Star Wars Day 2015: A necessary defence of the prequels

So, it’s May 4th and a day when the world come together to celebrate all things Star Wars. The one day of the year where card-carrying geeks, film fans or just normal people rejoice that in 1977 a film was released that gave birth to a great franchise. With the release of the latest trailer for Episode 7 a few weeks ago there has been an increase in the amount of people announcing that JJ Abrams has saved Star Wars after George Lucas nearly killed it. Not only do I bemoan the fact people are only just trusting Abrams to work his magic on the series but I’m getting bored on people moaning about how terrible the prequels are. It seems to be quite a cool thing to hate the prequels but I say it’s fucking ignorant. Yes, there is no denying that they aren’t as good as the originals but this fucking stubborn need to criticse them is getting silly. In Midnight in Paris Woody Allen warned us against living in the past and I think it’s about time we move on. The prequels aren’t as good as the first films but they aren’t completely awful. In fact there are a lot of things to praise about them: something I’m about to do right now. Here is my list of 6 best things about the prequels.

6. Casting

Let’s be honest, as far as franchises go, the only set of films that beats Star Wars in terms of acting names is probably Harry Potter. The long list of great names who signed on to play a part in the continued saga is a fucking phenomenon. Considering a lot of the criticism for the prequels comes from the shitty performance offered up by Hayden Christensen, it’s about time we remember just how good everyone else is.
Ewan McGregor is perhaps the single greatest piece of casting in the entire thing: he was born to play the young Jedi Master. He brings a great range to Obi-Wan and manages to show us what a fucking badass he truly is. Liam Neeson, Samuel Jackson and Christopher Lee, to a lesser degree, manage to do the same: I love Qui-Gon Jinn so much and think Mace Windu is a fucking legend. Then we have Natalie Portman who wades through a sea of terrible writing to bring us a performance that channels the power and sass that her daughter was famous for years before. The prequels may have gotten a few choices wrong but very few of them were made during the casting process. The line-up of actors here is a fucking dream and manage to bring a level of greatness to some particularly uninspiring scripts.
Whatever you think of George Lucas’ overuse of CGI, you have to admit that the one-take tracking shot at the beginning of Revenge of the Sithis fucking amazing. Following two lone starfighters right into the heart of an exciting space battle over Coruscant; it’s spectacular and ensures that the final act of the trilogy gives you a fucking powerful kick in the balls before you’ve had time to realise the film has started. Every time I see this epic scene I get a few chills. It kick-starts the best film of the prequels; anyone who says otherwise is a fucking liar.
4. Villains
Darth Vader has become synonymous with movie villains and, in his distinctive black helmet and raspy breathing, it’s easy to see why. However, in terms of sheer villainy, the original trilogy was kinda tame. The Emperor was mostly an absent figure that didn’t really live up to his reputation in the galaxy and Darth Vader seemed to spend a lot of his time killing his own men instead of crushing the rebel alliance.
Thankfully, the prequels answered our prayers and gave us an army of bad guys to fear. Imagine, if you will, how fucking dismal The Phantom Menacewould have been had it not been for Darth Maul? I mean he turned up and showed us all what a fucking Sith Lord could really do. It’s no wonder he became such a fan favourite. Then we have the equally terrifying and awesome General Grievous who may just be the greatest creation in the entire franchise: yes I think I can be that bold. Even the returning Ian McDiarmid does a fantastic job in the role of Palpatine. Who can forget the scene when the Emperor seduces Anakin with the tale of Darth Plagueis: it’s fucking Shakespearean. The prequels have some top-class badassery on show and its time we all openly admit that.
Revenge of the Sithhad a lot of pressure on it to adequately complete the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to irritating little kid to one of the Empire’s most feared employees. It was showcasing the birth of one of cinema’s most iconic figures so it had to be fucking memorable. Especially considering it would have to break up his strong bromance with Jedi mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. How do the pair go from witty post-battle banter to being mortal enemies? Well, what happens on Mustafar didn’t stay on Mustafar.
There is an awful lot of terrible dialogue that proceeds a movie fight that had been highly anticipated for the past 28 years. A lot of it is laughable: I find it shameful that I can recount the exchange word for word. That’s a sign of how often I’ve watched this scene. If Revenge of the Sithhad come out on VHS I’d have worn out the ribbon very early on thanks to the constant rewinding and fast forwarding to find the scene. The showdown on the volcanic planet is an amazing watch: the CGI is a spectacle; the score is on point; and the choreography is fucking fantastic. The only weak moment is the close-up of Obi-Wan’s face when he attempts to force-push Anakin out of the way: it’s fucking cringe. The final moments of the fight were a bit weak but there is no doubt that the duel between Master and Padawan was as exciting as it needed to be.
There is very little to enjoy about Attack of the Clones when you think about it. There’s just a tad too much politics, too much romance and a lengthy roll call of cringey clichés. It’s the weakest of the entire trilogy and there are only a couple of things that really make it work. One of those is Ewan McGregor’s beautiful and bearded face but I didn’t feel like I could include that on the list. The other thing Attackdid so well was expand the scope of the Jedi in way that no talk of midi-chlorians and prophecies ever could. The original films introduced us to the way of the Jedis but we still didn’t know much about them. Attackshowed us how huge and fucking badass the organisation used to be.
When it comes to being a stand-out scene, the massive Jedi battle on Geonosis does a fucking amazing job. Yes, there is a lot crammed into one space and that is a problem that followed Lucas around the prequels. However, who can honestly say that they weren’t even a little excited when the mass of Jedi appeared within the arena to save Padmé, Anakin and Obi-Wan. Mace Windu was one of the greatest things to come out of these films and his ninja sneak-up on Count Dooku started one epic battle. Just seeing the sheer numbers and power that the Jedi organisation used to possess finally showed us what all the fucking fuss was about. Plus, dat Windu/Fett showdown doe.
The lightsabre battles in the original films are exciting, there is no denying that, but it can’t be ignored that the choreography department really stepped up their game with the prequels. No longer were we dealing with fencing style, professional duels but with energetic and gymnastic fights. It’s updated, it’s fun and it’s a fucking joy to watch. The showdown between Obi-Wan and Darth in A New Hopeis so fucking tame when compared to the prequels. It’s not something to be ashamed of: the fights are still great but watching the Jedis flipping and jumping their way through a battle.

There is no scene that highlights this difference more than the duel between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. Ray Park showcased his fucking cool martial arts skills to play Maul and choreographed his own stunts. Wielding the coolest weapon of all six films, a dual-bladed lightsabre, Darth Maul flipped his way into Sith law and the hearts of Star Wars fans. This battle was not only epic in terms of styling and action but also emotion. Qui-Gon Jinn’s death is devastating and Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of a grieving Obi-Wan is just magnificent. Anyone who says the prequels ruined Star Warsand have nothing to offer clearly need to watch this scene again. It’s fucking awesome. 

Honorable mentions

  • The pod race
  • Zam Wesell Chase
  • Any Yoda battle
  • Anakin killing Dooku
  • Order 66

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