So many fans are disappointed with the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy but before that there were the prequels… which fans also didn’t like. I’ll never forget the tirade of abuse George Lucas got for these movies and I don’t blame him for selling the series to Disney as it must be so tiresome having nerds complain about the story you are telling despite the fact it is YOUR story.
Despite that however, I have to admit that I am not a fan of the prequels; I do think there are moments of greatness and the best is Revenge of the Sith but even then that is greatly flawed. So let’s take a look at the three movies and see how they hold up now.
The Phantom Menace (1999)
Plot: Two Jedi Knights escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their old glory.
I’ll never forget how I felt after watching The Phantom Menace for the first time; we walked out of the theatre more bemused than anything as to what we had just seen. What the hell was that Jar Jar creature? Why were the characters so stilted and wooden? Why is the story not all that interesting? So there were a lot of questions but mostly complaints.
After over 20 years has time been any kinder to TPM? Not especially and it remains my least favourite of the Star Wars saga but it’s not a total loss. It did give us Duel of the Fates which is one of the best pieces of film music of all time. We also got the fantastic climactic lightsaber fight, the podrace and Liam Neeson as a wise Jedi. It also gave us Ewan MacGregor as a younger Obi-Wan who admittedly isn’t the best in this entry as he was battling flu during the shoot and it’s really more Revenge of the Sith where he really shone and made the role his own.
The one thing about the Star Wars prequels in general which is their best selling point is how they expanded the universe of Star Wars; without them we wouldn’t have had The Clone Wars which was a superlative TV series and I can’t wait to see Season 7 in a few weeks. It showed us whole new worlds, gave us an idea of who the Jedi were and the masterful manipulations of Senator Palpatine and his rise to power.
Jar Jar remains my least favourite movie character of all time and I think he is the weakest part of this movie; any other flaws I can overlook although the CG hasn’t aged that well and will never compare with the practical effects of the original trilogy which still look the best.
Darth Maul is the best character of this movie and he barely has any dialogue; he looks demonic and could have matched Darth Vader as a villain if he had been given more to do; once again thanks to The Clone Wars and Rebels he is given more to do so it feels less disappointing.
Jake Lloyd got some terrible abuse as a young Anakin but frankly he was absolutely fine and was less wooden than Hayden would play him; I liked him in the role and thought people were overly cruel to him.
Overall, The Phantom Menace certainly has its moments but it hasn’t aged all that well with Jar Jar still proving extremely annoying and the story just isn’t very interesting. The climactic lightsaber duel and music score are the highlights and it also helped to expand the series in a bold new way.
Attack of the Clones (2002)
Plot: Ten years after initially meeting, Anakin Skywalker shares a forbidden romance with Padmé, while Obi-Wan investigates an assassination attempt on the Senator and discovers a secret clone army crafted for the Jedi.
So we come to the second prequel and I can’t decide if it’s better or worse than Phantom; on the plus side Jar Jar is only in a couple of scenes but on the negative side Jar Jar isn’t dead.
Hayden Christensen got a hard time for his performance as Anakin at the time and it’s easy to see why; his monotonous tone is so lifeless that you just can’t empathize with the character or the supposed emotional turmoil that he’s going through. The scene after he kills the Sand People should be shocking and disturbing rather than unintentionally funny. I don’t know if it’s his fault or George Lucas’s though as he wrote and directed it so the blame likely falls on him.
The romance scenes between Anakin and Padme are so cringe inducing that I feel myself going red while watching them; Natalie Portman does her best with the material given to her and she looks fantastic but even she can’t save those awful scenes.
I enjoy that it is more of a detective story with Obi-Wan spending the first half investigating who tried to assassinate Padme as it was a side of Star Wars we hadn’t seen before. There are some great set-pieces too including a chase through Coruscant. Despite the flaws this trilogy had they did at leas try to innovate with technology and they are unlike any other movies you’ve seen before so for that alone they should be lauded.
As much of a fan as I am of Samuel L. Jackson, he seems really out of place as a Jedi master and I keep waiting for him to end each sentence with “Motherfucker!” It surely would have been more interesting, although his “This party’s over” line is pretty awesome.
There are a lot of things I like about this film though; I enjoy Palpatine’s political machinations and how he manipulates Jar Jar into making the worst decision in the history of the galaxy but we all know Binks is the real Sith lord.
We are also blessed by having Temuera Morrison as Jango Fett, who easily steals the movie for me. He’s just so damn cool and the fight scene between him and Obi-Wan on Kamino is one of my favourite action scenes in the Star Wars movies. When they are having the dogfight in space and Slave-1 fires the seismic charges, that is officially the coolest sound effect of all time.
I liked how we get to see a young Boba Fett although I’m not sure I wanted to know his back story; some tales are better left untold and keeping him mysterious was more interesting.
Christopher Lee brings some gravitas as Count Dooku, a former Jedi (and Qui-Gon’s master) who is also seduced by Palpatine/Darth Sidious as he essentially wants what is best as he is fed up with the corruption in the Republic but let’s not pretend he is a good guy. He is every bit as evil as Darth Sidious. Lee does a great job in making Dooku a more layered antagonist than we would expect and his scene with Obi-Wan when he essentially tells him the truth about Sidious is one of the best scenes of the series.
The Clone Wars battle on Geonosis at the end is pretty epic in scale and has some nice moments even if the CG hasn’t held up so well. When Yoda puts down his walking stick and begins his climactic lightsaber battle with Dooku, you can’t help but smile.
John William’s score is once again fantastic and we even get the full Imperial March at the end which really gives us a feeling of old-school Star Wars; Across the Stars is wonderfully tragi-romantic theme but it’s a shame it’s used on such a lame love story.
Overall, Attack of the Clones arguably has more good than bad in it but the awkward love story and clunky dialogue still jar as much as ever. I can’t help but think Anakin should have been played by an English actor who could have brought a bit more depth to it but I am not sure anyone could make that dialogue work…
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Plot: Three years into the Clone Wars, the Jedi rescue Palpatine from Count Dooku. As Obi-Wan pursues a new threat, Anakin acts as a double agent between the Jedi Council and Palpatine and is lured into a sinister plan to rule the galaxy.
Revenge of the Sith is the darkest of the entire Saga and pretty much leaves you with nothing at the end but it’s easily the best of the three prequels with the final hour feeling like a trip into Hell.
Anakin completes his journey to the Dark Side and finally becomes Darth Vader, but you never really feel bad for him as he frankly deserves everything that happens to him. As Obi-Wan says “you brought this on yourself” although the Jedi also deserved to fall as their arrogance and hubris blinded them to the Dark Side.
The film opens with a space battle that rivals the original movies in terms of scale with Obi-Wan and Anakin sent to rescue Chancellor Palpatine from the annoying and lame General Grievous. I never liked him as a character and to this day he still sucks.
Once they board Dooku’s ship there is some comic relief from some droids with squeaky voices; I understand why they are in there though, for the kiddies, before they get scarred for life by the second half of the movie.
There is some nice banter between Obi-Wan and Anakin showing what “great” buddies they are… but I still think Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side feels like it happens too quickly but thankfully The Clone Wars makes his journey more believable. Hayden is a little better performance-wise but I can’t help but wonder what it could have been like with a better actor and script.
The story of Sith is arguably the best of the series; the rise of Palpatine and the villains actually wining in the end is as dark as it gets especially considering Anakin murders a room full of unarmed children.
The best non-action scene of the film is between Anakin and Palpatine at the Opera where Anakin is told of the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise. Ian McDiarmid plays the scene subtly and you believe his manipulation of Anakin. This however, is totally flushed down the toilet during the “transformation” scene; what started off as a subtle performance by McDiarmid turns into a pantomime but I still love the entire sequence.
The second half of Sith is where the film really comes alive and is (mostly) worth the wait. The battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin looks fantastic but the fight between Palpatine and Yoda is arguably even better. Duel of the Fates returns and really adds to the excitement of the whole battle and the score is incredible throughout.
Sith is still guilty of some truly terrible dialogue, mostly by poor Hayden again; “My new Empire” is delivered particularly badly, but it’s not enough to ruin the film.
There is however, one moment that does dampen the impact of the finale and you know fine well what it is: “Nooooo!” Really? In what Universe was that a good idea? There were so many other things you could have done but you make Vader do his best Seymour Skinner impression. I laughed in the cinema, the most important and devastating scene in the saga and I laughed!
One of my favourite scenes for sheer emotional drama however, is the Order 66 scene where the Clones turn on the Jedi and wipe them all out. The music is fabulous and really adds to the whole tragedy of the tale.
I think the whole prequel trilogy could have been so much better if George had provided a template of the story then someone who could craft a script and characters may have created a truly classic tale as it is a missed opportunity.
Overall, Revenge of the Sith is a vast improvement to the other prequels but still a deeply flawed piece. The dark story, epic music score and jaw-dropping action make this a fun (if rather depressing) watch.
So that’s my brief retrospective of the Star Wars prequels; flawed they may be but I feel if you took elements from all three movies you could make one truly great story. There is still plenty to enjoy but aside from Sith I don’t really watch the other 2 all that often.