Club Cybelle
Published in

Club Cybelle

Birth By Midichlorian

Photo by Ian Jones. Some rights reserved. Source: Flickr

I belong to that generation of Star Wars fans who’s first real experience with the series was with the Prequel Trilogy: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. They are a mediocre troupe of films, one that held so much potential as glorious additions to George Lucas’s space opera. David Edelstein had suggested upon viewing The Phantom Menace, that after two decades away from Star Wars, Lucas, “who wrote and directed the movie, has forgotten how to write and direct a movie.”

Of course, I had long been aware of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, everyone growing up in America was, but I hadn’t actually seen the films. Through cultural osmosis, there are many iconic films that people know of, down to the plot details, without having seen any of them. Most people know of the first fatal swim of Jaws, the bloody shower scene in Psycho, the fanciful marches in the Wizard Of Oz, and the chariot race in Ben-Hur. So without having seen Star Wars, I knew that Darth Vader was Luke’s father and that the Death Star could blow up planets. I was just as ecstatic as everyone else when I heard a new film was on the way.

The hype was real, but I didn’t even know the half of it. Fans who first saw the originals in theaters had been waiting fifteen years after Return of the Jedi for a new Star Wars film. Some waited six whole weeks outside of the theaters for the release of The Phantom Menace. Hell, there were even lines for the first trailer. I remember the extensive toy deals that jointly got KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut to promote the film. I went to a Phantom Menace themed birthday party, and at school, I pretended that the swings were podracers. Being a seven-year old high off of Power Rangers and Pokemon, I certainly enjoyed the high-octane atmosphere of Phantom Menace. Though I took a bathroom break when the Senate hearings began. With repeated viewings, however, as my nostalgia wore off, and the film became a bland, confused exercise. The best performance in the whole movie probably belongs to Ahmed Best’s Jar Jar Binks, who actually bothers to show some emotion involvement, as opposed to his mannequin fellows and their trade negotiations. This is the state of affairs with which Lucas opened his new trilogy.

As someone who was a child when Phantom Menace came out, I can assure you that Jar Jar Binks is not want I wanted to see. Lucas often excuses Jar Jar’s creation by saying that he was put in for kids. Well, I was a kid, and I couldn’t stand him. Think about it. As a young boy off to see The Phantom Menace, I identified most with Anakin Skywalker. I wanted to go podracing in the deserts of Tatooine or have a dogfight against droids in space. Of course, I also fantasized about being a Jedi, and carrying a lightsaber or using the Force. That was the appeal of The Phantom Menace, not some half-wit reject from Jim Henson’s sketchbook. I vividly remember when he first appeared on the screen, I thought to myself, “Not another one of those characters!”

Some time after the release of Phantom Menace, the Star Wars hype died down, not quite sparking the craze that the inaugural film did. Though to be fair, Lucas had to compete with other blockbuster franchises, like Harry Potter, Spider-Man, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and X-Men. This wasn’t the 1970’s anymore, where Star Wars was the only marketable film series in town. Lucas had to up his game. Attack of the Clones was a clear attempt at that, and it also tried to bring the opera into darker territory, a tonal shift which reached a fever pitch in Revenge of the Sith. I barely remember seeing Attack of the Clones in theaters, I was bored.

As bland as The Phantom Menace was, at least it was (relatively) balanced in practical and computer effects. No such wizardry is present in Attack of the Clones, where the digital effects consume the whole atmosphere, giving the film a cartoonish and grit-free look. This was a far-cry from the “used future” aesthetic that distinguished the Original Trilogy from other space films at the time. Further, the digital effects have aged so badly, that the film now looks more like a video game with real people cut in. Attack of the Clones, I think, signified a shift in digital effects, where computer-generated images were less focused on creating realistic images, and more on crafting action set-pieces. This isn’t to say that all films have followed this trend, but compare the digital effects landmarks of Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 to their recent counterparts Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys. The difference becomes readily apparent.

Anakin was no more the excited boy that he was introduced as in Phantom Menace, but now a whiny brat, a mass murderer, and a sexual pervert. Anakin’s dialogue with Padme comes off less as romantic, or even seductive, but more like a horny teenager who doesn’t know the basics of talking with women. Instead of embodying the ideals of Jedi before his fall, he seems more like a negative consequence of the Jedi’s sexually repressive dogmas. Then Padme, for reasons demanded by the script, ends up marrying Anakin, despite the fact that he openly admitted to slaughtering women and children like animals.

Another problem with Clones was the depiction of Yoda. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda was an endearing character, not only because of his humor, but also his spiritual enthusiasm over the Force. All of this charm is sucked out, once he becomes the stoic, computer animated politician. He’s too serious, almost a different character. It says some very sad things about the state of special effects that the Yoda puppet from Empire looked more realistic than the computer model in Clones, or even that poorly designed puppet in Phantom Menace. His lightsaber fights were pretty cool, though.

Revenge of the Sith is easily the most digestible of the Prequel Trilogy, but that’s not saying much. It’s bogged down with so many of the same problems that made the previous installments hard to swallow. This is a shame, too, because Revenge of the Sith is a movie at war with itself. There are moments when it shines, trying to be that Star Wars prequel we were all promised in 1999. Ian McDiarmid gives the performance of his career as The Emperor, from his seductive reciting of Darth Plagueis’s fall, to his unhinged camp as a cackling dictator. The final duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin has intense choreography, but overstays its welcome. Certain scenes throughout the film look very artistic, but lack the emotional impact they should have at this venture. Take the scene that parallels the births of Luke and Leia with the rebirth of Darth Vader. The elegant somberness of this moment is soon undercut by Padme dying of a broken heart and the unintended comedy of Vader rebirth. Other moments just lack proper emotional investment. The Great Jedi Purge under Order 66 may have been more moving had these films taken the time to let us get to know these nameless Jedi as people. The same goes for the various battle scenes, which look impressive, sure, but are often fought between expendable droids and expendable clones. What really takes one out of the film, however, to the point of distraction, is the needless overabundance of computer effects. I speak not only of the glaring blue screen backgrounds, but also of the obvious computer stunt doubles and the clone troopers made entirely out of pixel. Though this all says nothing of the awkward, ham-fisted dialogue, that sounds like the stuff I wrote in high school. By the end of Sith, where Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen show a young Luke the binary sunset, I saw a faint glimmer of greatness, but was ultimately upset at how far it all fell short.

All this being said, I don’t have anything personal against Lucas. I quite admire his dogged ambition in bringing his vision to life, and his contributions to American cinema, not just with Star Wars, but with Indiana Jones, American Graffiti, Industrial Light and Magic, and THX 1138. For this, and other things, he will have my everlasting respect. In the prequels, however, you get a sense that Lucas got so caught up in the special effects, that he forgot about the essential humanity that made his older films endearing. That, or he was so overconfident in his own vision, that he neglected to hold any of his proposals to criticism or second opinions. To be fair, Lucas is hardly the only director to muck up his own film series. Francis Ford Coppola was pressured into making The Godfather Part III which turned the deadly Michael Corleone into a clown. Peter Jackson was rushed into releasing his confused and excessive Hobbit trilogy, which he now admits was done on the fly. Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus, was an unmitigated mess, with two or three more on the way. Go figure.

How will film historians view the Star Wars prequels, and to a larger extent, this needless aping of the twentieth century’s last two decades through an endless outpouring of reboots, sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and remakes? No doubt, sequels and the like aren’t a new phenomena, but it’s evident enough to me that they are being vomited out on a level unseen. The Prequel Trilogy may have kick-started the present film cycle, one where we watch the same films over and over again on computer screens that look more and more like the overpriced video games. Critically, the Star Wars prequels weren’t well-received, but they made a lot of money, showing that familiar names have set audiences. Something that other studios took note of and copied. As Red Letter Media remarked in their analysis of Cameron’s Titanic, we have a tendency to “like the familiar and gravitate towards things that feel safe and non-confrontational.” It is this habit that allowed the Star Wars prequels to thrive, and indeed, will continue to shape landscape of movies to come.

Originally published at http://sansuthecat.blogspot.com on December 16th, 2015 and has been greatly edited since its first publication.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sansu the Cat

Sansu the Cat

124 Followers

I write about art, life, and humanity. M.A. Japanese Literature. B.A. Spanish & Japanese. email: sansuthecat@yahoo.com