The Prequels, Revisited

As you all know, the podcast episode where Mike and I rank the Star Wars movies is coming up and that has caused me to have to watch the prequels all the way through.

The fact that they stink is not worthy of discussion. This post is about how good the original films are (well, the first two) and how confounding it is these two tight, fast paced thrillers were made by the same guy who made the bloated, slow-moving carcasses twenty-five years later.

Just look at the run times. A New Hope clocks in at just under two hours, even less if you skip the dumb ceremony at the end.

Look at what A New Hope accomplishes in the first 26 minutes:

  • Attack on Leia’s ship
  • Explanation of the plans for the death star
  • Escape of the droids
  • Introduction of Darth Vader
  • Droids on Tatooine
  • Droids captured
  • “Help me Obi-Wan Kanobe…”
  • The truly magnificent two suns moment/score

What does Phantom Menace accomplish in the first 26 minutes:

  • Introduce the Trade Federation (super racist) vs Naboo
  • Introduce the Jedi
  • Introduce the Gungans (Ugh, so extra racist)

That’s it. The whole point of the prequels is to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side. We’re a half hour into the movie and haven’t even met him yet.

We are 1:15 minutes (and one VERY LONG POD RACE) into the movie before they confoundingly take him off Tatooine and leave his mother in slavery because they “don’t have enough money” to set them both free.

There is a lot of action in the prequels but nothing much actually happens.

That’s the first problem. The second problem is the writing. All dialogue is done in declarative sentences that sound like they’re from separate conversations or could be spoken in any order.

Where is the sparkling repartee from the first two movies? Yes, there is some of that wooden dialogue in there, but there’s also some great back and forth with Han & Leia and Han & Luke. Maybe the problem is there’s no Han. And no well written character to fill his shoes.

Pacing is another problem. For some reason, we are bombarded with tiny informational scenes that easily could have been cut out. How many times do we have to see someone approach a door before then switching inside the room to see them come through it?

Young Anakin is another big problem. I don’t know what Lucas thought he was going to get out of a story about a 9yo but high powered acting could not have been it.

Luke was 17, the prime age to go off adventuring. Anakin is too young and his circumstances are, frankly, bizarre. He leaves his mother in slavery and goes to learn the ways of the Jedi? But his loneliness is not even a component of the story. They forget about his mother until they need her in the next movie.

One of the drawbacks of having your IP bound by Canonite Fanbois is you can’t take advantage of new ideas. Imagine the story someone could tell about an adult Anakin who was drawn to the dark side. The reason The Mandalorian and Rogue One are so good is because the creators were free to a large degree to tell new stories. The reason Rise of Skywalker sucked is because it drowned itself in fan service.

At the end of Phantom Menace, we’ve invested 2:15 in order to watch a supremely silly battle between a droid army and the Gungans. The boy has met Padme. One of the Jedi (the interesting one) is dead. And there’s a hint of the corruption happening in the Republic.

I can understand now how Topher Grace was able to edit the prequels down to a single movie. There is so much fat which is truly inexplicable when you realize the same guy did the first two movies which were mostly lean.

I haven’t watched Return of the Jedi in 30 years, but if I remember correctly, the problems started there. So I guess I’ll watch it now and see if that’s the case.

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