Now I want to make a few things clear. I am not a “Lucas apologist.” I have not convinced myself to like his movies, nor have I been blinded by love for all things Star Wars, nor do I “suck at the teat of George Lucas.”
I genuinely, sincerely, and in all honesty believe the Star Wars prequel trilogy is great. Not perfect by any means, but great nonetheless. Now, I do not mean to say they’re “good” in a bad sort of way. The Phantom Menace is a far cry from Plan 9 From Outer Space. No, I think they’re imaginative, exciting, beautifully shot and endlessly intriguing. Sure, the dialogue is often stilted, but no single film excels at everything. Breaking Bad, Star Wars is not. But then again, I don’t go into Breaking Bad expecting fantastic alien landscapes and operatic wizard duels.
A FALSE NARRATIVE
For over fifteen years, there has existed this false narrative, perpetuated by YouTube critics, bloggers and forum commentators, regarding the Star Wars prequels. Hour-long videos have been made, analyzing and nitpicking these films to death. What movie could endure such scrutiny? Never mind record breaking box office and Blu-Ray sales, positive critical consensus (Revenge of the Sith is the best rated film to date at 80%), or a legion of fans who grew up with and continue to be inspired by the prequels, Episodes I—III, we are told, are “objectively bad.” To challenge this narrative is to court unending scorn and ridicule. The only word I can use to describe it is dogma—a hate that borders on religious conviction. If you object to any of the criticism, the haters tend to become angry. Even famous people have gotten into the act, like Star Trek actor Simon Pegg, who stated, “I have no respect for fans of the prequels.” All this vitriol just makes these people seem insecure. I certainly don’t waste my nights bemoaning the (awful) Transformers films, despite growing up watching the cartoon and playing with the toys.
THE STAR WARS: AN EPIC IN SIX PARTS
Lucas has long maintained that the prequels were made to complement the originals, to fit together, as one 13-hour epic. But nobody ever discusses how his cinematic magnum opus turned out, whether the sum is greater than its parts. The ridicule started with Jar Jar in 1999, soon after The Phantom Menace, and never let up. Prior to its release in 2005, people were saying they wouldn’t even bother with Revenge of the Sith. Their minds had been made up without giving it a chance. Talk about closed-minded! And yet, I often wonder whether the haters ever consider stepping back from the expectations and preconceived notions, and the firestorm of negative media attention, to look at the bigger picture? What would they say, had Lucas released all six films at the same time, in some magical theater in 1977? Could it possibly have courted such controversy? Would anyone be saying, “Return of the Jedi was great, but what was with Vader going ‘No!’? He should have been silent!” Could it be that, once it became “the cool thing” to hate on Lucas, there was no going back?
While much of the criticism is warranted, most of it borders on the absurd, if not outright dishonesty.
A good example is something I recently heard, about how Anakin never specifically tells Obi-Wan to give his lightsaber to his son, even though, in A New Hope, Obi-Wan tells Luke, “Your father wanted you to have this [his lightsaber] when you were older …” Of course, we know Obi-Wan is a habitual liar. He doesn’t tell Luke the truth about his father’s death, so why would he bother telling him, “Oh, your father dropped this after I cut off his legs and left him to burn to death. He used it to murder kids. Want it?” Aside from Leia somehow remembering her mother, who died in childbirth, there are few major inconsistencies that cannot be explained.
If you take the critics word for it, you’d think a good quarter of the prequel trilogy is nothing but Galactic C-SPAN. Even The Simpsons featured an episode on it. But, interest in politics aside, just how much of Episode I (the most political of the three) is devoted to filibustering? Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. THAT’S IT. That is how long the senate hearing lasts in The Phantom Menace. Out of 136 minutes of dicing robots and dodging sea monsters and exploding spaceships, less than 3 minutes involves trade agreements and treaties, 1.7% of the film’s running time. This might be 1.7% too much, IF the scene was unnecessary, but on the contrary, it is the most pivotal moment in the film, as Palpatine uses the Naboo/Trade Federation dispute, which he himself orchestrated, to seize power, which, by Episode III, leads to the execution of the Jedi and to the creation of the Empire.
THE ADVENTURES OF JAR JAR BINKS?
Given how much people trash talk the character, you’d think the trilogy could be subtitled, “The Adventures of Jar Jar Binks.” Truth is, he mainly appears in the first film, and only for a few minutes in the second. A single fart joke, while lame, lasts for less than a few seconds, and his stepping in “poodoo” happens so quickly you’ll miss it if you blink. While I can’t say the character was a good idea (he wasn’t) I did laugh at parts, especially when he is hanging off the nose of a tank, juggling grenades. And, to be fair, a lot of hard Sci-Fi fans hated C3PO in ’77 for the same reasons.
POOR SCRIPT / POOR ACTING
Horrible script writing is another matter of contention, but horrid dialogue has been a staple of the franchise since the beginning.
Notice, however, how actors with theatrical backgrounds have less of a problem with the script. Compare Alec Guiness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi to Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn. Other great performances include Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku and Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine/Sidious; and Ewan McGregor excels throughout as a young Kenobi. Blaming Lucas for throwing his actors in front of blue screen is also unfounded, for two reasons: 1) Much of the prequels were shot on sets and on location, from Tunisia to Italy. 2) Stage actors are accustomed to blank sets and to using their imaginations. It’s a tradition going back to Ancient Greece.
NOTHING BUT CGI?
Perhaps the most demonstrably false claims about the prequels regards the overuse of CGI. Ignoring the fact that CGI was in its infancy in 1999, and that nowadays, every film from Avengers to The Hobbit depends on it, the prequel trilogy is often compared to a video game demo reel. There’s even this popular meme,
But this is an outright lie. More models, sets and costumes were built for the prequels than for the first films, and here is the proof:
HATE FOR THE ART, HATE FOR THE ARTIST
What really bothers me is how the director himself has taken the brunt of the hatred. Lucas has been called everything from incompetent, lazy, greedy and arrogant to outright racist. This is coming from people who hardly know anything about his personal life. But how does someone so incompetent and lazy build, from the ground up, the biggest FX company in the world? How does someone so greedy donate most of the 4 billion he earned selling to Disney? How does someone so arrogant appear so humble in his interviews? How does someone so racist have a best friend, Stephen Spielberg, who is Jewish, and make a black man the most powerful Jedi next to Yoda, or produce a film in honor of black aviators, or marry a black woman? But no, the haters hate him and his films, and if you disagree, they’ll attack you too, and with the same fervor.
Now you might be saying to yourself, Nick, why do you care? Well, I’ll tell you. I care because there are few things I hate more than a lynch mob. I’ve been there. I know how it feels. And it doesn’t matter one bit whether he is rich and famous. He is still a human being, just like you and me, and he has feelings. Don’t like his movies? Fine. But he doesn’t deserve personal attacks. Besides that, I really do love the guy. George Lucas helped define my childhood. In my elementary school, we often pretended to be Luke or Han during recess, and many of my earliest stories involved the Death Star. All the cartoons I grew up with, from He-Man to GI*Joe, were influenced by Star Wars in some way.
I am 41 years old, but there are days that I feel much older. Today, I went to the park with my kids and we played Jedi, waving our styrofoam lightsabers and jumping from rocks and tree stumps to avoid the lava on Mustafar. And for a brief shining moment, I was 12 again, and I owe it all to George. How can I not defend him?
As part of my ongoing podcast series, I discuss the value of art, the hypocrisy of the prequel haters, and the flaws in A New Hope,
I too defend George Lucas and his work. The prequels have their flaws, but they are not the cinematic abomination a vocal group of haters want you to believe they are. The hatred and anger focused on this man is frightening. The funny thing is, they will still find some way to blame him for whatever they don’t like about any future Star Wars movies even though he no longer has anything to do with them.
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Yes, I agree, Tom! Well, I think I’ve made my thoughts clear. Thanks for stopping by!
[“Aside from Leia somehow remembering her mother, who died in childbirth, there are few major inconsistencies that cannot be explained.”]
Leia’s memories of her mother are merely limited to feelings and nothing else – something she could have easily sensed through the Force. Bail Organa could have told Leia something about Padme – her looks, etc. Her memories are too vague for me to accept as legitimate proof that Padme had raised her when she was a toddler. In fact, I find it hard to believe that Padme would keep one twin and hand over another to Owen and Beru on Tatooine. I find it hard to believe that any parent would keep one child and hand over another to in-laws briefly acquainted with.
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I agree with you that there is nothing in the original trilogy to suggest that Padme raised Leia, as many of the critics claim. And even if she had, what happened to her? Why did she give up her son? How did Leia end up the adopted daughter of Bail Organa? I can accept that she may have lingering “feelings” of her mother, but when Leia says, “She was always sad …” how does she know that? For continuity purposes, I think Lucas could at least have cut that last part, but he seems more averse to cutting his films than adding to them. But the people who make a big case out of this need to realize that this is also a flaw in the originals, because we are never told how Luke knows anything about Leia’s mother, nor do we learn any of the details surrounding the twins, their upbringing, their being split up, the fate of their mom, etc. It is all vaguely hinted at, because the background story was poorly planned out (there is no hint that Vader and Leia are related in ANH, another OT flaw). I think this is because Lucas never imagined he’d get the funding to make 6 films. Either way, the same kinds of criticisms people make about the prequels can be made against the originals, but due to nostalgia, the older films always get a free pass.
George Lucas has been honoured by Hollywood, Bafta and many other organisations around the world. He has been given the go-ahead for a museum in the US and has numerous inclusions in exhibition halls around the world. He is certainly no flop. Except, perhaps,in the eyes of so-called fans who believe they know how to do things better.
We often hear the criticism of Ewoks, the Star Wars prequels, digital additions to the classic Star Wars movies, the horror of CGI in Indiana Jones 4, Gungans and the infamous, but brilliant, Jar Jar Binks.
Personally, I think that the ONLY mistake GL ever made regarding the CGI in the classic trilogy was not going far enough with altering the Return of the Jedi. The Ewoks and the destruction of the Executor, along with the second Death Star, were simply not done as well as they could have been. But that’s a personal observation and is not intended as vitriol.
GL has been responsible foe the creation of Skywalker Sound, Industrial Light and Magic, LucasArts and many other spin off organisations that have enhanced cinematic, television and gaming experiences.
Without the above, many of today’s films could not have been made. Or, at the very least, would have struggled to have been made.The same applies for TV series and computer games.
The man is, and has been, a genius for longer than Star Wars has been around. Critical fans should read his book and how he began changing things with THX1138 and American Graffiti.
Yes, some of the changes he made to later editions of the classic Star Wars trilogy upset some of the fans of the saga- yes, I’m an original fan of the series being one of the so-called Star Wars Generation-but they were all excellent. Once again, a personal opinion.
I have never been able to understand the vitriol aimed at a man who has given fans do much and has faltered a couple of times (Even DaVinci has lesser successes). But, remember, without GL what would we be celebrating today ? What quality would we be revering and criticising nearly 40 years on?
Well done George Lucas and thank you for the memories.
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Wow, thanks for your in-depth and thoughtful response, Jim. It really adds to the conversation. I agree with you 100%. Lucas pioneered technologies used in just about every film. He also pushed for better sound quality in theaters. But perhaps most importantly, is his edit droid device helped to more easily cut and paste films together.
As for the destruction of the Executor, I totally agree. It always looked to me like the ship is crashing into a giant toy. The Death Star model just doesn’t hold up in that scene; it has no curvature. The Executor is supposed to be 10 miles long, but in that shot, it looks like it must be hundreds of miles long, reaching out into space, and that the Death Star is the size of Jupiter. The ratios are just off. I think some CGI could have really improved it.
As for my own criticisms, I can find a lot to complain about in both trilogies. I agree that the acting, in most cases, could have been better. I agree Hayden was miscast. I agree that some of the CGI looks bad, like Dexter Jetster in AOTC, or Jabba in ANH. But the good stuff greatly outweighs the bad, and what series is without major flaws? I remember people gushing over The Matrix, saying it’s what The Phantom Menace should have been, but how well did Matrix 2 and 3 turn out? Who cares about The Matrix now? Who thinks Terminator 4 and 5 were any good? Or any of the Alien films after the second?
Star Wars remains the greatest cinematic achievement, in my view, and for that reason, I am a fan.
I think Hayden wasn’t as bad as some people think. He was also given the worst lines of anyone in the saga. I just think he would have benefited from more coaching in AOTC – but even in that movie, he nails the critical Confessions scene. He was mostly decent in ROTS. I have more issues with Natalie Portman – she doesn’t even seem to try, other than maybe ROTS.
Otherwise, great article, I agree with everything!
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Thanks for stopping by, Natalie! I think the problem with Hayden is that he was given the most difficult role in cinema history. Anakin is an extremely complex character, with huge shifts in personality, and many of his motivations are at odds with one another. Essentially, Hayden had to play a cross between a sweet little boy and a homicidal cyborg tyrant. He had to turn evil, but maintain a kernel of goodness. He had to fret over losing his wife and murder children (in the same film). I can’t imagine a more challenging role. As for Natalie, I tend to agree. If given a good director, she can truly shine, as she did in “Black Swan.” But in other films, like “Thor,” she just seems to be going through the motions. My wife, who is not one to harp on actors, thought her performance in “Thor 2” was terrible. She’s a scientist from Earth, whisked through a wormhole to a truly awe-inspiring world, Asgard, and you’d think she just checked in to a bed and breakfast hotel.
I agree with everything written in your article Nick, well said! I’ve watched the prequels for a couple of weeks when doing a Star Wars marathon, after not watching any of the Star Wars movies for years. Watching them as an adult now (I’m in my 20’s) has confirmed me that most of the critics against these movies and the negativity in the internet is grotesquely exaggerated. You can read my reviews about each of the movies here: http://boards.theforce.net/threads/rewatching-the-star-wars-saga-after-many-years-thoughts-and-views.50033269/
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Thanks for stopping by, Francois! I will check out your site!
I listen to a Star Wars podcast, “Rebel Force Radio,” in which the hosts mentioned George’s motivation for selling Lucasfilm Ltd. His publicly mentioned reason was twofold: (1) each trilogy takes about ten years to make, and George is getting up there in years; (2) he wanted to be able to make the kinds of movies he wanted make, rather than be effectively “locked in” to a famous franchise.
There was a third reason: the fans who were critical of various things, or how things “should be done,” or “shouldn’t have been done.” It was this stress, as mentioned in the podcast, that led George Lucas, the CREATOR of Star Wars, to say, “Enough is enough,” so he sold the company to Disney (a move that I did not like, as I’m not a fan of Disney for certain reasons).
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Hey, thanks for stopping by! Yes, when Lucas sold to Disney, I was heartbroken. When it comes to the Mouse Empire, I have a love/hate relationship. I adore the Pixar films and the classic-style animation, but I feel their marketing approach to filmmaking stifles creativity. I worry that, whoever takes the reins of Star Wars, they will get bogged down by the shareholders. Episode VII already looks cookie-cutter to me. You only have to watch any number of DVD documentaries to be concerned. Jeffrey Katzenburg nearly ruined “The Little Mermaid” by demanding they remove the song “Part of Your World,”—the heart and soul of that story—because some kid in the test audience got bored. They did the same thing with “Pocahontas,” taking out the terrific, “If I Never You.” When “Toy Story” was being made, Disney insisted that Pixar make Woody “dark and edgy” because that is “what kids like.” Fortunately, John Lasseter knew better than to listen to a bunch of investors who know nothing about story telling. What made Star Wars special, I believe, was its documentary/independent feel. Lucas is an artist, one of the few in cinema today, and he was always experimenting. He could have cared less what everyone wanted, which is why we got Star Wars in the first place, something no studio thought would succeed. While he didn’t always make everyone happy (and what director ever has?), he was never formulaic. And I’ll take different and flawed over formulaic any day.
Very good article. Didn’t know abot the extensive use of real models on the Prequels.
I think Lucas has had the patience of a saint with the fans. If I were him, I’d have lashed out years ago and even purposely ruined the films just out of spite. Screw it, if I’m going to be hated anyway, I might as well be hated for something real.
I think all this comes down to a generation of ultra-selfish, self-centered fanboys who think that everything must cater to them and them alone, and not try to win over new (young) fans. “I’m grown up, so you MUSt grow up with me too!!”, is their attitude. It ruined comics books, cartoons, and video games, and it may ruin “Star Wars” too.
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Thanks for stopping by, Dar! I agree with a lot of what you are saying. My concern is that we, as an entertainment saturated society, are forgetting the meaning and purpose of art. There is this belief that art should cater to our personal interests, that Hollywood should “listen” to fans and give in to demands. Never in history has art existed in such a self serving way. When people say, “Lucas needed to have someone to tell him ‘No,'” I am forced to wonder, did any of the great authors, painters, or musicians have someone to tell them no? We appreciate Kafka, Van Gogh and Mozart because of their singular vision, because their art gave us a glimpse into the way they looked at the world, whether that view matched our own view or not. I personally do not care for Picasso, but I know the world is a far richer place because of his vision. Lucas gave us a gift with his unique, albeit flawed view of the world, and for this we should be mighty appreciative. If he had not been the “arrogant,” tin-eared, wildly imaginative visionary that he was, we would never have had Star Wars in the first place. By scorning him, we are in essence scorning art for art’s sake, reducing the chance of any future film shaking up the world as Lucas did in ’77.
PS: I agree, also, that Star Wars will likely go the way of Star Trek. When Gene Roddenberry died, Trek died with him.
I don’t agree with the author on every part of his column, but to Quote Power to the Prequels:
Leia Remembers Her Mother – How It Improves The Saga: Leia can sense things about her mother that Luke was blind to, and that’s important for a few reasons. The first is that it foreshadows Luke telling Leia that the two of them are related and gives the audience evidence of her Force ability. The second is that it actually insinuates a level of power in Leia that not even Luke has. She may in fact be more powerful than Luke.
Before Revenge of the Sith, we wouldn’t necessarily have any reason to think that. But how else could she sense these things about Padme? Combine this scene with the one in A New Hope where Vader reveals that Leia’s “resistance to the mind probe is considerable.” Her own father, a Sith Lord, attempted to interrogate her and use a “mind probe” to extract information about the Rebel’s hidden base. Not only did he fail to learn any information; he also failed to detect her Force aptitude. Compare that to his immediate recognition of Luke’s abilities in the Death Star trench, when he remarks, “The Force is strong with this one.”
What if Leia wasn’t just Luke’s backup option? What if she was Obi-Wan and Yoda’s first choice? After all, she was on the front lines of the conflict well before Luke and it was only once she was in distress that Obi-Wan drafted Luke to help rescue her. How might this new sequel trilogy have been different had Leia fulfilled her destiny and become a Jedi like her brother before her?
And in Terms of Jar Jar: if anything Jar Jar is a compliment. You could argue that he is the real hero of Episode I. I mean Qui Gon, Padmé and Obi-Wan are all fine – but they at least have their superpower and their knowledge of the force. Jar Jar doesn’t even really understand what the force is. And yet he stays loyal to his friends until the very end. He could of simply run away when Boss Nass ordered him to be a General – but no sir, he risked his live in a battle that could of very well been his undoing. Anakin Skywalker teaches us that we can correct our mistakes. Jar Jar and his people show us that even the (seemingly) dumb and useless can do great things and foil the plans of a Monster which views itself as the only person worth existing.If people don’t find him funny – fine. If they think he’s annoying – ok. Not my opinion but I don’t want to look down on people I disagree with.
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