The following is an opinion piece pitched to, and commissioned by, Culture Fly
As a little kid, a group of friends and myself ran around the school playground armed with bamboo sticks and a variety of “schzoom” sound effects. The bamboo clashed, imaginary spaceships soared and we were transported to the galaxy that happens to be far, far away. We made poor stop-motion films with our four-inch action figures and orchestrated full-on battles with Lego figurines.
We stood in line for three hours to watch a two-hour movie, surrounded by adults who were dressed as Stormtroopers. After all the bitching, moaning and George Lucas hate groups, on 22 May 2005, those very fans turned up, suited ’n’ booted in the Galactic Empire’s finest threads to watch Anakin succumb to the Dark Side.
This is why the Star Wars prequels are not failures.
They created the same devotion in their target audience as the original trilogy, it just hasn’t lasted. Why? Because the parents who felt let down, who control the cultural conversation, allowed their distain to trickle down towards their children. The middle-aged audience had forgotten Star Wars was always aimed at kids.
Now, the prequels are not great films. They’re enjoyable movies with an abundance of storytelling errors. But, (controversial statement alert) the original trilogy isn’t that fly either. Hell, I’d argue that there hasn’t been a great Star Wars film since the original in 1977. Re-watching them with your nostalgia goggles turned off, the original trilogy is like meeting that old school friend you haven’t spoken to in years and realising that your memory is different to reality. There is a lot to like, from the great characters, to the iconic sets and ILM’s special effects, but much of the original trilogy is superfluous (it takes 40 minutes to get off Hoth) and the dialogue is wooden. With regards to the original trilogy, these flaws are forgiven but with the prequels, they’re sacrilegious.
Which is odd because if you can forgive Ewoks, surely you can forgive Midi-chlorians? Jar-Jar’s unforgivable; the fart jokes are unforgivable; Hayden Christian’s acting is unforgivable but the complex, heady story about the fall of democracy and how darkness can consume even the most stalwart of heroes should be praised.
The story beats add context to the small details seen in the first trilogy. When Obi-Wan tells Luke about his friendship with his father, his emotionally charged outburst on the edges of a lava lake springs to mind. This emotional sucker punch may not have been in the prequels you were looking for, but they’re the prequels we got and they do what all good prequels should.
“Only a Sith deals with absolutes,” chimes Obi-Wan before his smackdown with the newly christened Darth Vader. Unlike the binary battles of Episodes IV-VI, the prequel Jedi’s deal in shades of grey. They make mistakes, overstep the mark and are closer to the Dark Side than they’d care to admit. Remember the Republic, and by extension the Jedi, strike the blow that starts the fabled Clone Wars.
Those Obi-Wan quotes bookend the most emotionally charged lightsaber duel in the entire saga and is one of the many spectacular lightsaber fights present in the prequels. These Jedi duels are balletic as the blue, green and red blades clash. J.J may prefer the “primitive, aggressive and rougher” fights of Luke and Vader, but these are highly-trained Buddhist soldiers, knights of freedom, so it makes sense that a stylised, choreographed lightsaber fighting style is utilised. The prequel lightsaber duels are awesome and even the most stubborn prequel basher smiles at the mere mention of the “Duel of the Fates”. John Williams’ score is insane, Darth Maul is iconic and Qui-Jon gives us a moment of audacious badassery when he decides to start meditating in the middle of a duel with a Sith Lord.
Star Wars films are always surrounded by a hurricane of hype and that hype is why people hate the prequels. They weren’t what people wanted but they inspired a new generation of fans. The Force Awakens has to be more than a movie, but if it fails to reach the high expectations fanboys are forcing on it, I’m sure a new generation of kids will run around the school playground, acting out the further adventures of Finn, Rey and Poe.