Why the Star Wars prequels work

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Before you rage-quit my blog or the internet altogether let me say that I am aware of the many, many problems of the Star Wars prequels. The infamous trio seems to be one of the internet’s favourite hate targets (even if the duel on Mustafar was possibly the best in all the live-action movies of the series). But are these movies so bad? I don’t think so.

To begin with, passage of time allowed for better effects as well as more creative freedom in terms of world-building. The originals did an amazing job with the resources they had, no doubt about it, but if newer and better methods are available to not use them because of nostalgia id just plain silly. And yes, that includes more CGI. True, I could have lived without a more detailed visual of Jabba the frigging Hutt but I suppose you take the good with the bad. Also, can you imagine trying to film the fight at Kamino with late 70s-early 80s technology?

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Also, Christopher Lee! I mean, yeah, I’m a sucker for villains played by British actors, but you can’t deny that the not-so-good Count had class and a legitimately threatening presence. I suppose you could say the same for the Emperor but personally, having seen the originals first I was too focused counting the “I’m obviously a villain, idiots” signs to be properly intimidated. Also, I knew how lame his death was! Dooku on the other hand, I found generally interesting. Why did he leave the Jedi? Why did he not take the Darth title? (Yes, I know, Darth Tyrannus, but nobody calls him that in the movies!) Was his offer to Obi Wan in Attack of the Clones genuine? The Clone Wars cartoon fleshed out the character more to my delight, but even going only by the movie, he’s one of my favourite villains.

The soundtrack is epic. The music was one of the things that capture my attention on the original trilogy -especially the Darth Vader theme/Imperial March. Imagine my delight to listen to it subtly creeping up to moments in the prequels too. Music tells part of the story in movies (at least good movies) and I confess I really liked the prequel soundtracks. And for those who complain about storytelling in I-III, the party song in Naboo, at the the end of Phantom Menace is the Emperor’s theme sped up. How’s that for subtle build up?

The Padmé/Anakin romance. Sure, the chemistry between the actors wasn’t the best at times but I put that down partially to bad direction. I’ve seen both in other films and they’re good. Personally I found their subplot believable. They live in uncertain times, when high stake moves become AnakinPadme-HaydenNatalie-anakin-and-padme-25491236-1900-1227
increasingly the norm and they are both impulsive. Top that with Anakin’s “the rules don’t apply to me” attitude and the fact that they care deeply for one another  and people are surprised about their relationship? Would events have unfolded differently without the Clone Wars raging at the background? Probably. But that doesn’t discredit their feelings as they are shown in the movies. And again, Clone Wars cartoon! It covers the entire three year time-skip between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, including lots of interactions from my favourite sci-fi couple, and. Still. Counts. As. Canon.

While we’re on the subject of the Skywalker family I’d like to make an aside regarding a plot hole people believe Revenge of the Sith created. In Return of the Jedi Leia tells Luke that she remembers her mother. But Padmé died right after giving birth. So how can Leia remember her? There’s actually two plausible explanations for that:

  1. Leia is referring to her adoptive mother. The Star Wars wiki says that she died at the destruction of Alderaan,  but what with losing many good friends, living under scrutiny by the Empire and having close ties to the Rebellion, I don’t think she led a happy life.
  2. Leia is Forse-Sensitive although untrained.  She is increasingly shown to have the same accurate gut feeling as her brother. No doubt there would have been more indications of her Force powers if she wasn’t so in control of her emotions. However, as a child she would have probably been more open. Is it that far-fetched that she had dreams or visions of Padmé

On a completely unrelated note: why do people go BALLISTIC over the whole youngling thing? It’s a sci-fi universe. One of the tools used to make it more its own entity is to use terms variant to what we are familiar with. It wasn’t in the original you say? Name me one instance in IV-VI where a term of address for children is needed and I will concede the point. Also, I’m not hearing any complaints over the Klingons having their own language or Tolkien inventing a new language whenever he felt like it. (Yes, I went there.)

And I reach my main argument: the story itself. Contrary to complaints, the story is actually really good. I will try to keep Clone Wars out of this part since I’m mainly focusing on the movies. Still, what you have is a fascinating variant to the Hero’s Quest story motif. Or, in Star Wars terms, what might have happened to Luke if he had gone Dark. An believe you me, it’s actually not that improbably an alternative.

Luke’s story was a text book example of a hero’s journey from start to finish. So is Anakin’s. The only difference is, his journey spans six movies instead of three. Think about it. In Phantom Menace Anakin is the innocent child, one with enormous potential but without the necessary guidance to achieve greatness.  He comes from humble beginnings from which he is removed by a mentor. And therein lies the first issue. Qui Gon is framed to be the mentor to guide the Chosen One but is killed before he has the chance to fulfil his role. But Lia, you say, the same can be said for Obi Wan in New Hope. To which I answer, not quite. For one, Obi Wan has a chance to teach Luke a few things before he allows himself to be killed. Qui Gon doesn’t get that chance because at first the Jedi Council won’t allow it and then…well….Darth Maul happens.

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So Obi Wan, as a young, inexperienced Jedi, steps up to replace hi,. Yoda, the most respected person in the freaking Order, the one who is in charge of training the younglings allows it despite his misgivings. Why? Why not place Anakin in a class like the rest of the the Force-Sensitive children and when he reaches Padawan age have Obi Wan take over? Anakin is aware of how unorthodox his induction and training are, on top of his growing awareness of the difference in power levels. He is an outsider even among those he should have felt included in.

Luke finds mentors in Obi Wan and Yoda. Anakin has Obi Wan but he also has Palpatine. For us viewers, Palpatine has “kill it with fire” written all Palp_trustmeover his face. In-story however, he is trusted until almost the very end. It is basic human nature to want to believe the best for those you care about. Of course Anakin will not want to believe the worst for someone he considers a father figure. And for the record, he does the right thing when Palpatine admits to being a Sith Lord: he reports it. True, he doesn’t stick with that decision but it wouldn’t be a tragedy if there weren’t any conflicting motivations.

Anyway, I story development-wise New Hope corresponds to Phantom Menace and then Empire Strikes Back corresponds to Attack of the Clones and the first major divergences on the pattern appear. Luke gains a new mentor, delves deeper in the Force and has his first true confrontation with the Dark Side, which he temporarily overcomes. Anakin has been training with Obi Wan for ten years at this time and is considered competent enough to take a high profile mission on his own. His sub-plot with Padmé kick-starts, creating the first true conflict between duty and desire and he finds a way to at least temporarily compromise between the two. It is by no means a perfect or even long-term solution but it makes the best of an all-around difficult situation.

As for Anakin’s first brush with the Dark Side, I do need to excuse it to understand it. His protectiveness borders on possessiveness because he is never taught how to healthily let go. The Jedi’s modus operandi seems to be denying attachments which is a. hypocritical, b. impossible and c. a gross misinterpretation of what the Jedi Code says. And yes, I’ve read the damn thing. The Sith Code too. They’re pretty interesting when put side by side. So where Luke receives further support before his first true challenge, Anakin is left on his own because he thinks he cannot confide in anyone about his visions. I think that is this conviction that he cannot trust anyone with his more obscure gifts (I mean, we never really see any Jedi having detailed and accurate visions of the future until Luke comes around) that is warped to the arrogance that is evident in Revenge of the Sith. It’s a defence mechanism: if you seem untouchable then others cannot hurt you.

And things don’t really look up in Revenge of the Sith, do they? Return of the Jedi, even at its more bleak moments retains some measure of optimism. They save Han, Luke is acknowledged as a Jedi, things seem to look up for the Rebellion, the Death Star gets blown up -again- Luke saves his father, Han and Leia get their happily ever after. Happy endings all around. Not so much in the closing act of the prequel trilogy. The Republic is at its death throes, the war seems to have no end in sight, the Jedi have been forced to become soldiers while refusing to adapt their interpretation of the Code to be applicable at the times they live in. And in the centre of it all is Anakin who due to his openly(?) acknowledged status as the Chosen One has been stretched thin, expected to pretty much be at the forefront of the war effort, having to deal with the politics of Coruscant and still keep everyone he cares about alive. Something’s got to give. I wish I could say that that something is not his sanity but…

And it is to classify all that as a temper tantrum and label him a crybaby but honestly, can anyone say that at 23  (yes, that’s how old he is in Revenge of the Sith) they only made calm, informed decisions, especially when people they cared about where involved? I’m 22 and I can honestly say that no, that’s not how it works. Also, it seems that people like to ignore the fact that, as I said earlier, Anakin resists turning to the Dark Side. Even when he pledges himself as Sidious’ apprentice he doesn’t do it out of pure desire for power. He already knows he’s the strongest Force user to ever be born, and that’s before he consciously uses the Dark Side. It is his desire to save his family from a probable future and…that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it? That his vision proves to be self-fulfilled may not be surprising for the genre-savvy audience, after all the fastest way to make a prophesy come true is to tell those the prophesy is about (Harry Potter and the Order of PhoenixHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows anyone?). Again, in story, that is not a conclusion that is easily reached. Especially in time sensitive and tense situations.  If Anakin’s character development follows the Wheel of Fortune motif, then the end of Revenge of the Sith is the lowest point.

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But you know what’s the best thing about circular storytelling? Redemption is always a probably outcome. Star Wars I-III are called the prequels for a reason. Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker after all and he is very much present in the original trilogy…which, years before Phantom Menace was put to film, concluded with is redemption. Say what you will for the remastered versions, the addition of Anakin’s ghost was a nice touch and a chance for closure.

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And here it is. The reasons I do not wish for the prequels to burn in cinematic hell. There’s more to be said on the subject but unfortunately I have reading to do so I will sign out now. Till next time everyone!

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