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A Long Time Ago: The Star Wars Prequels Did Not Ruin Your Childhood…

This weekend, Fox are beginning their process of re-releasing Star Wars into cinema, converted into 3D. I’m fairly agnostic on the idea. I like the idea of eventually being able to see The Empire Strikes Back again in the cinema,but I’m withholding judgment until I see the post-conversion 3D in action. Part of me does think that it’s a mistake to begin with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, if only because it’s the weakest entry in the franchise. I would have liked to see the re-release following the original release order. Still, the fact that the franchise is once again invading theatres seems to have stirred up a lot of underlying resentment, from the core fans who seem to have been struggling with Lucas’ three prequel films – many claiming that the writer and director’s decision to revisit the franchise has retroactively ruined their childhood viewing experiences. It seems that, to fans, the original trilogy are almost tarred by association.

To be entirely honest, it’s hard to take this argument in any way seriously.

Feel the power of the dark side...

I should be honest here. I don’t hate the prequel trilogy with the burning passion that many fans seem to. Indeed, I’m not as completely in love with movies as many of my fellow film geeks seem to be. I think that Lucas has crafted half of an interesting and compelling trilogy with his three prequel films. The first film is pretty bad, and the first half of the second film is almost at that level of quality. However, I think that the end of the second film improves dramatically, and the third film is a significant improvement on that. Still, it isn’t the quality of the films in question that I want to discuss – it’s the notion that somehow these three films retroactively ruin the original trilogy.

I should also concede that I can see how George Lucas’ infamous tinkering on those three classic films might have upset some fans. While I actually seem to adopt a more favourable position toward Lucas than most (in that he owns the movies, so he can do what he wants with them), I respect how some people might be put off that the original cuts of the films never received the same picture or sound enhancement as the reworked iterations – eventually grudgingly release on DVD almost as workprint versions. While I can understand how fans might be upset that they can’t get the original uncut films at the quality they would like, that’s an issue distinct from the three prequel films.

Getting on board...

The internet seems to be populated by people who grew up watching the original films and ended up lamenting the fact that Lucas dared to produce three prequel films. It’s very hard to stumble across any discussion of these three newer films (or, indeed, the three older films) without somebody making a snide remark about how Lucas “ruined [their] childhood” by developing and executing a prequel trilogy that wasn’t up to the standard of the original three films. I’m not going to dispute that the films weren’t as good, but I am – quite frankly – tired of all the constant bitter griping and moaning that goes on and on about them.

So, to those fans, I offer the following advice: Don’t like? Don’t watch.

Woah, let's not point fingers...

Okay, that sounds like a bit of a copout. It’s an argument that could be used for virtually any situation where people have complaints – an attempt to shut up those who would disagree with the mainstream too loudly; I should probably clarify what I mean when I say that: “Nobody is forcing you to watch those films.” If you want to watch them, and compose a legitimate listing of their flaws and problems, that’s grand – I welcome discourse and debate.

There’s a lot of worthy discussion to be had about these films. Did Lucas populate them with racist stereotypes? Was he wrong to involve himself in all aspects of production? We’re all familiar with the superb feature-length criticisms of Lucas’ work from Red Letter Media, and it raises valid and constructive points about Lucas’ prequel trilogy. I’m not trying to say that people should stop discussing or examining the films, because they’re an important part of the pop culture landscape.

Electric backlash!

However, it has been over a decade since the trilogy began, and I am just exhausted of hearing the same old bitter rants time and time again. If the very existence of the prequels offends your constitution so much that it ruins something that you used love… then don’t watch them. If the original trilogy makes you happy, then don’t let the prequels ruin that for you. I’m a big fan of the “whatever makes you happy” philosophy, and I am glad that so many people derive so much joy from those three films.

Maybe I’m just a romantic at heart, but the world would be a much happier place if we focused more on what we enjoy than on what we loathe. I’m not suggesting you pretend that you like them. I’m merely suggesting that there’s no reason why their existence should affect you more than you let it. If you can’t talk about them without suppressing a gag reflex, or anything so melodramatic, then simply don’t buy them, don’t talk about them, ignore them.

Fans tend to kick it into hyperdrive...

Nobody is ever going to force you to watch them at gunpoint. Even if somebody puts a free copy in your hand, you can always give it away to somebody else. Surely the people who spend so much time ranting and raving about how much they hate those original three films can’t want to feel like that. That bitterness and the bile isn’t constructive to anybody. It isn’t going to ever make you feel better, and it won’t ever completely wipe the prequels from the face of existence.

While I can understand the repeated criticisms of trends in popular culture, I don’t see how George Lucas’ prequels are so critical and negative an influence on the industry that they deserve the preoccupation that nerd-dom seems to have with them. I don’t think any filmmakers are claiming they’re going to make “the next Episode I!”and need to be convinced of the error of their ways. Science-fiction and fantasy are still very much the red-haired stepchildren of the Hollywood franchise machine, so it’s not as if there are hundreds of Star Wars prequels waiting in the wings, and it’s up to us angry nerds to fend them off with our collective willpower.

Get your lightsabers ready!

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s fair to criticise them. I think that they deserve a fair amount of the criticism they receive. However, there’s just something so toxic about the way that the internet seems to react to them, something so violent and basic in that reaction that it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I think it’s fair game to criticise and to pick apart the films, but I can’t see how anyone benefits from dwelling on them so completely. It makes me feel more than a little bit sad to look at people who used to love something so completely and so passionately, only to see that love turn to hatred so unnecessarily.

It was, after all, a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

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14 Responses

  1. I think what we get upset about Lucas ruining (or at least I do) is the potential the prequel films had.
    We wanted the prequel films to be great, and to enrich the original trilogy. Instead, they were really, really terrible and now the opportunity to make a watchable prequel trilogy is forever lost.
    I still enjoy the original trilogy though. The prequels can’t ruin that. Though some of the damned awkward edits are annoying.

    • I don’t know. I was always skeptical of the prequels – if only because we already knew the ending. Not in the same vague way we know good will triumph in most Hollywood films, but in a more precise “the following plot points need to be positioned” sort of way. So I suspect that’s why I’m kinder than most to them.

  2. At the end of the day Return of the Jedi was just as bad as anything the prequel trilogy offered, though Attack of the Clones was terrible.

    A New Hope has aged poorly as well, but I certainly don’t blame others for disliking A Phantom Menace.

    • Yep, I’ve noticed a lot of hate for Attack of the Clones. I think it was both best and the worst of the prequels (better than the best of Revenge of the Sith, worse than the worst of Phantom Menace) coming out pretty average.

      Although I – and I feel terrible confessing this – like Return of the Jedi more than the original Star Wars, and I’d put Revenge of the Sith as in the same tier as those two overall.

  3. My sentiments exactly.

  4. Great article, Darren, and although our views might differ in parts, I think you’ve succinctly made your point clear.

    For those reading this, for a little bit of a larf, can I humbly offer the following link to an article written for Anomalous Material, which will offer a slightly more virulent argument (and I wrote a pretty decent response to it towards the bottom) about Lucas and Star Wars: http://www.anomalousmaterial.com/movies/2011/09/an-open-letter-to-the-angry-star-wars-fans/

    Nice work Darren, and thanks for the link!

  5. It’s almost impossible to compartmentalize the prequel trilogy due to Lucas’ shoehorning in retcons to the original trilogy and basically the digital alterations in general. if George Lucas released High-definition copies of the original trilogy as it was before 1997, virtually all of the hate towards Lucas would disappear overnight. The prequels would be forgotten, and all would be right in the world. :)

    • Is it wrong I’m now imagining that montage from Return of the Jedi after Lucas makes an announcement of that nature?

  6. I loved this post! I don’t hate the prequel trilogy at all. I also don’t rabidly love the original trilogy either. Lucas was crossing boundaries with the first trilogy all on gut instinct and natural born skill. He created a phenomena that he might regret more if he could go back and change his route in life. Adults that were kids back then have unrealistic expectations for the prequel trilogy that in no way can ever be met. If you ask a kid from today if they adore the prequel trilogy you’ll find most if not all (those not tainted by their parent’s opinions) love the prequels. Adults wanted Darth Vader to come from an evil place and it was never going to happen that way. Lucas warned people back when he completed the original trilogy that fans would not love prequels as much as the original trilogy. They were always going to be highly political stories about a child becoming evil. Do I find the prequel stories flawless – no – I especially dislike the middle film and Natalie Portman after the first. As for the changes to the original trilogy I think fans are over reacting due to their disappointment in the prequels. If they’d loved the prequels then they’d have loved the changes to the original trilogy.

    Why spend life frustrated at unrealistic expectations in the first place? If you have a kid and they loved the movie (the audience the prequels were always made for, not fans of the original trilogy) then settle down and be the adult you are.

    Anyway my two cents. hehe :) Again great post! Cheers…

    • Thanks!

      I was just thinking, right, if I had a young relative and i wanted to show them all six films, in what order would I show them to them? Hm… I sense another post coming on.

  7. In my opinion, all the Star Wars movies are good. Maybe it’s because I didnt grow up with the original trilogy. Or maybe it’s because I’ve only seen the prequels, and thus I like them. I just got the prequels on DVD, and I got to watch the originals on TV. In my opinion, the quality(digital-wise) of the prequels is much better. Digital animation gave the prequels the thing I like about them: Larger-than-life characters,locations,etc…. The tech. My favorite thing about the originals are all the explosions. Death Star: BOOM! Starfighter: BOOM! Random Building:BOOM! Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is my favorite character throughout all the films.Maybe it’s because I saw the prequels first, and so I see Darth Vader differently. I can sympathise. Obi-Wan is my favorite character from The Phantom Menace. All in all, all of the films stack up evenly. BTW, who can’t wait to see the new Star Wars movies? Even though they’re Disney, and I don’t like Disney because I think it’s too childish, that’s my opinion on the Mickey Mouse and all the cartoons. They made Pirates of the Carribean, produced Power Rangers for a while, so Disney can be good sometimes. When more comes out about Episodes VII-IX, I’ll decide whether I want to see them or not.

    • I don’t mind Disney. They can be fantastic. Some of their stuff is amazing – The Lion king, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I am wary of the next trilogy, though. And I will concede I liked two of the three prequels more than most.

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