Dear IGN: Millions of People Like the Prequels. Get Over It

At the beginning of the month, IGN published an article by "Sydney-based freelance copywriter and screenwriter" Robbie Boland entitled "8 Things Star Wars Episode VII Can Learn From Episodes I-III." Now, this will probably surprise you, but despite what you might be thinking from the title the article does not in fact discuss 8 positive things the Prequels brought to the world of Star Wars, things the new trilogy would do well to incorporate. No, this article engages in something that's quite rare on the Internet: it cracks on the prequel trilogy, and in a condescending "everyone knows this" manner.

As Inner Dorkdom Prime Directive 3 teaches us, Mr. Boland is free to like or dislike whatever he wants. But, at the same time, others (like myself) are free to like or dislike whatever we want.

And, personally, I'm kind of tired of all the bashing on the Prequels, especially when it's done (as it usually is) in that "it's not just that the films didn't meet with my expectations or preferences, it's that they are objectively bad" way. This article is no exception. Note one of the first sentences:

"Whether you think the Star Wars prequels were a cinematic marvel or a crime against humanity, we can all agree that they had their share of high and low points. Okay, more than their share of low points."

Seriously? Was that second sentence necessary?

Anyway, the purpose of this article is not merely to point out that someone is being completely awesome by acting like they're better than the Prequels. Rather, I want to look at Mr. Boland's points and respond to them. So, if you haven't read his article, please go check it out.

Back? Ok, let's go.

Lesson #1: Please Don’t Make it About Intergalactic Trade and Taxation Laws

He argues that such topics are boring, and that no one wants to see a Star Wars movie about them. He also offers what would have been better (in his opinion, though he doesn't acknowledge this point): Anakin’s quest to “Bring Balance to the Force” by finding and confronting Darth Sidious, a mysterious virus decimating the Jedi, an uprising staged by a malevolent sentient potted plant named Frank would have been more entertaining.

My responses:
1. The Prequels weren't actually about trade and taxation laws. At most they are part of the background to the events of Episode I. But even that film

2. George Lucas was entitled to make the Prequels about whatever he wanted to (ID Primary Directive #4). If he wanted them to have a political aspect to their story, then that was his prerogative. If he, Kathleen Kennedy, and whoever else in charge of Ep VII (incidentally, that list doesn't ultimately include Mr. Abrams) want it to also have a political angle, again, that's their right.

3. I actually enjoyed the political aspects of the Prequels. So, apparently, I'm no one.

4. The political aspects strike me as pretty essential to the story being told. A story that had similar mythic qualities to that of the Original Trilogy, but with added layers of content and meaning. The OT, it seems to me, is about good and evil on the individual level (Luke's journey from thrill-seeking farmboy to noble self-sacrificing Jedi Knight, Han's challenge of growing into a better person than the selfish smuggler he is when we first meet him, Darth Vader's redemption, etc.) The Prequels deal with this as well, but also deal with good and evil on the societal level. (how a free society becomes a dictatorship, the corrupting nature of evil on entire societies, etc.). It is partially these added levels of commentary and meaning that cause me to like the Prequels more than the Original Trilogy. So, far from being hindered by the political aspects, I think Eps I-III are improved by them.

5. I let Josh read the draft of this article, and he pointed out something very much to the point: how are you going to tell a story about a guy (Sidious) rising to power (from Senator to Chancellor to Emperor) without dealing with politics?

Lesson #2: The Comic Relief Should Actually Be, You Know, Comic

He says that the idea of including comic relief in the films for kids was a good idea, it's just that Jar Jar wasn't funny. Not just that he didn't find him funny, mind you. But that no one, including presumably the kids, found him funny. He says, "When every single person who watches The Phantom Menace for the first time wonders, “Why doesn’t Qui-Gon just stab him to death with a lightsaber?” you probably haven’t nailed the comedy sidekick bit."

My responses:
1. I didn't wonder why Qui-Gon didn't stab Jar Jar. So, clearly not every single person thought that.

2. Even if I'm not annoyingly taking his words literally, I just don't think his claim holds up. There were many people, not just me, who had no feelings of hatred, animosity, or contempt for Jar Jar on their initial viewing of Episode I.

3. Mr. Boland concedes that Jar Jar was included as comic relief for kids, yet refuses to acknowledge a rather relevant objective truth. That is, kids did find Jar Jar funny. So...yeah.

4. Jar Jar's goofiness is, it seems to me, essential to one of the messages or points of the Prequels, Episode I especially. That is, be careful about judging people superficially. The annoying, weird looking goofball who you might write off as just a pathetic lifeform that would be served well with a lightsaber to the back might turn out to be a loyal friend and just the person you need when the going gets rough. He's the Wicket, and the Gungans the Ewoks, of the PT.

Lesson #3: Sometimes Less (CGI) is more

He says there was too much CGI in the Prequels. CGI is good when "used somewhat sparingly, or to enhance practical effects and real world settings." But too much is bad. In particular he refers to the boredom brought about from watching two CGI armies featuring CGI characters you don't care about fight. CGI armies going at it can be found in all the Prequels, but his reference to CGI characters you don't care about suggests he's thinking of Episode I again.

My responses:
1. It's possible to have too much CGI for my tastes also. So I don't think this point is completely devoid of any merit.

2. The thing is, the "too much" line is going to vary from person to person, and will depend on a number of factors, including what their threshold of "realism" with CGI is.

3. Same goes for what constitutes "sparingly."

4. Enhancing practical effects and real world settings? I'm sorry, but this is Star Wars we're talking about. A franchise with exotic unrealistic locales populated by strange creatures and amazing machinery. Given that, I'm not sure his request is doable. Is he saying they should have built a real working General Greivous robot, and then just CGI'ed in some greebly bits or his beating heart or something? Should they have built actual droid factories, and used CGI to add in extra conveyor belts? Do you put a feathery-lizard suit on a horse, take it to your Utapau set, and tell Ewan McGregor to "just hold on tight"?

5. I'm glad the Prequels used CGI. Certainly some effects shots hold up better than others. But the pioneering work done by ILM on those films had led us to where we are today. And besides, without the extensive CGI work found in the PT we wouldn't have been able to see many of those new places, creatures, and vehicles.

Lesson #4: Do, or Do Not (Act). There is No Try.

Predictably, like many cool people before him, he criticizes the acting. He even calls it wooden. However, he does include a bit of a twist that I don't recall encountering before. He argues that part of the reason for the bad acting, besides George Lucas' directing, was due to poor casting. For example, he loves Samuel L. Jackson, and would loved to see him as a bounty hunter or rogue Jedi who swears a lot (I'm not kidding) and plays by his own rules. But he was dissappointed with Mr. Jackson as "a venerable Jedi Master who sits on a chair and offers sage wisdom." He contends that J.J. Abrams needs to "cast the right people in parts where he can get the most from them."

My responses:

1. Have you not seen Episodes II or III? You do realize that the Prequels consist of more than just Episode I, right? I say this because Ep I is the only film where Mace Windu does nothing but sit in a chair and offer advice. In Eps II and III he's involved in giving orders, conferring with Yoda, fighting droids and decapitating bounty hunters, leading armies, not trusting Anakin, and attempting to arrest Darth Sidious.

2. I liked Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. He brought to the character a great mix of stoicism with quiet intensity just under he surface that I don't think we would have gotten with another actor. And, maybe this is just me, but everytime I see Mr. Jackson in a movie, I don't expect/demand him to just reprise his role of Jules in a different wardrobe. "What ain't no planet I ever heard of. They speak Bocce on What?"

3. In general I thought all the casting in the Prequels was great.

4. I really don't think JJ Abrams by virtue of directing Ep VII is going to be in charge of casting.

5. Just a point about the general claim of "wooden" acting. What I think people fail to see and/or acknowledge, is the possibility that the mannerism of these characters are purposeful decisions, not the results of bad acting. Perhaps the Jedi, being a peace-keeping spiritual order, don't talk and act like the Avengers. Perhaps people who have spent half of their lives in political office likewise don't act like our next-door neighbors.

6. Samuel L. would play a great bounty hunter, no doubt. But the Prequels weren't about bounty hunters. They were about the fall of the Republic, the extermination of the Jedi, and the fall of Anakin. Thus, if Mr. Jackson is going to have a prominent role in the Prequels, it's not going to be as a bounty hunter.

7. A swearing rogue Jedi? I figure this, as well as much of the rest of the article is embellished for [sic] comedic effect. But really? Do some people have no understanding of what the Jedi are supposed to be?

Lesson #5: Use the Force (Better), Luke!

Apparently so. He was disappointed that the Jedi in the Prequels didn't wow us with their amazing Force-powers. What we saw in the OT was supposed to be, "the tip of the iceberg." But the Jedi in the Prequels didn't do anything new or overwhelming. It was "the same old Force pushes or Force chokes." My suspicion is that he was expecting/hoping for something along the lines of the way Jedi are presented in the EU.

My response:
1. The EU has not portrayed Jedi in a manner consistent with what George Lucas envisioned them to be. In the EU they do indeed have these amazing powers, like superheroes. But that's an area where the EU simply got it wrong. It's unfortunate that people read the EU and then were disappointed that the Prequels didn't gel with it. But, it is what it is.

2. I'm glad that the Jedi aren't all Superman, or even the X-Men. The balance of their abilities and their limitations makes them interesting, and actually relatively unique among fiction.

Lesson #6: We Need Heroes We Can Invest In

He says the characters of the Prequels are not of the sort that audiences can invest in. Everyone has favorite characters from the Original Trilogy, but not from the Prequels. Nope. None of those characters were, "believable," with, "real problems and personalities." Also, he says that the Prequels didn't have a clear protagonist throughout all three films.

My responses:
1. Obi-Wan. Followed by R2-D2, Yoda, Anakin, Mace Windu. And, I know you can't see me, but coming up with that list did not involve me making poop faces.

2. "Believable" is apparently in the eye of the beholder, because I didn't find the characters of the Prequels any less believable than those of the OT.

3. As for the "no clear protagonist," 1) Just because you don't meet Anakin until 35 minutes into Episode I doesn't mean he can't be the protagonist of that film. 2) Just because Qui-Gonn dies at the end doesn't mean he can't be the primary protagonist of the film. 3) Even if it were the case that the Prequels have no clear protagonist, I would say to that, "....and?" I don't get how this is a criticism, per se. The story of the Prequels is a bit more nuanced and complex, and it ends with a major tragedy. That often doesn't lead to a film series with one clearly defined hero from the first scene to the last.

Lesson #7: And Bad Guys Who Actually Kick [Butt]

He complains that Maul was the only cool villain in the prequels (wow, I've never heard this before). The battle droids were too awkward, Dooku was too old, and the 4-armed cyborg (wait, that sounds kind of cool) had a tendency to cough (that's better, everything is fine now because coughing is so lame). Vader was so intimidating, which was cool in itself, plus it implied that the Emperor must be super bad-news. When Luke lost to Vader on Bespin, he was outmatched.

My responses:
1. What about Sidious? You know, the guy who later, when he was older (and British), would be Vader's boss? Yes, he didn't pull out a lightsaber until Ep III. But the guy was able to take over the entire Republic, convince the public that the Jedi were evil and their extermination a necessity, and manipulate Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, into severely injuring his wife and turning his back on her, his mentor and best friend, and the only life he'd known for 13 years. Maybe that's not butt-kicking in the literal sense. But I'd say that it is butt-kicking all the same.

2. Anakin was clearly outmatched on Geonosis. Dooku cut off his hand, just like Vader would do to Luke. So why doesn't that count? Why is he not a butt-kicker because he's old and has a British accent? I personally thought Dooku was a great villain.

3. I also thought Greivous was pretty impressive as a bad guy. In fact, that's one of my few disappointments about The Clone Wars. It showed us that Grievous wasn't as all-that as we initially thought.

4. As Josh read the draft of this article, he pointed out how the totally awesome Darth Vader was sometimes a little on the underwhelming side in the OT (case in point: the duel between him and Obi-Wan on the Death Star).

Lesson #8: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This Dialogue

He says the dialogue was awkward, pointing to the Anakin and Padme "love scenes" as prime evidence. He says that the new films don't need to rehash the OT's Han/Leia, or the "same will-they won’t-they Luke/Han bromantic vibe" (again, I'm not kidding). But there needs to be more quotable banter, a believable love story, and a legitimate spark between the characters.

My responses:
1. I don't think anyone can deny that the style of dialogue that is predominate in the Prequels is of a different style than the OT. There's more formality and less snarkiness.

2. Again, I don't know why people chalk it up to 'George Lucas can't write dialogue' and don't even consider that the characters of the Prequels are of a much different sort than those of the OT. In the original films we had farm boys, smugglers, gangsters, bounty hunters, and a princess who was one by (adopted) birth, not choice. In the Prequels we had Jedi, lifelong politicians, reclusive aliens, and a couple of bounty hunters. Different characters speak in different ways. Maybe people don't like the way characters in the Prequels speak. But that doesn't make the dialogue bad.

3. I also don't know why people chalk it up to 'George Lucas can't write dialogue' when he wrote Episode IV.

And there it is. Eight supposedly horrid things about the Prequels and my take on each one. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, I am,

 - Nic

Posted on March 18, 2013 .