A Certain Point of View on the Star Wars Prequels (Part I)

“It is a period of civil war.”

No movie series has ever had such a contentious relationship with its fanbase as Star Wars. The internet/nerd community has fought against its creator ever since he tainted the series with those wretched prequels —

Wait, what? The Prequels are awesome. Those are three of the most underrated movies of the past twenty years. Moreover, in its six-film format Star Wars is better than it ever was as a single trilogy. No, really.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about (harmless) junk like the recent Kinect debacle. Why? Let’s let Lucas explain:

“I am the father of our movie world… Then we have the licensing group… the games, toys and books… I call that the son… Then we have the third group, the holy ghost, which is the bloggers and fans. They have created their own world. I worry about the father’s world. The son and holy ghost can go their own way.”

So there you have that. Before I get in full swing here, I’d just like to say that I’m going against the grain of the site here (btw, thanks Paul!), and it goes without saying that the views contained herein do not necessarily represent the views of Mr. Tassi or Unrealitymag.com.

Ready your torches and pitchforks.

Now, we gotta start somewhere. So what exactly IS Star Wars? Well, it’s a saga that typically defies easy description, but I’ll give it a shot.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”

Star Wars is a modern monomyth. That’s a packed pair of words, so let me elaborate. Many of us have heard the name Joseph Campbell, and the reason is that he’s the guy who posited that there are common elements in all of mythology. No matter what culture originated it, any myth will share characters, situations, and/or motifs that are common to all mythology. A lot of people think this theory folds under scrutiny, and I personally don’t know enough to comment, but this is where Lucas started in ‘77.

With Star Wars, Lucas took these mythological tropes, condensed them, and repackaged them for modern audiences. He used the relatively new medium of cinema and the narrative structure of an adventure serial. A New Hope is an analogue both to Flash Gordon (lasers, spaceships, action, exotic locations) and to an Arthurian myth (magic swords, princesses in castles, wizards, good and evil).

“Your father’s light saber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.”

This, incidentally, is why the Star Wars movies have proven to be so hard to imitate. Just watch a knockoff like The Last Starfighter or the recent Star Trek. They nail the feeling of adventure, but the mythic core is absent. Star Wars struck a nerve like no other movie in history, and it did it through deep truths, not surface theatrics.

“When I make the films, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m teaching on a much larger scale than I would just as a parent or somebody walking through life… I try to be aware of what it is I’m saying.”

The series is, at its heart, about way more than thrills. It’s about good, evil, fate, choice, friendship, deceit, machines, war, democracy, compromise, fear, anger, love, and redemption.

These are huge concepts, every one, yet Lucas dared to cover them all in six short movies. Regardless of how effective you feel the endeavor was, the attempt ALONE oughta be admired. For sheer ambition, these movies are in elite company, sharing the stage with movies like Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. No, really.

Unfortunately, this is what I get the feeling a lot of Star Wars fans want from the series:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjhJcm-lpjc

Yes, these trailers are really cool. Hell, I want to make a lightsaber video myself. Lucas created a terrific world, one that others have had a lot of fun with for decades. But a lot of it is just style-over-substance. There’s no subtlety, nor innovation, nor subtext. It’s just the same cliched uber-serious melodrama you’d find in a dozen other places nowadays, but with lightsabers. The ultimate “expanded universe” entry is the Prequel Trilogy itself, and with it Lucas set his sights higher than anybody expected. No, really.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

This is a trilogy of movies that opens with a kid who just wants to help, and ends with him reduced to a literal shell of the man he could have been. It shows  a republic — no, THE Republic — losing sight of what it stood for in the first place and becoming an empire — no, THE Empire. It’s the story of keepers of peace who give themselves over to war. It shines new light on places we’ve been, and takes us to places we’ve never seen before.

And it dovetails narratively with an iconic film trilogy that was made thirty years ago with surprisingly little complaint.

This is why I think one of the most laughable criticisms of Lucas is that he got lazy with the prequels. How? Even just looking at measurable impact, the man blew open the doors of digital cinema, breaking ground with Episodes I – III much in the same way he did with the originals. The Phantom Menace paved the way for Lord of the Rings and Avatar; Attack of the Clones was the first film of its caliber shot digitally. A hell of a lot of effort and ingenuity went into the making of these movies, and the notion that they were a lazy cash grab just doesn’t hold water.

(Maybe the “lazy Lucas” fallacy stems entirely from what people perceive as poor writing, but even that isn’t indisputable. More on that in an upcoming post.)

“None of the films I’ve done was designed for a mass audience, except for Indiana Jones. Nobody in their right mind thought American Graffiti or Star Wars would work.”

“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.”

Hard as it is to believe now, Lucas didn’t make Star Wars for fans. In fact, he didn’t predict Star Wars would generate any. He broke dozens of rules; nobody understood what he was doing. Sure, he was vindicated and the series has become the biggest pop culture phenomenon in American history, but the fact of the matter is that he looks at the movies as film first, fan-service second. Of course, he probably didn’t think the fans would turn on him for giving them twice as many Star Wars movies as they had before.

Then again, I’m a fan, and I dig the Prequels. I suppose there’s two ways for someone like me to look at the responsibility of these movies. One way is to ask them to repeat the aims and effects of the Original Trilogy. To take Star Wars and make it fresh again. The other is to look at them as the first half of a greater saga, a trilogy that extends, expands, and expounds the existing material of the Originals. Lucas took the opportunity to make a thematically and narratively coherent six-part story, instead of disparate trilogies.

Of course, that means there’s no wise-cracking Han Solo. It means we found out the Jedi might not have been the brilliant, ethically pure order Obi-Wan remembered them being. It means that learning about how Anakin turned to the Dark Side might alter the dark mystery of that character. Expectations were sidestepped; common knowledge was rewritten.

Lucas broke the rules, just like he did in 1977.

“I don’t want things to change.”

The Prequels get Star Wars. The Prequels are Star Wars. The Originals aren’t the only standard to which the series should be held, because the Originals are only half the story now. The Prequels should only be held accountable for what they do for Star Wars as a whole.

I’m out of space for the moment, but I’ll get into some specifics on that note (including dialogue, storytelling, characters, etc.) soon. For now, I just want to put the Prequels in their proper (and oft-misunderstood) context: as they first half of the epic journey that is Star Wars.

 


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