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Monday, December 14, 2015

Star Wars Mania- Can One "Defend" the Prequels?

Hey there. I know its been a long time. I haven't posted in quite a while. It has been a confluence of events that have conspired against it. Work. Fallout 4. Family stuff. It has just kept me away from the interwebs. I have been painting my 40K stuff, and soon I'll be taking pics and posting them.

For my return to the Chaos Corner, I thought I'd have a little fun with a little film series called Star Wars. You may have heard that a new Star Wars is about to be released in a few theaters (LOL). But in all seriousness, I was introduced to SW at a young age. I wasn't born in time for the first, but I keenly recall seeing Return of the Jedi in theaters. I naturally had all the Kenner toys, and I dreamed of being a Jedi like Luke Skywalker. Or, in my darker moments...

Like Star Trek, Star Wars has been a huge part of my childhood, and my life as a whole. My heroes were Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Kirk. Luke. Yoda. Batman. GI Joe. Ghostbusters. And others. This was MY childhood, and Star Wars was a tremendous part of that. My family watched all 3 on VHS religiously. I clearly remember, in my college years, the excitement when they released the special editions in theaters- it was my first opportunity to see all 3 on the big screen. I remember frantically playing the N64 Shadows of the Empire game. Then- the anticipation of the prequels. Cinescape magazine had an army of Boba Fetts on the cover (looking back, they weren't that far off). The trailer. Darth Maul. Oh my...

Sadly, we all know what happens next. The prequels were, let's say, LACKLUSTER. Understatement? Hahaha. It seemed that George Lucas went off the rails. The films were filled with wooden acting, some weak dialogue, a forced romance between leads that had ZERO chemistry. I could go on, but as I said- we all know what happened. The prequels have cast a pall over the Star Wars universe (and franchise). Can the new film dispel those clouds? Is it fair to even suggest that it can? Perhaps no movie can live up to that.

However, are there any redeeming parts of the prequels? Are they, perhaps, not as bad as originally thought? Or maybe there are elements of the prequels that transcend the weaknesses of the whole?
Ha. The prequels are a mixed bag indeed, and there are some redeeming features to the prequels. I thought I'd discuss them a little bit, in no particular order:

Qui-Gon Jinn- As played by Liam Neeson, Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn is the very nearly ideal Jedi. He is exactly what you would expect (and want) them to be. Neeson belies Jinn's force powers with a warm, gentle personality. Neeson plays Jinn as an empathetic warrior. It is clear that Jinn cares about all life forms- big or small. In that respect he is like Yoda from ESB. Unlike Yoda though, Jinn showed the martial prowess of you would associate with a Jedi as well- a true guardian of the old republic. Neeson's performance is practically pitch perfect. He is the epitome of what you would like the Jedi to be.

For better or worse though, Lucas wanted to show the Jedi in the last stages of creeping decay. All of the Jedi come off as callous, aloof, uncaring at one point or another in the prequels. They basically have their heads up their asses. Even Yoda is neither wise nor particularly likable in much of the prequels because of this (though he and Obi-Wan do improve as the prequels wear on). While I get the idea of Lucas' intention, it made the Jedi practically unsympathetic. Lucas portrays them as a monastic order rather than knights, and it hurts.

I know I disagree with making Anakin a boy in TPM, but Neeson does a great job acting with the kid, never condescending or talking down to him, Neeson treats Anakin as he treats all others. Neeson also does well bouncing off McGregor's Obi-Wan. It would have been nice to see them on other adventures... but alas.

Throughout the prequels, Jinn was the only representative of what we all dreamed a Jedi would be. A hero who fought to protect the weak from the forces of evil. Someone with such power, but also very humane (and frankly, human). When he dies by Maul's hand, the pain is double. Plot-wise, you realize the Jedi and Anakin have lost something important and special. As a viewer of all 3 prequels, no Jedi will measure up to Jinn, and no actor will be as fantastic as Neeson.

Darth Sidious/Palpatine- If Jinn was the ideal hero, Palpatine was the perfect villain. By turns innocent, calculating, manipulative, honest, power-hungry, humble... The role required actor Ian McDiarmid to really run the gauntlet, and he does it very well- making what was a 2 dimensional bad guy in ROTJ into a malice-filled master villain that, ironically, you can't help but agree with (or perhaps slyly chuckle at) in the messy prequels.

In TPM, Ian McDiarmid plays the dual role to utter perfection. When he first appears as Darth Sidious, McDiarmid gives him just the right amount of evil- his voice and tone are not only perfect for the puppet master, he also makes damn sure that you KNOW he will be the Emperor- his manner is basically that of a younger Emperor from ROTJ. Later, when we meet him as Senator Palpatine, he seems perfectly proper and innocent.

Of course, so many of his lines have double meanings, and the actor just makes the most of it. McDiarmid nails the manipulation of the Queen to a tee. Forget Anakin- it is really Padme who gives him the literal keys to the galaxy with her "No Confidence" vote. His knowing look says it all.

While his role in Attack of the Clones is quite small (so he makes less of an impact due to the reduced role), he once again makes the most of the double meanings of his lines. However, it is in Revenge of the Sith that McDiarmid finally gets to let loose and chew all the scenery. At first Palpatine is just the brave Chancellor who is trying to save the Republic and a good friend to Anakin. But we know its a ruse, and little by little we see him twist the knife. His soliloquy in the Opera House is fantastic (what is true and what is a lie?)- the Jedi suck, they are powerless and selfish, unworthy of Anakin. His playing possum at a critical moment (the only scene where Sam Jackson's abilities are used properly).

By the time the Jedi are falling, McDiarmid really puts his foot on the gas and makes the new Emperor a cackling, homicidal maniac. But is this  only due to a flush of victory? Or is this what he truly is, freed of all masks and pretense? His battle with Yoda is one for the books, and McDiarmid's performance seals that deal too. He epitomizes evil for evils sake.

Order 66- the purge of the Jedi really should have happened in Episode 2, and it deserved time to be really developed. However, Lucas did give us an incredible montage of the Jedi being shot in the back by their erstwhile allies, the clone troopers. The montage shows several Jedi being taken out, some quite brutally.

The scene is too good for the prequels. It feels like it could have come out of the Godfather (the end "purges" in Godfather 1 and/or 2 are phenomenal and fitting climaxes). The music is mournful, the action is kept tight. There is no superfluous Dewbacks or Jar Jars. This is down and dirty political assassination. The purge is very well executed, worthy of ESB as a matter of fact. One wonders why Lucas could not have had that energy, emotion, and inventiveness throughout the prequels...

Lightsaber Battles- The Prequels really do blow the lid off of lightsaber duels and then some. Of course, everyone looks at the epic Maul / Jinn & Kenobi showdown. It is as epic as you can imagine, and stuntman/actor Ray Park is just legendary. The battle is frantic, hard hitting, and thrilling. The track "Duel of the Fates" just elevates the scene. The only problem is, since there is on history between the antagonists, the fight is just a fight. All other duels have an emotional core to them- the characters are connected in some way, making the duel MORE important. Here, it looks awesome, but is slightly hollow.

In Attack of the Clones, Yoda finally gets to show his skills in a battle against Darth Tyranus / Dooku. The new Sith is played by Christoper Lee-  a fantastic actor and in his day he fought a lot with swords on film; he was woefully underused by Lucas in the prequels. However, there is something thrilling in the tall and coldly proper Lee go against the whirling dervish that is Yoda. The scene had audiences on their feet in 2002. The duel had some emotional weight as it was revealed that Dooku was Jinn's teacher, and Yoda had taught Dooku! Wow- awesome stuff.

In Revenge of the Sith, the 2 duels at the end- Yoda vs. Sidious and Anakin vs Obi Wan are both fantastic, fitting climaxes. In the Senate Chamber, you can see Yoda's fear and frustration- how could the Jedi have not realized Palpatine was a Sith?!? And Palpatine- his plan has worked, he is king of all, he just has to defeat Yoda to take his crown. The battle is fantastic, with the Senate being crushed as both part of the action and as metaphor. Meanwhile, Anakin and Obi-Wan's battle in the midst of an inferno is also fitting, and there is plenty of blame, anger, and recrimination to go around. Obi-Wan winning at the end due to one of the most FUNDAMENTAL concepts in duelling is very proper- Anakin's power drunk attack showed that he lost something important (besides the battle), and he fell. Far. These fights provided a great way to end the sub-par prequels.

Conclusion- Unfortunately, the prequels never quite gel. It is frustrating, as Lucas does get some things right, but loses so much due to bad ideas and decisions. I personally enjoy the prequels, but I KNOW they are deeply flawed. Bad dialogue, humor that falls flat, bad acting, uneven special effects, etc. all combine to weaken the effort. Now, perhaps NOTHING could have lived up to expectations, but that doesn't account for it. I wish that Lucas had let someone else direct based on his ideas- such collaboration could have ameliorated the problems. Again, I can watch and enjoy the films, but they pale in comparison to the Original Trilogy. In the prequels, the Republic is a sham, the Jedi are arrogant fools, and Anakin is a whinny stalker. Now, I don't mind Lucas subverting expectations, but this just doesn't jibe with what he set up in the OT. That is the true nail through the coffin, as it were.

At any rate, we are less than a week away from The Force Awakens. I'll be seeing it Saturday evening with my wife, brother, and friends. I am keeping my expectations in check as much as I can. However, my hope is that it fits with the OT better than the Prequels did. Of course, if they are able to recapture the spirit of OT that would be perfect. And I still wonder if Snoke is Darth Plagueis? Lol

Until Next Time... May the Force Be With You.


  1. Well balanced comments on the prequels where most would have just panned it ... me included. Sadly, The bad parts totally overwhelmed the good parts for me. One thing I agree though, the Maul / Jinn & Kenobi fight was epic. That was what a light sabre duel should look like.

  2. That is what frustrates me about the Prequels- there ARE good ideas, scenes, etc. Sadly, they are overwhelmed by a lot of bad stuff.