The Star Wars Prequels Really Aren’t That Bad

9 05 2012

Over the years, a great deal of bile and invective have been heaped on the Star Wars prequels (Episodes I, II and III). It started almost the day the Episode I was released, and continued to build as the remaining movies in the opening trilogy came out. I’m here to say that those critics are comparing them to a movie that is now viewed through the lens of history, tinted with nostalgia. I don’t think the first 3 movies are actually that bad. Not that they don’t have problems. But then, Episode IV, V and VI have their own problems, as well as issues common to the whole saga.

What People Say

The usual attacks against Episodes I-III come down to a few things:

  1. The dialog was poor/clunky/bad
  2. The acting wasn’t very good
  3. The first episode was boring
  4. Jar Jar Binks is the worst thing to hit the big screen

Looking at each is worthwhile, to try to put some things in context and perhaps refute some of the arguments. I’m going to start with #4 first, because that is the one part that I sort-of agree with.

Why, Oh Why, Jar Jar Binks?

I will readily admit that Jar Jar Binks is tiresome, bothersome, annoying and not particularly funny. Mercifully, his role was reduced to small cameos in Episodes II and III. He really is quite bad.

But Binks isn’t alone in the “boy are they annoying” category of characters. The Ewoks are rather trying. Sure, they can be cute and amusing at times. But I found them to grate on me after a while.  Salacious Crumb, Jabba’s annoying cackling pet, was also a creature I would happily force grip and toss up into orbit.

Even the Jawas started to grate on me after a while in Episode IV. Sure, they had their moment when they captured R2-D2. But after that, I can’t say I lamented all that much when their sandcrawler was wiped out. I am quite happy to dust the little buggers when I play the Tatooine bonus level in Force Unleashed.

I do agree, though, that none rise to the level of annoyance that is Jar Jar. That is one character I wish would have been left out.

The Dialog

People that complain about the dialog and writing in the first three episodes are suddenly rather forgiving about the dialog in the last three. About the only one that actually has superior dialog is Episode V. Otherwise, the lines are clunky in all of the movies. Sir Alec Guinness, one of the finest actors to ever appear on film, nearly didn’t complete Star Wars (before it was called Episode IV: A New Hope). He was polite about his co-stars acting abilities, but he found the writing to be rather poor. Apparently he was glad that Obi-Wan was killed off in Star Wars, because he was hoping to avoid reprising the role (psych! Lucas got him back in cameo parts in Episodes V and VI).

The dialog, with some exceptions in Empire Strikes Back, is generally trite, wooden and cliched. Who cares! It’s B-grade entertainment. It’s supposed to be fun. The dialog in lots of action/adventure movies is typically unremarkable. They have their moments, usually in well-timed quips and one-liners (that’s no moon, that’s a space station; I’ll be back; Crossing the streams would be bad). This is isn’t high drama. It’s meant to be escapism.

The Acting

The acting by most of the players in Episodes I-III was at least as good (or bad) as it was in Episodes IV-VI. Sure, Jake Lloyd wasn’t outstanding (but let’s face it, he’s a kid, few little kids are really great actors). Hayden Christiansen didn’t seem to know if he was supposed to be angry, sad or commanding. Beyond them, though, the calibre of actors was just as good in the later movies as those in the prequels.

Let’s face it, Harrison Ford wasn’t outstanding in Episode IV. His over-reactions and cartoonish “wild take” responses were over the top. Carrie Fisher, who apparently was experimenting with a few pharmaceuticals in Episode IV, was great in some scenes, and wobbly in others. Mark Hamill was generally pretty good, playing the naive farm-boy role in Episode IV quite well. But he was less convincing in Episode VI. When he was supposed to be menacing, he wasn’t. When he was supposed to carry lines with gravitas, he didn’t. He wasn’t bad, but he certainly wasn’t great. Even Jabba wasn’t impressed, and that’s pretty sad when you can’t convince a 15-foot rubber puppet about your serious status as a Jedi Knight.

Episode I Was Boring

The Phantom Menace certainly didn’t have near the same level of action as Episodes II, III, IV or VI. But Episode V wasn’t exactly packed with action scenes either. We got to see an awful lot of Luke running through the swamp, and Han and Leia sort of “wandering around”  (inside a giant space worm, in Cloud City). The Empire Strikes Back stands out, in part, because it had generally better dialog and a deeper story that A New Hope. While it was set up for a sequel, the original Star Wars certainly had the feel of being a potential one-shot deal. Empire was different, in part because the good guys lost, and in part because we knew it was the middle of something bigger.

But really, Episode I wasn’t that bad in terms of being “boring”. Sure, a lot of it is more expository than exploratory. We are setting up something bigger, and something we know ultimately results in the Empire and Darth Vader. What we don’t really know is “how”. When I was younger, after having watched Star Wars about a zillion times in theatres (no VHS or DVD then!), I always thought that the Clone Wars involved the Jedi fighting evil Clones. It wasn’t until I saw Episode II when I got to see that the clones are actually the good guys (sort-of).

So sure, Episode I did plod rather than sprint, but considering it’s place in the story, it moves at about the pace I would have expected.

Best Viewed In Sequence, Back To Back

For me, I enjoy all 6 movies the most when I can watch all of them in order, back-to-back (ideally in a single day). I find that, when I do that, the whole story unfolds in one, long, cohesive whole. If you really want the complete story, then you had better have a lot of time available: Episode I and II, then switch to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, then Episode III, then play The Force Unleashed, followed by The Force Unleashed II, then finish with Episodes IV-VI.

Talk about a big story arc. And not nearly as bad as some people think. At least in my opinion.

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