stars, but no Wars…

Photo by Jakub Novacek on Pexels.com

I’ve since realised that it’s been a while since I’ve actually watched the Star Wars movie (incidentally, I haven’t been to movie since COVID and the last pre-COVID movie I went to was Rise of Skywalker).

The short version is that I want to try doing some long-form Pop Culture critique (possibly to include on a resume or in a portfolio at some point, too), and going through all of Star Wars is going to provide ample opportunity for that.

So, yeah, this is maybe a little out of character, but I think it’ll be good practice. Also, it’s not going to really interfere with me continuing to do more typical posts, right here —

Dunstana Darkstone grinning and giving a thumbs-up.

— on realmgard.com!

See? Classic J.B. Norman.

A Facebook post by J.B. Norman, reading "J.B. Norman, you're a genius!"
Yet more classic J.B. Norman.

So, anyway, here’s me vs. the Star Wars {requels.


The short version is that I enjoy the Prequels, but will freely acknowledge that they have their share of flaws.

And, man, thanks to pretty much every other line being turned into meme at this point, a lot of the drama has been thoroughly ruined, unless you manage to get into a mindset of deliberately refusing to acknowledge the memes through sheer tyranny of will.

Watching the Prequels this time around, my experience was largely somebody would say something, and I’d be sitting there giggling and going “He said the thing!”

Liam Neeson GIF by Star Wars - Find & Share on GIPHY
Slap some glasses and a hat on him and the resemblance is uncanny.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

The Phantom Menace

The title of "The Phantom Menace" as depicted in the opening of the movie.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace: Lucasfilm and Disney.

I was 7 in the spring of 1998 when Phantom Menace hit theatres. And at that point in my life, liking Star Wars more than you was basically my entire personality (which, happily, I’ve since grown out of).

So, fundamentally, at that point in my life, more Star Wars could only be a good thing. I was young enough, easily-entertained enough, and obsessed with Star Wars enough that Phantom Menace was love at first sight.

Speaking of…
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

I don’t think I can really give an objective account on the merits of Phantom Menace as a piece of cinema. I’m pretty sure my judgement is clouded by nostalgia and that sense of wide-eyed, Star Wars-obsessed childhood wonder I got to feel watching Phantom Menace in the theatre back in ’98.

But, seriously, for any of who weren’t alive in the years between the Original Trilogy and the Prequels, I don’t think it’s quite possible to convey how mind-blowing it was to watch Darth Maul turn on his lightsaber and then turn on the other side of his lightsaber. Double lightsabers just weren’t a thing they had in Star Wars yet.

Figure 1: Literally the coolest thing Little J.B. Norman had ever seen.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

And, of course, the lightsaber duel that this sets up was equally mind-blowing at the time and still awesome more than twenty years after the fact. In the Original Trilogy, Obi-Wan was an old man, Darth Vader was a robot with four prosthetic limbs, and Luke was an amateur, so the duels always had a certain degree of restraint and sluggishness.

But here, in Phantom Menace we’ve got two Jedi and a Sith warrior in their prime, so everybody’s flipping over everybody, the lightsabers are moving in a blur. Darth Maul superkicks Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon backhands Maul off a walkway.

Again, after three decades of more Star Wars, fast, acrobatic lightsaber duels have become the rule, rather than the exception. But, back in the day, it was mind-blowing to see something so different from previous Star Wars unfolding on the big screen.

Even people who hate Phantom Menace overall love the lightsaber duel.

As I got older and more cynical, I remember souring on Phantom Menace a little, but I don’t think I ever got to the level of “George Lucas literally murdered my childhood and is a legitimately terrible person who should be ashamed of himself.”

Then, I got even older and more capable of nuance and realised that hating movies isn’t really worth my time or energy and mostly just decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Now, I’d stay I like Phantom Menace, but I’m well aware that there are legitimate issues and problems with it.

Well, yeah. That’s literally the entire point of this blog post…
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

I really don’t need to get into a whole big thing about the issues with the script and direction — that’s been the main talking point since ’98.

And, yes, there are some awkwardly-phrased lines and weird deliveries — though, for the most part, I think it’s largely an issue of an overall solid cast doing the best with they’ve been given in terms of writing and directing.

I’m not the first person to note that George Lucas needs somebody to filter his ideas through To a certain extent, as a writer, I get it. It’s easy to be a great Ideas Man. Ideas are easy, actually representing those ideas in the final work is hard.

A lightbulb inside a drawing of an idea bubble.
This is the easy part.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I would like to go on record as saying I don’t hate Jar-Jar. Yes, he’s an annoying, poorly-implement comic relief character, but that’s on George Lucas. Hearing about the hate Ahmed Best went through actually does a lot to redeem the character, or at least the performance, in my eyes. Ahmed Best is giving his all with what he had to work with.

The same is also true with Jake Lloyd as kid Anakin. Honestly, Anakin should have been older and maybe even already a Jedi and he gets a lot just plain bad lines. But he didn’t deserve to get bullied out of Hollywood over issues with the character that weren’t even his fault. Kid Anakin doesn’t feel like a real eight-year-old kid. He feels like how an adult writer thinks a eight-year-old acts.

On the other hand, Liam Neeson is awesome as Qui-Gon. Also, in general, though even he has to contend with a less than ideal script and direction.

Star Wars Qui Gon Jin GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
The highlight of the movie, though (Qui-)gone too soon.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

Everything that’s a practical effect or a real set has held up remarkably well. Everything CGI, not so much. The battle droids especially have not aged gracefully. On the other hand, Darth Maul, being a real actor slathered in make-up still looks great.

Now, despite the fact that there’s plenty of unintentional hilarity thanks to either questionable directing and acting or nearly 30 years’ worth of memes, there are still some genuinely evocative and impressive scenes.

I could feel myself grinning like an idiot when the doors open, Darth Maul is standing there and the “dun-dun, DUN-DUN” starting Duel of the Fates hits.

Fun fact, Duel of the Fates is a fast and loose Sanskrit translation of a medieval Welsh poem about trees fighting.

But, like, it’s Star Wars. It’s John Williams. of course the soundtrack is going to be awesome.

The issues with the film’s pacing are better, or at least different, than I remember from the last time I watched. They get to Tatooine faster than I remember, but they’re definitely on Tatooine for way too long — again, Anakin should have been older, and a Jedi to begin with. By necessity, the Prequels needed to be Darth Vader: The Early Years, but I don’t think anybody not named George Lucas wanted that much backstory.


Attack of the Clones

The title of "Attack of the Clones" as depicted in the opening of the movie.

For the record, I still think “Attack of the Clones” is a dumb name. Also, the Clones should have been the bad guys.

Even as a kid, I remember Attack of the Clones being my least favourite of the Prequels. I don’t remember thinking it was bad, but I clearly remember coming home disappointed. The plot’s a bit of a mess, and the ending is abrupt and anticlimactic — like, seriously, Count Dooku stomps Anakin and Obi-Wan in about three second,s faces off with Yoda for a bit, runs away, we get a couple lines about how it’s the Clone Wars now, the end.

Especially after the duel in Phantom Menace, such an abrupt duel was super disappointing. Now, I think the point may have been to establish how good a duellist Dooku is. Unfortunately, he never really got enough screentime either in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith to do anything with that idea (more on that later).

It’s not your fault, Sir Christopher.
Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones: Lucasfilm and Disney.

Sidebar: Attack of the Clones was the first Star Wars to use a CGI Yoda instead of a puppet — they also went back and replaced the puppet in Phantom Menace with CGI, and then went back to a puppet for Last Jedi.

Ironically, the puppet has probably held up better than the CGI.

Basically, the Space-Detective Obi-Wan plot line is great, and everything else really isn’t. As important as the Tatooine plotline is to Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, they feel awfully contrived and convenient a way to get Anakin to do something evil. Anakin murders an entire tribe of Tuskens and then the film never really does anything with it.

Though we do get that awesome shot where Anakin is backlit by the sunset and his silhouette turns into Darth Vader, which may or may not actually be deliberate, but is still really cool.

Attack Of The Clones Tatooine GIF by Star Wars - Find & Share on GIPHY
You see it, right?
Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones: Lucasfilm and Disney.

And, yes, the “I hate sand” speech is weird and awkward. But, like, where’s the lie, people? Sand is coarse and rough and irritating and it does get everywhere. And, like, I’m not exactly shocked that a former slave, raised since the age of eight by an order of celibate space knights isn’t exactly great at flirting.

Though, admittedly, I may be giving the script a little too much credit here…

A sand dune at night.
But, seriously, sand is just the worst.

Photo by Walid Ahmad on Pexels.com

Attack of the Clones is my least favourite of the Prequels, but it’s not without merits.

Like I said, Space-Detective Obi-Wan is great and Ewan McGregor is the high point of the Prequels overall. The fight on Geonosis is probably resolved too quickly and does lead into what is overall an anti-climax. But it is undeniably cool to see basically all of the Jedi fighting at once.

Also, Temuera Morrison is great as Jango Fett, even though he is criminally underutilised. It’s fitting in a way, I suppose — Boba Fett was the OG cool character with a total of eight seconds of screentime. Honestly, I’m thrilled that Temuera Morrison has gotten so much more screentime and chances to shine since the Disney takeover — for the record, I liked Book of Boba Fett.

And there are a few genuinely entertaining bits of dialogue — the Death Sticks guy springs to mind.

The Death Sticks scene from "Attack of the Clones,"
Couldn’t find a clip or a gif of this scene, but it’s been 20 years, you know what I’m talking about.
Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones: Lucasfilm and Disney.

A lot of Star Wars fans would probably say that the best thing coming out of Attack of the Clones is the Clone Wars computer animated cartoon. I didn’t actually like Clone Wars, at least not as much as everyone else seems to.

I think part of that is that I didn’t watch it until Disney Plus became a thing. I binged the whole series. In brief, seven seasons is too much for what it is, there are too many episodes that don’t further the overall plot, too many bad episodes, and the heavily-stylised animation style and voice acting take some getting used to.

That being said, there are some really good episodes, some cool characters, the series adds some pretty cool aspects to the Star Wars lore, particularly in regards to returning an element of mysticism to the Jedi and the Force.


Revenge of the Sith

The title of "Revenge of the Sith" as depicted in the opening of the movie.

Until fairly recently, Revenge of the Sith was my favourite overall Star Wars movie. It’s still my favourite of the Prequels, but I’ve come to appreciate the original Star Wars more as I’ve gotten older. I like at least the A New Hope and Empire more, but Revenge of the Sith probably rounds out my top three. Across the fanbase, it’s generally regarded as the best of the Prequels.

In terms of casting, two things are immediately apparent. One, Sir Christopher Lee had an unfortunate propensity for being utterly wasted in the third part of the big budget trilogies of the early 2000s.

And, Two, Ian McDiarmid is clearly having the time of his life.

Truly, he’s living the dream.
Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

For one thing, the character he’s playing doesn’t call so for much acting well as acting loudly.

Now, even though Revenge of the Sith is probably a better script than the other two Prequels, the same issues with writing and directing are present. That being said, the overall emotional arc of the movie works inherently creates enough pathos that it still works despite these issues.

And the Order 66 scene is genuinely upsetting.

On top of that, Revenge of the Sith probably also has better action scenes than the other two Prequels. The opening space battle over Coruscant is brilliant, helped by an absolutely phenomenal soundtrack.

But, again, it’s John Williams, that goes without saying.

There’s a great line in the novelisation of Revenge of the Sith (which is, incidentally, one of my favourite books ever, let alone movie tie-ins) that sums up the state of affairs with the Jedi as ‘though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.

And the book goes on to really hammer home that Obi-Wan and Anakain are essentially the pinnacle of the Jedi Order and really set up the drama and tragedy of their inevitable showdown.

The movie doesn’t quite set it up as clearly because, due to the nature of the medium, film can’t really convey internal monologue or impersonal narration as clearly. On the other hand, it sort of takes the ‘show, don’t tell approach.’

Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

It’s clear throughout the movie that Obi-Wan and Anakin are at the top of their game, and while their duel on Mustafar may not be the best lightsaber duel in the Prequels, it’s certainly the most lightsaber duel.

Also, Battle of the Heroes is a better soundtrack than Duel of the Fates.

Though, again, thanks to nearly twenty years of memes, the drama has been slightly ruined…

Star Wars GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Must resist urge to make “A Farewell to Arms” joke.
Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

Conclusion

Fundamentally, I think my opinion on the Prequels has sort of levelled out. In particular, I think most of my initial reaction of Revenge of the Sith as transcendentally brilliant, pinnacle of artistic achievement was largely the result of being an over-eager thirteen year old who very much bough into the hype that has since mellowed out into a more nuanced, realistic appraisal.

It’s still my favourite prequel, but I’ve also come to like the other two more in comparison. I’m more willing to acknowledge the flaws of the movies, but I’m also less bothered by them than I was when I was younger. They’re imperfect movies, but I can’t really justify the waste of energy in resolving to hate them.

That, would, of course, set me on the path to the Dark Side.

They’re not great, maybe not even good, but they’re necessary to the full story of Star Wars, they’re major moments in Pop Culture history and they are worth watching.

So, in conclusion, if you’re feeling indecisive about whether or not to watch the Star Wars prequels, my advice is as follows:

If nothing else, do it for the memes.
Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith: Lucasfilm and Disney.
Image via Giphy.

Coming soon: more Star Wars write-ups. But, also: art, other Pop Culture recommendations, and a new chapter every Friday.

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