STAR WARS: The Prequel Trilogy Review – Flawed But Adding To The Larger Mythos
With the intense excitement of ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens’ releasing later this week, I continue my look at all the ‘Star Wars’ movies to see what held up and what didn’t about this amazing series. While my Original Trilogy Review dissected what made the first films so enjoyable, I’m now going to begrudgingly move onto the more controversial Prequel Trilogies.
All kidding aside, the Prequel Trilogies did contribute a lot to the ‘Star Wars’ mythos, while the how is what rubbed people the wrong way when the films released. So let’s take a look at the Prequel Trilogies to see how they hold up today.
STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
The first prequel of the entire ‘Star Wars’ saga, goes way back to how this Universe existed when it was at peace, with order and a democracy in place to help it function. A stark contrast to the state of things from the Original Trilogy, where a Galactic Revolution was taking place. In this world, the Jedi maintain order within the Universe, while the Galactic Senate maintains law and peace.
‘The Phantom Menace’ tells the story of the beginnings of rumblings within the peaceful democratic climate of this Allied Republic of Planets that threatens to tear it apart, from mysterious sources. We are introduced to new Jedi, a master Qui Gon Jinn, played by the very skill full actor Liam Neeson, who, with his apprentice, saves the Queen of a planet from occupation by other forces. On their way, they need help and are provided assistance by a young boy on a backwards planet. The Jedi master recognizes this boy’s significance to the Force and the Jedi ways and he is brought along their political adventure.
The biggest criticism of the Prequel Trilogy, is its vast difference in tone from the original Trilogy. It’s hard to describe the plot and main story of the Prequel Trilogy without either getting into Spoilers (for you hermits who have never experienced some of the greatest movies of cinematic history! Go watch them now dammit!) or trying to explain the complex Political background of everything that’s happening.
And this was the problem. The simple and fun story of the original franchise, was literally complicated and convoluted with this massive Political arc that took away from the characters and their development, as most of the screen time was spent setting up all the political conflicts and inner workings of this Galactic system of government. Imagine me trying to explain the beginning to my 7 & 3 year olds: ‘Uhh… Bad people are doing bad things to a planet, so the Jedis have to stop them.’ And if you think that’s vague, it’s pretty much how I would describe the opening to an adult!
But let’s try a different approach: ‘The Phantom Menace‘ tells the story of another young boy, a lot younger than Luke, who is given an opportunity to follow his destiny, being part of a Universe that goes well beyond himself, only for others to realize that this boy’d future is mysteriously intertwined with the fate of the universe. There. That wasn’t too bad.
STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
The world building continues as the political situation worsens with assassination attempts, over all degradation of democracy and other nefarious things under the watchful eye of the Jedi, who sense something is afoot. 10 years after the events of ‘Episode I‘, our Queen is now a Senator needing protection as her life in danger. Her protector, the 9-year old Anakin from the first film, who is now a full fledged Jedi in training, played by the Actor in training, Hayden Christensen. During their time together, the two develop a relationship, while Anakin is haunted by other emotions, not appropriate for a young Jedi.
‘Attack Of The Clones’ takes the political dealings of this new Trilogy to even further complicated extremes. While ‘The Phantom Menace’ featured simplistic elements that provided a more light hearted departure from the serous-ness, like Pod racing and comic relief in Jar Jar Binks, the sequel progressively takes the Trilogy on a darker route which, while it was appropriate in the final film, but could have been better executed. The love story angle between the two lead characters fall flat, and the lines are delivered in a manner that seems almost incomplete, as the scenes always cut-away in what feel like mid-thought. The far more interesting elements of ‘Episode II’ are the ones of political intrigue and mystery elements of who is behind the conspiracy and turmoil within the Republic, as well as the looming threat of the Sith, an order the complete opposite of the Jedi, remerging within the universe.
The cheesy lines and flat dialogue from the Original Trilogy was considered nostalgic and retro, within the simple child-like adventure setting of that franchise. But when those elements are elevated into more sophisticated and elegent, in a setting that has now transitioned into one of political intrigue which, counterintuitively makes the story that much harder for kids to follow, makes ‘Episode II‘ a great example of why the Prequel Trilogy was so disliked by many.
STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
The darkest movie of not just the Prequel Trilogy, but probably the entire ‘Star Wars’ Saga is the last movie of the Prequel Trilogy. Finally showing the already known degradation of a beloved character into an iconic character known by all is what ‘Episode III’ is all about. We all knew the what, but this movie shows in painstaking detail, just how not abiding by the Jedi’s rules can cause a hero into a villain. This is the movie where all order and peace in the Universe are thrown into shambles as we get to how the world show in ‘A New Hope’ got like that.
It’s also the most tragic of the films, as all loose ends are tied and the fate of character we’ve come to love are revealed, and origins of ones we will come to love are established in a heartbreaking and emotional manner. ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ is such a good movie, and so well told and acted wonderfully by all, that it almost forgives the travesty of the other films. Even Hayden Christensen’s amateur acting skills work within the portrayal of the character in this film, as Anakin himself is meant to be confused and tortured, which Christensen pulls off wonderfully.
Foregoing the issues with the Prequel Trilogy that are carried from film to film, like the political tone, the convolution of the plot that requires a Masters in Political Sciences to fully comprehend, the unflattering dialogues and miscast of the lead actor, the Trilogy still offers a lot to the over all ‘Star Wars’ Saga.
The richness of the universe world prior to what we see in ‘A New Hope‘ makes the devastation of that have more impact. Seeing the downfall of the Jedi further increases the significance of having Luke be the sole remaining Jedi in the universe. The Origins of one of the most beloved character of the entire saga, give us much more understanding of the intangible qualities of the ‘Star Wars‘ universe, and act as a cautionary tale of things to come.
While the Prequel Trilogies weren’t the greatest, removing the individual stories, the world established, definitely adds to the richness of the Universe as a whole, providing even further material for that universe to be expanded upon, in upcoming movies.
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