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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.

19 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.

  8. I far prefer Plinkett’s assessment of the prequels, I am sorry to say. Plinkett takes the time to delve into very basic aspects of storytelling and make the viewer understand why they are bad even from a simple construction point of view.

    Tonally, they are completely all over the place. Now, granted, there are sudden and jarring tonal shifts in the original three films, especially Jedi, but none of them are anywhere near as jarring as the frequent shifts in any of the prequels. One minute, the films are expecting us to point and laugh, the next, they seem to want us to cry our eyes out.

    When I laugh hysterically and then cry my eyes out within minutes of one another, doctors generally want me to visit a place where they feed me pills and monitor the contents of my blood for a while. Or to put it another way, there is a reason why you do not make mix-tapes with Iron Maiden’s Fear Of The Dark immediately followed by the Tiny Tim classic Tiptoe Thru The Tulips.

    The prequels are the cinematic equivalent of doing that. And mind you, this is just one of many examples of where the prequels were made badly. “Get help from where? From who?”, or bad story-construction, is another, but I will cut it off here because I do not wish to get into essaying here.

    Do not get me wrong. I have enjoyed the content I have read on this site very much, and the Star Trek reviews mostly hit the nail on the head. But I think most of what is written in this article ranges from slightly to way off-base.

    By the way, you are right in that these are Lucas’ movies and that he can do what he wants to them. But at least Spielberg was man enough to include all iterations of Close Encounters on the BD so the viewer could compare and make up their own mind. I cannot begin to imagine a Close Encounters without the “after this, can we throw dirt in my window?” line.

    Lucas’ refusal to allow his fans to do something similar with his films betrays a serious sense of insecurity on his part.

    • It is a fair point, and I think there is a very sincere sense of insecurity there. There is also something quite petulant in the “here, have the uncleaned original films without ANY restoration” attitude that we got when he did eventually release the films on DVD.

      That said, I still thing that the levels of anger these decisions provoke feel a bit disproportionate. Yes, it would make sense to just release the films. If anything, label them “super deluxe editions” and make a shedload more money off them. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that the re-mastered editions diminish the original films to a degree that merit this level of anger. (After all, there are lots of other films and cult properties that have never – in any form – seen a blu ray or DVD release. The Batman 1966 television show is only due out this week.)

      Similarly, I find myself able to ignore the prequels’ many issues when re-watching the original trilogy – in the same way that I don’t feel compelled to watch them or bothered by their existence. The only thing that comes close to bothering me is the shot of Hayden Christensen at the end of Jedi, and that I can gloss over. I can understand some of the frustration, but I think it is the level of anger that really surprises me.

      • Darren,

        First of all, thank you for taking the time to consider and respond to my position regarding the prequels. I thought I would compose this response because I feel a certain point warrants attention.

        I think you are right when you say that the anger directed at Lucas for decisions like not bothering to restore and release the unmodified films is disproportionate. If these people can get this worked up about films then I wonder if their anger rises further if they are subjected to real discrimination or mistreatment. No, that is not a joke.

        But whilst I no longer get as petulant about specific films’ content, Lucas’ special editions and very special editions (and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull) all play into a trend that has been rising since the mid to late 1990s. Whilst Star Wars was never a RoboCop or Total Recall, it did at least acknowledge that there were adults in the audience and that at least keeping them amused would ensure longevity on the part of the films. These days, everything Lucas touches comes out baby-fied. You can see what I mean in Crystal Skull.

        The other three Indy films, whilst not overflowing with violence and rage, had some great gags where people died in terrible ways as a payback for how evil they were. In Crystal Skull (and all three prequels, and boy has Lucas tried to pull the (very) special editions into line with that), we have generic offscreen kills, bloodless kills, cartoony kills, and… nothing but. No, I do not expect these films to be the second coming of RoboCop (the real RoboCop, not robot cop for babies), but there is a middle ground.

        And that bull with Greedo shooting first is an example of that. In the original cut, Han shoots Greedo dead and announces that he is a hard scoundrel that should not be messed with. It is also a clever not-reference to Tuco’s “if you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk” thing. It gives Han Solo a starting point to grow from. The new versions took that away.

        I am not going to burn Lucas in effigy about it, but I would invite him to consider that when he drastically alters things to be more infantile or “for the children”, he angers a lot of people who are adults now and might not like being reminded of when they were children. Or being addressed and “entertained” as if they are still children for that matter.

        You are also right that there is a lot of material out there that deserves a rerelease and is not getting what it deserves, but I submit that material that is indeed getting released deserves effort to be “got right” the first time. Sony did that with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind by putting all three extant cuts of the film on a disc that can be branched to in an excellent demonstration of the fact that where Blu-ray Disc is concerned, seamless branching can and does work. Even if BD’s seamless branching was as bad as DVD’s, that still leaves the possibility of releasing multiple discs or sets of discs.

        I have not bought a BD in some time because of my present “situation”, but I have had a lot of opportunities to buy the Star Wars discs. The fact that I am more excited to buy Battle Beyond The Stars or TRON is based on the fact that Lucas’ attitude concerning his legacy and his fans kind of stinks.

        Probably the point that I am circling around is that Lucas and to a lesser extent Spielberg have decided that since they have children, everything they make should be oriented at children. I do not have children (my sister does), but the whole “I have children now so everything I make must be baby-ish” mentality is something I would be desperately trying to protect any child of mine from.

        That is why Lucas makes me mad whenever he talks about storytelling. No other screenwriter/director has tried so hard to infantalise his audience and been so petulant about it in the bargain. I cannot speak about why others act so angry or outraged about him, but I offer this huge chunk of text that went on for longer than I was planning as evidence that the venom spewed at Lucas, whilst frequently excessive, does have a basis.

  9. I don’t know if they ruin childhoods, but they’re some of the most poorly made movies ever made. It’s laughable how bad they are, even the special effects are laughably bad. I’d think this even I’d never see any of the other Star Wars films, this isn’t some angry fan rant. They’re just horrible films, the rest of the franchise is irrelevant to that. Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones, Revenge Of The Sith are all awful films that no one should bother with.

    But then again Star Wars itself is kind of lame and shitty. 1D characters who only exist to be stereotypes for a shitty good vs evil plot with all the brainless bullshit that goes with that. Lame characters, lame aliens, lame plots, lame messages, annoying toy robots.

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