Once upon a time, in a movie theater far far away…or right down the street...
I grew up in awe of Star Wars. The idea of the Force, the idea of intergalactic war, rebellion against an oppressive (and vaguely Nazi-esque) Empire, the rogues banding together to restore freedom to the galaxy… this was Star Wars. And to me, the best part was the Jedi. The order of those with the ability to channel the Force, use it as both ally and guide. But those who let their passion overcome them would become tainted by the Dark Side. It was all very magical and mystical and amazing. For 2 decades, Star Wars remained the standard to which all other space based science fiction movies would be measured.
Then, in 1999, the realization that an entire generation of children enamored with the Star Wars Cinematic Universe were now paying adults set in, and Episode 1 hit the theaters. I was like all my fellow Star Wars geeks out there, prepared to immerse myself in the world I loved. Then I actually got to the theater, and sat through the movie. I will admit: there was a kind of drunkenness that came over me watching the movie, as the sabers buzzed, the blasters fired and the engines whined, and I enjoyed myself. Then the drunkenness gave way to a horrible hangover: the realization that the movie fell terribly short of living up to its predecessors and lofty expectations.
There have been numerous articles outlining the reasons the new installments failed in the eyes of the fanboys, and indeed did not meet the expectations that were heaped on them. Some would say that nothing would have met those expectations, but I think Lord of the Rings and the Avengers proved that high standards of audiences CAN be met, even the crazed movie geeks like myself. Also, for the most part, my reasons for disliking Episode 1, some of 2 and parts of 3 are a little different from most of the mainstream, accepted criticisms like Jar Jar Binks and little Anakin in Episode 1.
This article will outline my thoughts on why the prequels failed, what I feel needs to happen in the upcoming sequels
So let’s just put it out there: there were only 3 good things about the Phantom Menace:
1: It was Star Wars. After nearly 2 decades without a movie, we fully grown new generation of Star Wars geeks had something to call our own! It had Jedi, space travel, Sith and even some stuff on Tattoine!
2: The pod race was pretty cool. Probably could have done MORE with it, but all in all, not a bad scene. LOOK, TUSCAN RAIDER CAMEO! Yay.
3: The Saber battle. Ok, give me a second on this one, because I hold this scene in an almost reverent respect! This was, in my humble opinion, the greatest 3 person (non-kung fu) fight scene of all time. Just AMAZING work done in this scene by Ray Park (one of my idols) with the sabers and double sided saber! It took Vader and Luke’s battles in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and made it look like two old men fighting over the TV remote! That battle saved the entire movie for me.
Otherwise, Phantom Menace was a catastrophe. As I mentioned earlier, there are the obvious problems like any time Jar Jar opens his beak (Mouth? Snout? Whatever). He sounded mentally challenged, and where C3PO was a wonderfully witty and nuisance comedy relief in the original trilogy, Jar Jar was a big clumsy hammer that bludgeoned you over the head with “THIS IS FUNNY, LAUGH DAMN YOU!” type of comedy (if it can be called comedy). It most definitely did not fit in with the serious situation that this movie should have been. OK, that’s enough harping on Jar Jar, moving on.
Then there was Anakin/Vader. Look, it’s great that Lucas wanted to give us a VERY early look at Anakin, but if they were going to do that, they could have picked a better actor. I’m sorry, this kid could not act in “Jingle All the Way” (it was an Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas movie….and it was as good as it sounds…), and he was even worse in Phantom Menace. Case in point, Watto says he can go home early, and Anakin responds with “woo hoo.” …..Yeah…just as it is written there. “woo hoo.” This kid couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. And there was NONE of the darkness that is supposed to exist in Anakin. They try to pass it off by saying Yoda sensed fear in him. Well, good for Yoda, but I don’t have the Force, which is apparently the only way to know this kid HAS emotions! Could Yoda sense acting lessons? No? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Sorry if I offend this kid’s fans (if his parents happen to be on this site) but it was rough being a Star Wars fan, and seeing the future Vader acted by someone with all the expression of a deep see mollusk. And by the way, Hayden Christiansen was whiny and annoying, (and not in a “Luke Skywalker: young farm boy away from home coming of age” kind of way, but more in a “spoiled, arrogant, sullen, didn’t get enough spankings in his Pod Racing years” kind of way) and I really wanted to punch him in the throat every time he spoke. So the whole casting and portraying of Anakin/Vader could have been WAY better. (wow, there seems to be some not so subtle anger there…)
OK, that covers the obvious issues; here are some that I saw in the prequels as a whole that made a negative difference to me:
Language: In the original trilogy, a very good number of aliens did not speak Basic (English, for you non-Star Wars super geeks). Jabba, Chewie, Gweedo…just to name a few, spoke their own language. In the prequels, almost every alien spoke Basic. The Caminoins, Dax (Obi Wan’s friend who apparently worked at Johnny Rockets), the Gungans (would Jar Jar speaking a different language have saved his character? Maybe not, but couldn’t have hurt…) almost all of them. So while they all LOOKED different, that feeling of a galactic wide adventure was definitely lacking.
CGI!! Listen, I love CGI (when it is done right) and it definitely helped with the space battles. But part of the feeling of the first movies was that these beings were tangible! Yoda was actually THERE, attached to Luke’s back pack! In this movie, almost all the aliens as well as pretty much all the scenery were CGIed (and not very well, to be honest). The entire Battle of Naboo looked like it took place on the Windows XP wallpaper! Less is more, in this case. Less CGI and more Jim Henson puppetry would have done wonders for this trilogy of prequels.
Then there was something that was really hard for me to put my finger on, something that was terribly lacking from the Prequels. At first I thought it was that there were too many Jedi, but then I realized that wasn’t it. There was no Han Solo. I don’t mean the actual guy, I mean that character who brings that roguish nuisance. Han was the gun slinging rogue that gave us a bad boy/good guy to root for, but nothing like that existed in these movies. I wish we could have had a best friend of Anakin who was a total rascal, and maybe Vader kills him in the end of the third movie, or maybe Han’s dad could have smuggled them back to Naboo in episode 2 and stuck around to help. I think this was a major part of the movie that was unfortunately left out.
OK, I've harped on the negative enough, now Disney has its hands on Star Wars, Lucas has bowed out, brought in the best Sci Fi director of his generation, and we are poised to see something that could transcend even the original trilogy! (I’m a tad excited, can you tell?) But, in order for this to work, I feel a few things need to happen:
No more Yoda. Look, I love Yoda as much as anyone. He’s fascinating and wonderful, but it’s time to move past him. (The guy’s 930 years old….and dead….let him go!)
The Solo kids! The rogues who race around the galaxy, now new and improved with Jedi abilities! They should be absolute pains in the butt to control, but absolutely reliable when needed!
Luke Skywalker’s son. There must be an internal conflict, and no one does those better than Skywalkers.
New saber variations. More of the same of what we saw in the epic battle in Episode one would involve different looking sabers.
The Millennium Falcon. Ok, who else missed that hunk of junk in the prequels!? Let’s see it!
Boba Fett. Oh come on, you know the Fett’s gotta be in there somewhere! Let’s bring him a bit more front and center too! Maybe a give fight between him and Han? Just sayin.
Capital Ship battles. Imperial Star Destroyers vs. Rebellion Frigates were one of the things that made Return of the Jedi awesome. Not a lot of that in the Prequels, more fighter battles, which is fine, but let’s go big or go home on this one!
Darth Sidious/Palpatine: He’s not dead folks. If you have read the books, you know that Palpatine survives using clones. That storyline where Luke turns to the Dark Side because he feels it is the only way to figure out how to stop the Sith would be fantastic. His kids have to fight him to stop him! Maybe, using Luke, Palpatine begins to reclaim control of the Republic! SO many things could happen. Then, in the end, a climactic battle between Palpatine’s cloned Sith Lords and the Jedi (just imagine for a second, Darth Maul, Count Dukoo fighting the Solo twins, and suddenly Vader steps out of the shadows to confront Luke!! IMAGINE IT! Ok I’m calm) the prophesy is finally fulfilled and the Skywalkers bring balance to the Force by finally defeating the Sith. (Got off on a tangent, but something like that would be awesome!)
Exploring the possibilities beyond the Empire vs the Republic is another possibility. Either way, the important thing is to take the legacy of Luke Skywalker, Laia Organa and Han Solo and pass them to a new generation. And with that, the possibility to expand the Star Wars Cinematic Universe, which I think has the possibility of being the largest and most diverse of them all!
The possibilities are astounding, and anything is worth contemplating. One thing is for sure, not since the announcement that there would be 3 prequel movies in the Star Wars Universe has there been this much excitement, anticipation and trepidation. A lot is riding on Mr. Abrams and Disney to pull off what could be one of the greatest triumphs in cinematic history…or we could get Jar Jar Binks playing Wii Golf with a beat up Astromech. We will have to wait, and see. May the Force be with us all…