Analysis

Five Terrible Defenses of the Star Wars Prequels

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The Star Wars prequels are terrible. This should not be a controversial statement. We all remember Anakin’s virgin Force birth, the midi-chlorians, the romance dialogue, the awful plotting. Rarely have films been so roundly and rightly criticized. And yet, I sense a disturbance in the internet. In recent years, people have taken to writing defenses of Episodes I-III. Were we mistaken? Were we too hard on Lucas and his vision? No, we were not. Similar threads run through each of these defenses, and they’re all nonsense.

1. You Loved the Original Trilogy, so You Have to Love the Prequels

If this article from Furious Fanboys is to be believed, disliking the prequels means you’re not a real Star Wars fan. To call yourself a fan, you must love every element of a property unconditionally. This idea is so absurd I almost didn’t include it, except that it’s so common!

You see this with any beloved franchise. Real Trekkies must like all Star Trek, even Enterprise. No true Battlestar Galactica fan could have a problem with the “let’s throw all our technology into the sun” ending. It’s a reactionary statement from people who don’t want to think critically about something they like. It’s leveled at social justice advocates all the time, and now it’s being wielded in defense of the Star Wars prequels.

Being critical doesn’t make you less of a fan. It means you’re thinking, which is never a bad thing. If you care about something, you want it to be better. It makes us better at telling our own stories, because we’ll avoid the mistakes of others.

2. The Prequels Were Ambitious, so Cut Them Some Slack

According to this admittedly well written article from The Mary Sue, the prequels deserve our respect because they swing for the fences. They’re full of big ideas, going further than the original trilogy ever dared. So what? Ideas are cheap. Any random Star Wars fan can give you a long list of big ideas for how they’d have done the prequels. We pay money to see films because we want to see ideas executed well. That’s what takes talent.

Star Trek V was a film about meeting God and finding out that God was an evil alien. That’s a big idea if ever I heard one. M. Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender tried to fit an entire season of television into 90 minutes. That’s certainly ambitious. Ambition doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get results. A well executed, small-scale story is better than a flop with big dreams.

The Mary Sue article also praises the prequels’ worldbuilding. True, they did show us a lot about the Star Wars universe we didn’t know before. Problem: it was all terrible. We found out the Republic is an organization that makes decisions for the entire galaxy but has no means to enforce them. We found out about nonsense prophesies. We learned the Jedi were a bureaucratic, sex-negative cult. More is not always better.

The political storylines of Episodes I-III are equally ambitious, and equally bad. How did a senator from backwater Naboo end up in the running for Supreme Chancellor, and why didn’t anyone find it suspicious? Why did so many systems want to leave the Republic in the first place? Why did the Jedi think that was worth fighting over? The politics have so little context that they’re impossible to care about.

The original trilogy wisely kept a tight focus on what it was good at: emotionally charged action scenes. The prequels want to have it all. Politics, action, a sprawling world, poop jokes, forbidden love, the list goes on. That’s part of why they’re so bad in the first place.

3. They’re Secretly Brilliant

Let me tell you something that will blow your mind. Many scenes and plot threads from the prequels are similar to those found in the original trilogy. Wait, you already knew that? Because this manifesto on Star Wars Ring Theory insists that those similarities are proof that the prequels are brilliant, and we’re all too dumb to see it.

The argument is that similarities between Episodes I-III and IV-VI mean the stories resonate with each other, creating a greater whole. This is supposedly so subtle that everyone missed it.

Full disclosure, I’m only addressing the first page of Mr. Klimo’s work. That page alone is nearly 4000 words, and it contained so many errors I did not continue. Maybe the next eight pages are better, but I doubt it.

The concept that the prequels echo the original trilogy isn’t new. Lucas himself has talked about it in interviews. But it doesn’t mean anything. If the prequels had been good, it would have been neat to see cameos and references back to the older films. But they’re not good. Instead, these references come off as Star Wars running out of new ideas.

In Episode I, Anakin blows up a giant Trade Federation ship by hitting its weak point with torpedoes. Obviously, this is a call back/forward to Luke destroying the Death Star by hitting its weak point with torpedoes. Except Luke’s scene works. They spent the whole movie building up to this design flaw in a brand new battle station that hadn’t been fully tested yet. Even knowing the weakness, it’s nearly impossible for the Rebels to pull off their attack. In Phantom Menace, we’re left wondering why Trade Federation ships have such a crippling structural flaw on display in their docking bay, and why attacking it is so easy.

Phantom Menace’s opening is sometimes compared to Return of the Jedi’s opening, both involving shuttles with unknown passengers docking at a large ship. Except in Jedi we know what the Empire is. We’ve spent two movies learning to fear them. So when a mysterious Imperial shuttle flies towards a second Death Star and ominous music plays, we know to be scared. In Episode 1, we don’t know anything about this shuttle, who’s on board, or the ship they’re flying toward – just that they’re apparently there to negotiate a trade dispute. That’s a lame way to open your story.

Repeating a theme or plot thread does not magically make a story good. Any time someone tells you that a work was secretly brilliant, and needs many thousands of words to explain why, you should be suspicious.

4. The Third One Was Good, Right?

Many articles and personal anecdotes agree with this post from Blastr. Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were bad, but Revenge of the Sith was a return to form for Star Wars. Except not. It’s true that Episode III is the best prequel, but that is a low bar to jump. When judged on its own merits, it’s an awful film.

When people talk about Revenge of the Sith, they always mention how dark it is, as if dark were a synonym for good. It’s true that Revenge of the Sith is dark, but that’s not enough. Like the other prequels, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, the acting/directing* feels fake, and the plot is nonsensical. Being dark doesn’t fix any of that.

Obi-Wan spends most of the film chasing after a brand new villain we’ve never seen before. General Grievous* only exists because Dooku gets killed in the first act, and the film needs a bad guy to distract from Palpatine. So instead of the antagonist we have history with, let’s chase after a droid that has biological organs for some reason. Grievous raises many questions, and then answers none of them. And no one’s impressed by his lightsaber-lawnmower act.

As the final film in the new trilogy, Revenge of the Sith needed to tie off story arcs. Instead, we get filler. If Dooku had lived, at least the decoy villain would have been someone we knew. Heck, maybe the scene from Attack of the Clones where he bizarrely tries to warn Obi-Wan about Palpatine infiltrating the Republic could have gone somewhere.

Let’s not forget that Padme, the sole female main character, spends almost the entire movie in her room crying. This is a woman who led a military assault against the Trade Federation at age 14. When she sees the Jedi Temple burning, does she leap into action? Does she call her political contacts to figure out what’s going on? Does she try for one last, doomed effort to stop Palpatine? No, she waits for her boyfriend to get back and tell her what’s happening. It’s like the writers took “pregnant” to mean “invalid.”

The whole plot is mercilessly bent and twisted so it can arrive at the required destination. Instead of fighting the Emperor together, Yoda and Obi-Wan inexplicably split up, even though they were about fifteen minutes away from Palpatine’s office. The entire Jedi Council proves easier to kill than one young padawan. Anakin somehow concludes that Padme will die in childbirth from a vision of her pained face.

Then there’s the dialogue. From “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” to “Anakin, you’re breaking my heart,” it ranges from mediocre to awful. Do I have to bring up the scene where Mace Windu walks sedately down a corridor in reaction to finding out that the Chancellor is a Sith lord? By any measure, Revenge of the Sith is a bad movie. It’s just not quite as bad as its predecessors.

5. You Love the Original Trilogy Too Much

This argument, as articulated by Brian on Star Wars, doesn’t address the prequels as films at all. Instead, it pushes the idea that over-hype and nostalgia created a situation in which the new films could never succeed. Once the negative reviews started, the rest of us changed our opinions to go along with peer pressure.*

First, this argument is condescending. It’s the equivalent of patting someone on the head and saying, “You think that because you don’t know any better.” When you abandon the relevant facts of a discussion and accuse those who disagree with you of having suspect motives, it shows your case is weak. The prequels can’t stand on their own, so you imply their detractors aren’t objective.

Second, it’s a circular argument. One could just as easily say that people who enjoy the prequels only like them because they’re unwilling to criticize Star Wars. Or perhaps they’ve fallen victim to the sunk cost fallacy and don’t want to think badly of something they paid to watch. See how condescending that sounds?

The idea that hype ruined the prequels doesn’t make sense either. How often has being excited for something made you enjoy it less? On May 19, 1999, the atmosphere was perfect for fans and newcomers alike to love a new Star Wars film. They didn’t because the film was terrible.

The final fallback position for this argument is that people often dislike new additions to established franchises. That’s certainly true. Prometheus, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Trek: Enterprise, all badly received. Of course, they were all really bad. When a new addition is good, fans love it, like Terminator II, Aliens, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

If someone writes an article about how some fans go too far in their hatred of the prequels, I’ll be right there with them. They’re just movies, and the amount of personal abuse heaped on those who like them is inexcusable. But claiming they weren’t bad is simply false.

P.S. I just published my first game. In it, the PCs have to figure out who they are, solve a supernatural mystery, and avoid their doooooom. Get it here.

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Comments

  1. Jeff

    Whenever I think of the Star Wars prequels, I think of the Mr.Plinkett summaries.

    What always sticks with me about Episode 3 is as Mr.Plinkett put it, “You never thought you’d be laughing at the climax at the film, did you?”

    I was in tears at Darth Vader’s infamous scene.

    I equally laughed at the Count Dooku vs Yoda scene as it just looked like Christopher Lee flailing in confusion.

    • Vivienne M.

      Mr. Plinkett’s reviews of the prequels are far more entertaining than the prequels, themselves! X>D

      Dooku vs. Yoda was supposed to be an awesome display of Jedi mastery over the Force. Instead, it’s just Yoda jumping around like a manic frog and doing comical flips while Count Chocula blindly swings a sword in his general direction.

  2. jeremy

    I know this isn’t the popular take on it, but I thought the prequels were much deeper and thoughtful than the original series.

    The prequels added complexity to the universe, and went deeper into how something like the empire developed.

    I often thought that might be why fans of the original series didn’t like the prequels as much – the original series was straight up, happy ending, space opera adventure. The prequels were intentionally darker and more complex. It doesn’t actually seem fair to compare them – their styles and goals were so different.

    • Alverant

      Being dark doesn’t make it good. Like I told “Slice of Sci-fi” about Man of Steel, “You know what else is dark and gritty? Volcanic ash in your ice cream.” Yes, the movies had to end on a dark note with the Jedi Order in ruins and the Empire coming to power, it was how they did it that was the problem.

      Complexity was added for complexity’s sake. Remember “midicloreans”? They were mentioned once in the first movie then nothing because people realized what a dumb idea it was. I think it was added to have an objective standard for measuring Force power in a person and show Anikin he was stronger than Yoda. There should have been another way to do it without adding technobabble. The Force was meant to be mystical, not measured like your cholesterol count.

      Yes, the prequels were deeper they had to be because of what it was setting up. If they were done right though, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. This was addressed in point 2. The bigger the ambition the bigger the THUD when you fail.

    • Vivienne M.

      I didn’t like the prequels because they were bad in so many ways. For starters, all three movies are almost entirely special effects, despite those effects being awful.

      Dialogue: terrible. Nobody talks like that, ever. And yet, once again, the movies are filled with something in spite of how bad it is. Every few minutes, the action has to stop so that we can watch boring people talk to each other in a room, or while they’re walking.

      Padme: She’s supposed to be this bad-ass queen, and occasionally gets to do exciting stuff, but mostly she just changes from one outrageous and expensive outfit to another. How long does it take for her servants to dress her and apply all that makeup? Hours, I should think, yet she’s in a new one for nearly every scene. How is that even possible? They’re supposed to be in survival mode, and Naboo is in danger, yet she has time to make herself pretty every few hours. Well, she’s a girl, so what are you gonna do, eh?

      Yoda: Utterly worthless little git. Looked even more fake than the Muppet version, made terrible decisions. Couldn’t even sense the rise of a new Sith Lord. This is the greatest Jedi master that ever lived?

      Those are only a few complaints off the top of my head. These really were awful films, AFAIC.

  3. Alverant

    I think this is a fundamental problem with prequels. First you’re restricted from a creative aspect. People expect you to keep continuity. Second since a prequel means the initial movie(s) were a success you have to factor in merchandising. AFAIK Jar Jar Stinks was added to appeal to kids, he wasn’t necessary to the story but brought down the movie. Watch the prequels again and ask yourself if something was added to sell toys and games. Pod racing is another example. IMHO it was there to show young Anikin that he was using the Force by having him do something no other human, much less a human child, could do. It was an unnecessarily long sequence. Now look at the computer games about pod racing.

    They had written themselves into a corner from the beginning then expected to commercialize it too. With those two factors, was there any way the movies could have been good?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I suspect the biggest factor was that Lucas had absolute power, and yet he hadn’t worked on film for 20 years. Those skills fade when you don’t use them.

      • Alverant

        We’ll get the answer that next month when the movie comes out by a new director.

    • YepYepYep

      It seems like so many decisions in the prequels were just to feature something they could sell as a toy. Like it had it’s own product placement. Just watching now Ep III, where Obi-Wan tries to sneak up on general Greivous on Utapau, and what does he decide to do? Ride up on a twenty-five foot, brightly colored reptilian creature that barks in high pitched noises. Yes, that’s the best way to get the jump on them.

  4. Jake

    I disagree with the idea that Lucas was hemmed in creatively. In fact, considering his penchant for “updating”, ole’ George might have let his creativity get the better of him. I think he got so excited about showing us this galaxy in his head that he forgot that he couldn’t fit it all in two hours and still have a good story. I mean the guy wrote the original trilogy and Indiana Jones. He is, in fact, a genius. But he (and Spielberg) became so enamored with the endless vistas of computer generation that he lost his way.
    I’ll admit it doesn’t explain everything, but from what I’ve seen of him in interviews I would bet that I’m not too far off the mark.

    onenerdydad.com

  5. Adam Reynolds

    Few comments here. The first is that generally I would agree with Jeremy that the elements of complexity and depth of the prequels were more interesting. They also had some very interesting visual storytelling, with falling motifs common throughout both AOTC and ROTS.

    This is not to say they are great movies by any means. The biggest problem with them really is the dialog. While this was also a problem in the originals, there were also plenty of amusing lines with solid deliveries like “Boring conversation anyway” or “Lock the doors. “And Hope they don’t have blasters.”

    I also agree with Alverant that it really is an issue with the fact that the films themselves are prequels. Many of the fundamental storytelling problems relate to this. Like the issue mentioned about Obi-Wan and Yoda splitting up. Or the fact that Jango Fett had such an important role in the story(though personally, I have never understood why Boba Fett was considered such a badass). Jango in particular is an odd plot hole because he was working for both sides in a manner that should have been obviously problematic to either. Why did the Jedi not become suspicious of their new army when its clone template fled to an enemy world? Likewise, why did the Separatists not become suspicious at some point during the war when they realized that the clone template worked for Dooku directly as it broke out? It would be like a person being outed as a double agent. It would lead to both sides questioning his work.

    While it can be justified that he deliberately led Obi-Wan down the rabbit hole so that the war would begin, it feels odd that no one ever questioned this in universe. Clone Wars made this even worse by giving a direct connection between Tyranus and Sifo-Dyas, especially as this was immediately after it was discovered that the entire army had control chips that could cause them to attack Jedi.

  6. Ellis

    The prequels certainly had stuffy dialogue and Jar Jar Binks but I found the artistry that went into the visual effects, costume design, cinematography, and the lightsaber duels was redeeming. There are people who actually enjoy the Prequels, Enterprise, Prometheus and the Crystal Skull. And there are plenty of stuck up fanboys who will readily dismiss you for enjoying any of those. So it’s best to say to each their own to avoid the fanboy hive mind. After all isn’t art subjective?

    • Tamara Reuveni

      Thank you for saying that Ellis. I happen to love Enterprise. It is my second favorite Star Trek show after Deep Space Nine. I actually thought Next Generation was the worst one. But I won’t call you a fake Trekkie if you feel differently. Some geeks tend to get very protective of their fandoms. They take personal offense if anyone suggests that their favorite stories are less than perfect, but if we won’t admit that mistakes were made, how can we write better stories in the future? No story as long and elaborate as Star Wars could ever be completely without flaws and plot holes, but because the series was already extremely popular when they started to write the prequels, they got caught up in the commercialism, and it could only go downhill from there. They also got caught up in all the exciting new technology available to sci-fi movie makers. Watching a movie that’s obsessed with its own special effects is kind of like dating a narcissist. That was also part of the problem with the Star Trek remakes. Well, that and the fact that they threw the rule book out the window. Speaking of which, whoever said that prequels are always problematic because they are chained to continuity, you are completely wrong. A good writer uses the restrictions of continuity to challenge himself creatively. That’s why the Star Trek franchise lasted for so many decades. They established from the beginning that they would not contradict themselves, and that forced the writers to stretch their imaginations and come up with original stories that expanded the Star Trek universe while keeping it coherent. Of course, as I said, no story that long and complex can achieve complete perfection, and Star Trek had some epic fails, but overall it remained true to its fans and did not descend into commercialism and OSED (Obsessive Special Effects Disorder).

  7. Tyson Adams

    Michael at Belated Media put together a fantastic series of videos on how to make the prequels good. He discusses at length how we are following the wrong protagonist and the movies currently kill off the best antagonist. The most recent video was released just prior to Ep VII being released in cinemas. Well worth watching.

    Ep I
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgICnbC2-_Y
    Ep II
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAbug3AhYmw
    Ep III
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wKqH6vlGHU

  8. Art

    Well I think the reason “You Love the Original Trilogy Too Much” pretty nailed it. Of course this doesn’t mean that second trilogy is good, but I don’t know when have you watched original trilogy last time ? Because I’ve watched it with my friends lately and well can’t say the story there was great, except for the scene when Vader says he is a Luke’s father which is epic, everything else is pretty mediocre. There is few great lines as Adam mentioned but many action movies has them and none is revered as SW. The original series is legendary not because it is a great movie but because they manage to make a whole new universe in this movie, none movie before that was able to show something that is so completely unreal in so real way. I watched it for the first time when I was 5 or 8, it was early 90’s who wouldn’t dream then to be x-wing pilot ? then there were books and games which make this universe bigger and more complex + all the popculture reference to SW and now people have so much nostalgia to original star wars that they seem to find in the movie much more then there is. The best prove for above is try to find someone who watched SW in the XXI century for the first time and loves it, I have few friend who watched for the first time in last year and mostly what thay can say is that they are ok, and some even says that second trilogy was better.

    SW fans now expect that new SW films (both second and third trilogy) will blow there minds off, while forgetting that only thing that has blown the mind in original movie is that everything there was, was completely new and you cannot make completely new universe and make a continuation.

    and as of a second trilogy personally I think that phantom menace is the best of those 3 movie (except for midichlorians part, I pretend it was never there), the Darth Maul with his staff light-sabre and duel with 2 Jedi is the best scene in whole SW and one of the best fighting scene ever, it has beautiful scenery of underwater gungan city, and Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor due pretty much defined who Jedi are. As of Jar Jar, well I admit he is irritating but it’s universe, why there couldn’t be any irritating creature there ? (and I assume that Lucas knew he is a little irritating, since there is great line from Obi-wan to Qui-gon when he is bringing Anakin “Why do I sense we’ve picked up another pathetic life form?”)

    • Tyson Adams

      My friends and I were discussing the originals this week after that hullaballoo with Lucas calling Disney names (and the Rey “Mary Sue” stuff, but let’s not go there – she isn’t, enough said). A lot of what we discussed was how the originals weren’t actually that good. This is something I realised when I tried introducing my now wife (then girlfriend) to Star Wars. Pretty much anything that didn’t have Harrison Ford involved in it made for wooden dialogue and acting.

      I agree that the main thing that Star Wars did was give us an epic space opera for the first time. It blew our minds. All the little things like light sabres, and the big things like the force. It is hard to top that, even if it is in a new unrelated franchise. The benefits of getting there first.

  9. Rosie

    I would label this article as an example of TERRIBLE criticism of the Prequel Trilogy. Apparently, you don’t seem to have the guts to simply state that you dislike them and acknowledge that other people do.

    Instead, you had to insult fans of the Prequel Trilogy with this passive-aggressive bullshit.

    • Cay Reet

      I don’t see where he does that. He gives the usual arguments fans of the prequels make as an apology and proves them wrong.

      I hereby simply state I don’t like them, even though I so wanted to love them, since I couldn’t see the originals in the theatres, because I was too young then. The prequels could have been my chance to actually have that experience – seeing them on the big screen before seeing them on the small one.

      Fact is:
      1. Just because I love the original trilogy, I don’t have to love the prequels. That argument is illogical, no matter where you use it. Just because I love A doesn’t mean I also have to love B, which is somewhat related.
      2. Ambitious doesn’t automatically mean good or even brilliant. A lot of ambitious projects have failed – spectacularly in some cases. The list he makes up in the article is pretty spot on there. All movies he mentions are bad by their series standards or failed their original material badly. If you’re being too ambitious, chances are you will fail. So instead of being ambitious, it might have helped to take a step back and do things with more attention to detail and more care.
      3. Actually, there’s plot holes in those movies you can fly the death star through. Something like that doesn’t go well with the high ambitions. They are not silently and secretly brilliant, they obviously mirror the original trilogy (which isn’t bad as a such, since that one mirrors the Hero’s Journey), but since the end was clear from the beginning (prequels, so the story of the originals won’t change), they were less interesting. Casting and script did their part to make them even less interesting. Showing Anaking Skywalker as a know-it-all child growing into a whiny adult was horrible. It destroys the whole picture of Darth Vader and makes people like me hope he’ll end up behind that mask soon.
      4. Revenge of the Sith was better than Clone Wars and Phantom Menace, yes. At least it didn’t feature a teeth-ruiningly sweet love story or a pod race. But compared to Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t all that good. There is no logic to the change in Padme’s behaviour, compared to the first and the second movie. There’s too much focus on the visuals and not enough focus on the story. Dialogue is bad, which makes me suspect nobody secretly went over George’s script to make it better – it’s an open secret George Lucas can’t write dialogue to save his life.
      5. Yes, I do love the original trilogy very much. It was a defining thing for me, first as a set of novels, then as a set of movies. But because I love it very much, I expected better of the prequels. I expected the same attention to detail. For their time, the original three were spectacular in their effects, but they brought a story along, they had character which were likeable, relateable. Good characters and story are sadly missing from the prequels.

      This is my critizism of those five arguments used to defend the prequels. I don’t like them, even though I wanted to, and I don’t think those arguments are actually a good defense.

  10. bartelbe

    They are terrible, terrible; too much green screen, bad dialogue and aimless plot. The big problem is the nature of the story. It is about the fall of a great civilization, the fall of the Jedi and the corruption of a good man. This is a dark adult story.

    Alas that wouldn’t allow Lucas to sell any kiddie toys, computer games or fast food tie ins. So instead we got yipee kid and endless product placement. Then two films full of two disposable CGI armies that nobody gave a s**t about and a romance that makes your average Mills and Boon novel look like literature.

    Then George realised that he had forgot the point of the whole trilogy and Anakin had to be made evil. This was in the film Obi Wan fights the pointless robot man.

    Anakin becomes Vadar, because Sidious flicks the switch on the back of his head to the evil setting. It is complete bulls**t, he goes from conflicted to kiddie killer in an instant.

    The films are utter s**t and they should be destroyed so someone with some actual talent can have a go at doing a decent version.

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