I have recently said some bad things about the Star Wars prequels. This has been in the context of debates about the up-coming “The Phantom Menace (in 3D)” which will be appearing in cinemas soon. The debates, if you can call a string of comments on Facebook that, can pretty much be summed up as this :
“Hey, let’s go see Phantom Menace in 3D!”
“Let’s not and say we… didn’t.”
“But it’s Star Wars! On the ‘Big Screen’!”
“No, it’s The Phantom Menace on the ‘Big Screen’. In 3D.”
I stand by every bad thing I said about the film, but since I can’t find the original post, and since I’ve recently immersed myself in Star Warsyness over the past three days (okay, the past 35 years), I’d like to sum up my thoughts on ‘The Prequel Trilogy’.
Since I’m sure that most normal people get tired of reading rants, I’d like to say that I’m going to finish off with what I did like about the films. After all, just about every bad thing in the world has a good side. Even parasites.
General Points & Thoughts:
I think I can package a lot of the bad stuff up into three words: Direction and Script
IMHO, Lucas should stick to Editing. He’s a damn fine editor. I’d be happy to take story guidance from him, but that’s it. He’s no longer the young, independant, visionary director that made the original Star Wars Films. He’s now a successful, very, very rich father. Parenthood changes people, so I’m told. The prequel films are proof of that.
1. I hate the stuff that’s been put in ‘for the kids’.
- The ‘younglings’ scenes
Apparently two Jedi can’t figure out that if a planet doesn’t show up on file, but that GRAVITY IS TELLING YOU THAT A PLANET IS THERE, then that must mean that the file has been altered. Nope, they need a bunch of snot nose kids to suggest that one.
I’m also fairly certain that for Obi-wan to know about that gravity footprint he would have had to specifically had to go and…. hang on. I’ll stop here on this one – I’m veering dangerously into uber-nerd territory.
Actually, the word ‘younglings’ just pisses me off. It’s like calling the Millennium Falcon a ‘space travel vessel’ – it just sounds wanky.
- The idiotic battle droids
Droid Engineer 1: “Lets build droids whose sole purpose is to act as soldiers – killing our enemies and routing their armies on the field.
Droid Engineer 2: “Yeah, but lets give them the personality of the three stooges.”
Droid Engineer 1: “…what?”
Droid Engineer 2: “Yeah, we can make them funny. Oh! Oh! We can give them funny robo-voices.”
Droid Engineer 1: “What!? I mean why should we even give them personalities? They’re soldiers. They only have to follow orders. Sure, we can give them some problem solving algorithms, but…-
Droid Engineer 2: “Oh! We should make them cowards, too! Like if they see something dangerous they go, ‘Oh oh!’, you know, in their comical voices, and then they hesitate before taking any action.”
Droid Engineer 1: “…..You’re a moron.”
- Fart jokes
Remember the eopie at the Pod Races? Sorry if I just reminded you.
- Jar Jar Binks
I’m sure there are books worth of reference about what’s so wrong about Jar Jar.
Now, with the above in mind, it has been argued that the Star Wars films are meant for kids; that those of us who have grown up with the films should get over ourselves and let the new generation enjoy them. Of Jar Jar it has been said that – and I’m paraphrasing – he’s your favorite character in the films if your a nine year old kid.
Let me respond to this. I, like millions of others, did indeed grow up with the Star Wars films. I’m not asking that they grow with me – I’m asking that they stay the same. In the original films – the films that five year old me enjoyed so much – there were no fart jokes, no pandering to children (no children, period) and the comic relief was genuinely funny without resorting to toilet humour. In fact, I actually didn’t get the humour that Artoo and Threepio represented until I was much older. I simply enjoyed these awesome science fiction films without expecting or needing to laugh at any point. Star Wars is Awesome and Awesome doesn’t need humour. Then, one day, I read that Artoo and Threepio are regarded as the comic relief. I was amazed at this as I had never thought of them as such. I watched the films again, my brain adjusted with this new knowledge, and I laughed my ass off! Based on (I believe) the classic comedy duo of Abbot and Costello, their humour is timeless and hilarious – I still laugh at them today.
Most importantly however, Artoo and Threepio don’t diminish the other parts of the film. In Empire we smile at a bickering conversation regarding Artoo’s backfired good intentions on Hoth. Ten minutes later we are fully focused on the seriousness of the fact that the Empire has found the rebel base.
Explain to me how that compares with a farting cow followed by some back room politics.
2. The Scripts and Direction Are Terrible
I’m sure many know the famous quote from Harrison Ford:
“George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it.”
I’m also sure you know that Mr Ford graciously admitted that he was wrong. There are some pretty bad lines in the original trilogy -‘Toshi station’, anyone? – but somehow the actors, the young director and the film manage to pull them off.
I’m personally of the opinion that, with a few exceptions, a good actor can usually make any line sound good, especially if he has a good director. It’s a pity that the prequel films had neither. Worse, in some cases they didn’t even have good actors – at least that’s the way it seems. Examples include (possible paraphrasing ahead – I can’t be bothered getting the scripts out so this is coming from memory):
- “Oh, me bones are aching. Storms coming, Ani.”
Dear God. I mean, just, Dear Gods! It’s an afront (but no surprise) that this woman actually has a name and a small back story.
- “Moi moi, I love you!”
Actually, you could substitute pretty much everything Jar Jar says.
He arguably has one of the most weighty lines in all three films. You know the bit, where he, as a member of the senate(!), puts forward the motion for emergency powers for Palpatine; in effect giving the go ahead for the creation of the Galactic Empire. But how can you invest any gravitas into a character who blows raspberrys at Jedi?
- “From my point of view the Jedi are evil!”
Yes George, you have been very deep with your movie.
I’m firmly of the opinion that the original films are what they are because Lucas brought in professional script writers and directors to help him tell his own great story.
3. Too Much Fucking Around With New Toys
The Star Wars prequels show what can be done with computer graphics. They are an astounding demonstration of the power and scope available to storytellers today. While it’s understandable that anyone experimenting and pushing the boundaries of a new technology will gain more experience by trying different things, I’d expect a little more restraint while working on the continuation of one of the greatest sagas of our time!
Messing around with new technology is what short films and screen tests are for, not the films you expect us to go and see. If you’re not sure what I mean here, allow me to explain by example as we cast our minds back to the Special Edition of Star Wars (I can’t bring my self to call it ‘Episode 4’ or ‘A New Hope’, it’s ‘Star Wars’).
ILM Guy: “Hey, remember when we filmed that scene with a big Yorkshire man as Jabba the Hutt and thought, maybe someday technology will allow us to realise the vision. Well, we can do that now!”
ILM Guy: “I know! Look at this! Finally people will see the notorious gangster that has Han Solo quaking in his boots.”
Shows the scnene with (strangely small) Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo.
GL: “Wow. This looks pretty cool, but wouldn’t he be stepping on Jabba’s tail as he walks behind him there?”
ILM Guy: “Oh, yeah. You’re right. Hey we could…-”
GL: “Have Han Solo step on his tail?”
ILM Guy: “Totally!
Fiddles with the computer to produce a juddering step over Jabba’s ‘out of shot’ tail.
Other ILM Guy: “Um, would Han Solo really disrespect Jabba the Hutt like that?”
GL: “Who cares, we can do it. Besides, I’m totally re-defining his character anyway.”
Other ILM Guy: “Yeah, about the Greedo scene, sir…”
ILM Guy: “Hey, why don’t we change Jabba’s eyes as well!”
Indeed, this accusation can be leveled at pretty most of the amendments that constitute the Special Editions; it’s a kind of ‘because we can’ attitude and seems to pop up all over the place in the prequels as well – often in the employment of the ‘stuff for kids’ mandate and indeed the two do seem to overlap a lot. I might be wrong, but I’m sure GL has been quoted as saying that the Special Editions were practice for the prequel films.
Double-You, Tee and Eff!
When Da Vinci conceived of the Mona Lisa I’m pretty sure he didn’t start by pissing all over The Last Supper!
Some examples of this ‘because we can attitude’ from the prequels:
- ET in the senate.
- The underwater “bigger fish” encounters on Naboo.
- Every Clone trooper is CG.
- All but two of the wookies (I think) were CG.
- CG Yoda (see below)
I’m willing to drop the ET thing; you’d only really notice them if you looked really hard and I suppose it’s technically an easter egg. Also, given how horrific the Chewbacca costume was, I’m willing to accept the CG wookies.
But that does bring us onto…
4. CG Yoda
Yep, this needs a whole point to itself.
First, though, let me say that I do both see the need for and appreciate CG Yoda for the fight scenes. If Yoda is going to fight, by all means CG the little guy right in there (whether I see the need for Yoda fighting is another debate). However, for simply sitting in a chair and talking or even walking and talking, why the CG? Did anyone working on the prequel movies actually see Empire or Jedi?
Frank Oz, with the original Henson Company built puppet, created a character more real and believable than any CG imitation on the screen these days. I can’t put it any simpler than that. Again, given the horrific, plastic Bogglin that someone (not Henson) made for Yoda, maybe CG was the better option.
Okay, that’s the general points, now lets go film by film.
I’ll be doing the Bad stuff, but then I’ll mention the good stuff. As I said, even parasites have a good side and, for all the crap, there are some redeeming factors in these films. Indeed, the prequel films actually introduced one of my favorite things in the Star Wars universe.
So, in reverse order of appearance…
Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith
This, for me, is the worst film of the lot.
Hammy ham ham ham. Ian McDiarmid has apparently been told to forget everything he knew about portraying the Emperor as the coolest bad guy in cinema and instead has been wrapped in rubber and given some bacon to throw around.
Also, as with Yoda, I would personally argue that the Emperor should ever have drawn a lightsaber. Especially when the battle between McDiarmid and Jackson simply shows that these two actors – who’s characters are supposed to be two most lethal combatants in the galaxy – really aren’t as comfortable with a lightsaber as McGregor and Christensen are. Speaking of…
The final lightsaber fight.
To be fair, there was possibly no way for this fight to live up to the expectation. This was to be the ultimate face off between master and fallen apprentice – the creation of Darth Vader as we know him. Making this a mind blowing battle was not, however, an impossibility. One of the best sword duel I ever saw was just two guys in a pit (Ring of Steel – find it on VHS somewhere), but even with all the fantastic possibilities that CG has opened up to us, the proven talents of Nick Gilliard and the skills of McGregor and Christensen couldn’t prevent what was to be the most epic battle in cinema history falling flat on it’s face.
The CG was overused (shouldn’t have been a surprise at this point in the saga). The lightsaber fighting itself, while pretty spectacularly choreographed, ended up as just a blur of white and blue. At the end of the day it was just two guys going at it surrounded/overwhelmed by their surroundings. But, just as couldn’t get anymore uninspiring, it got stupid:
“It’s over Anakin; I have the high ground.”
So, despite the fact that you’ve both fighting constantly for the past ten minutes while simultaneously dodging lava eruptions, climbing a falling metal tower, leaping up a fucking fifty foot lava fall and balancing on precarious floating platforms, the fact the Obi-Wan is now standing less than a meter above his foe means that the fight is suddenly a foregone conclusion.
Before going to see this film I kept wondering, ‘I wonder how the fight is going to end’. I knew it would have to be incredible, but was at a loss to think of what it could be. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
The Rubber Emperor
This links in with ‘Obi-Wan’s Beard’, below. I think they spent all the budget on CG and only remembered at the last moment that they would still need real make-up effects. But by that time, all the make up artists in Holywood had died. So they used them anyway. The dead ones.
The opening space battle above Coruscant. The effects in this scene are undeniably stunning. The sheer scale of the conflict is incredibly realised and it’s one of those ‘best seen on the Big Screen’ scenes – there’s just so much there. But then, given that all three movies have the feel of ‘lets see what we can do with CG’, this sort of scene shouldn’t come as a surprise.
In fact, lets just say that, for all of the films, the special effects are (with a few exceptions) pretty damn stunning. ILM are one of the top SFX studios in the business for good reason.
Episode II – Attack Of The Clones
I mean, I see the point in having him there, but, well…
“Yeah!” / “Fire!” / “Get him, Dad!”
I don’t know what kind of drunken muppet they got to do the make up effects for this film, but if the general hair ‘maintenance’ wasn’t terrifying enough, Obi-Wan’s fake beard is enough to make one question when this film was made. Most of the time it’s McGregors own, finely groomed growth, but when it’s not it looks like something has been pulled from the bath plug hole and stuck on with pva glue. Why the hell didn’t they CG that along with bug-eyed Yoda and rubber-lips Chewie?
Mace Windu’s Sam Jackson’s Purple Lightsaber
Honestly, if I didn’t know the story behind it – and if other Jedi had different coloured lightsabers – I wouldn’t mind this as much as I do. But I do, and so I do. I suppose it’s another reason to avoid watching behind the scenes stuff – it pulls you out of the story. Of course avoiding the avalanche of BTS stuff with these movies was like avoiding gravity.
He’s a total dick and Obi-Wan should have slapped him upsde the head or kicked him out of the Jedi order. Actually, both. I also hate that the only reason that we know how close he and Obi-Wan are is because they tell us so in the script. Repeatedly. Then he goes and acts like a dick again.
“Make him jump like a frog.” said GL.
And why must he scream like a constipated hamster while he’s jumping around like a frog?
Nick Gilliard praised how quickly Hayden Christensen picked up lightsaber combat and watching him on the screen he does pull of some pretty swish and smooth moves. I wish they hadn’t cut the fight between him and Dooku to ribbons – it’s blatantly obvious there’s some cool stuff missing – or shot it so close you can’t see what’s happening, but overall the saber skills on display throughout the film are pretty swish.
When not plagued by the hair issues mentioned above, he looks great. He has his ‘proper’ lightsaber and he knows how to use it. Sure, he still pulls the odd stupid pose and throws out the odd appalling line, but this is as close as we’ll get to cool, sure Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (other than the original Clone Wars animated shorts). Case in point – nasty droid thing out Padme’s window? Dive through the window and grab it!
I would have included Obi-Wan as a good point in Episode III, but the whole ‘higher ground’ and ‘younglings’ nonsense forbade it.
Episode I – The Phantom Menace
I get that it’s (another) homage to the films that GL grew up with, but just put it in chronological order with the other films:
STAR WARS (Awesome! Sci-fi epicness!)
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Oh, man! War is a-comin’!)
THE RETURN OF THE JEDI (This is gonna be great!)
THE PHANTOM MENACE (Say what now?)
Queen Amidala / Padme
Was anyone seriously fooled? Like, for a second? This goes beyond the Clark Kent/Superman thing in terms of suspension of disbelief. I remember being seriously confused as to why they had suddenly re-cast the queen.
The Pod Race
Okay, fun, but a bit over long. And why do antigrav racers in a distant galaxy sound exactly like F1 cars?
Pointless, irritating drivel.
Okay, that’s the last of the Bad Bits. I could go on, but it would feel like kicking puppies – I think I’ve made most of my points. To finish, I would like to highlight what I did like about The Phantom Menace and why I do occasionally like to stick on the DVD watch it without scorn.
Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker
She took crap and made some real acting out of it. Seriously, it’s amazing what she manages to do with the lines she has. This praise extends into her short scene in Episode II.
The First Act
By which I mean, everything up to and including the escape from Naboo. While not perfect, this whole section does introduce and demonstrate a very important fact:
Jedi Knights are Nails!
The terrified reaction of the Nemoidians at the revelation that Jedi have arrived in response to their actions is enoughto drive this point home from the get-go. Their increasing anxiety as their attempt at murder is effortlessly thwarted and they are thrown on the defensive makes it clear that one should not fuck with a Jedi. Rune Haako sums the situation up perfectly, even before the true direness of their situation becomes clear: “We will not survive this.”
Within five minutes we are taught that:
- Jedi can’t be poisoned.
- You can’t shoot a Jedi.
- Doors won’t stop a Jedi.
- Blast Doors won’t stop a Jedi!
- Destroyers Droids with shields will buy you a few minutes against a Jedi (but won’t stop them, because…)
- Jedi can move like lightening (unless the plot requires otherwise).
Once Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are on Naboo they successfully evade the Trade Federation Army and make their way to the Capital city on the other side of the planet. And once there they single handedly free the captured queen, her council and a whole bunch of pilots before escaping the planet all together. Jedi Rock and this act showed that for the first time ever*.
Tied into this is my other, indeed my main reason for enjoying The Phantom Menace
This man shows us what a real Jedi is. IMHO, there is a lot of confusion on what it means to be a Jedi. Most people I talk to seem to think that a Jedi is comparable to a Paladin: a spiritual warrior who will do no wrong and champion the cause of good and right at all costs. It’s close, but no hooka for you.
The Jedi are the guardians of peace throughout the galaxy and you can’t bring peace to a galaxy by only following the rules. A Jedi will, of course, do everything in his power to promote peace, justice and the greater good, but he will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate in order to do so. That doesn’t mean being evil – after all, hate, fear, aggression; the Dark Side are they. But how about these:
- Intimidating a local in order to get him to take you where you need to go, despite the potential negative repercussions upon said local for doing so.
- Using the Force to compel a leader of a society to give you aid, including the turning over a prisoner.
- Attempting to embezzle supplies from a merchant by offering a worthless means of payment and using the Force to push the idea through.
- Arranging a payout in your favour, then using the Force to alter a game of chance (admittedly, a rigged game of chance).
- Allowing a child to place himself in danger for the benefit of your plans.
- Challenging and then directly disobeying your superiors when they rule against your beliefs and intentions.
Doesn’t sound like the actions of a good guy, does it, but that’s exactly what Qui-Gon does. He does what he must to ensure the greater good, but never steps into the realm of being nasty.
Of course, Qui-Gon isn’t the only Jedi to behave this way, Obi-Wan and Yoda are both guilty of such deception, but Qui-Gon is the best example, in the films, of a Jedi running with and dealing with a situation the way a Jedi Knight should.
Luke: How did my father die?
Obi-Wan: A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.
A Jedi shouldn’t be a shining example of do-goodery; the path to the Dark Side is paved with good intentions after all.
Jedi Knights are guardians of peace and justice, nothing more and certainly nothing less.
I’ll leave it at that.
*- Unless you count Luke Skywalker in Jabba’s Palace…which I kind of do, but still.