Pretty much everyone who knows me knows how much I love “Star Wars.” ;) I have “Star Wars” memorabilia on my desk at work, there’s a whole shelf on my bookcase at home devoted to “Star Wars” books, and yes, I’ve even dressed up as a Jedi for a “Star Wars” movie premiere. “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, and I’ve watched all the “Star Wars” movies more times than I can remember.
While “Star Wars” probably has some of the most devoted fans of any film franchise, those fans are bitterly divided on the subject of the prequels. Most fans agree the original trilogy — “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — are beloved space opera classics, but not everyone loves the prequels.
I do have to admit that I enjoyed the prequels, and I’ll readily acknowledge that’s not always the most popular confession to make among fans of science fiction (if you want to leave a comment on this blog and tell me I’m crazy, I won’t be offended). ;) I do recognize the films have weaknesses, and my goal in this article isn’t really to refute some of the criticisms that have been directed at the prequels. However, I think there are good things in each of the six “Star Wars” movies, and when taken as a whole, I believe “Star Wars” still is one of Hollywood’s best film franchises (though of course I’m a little biased).
I think one of the main reasons I ending up enjoying the prequels more than some fans is that I encountered both the prequels and the original films around the same time. If I had grown up watching just the original films, I can definitely see how my reaction might have been different when the prequels were released. I didn’t see the films in order, either, so that also might have impacted my views on the movies. I do respect the opinions of those who were very disappointed by the prequels and wished George Lucas had just stopped after “Return of the Jedi.” I think there’s definitely room for discussion among fans.
Some of the common criticisms leveled against the prequels include dialogue, some of the performances and character portrayals, and a few of the new characters, such as Jar Jar Binks. Whether or not you agree the above items are weaknesses, the prequels do have some strengths I think aren’t always highlighted.
The prequels are visually spectacular. The CGI work is rich and detailed, and I like how each of the new cultures/planets created for the films have a distinct architectural and geographic style. The space battles are impressively detailed, with sleek ships in a wide variety of designs. The lightsaber fights also are very well choreographed, almost like precisely executed dances (the two duels that stand out are the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul duel in Episode 1, and the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin duel in Episode 3).
Another detail I enjoyed about the prequels is the costumes. In the original trilogy, the galaxy is going through a more difficult period of war and conflict, and the costumes reflect this tone. The prequels take place in a more prosperous and extravagant era, and so characters have a more elaborate style of dress. The costumes almost have a sci-fi/medieval feel. Although some fans have given the prequels flak because Padmé has so many costume changes (she has a new outfit in almost every scene), these costumes are very detailed and beautifully designed.
The prequels also have excellent soundtracks, thanks to John Williams. While I don’t know if it’s possible for John Williams to compose a bad film score (his film scores are always excellent), the songs he wrote for the “Star Wars” prequels are among some of my favorites. It’s tough to beat classics such as the original “Star Wars” theme and the iconic “Imperial March,” but there also is some very nice work in the prequels. Episode 1’s heart-pounding “Duel of the Fates” — with its relentless melody backed by a majestic chorus of voices — fits perfectly in the film. And regardless of how you feel about the whole Anakin/Padmé romance and how it was portrayed in Episode 2, the gorgeous theme Williams composed for their characters, “Across the Stars,” has a beautiful, aching melody; it’s worth buying the whole soundtrack for.
The prequels also have added some good characters to the “Star Wars” saga. Ewan McGregor was an inspired casting choice to play the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. He captures the essence of the older version of the character, played by Sir Alec Guinness in the original trilogy, while at the same time creating a believable younger Obi-Wan. Fan favorites Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) are both good Jedi characters that are featured in the prequels, and Darth Maul is arguably the coolest “Star Wars” villain (after Boba Fett, of course). ;)
I’ve read quite a few of the “Star Wars” expanded universe novels, which fill in a lot of the behind-the-scenes details about the prequels. These novels flesh out quite a few of the characters and events that appear in the films, and so now when I watch the movies, I have all these details in the back of my mind, and it adds to my film-watching experience. Knowing some of this additional story information definitely impacted my view of the prequels. For example, General Grievous, the cyborg military leader in Episode 3, becomes a lot more interesting if you read the “Star Wars” novel “Labyrinth of Evil.” You find out more about who he is and what his motivations are. I wish more storyline details like this had actually made it into the films. The currently-running animated “Clone Wars” TV series is actually quite good, as well; it features some solid character development and raises interesting ethical debates, particularly in regard to the clone soldiers. Even if you didn’t enjoy the prequels, I’d recommend checking out this series, and some of the expanded universe novels.
So, what do you think about the prequels? Are you a fan? Or do you think the “Star Wars” saga would be better off without them?