I’ve heard a lot about the prequels. Mostly negative, mostly that I should avoid the first one at any cost. But as I said in my intro post, I want the full experience. Skipping would not do. I went in forewarned, armed with a bucketload of popcorn, and ready for anything. However bad a trainwreck, it had to be done. And I was curious – will I hate them as much as everyone else, or will my opinion be unexpectedly positive?
I don’t think that I’m going to say anything particularly new – which is hard to do with movies as well known as these anyway – but I hope the reviews will at least be entertaining and result in good discussion.
The Phantom Menace (1999)
I went into this movie with one single burning question: Can it really be as bad as everyone is saying it is? Even among the prequels, The Phantom Menace is notorious, the movie with a capital-R Reputation. Nearly everyone seems to agree it’s shit, which seems like a miracle.
And in the end, I too have to go with the consensus on this one: It sucks absolute ass.
My bafflement began with the opening crawl. Wait what? Trade routes? Why am I supposed to care about trade routes? Why is this suddenly being about space politics? What? Why? And it only got worse from there. I was ready for a “so bad it’s good” trainwreck, but it doesn’t even have the decency to be an amusing trainwreck; no, it commits the cardinal sin of not only being garbage, but also being boring as shit.
For one, it suffers from a serious identity crisis. On one hand, it tries for relatively serious space politics – at which it, of course, fails miserably. On the other, it goes way too hard for kid appeal. The result is an incoherent, unenjoyable, horribly paced mess. To say Jar Jar Binks grated would be the understatement of the century. The detour to Tatooine and pod racing went on for far too long. During the about half an hour long battle sequence in the end, I was bored enough to be counting down the time left – and some of my favourite parts of the originals were space battles!
Even from a purely technical viewpoint, it’s in every way inferior to the originals. The voice acting of any alien character is terrible. It broke my suspension of disbelief every single time. And don’t get me started on the special effects. Despite being newer than the originals, it aged worse. Instead of practical effects (give this a watch, it’s awe-inspiring), with which I had only the occasional very minor quibble, they seem to have used CGI. And it being 1999, the CGI looks like shit.
And then there are the midichlorians… 🤦
About the only good thing about it was the costume design. As someone who follows perhaps too many historical fashion accounts on twitter, queen Amidala’s elaborate dresses were a constant delight, and other characters (both major and extras) weren’t at all shabby either. Nothing comparable to the red guards in my eyes – I’m not sure anything can compare to the red guards – but nice to see all the same.
I mean, look. I know that those movies were made to sell toys, to the point I feel kinda dirty watching. And, obviously, I can’t say what would it be like to have seen it as a kid, if I might have liked it better then – which is the whole point of this post series. But if you’re going for a cash grab, at least have the decency to make it not fucking suck. It’s not mutually exclusive! The originals are highly entertaining space cheese with plenty of great moments, The Mandalorian is actually a great fucking show, but this is just…sad.
Attack of the Clones (2002)
This was the entertaining trainwreck I was looking for. I found it nearly as bad as the previous movie – but at least it was bad in a genuinely hilarious way.
Anakin is now a teenage Jedi trainee. And oh my god is he an obnoxious kind of teenager – arrogant, dramatic, angsty, and every line of dialogue that comes out of his mouth is somehow more hilariously cringy and worse than the last.
His interactions with Padmé are perhaps the worst offender (“My heart is beating hoping that the kiss does not become a scar” is an actual, serious line). I have complained about Han Solo and Leia in the originals, but for all the awfulness, at least a badass politician + a badass smuggler makes sense. I don’t see why would Padmé – an experienced politician – go for a whiny, petulent Jedi trainee with a godawful haircut who says the most horribly cringy things and has some very naïve and odd ideas about politics. And as soon as she falls for him, she gets plenty of cringy lines of her own! Just…why? What the fuck?
The movie is also very visually busy. The amount of lightsabers and people and blaster shots and spaceships and just plain stuff on screen during every fight scene is distracting and unnecessary. Plus, the CGI continues to be nearly as godawful as the writing.
Pretty much the only redeeming features are that 1) the plot makes somewhat more sense than the previous movie, the identity crisis is gone and 2) the sheer terribleness of the dialogue gave me many, many laughs.
Note: I have been recommended to watch the 2003 Cartoon Network Clone Wars cartoon before the third movie, but quit not even 20 minutes in because the non-stop pew pews and visual busyness were giving me an actual-I’m-not-shitting-you headache. I never expected to encounter anything that would be non-metaphorically painful to watch.
I plan to watch the 2008 one after I’m done catching up with the movies, there will probably be a separate post for it and Rebels.
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
And finally, we’re back to proper space cheese!
I don’t know if it’s really better or if the previous two movies have just lowered the bar into the very ground, but I enjoyed this one a lot more. I got a couple “just you wait, it gets worse” type comments during my watchalong, but nope, my opinion held.
The plot arc, broadly speaking, is fantastic. Unless you’re watching it for the first time in chronological order (and even then, you’ve probably been spoiled), you know what happens in the end, that heroes fail, that the empire rises, that Anakin turns into Darth Vader. And I was still along for the ride almost every step of the way. A tragedy is unusual for the general genre and tone it’s going for.
The CGI has also visibly improved. There are still some rough and artificial looking spots, but landscapes and cities and most of the droids are, at last, passable. A minor and in my opinion, kind of unnecessary villain called General Grievous is probably the worst offender – he looks and sounds and acts like some videogame boss. Jarring and impossible to take seriously in a live-action movie.
Because the trouble is in the details. Again. The drama factor is turned up to eleven – every single fucking thing happens in the most over the top way possible, the dialogue continues to be…not the best, and everyone is hamming it up to oblivion. And I don’t mean just the “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” scene at the end. I don’t even think I could have pointed out one most absurd example. Anakin, naturally. Palpatine, of course. General Grievous (I mean, come the fuck on) with his four stolen lightsabers…let’s not even start. It was fun and popcorn-worthy, but I do wonder how good could have this concept been with proper writing.
It’s no wonder it spawned as many memes as it did.
Overall, I think the prequels mostly deserve their reputation. As much as I would love to be able to say otherwise and have an unpopular positive opinion…nah, sorry, they totally sucked. I’m glad I watched them. Ranting about them was a ton of fun, they do have some good bits, being able to get the memes is great, and nothing seems to bring fans together as much as complaining about the prequels. Still, they’re not something I would rewatch – with the possible exception of RotS.
The main problem with Star Wars movies so far seems to be that the big picture – the world, the alien races, the plot if you put it in bulletpoints – is fantastic, but the execution tends to be lacking. Especially when it comes to dialogue. With the prequels this is even more obvious. Yes, I do want to see how one of the most iconic villains came to be! But I can only start to imagine how damn good they could have been if someone else handled them. Alas.
As for my favourite one scene wonder, the red guards, they still barely make an appearance (one three-second scene in AotC or two short scenes in the case of RotS, though the only thing they do is fall over unceremoniously), which I thought was a shame. And the only thing they do is fall over!
I’m now even more excited to watch the sequels. I am going to change the planned order a bit and leave Rogue One and Solo for later to be able to catch Rise of the Skywalker in theatres as soon as possible. Hopefully, they will raise the bar again!
Bonus: Popcorn recipe. Because you need it.
While I was watching the prequels, I learned of a rather odd, but very effective method of making popcorn that produces god-tier results (evenly salted!) and requires no special tools. And since the prequels and popcorn go together like Jedi and lightsabers…
It goes like this:
Take a large glass or ceramic bowl. Put in 5 tbsp of popcorn kernels. Dissolve cca 1 tsp of salt in 5 tbsp of warm water, pour in, stir a bit. Basically, as many tbsp of salted water as of corn. Cover with microwave-safe plastic foil with holes, stick in microwave for 7-8 minutes.
Finally, try not to inhale it all within the first 15 minutes 😛