They’re not that bad…

By chance, I recently happened to catch the Star Wars prequels on TV (well, I caught Episode I by chance and set the others up to record) and I thought I might take a few moments to pen (keyboard?) my thoughts on them.

First off, I am a big fan of the originals, but I am not such a crazy fan that I can’t see their flaws. A lot of the blind love for the originals comes from nostalgia; either from seeing them at the cinema when they first came out (they were great at the time) or from seeing them as a child (they’re great for kids). However, judged by today’s standards, the dialogue is pretty sloppy, the action is fairly tame, the plots are simplistic (Jedi in particular, Empire not so much)… they’re still good films, but standards have risen enormously.

So, what about the prequels? I tried to watch them with a objective eye, to see if they’re as bad as the backlash at the time would suggest.

Phantom Menace:
Ok, this one is genuinely bad; the reactions at the time were entirely reasonable and had it not been part of the franchise, it would have bombed hilariously. The only real highlight was the three way lightsaber battle, which was slicker than any in the original trilogy… not massively surprising, given advances in CGI, but still a slight bright spot in an otherwise dull film.

Attack of the Clones:
This is the one that surprised me most, as it’s actually not a bad film. It certainly has its problems (the romance between Anakin and Padme is a little awkward), but mostly it’s a good fun adventure film. We also get to see Yoda in action and though it’s arguable whether his lightsaber fight was awesome or ridiculous, it’s nice to actual get some visible evidence of what a badass he is. Overall, this film suffered mainly from its association with Phantom Menace… had it been released first, I suspect that people would have been a lot happier with it.
[Slight aside: I once got into an argument with someone who thought the title was stupid and couldn’t be persuaded that it was really no better or worse than Return of the Jedi.]

Revenge of the Sith:
According to most people, this is the best of the prequels and rightly so. However, perhaps controversially, I’d also rate it as better than Return of the Jedi (for those that are wondering, I’d rank them: ESB, SW, RotS, RotJ, AotC, PM). It’s got a decent plot, good action sequences and no ewoks. Again, it’s not without its issues (it’s hilarious how quickly they tie up certain loose ends… “And wipe the protocol droid’s memory… he doesn’t know anything in the next film”), but it also has some real strengths. One of the issues with Darth Maul and Count Dooku as villains is that we never see them do anything particularly evil, unlike Darth Vadar in the original films, who we see strangling he own men and such like. However, in Episode III, Anakin does far worse things than in the original films (e.g. slaughtering the younglings) and we also see why an angry, emotional jedi is a terrible thing (again compared to the originals, where Darth Vadar is actually quite dispassionate).

So, overall, the original trilogy still come out on top, but I don’t believe the prequels to be the disaster that many fans do (with the exception of Phantom Menace, of course).
I’d like to make one final point regarding the new sequels that are being made. A lot of people are (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) concerned about how they’ll turn out and whether they’ll be like the prequels. I’m actually not too concerned because I feel that the one main issue that the prequels had was precisely that they were prequels, so they were constrained by what had to happen in order to tie up with the originals; Anakin must become Darth Vader and must have children, Palpatine must become the Emperor, etc… The sequels are free from these constraints (particularly as they’re also not following the extended universe either), which leaves them free to craft the best story possible. They’re certainly not guaranteed to be great movies, but I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll be worth watching.

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