It’s with no small amount of irony that I, of all people, compose this list of hate against George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy. During their production, as each released, and in the years since, I have been quite the prequel apologist. There are several aspects of the films which deliver, and perhaps that will make for a follow-up to this list in the near feature. However, with the knowledge that six new Star Wars films are coming in as many years, and seeing how Disney has thus far chosen to treat the property, the flaws of the prequel trilogy seem more relevant than ever.
On the one hand, these criticisms serve as warnings for J.J. Abrams and the rest of the creative team working on Episode VII, the film which will set the tone for those to follow. On the other hand, it’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Star Wars brand that the franchise may yet flourish despite these missteps.Here are the top 10 reasons the Star Wars prequels sucked:
10. Digital Everything
When Jurassic Park hit theaters in 1993, it proved beyond any doubt that computers could generate graphics so lifelike that filmmakers would henceforth be empowered to create anything they could imagine. As with similarly industry-shaking technological developments before it, like the advent of talkies or the arrival of color, the years that followed saw heavy emphasis on the new methodology.With the possible exception of James Cameron’s Avatar, there may be no greater example of computer graphics gone wild than the Star Wars prequels. The problem is, when the whole world is clearly fake, it doesn’t matter how good it looks. That’s a lesson applied by Peter Jackson in his Middle Earth saga, where judicious use of computer graphics supplemented practical effects, physical sets, and real locations.
9. Shiny New Galaxy
One of the stark contrasts between the original trilogy and the prequels lies in the overall aesthetic applied to props, costumes, ships, and architecture. In the originals, everything was roughed up. Scuffs, dents, and faded colors all contributed to a “used universe” look which differentiated Star Wars from much of the science fiction which came before it. The idea that outer space means spick-and-span really has no conceptual merit. Thus, Lucas’ aesthetic choices in those first films lent them a certain authenticity.
8. Boba the Clone
Boba Fett endured as one of Star Wars’ most beloved characters ever since his cryptic first appearance in the televised 1978 Christmas special. The character’s appeal was due more to what we didn’t know about him than what we did. That mask, that rarely used voice, and his singular purpose made us wonder – who is this guy?
Who would have guessed the answer was this: a clone of another bounty hunger who served as the genetic template for the mass-produced soldiers that would eventually become Imperial stormtroopers? Did seeing Fett as a ten-year-old boy in Attack of the Clones improve the character’s enigmatic image, or tarnish it? The answer probably goes without saying.Just be thankful Lucas didn’t follow through on his desire to place a teenage Han Solo as Chewbacca’s youthful ward in Revenge of the Sith.
7. The Sith That Weren’t There
It’s said that film is the art of showing, not telling. Expository dialogue telling us that a character is smart, scary, nervous, or whatever the case may be proves far less effective than the visual portrayal of a character exhibiting those traits.
In the case of the Sith, their evil took dramatic visual form in the person of Darth Vader. We didn’t just hear about what a horrible guy Vader was. We got to see it. We watched as he raided rebel bases, tortured a young princess, and ruthlessly assassinated incompetent subordinates.
6. The War That Wasn’t There
Consider these two excerpts from different opening crawls. First, from A New Hope:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel ships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
Then, from The Phantom Menace:
Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.
Which gets you more excited?
For a saga called Star Wars, there’s a conspicuous lack of warfare in the prequel trilogy. Episode I ends with a skirmish between klutzy droids and even klutzier amphibians. Episode II ends where the Clone Wars begin, and Episode III begins with the Clone Wars’ end. It’s like watching a movie about Pearl Harbor that’s not about the actual bombing.
5. Zero Charm or Chemistry
Another stark contrast between the original trilogy and the prequels can be seen in the colorful personalities on display in the former versus the stiff wallflowers featured in the latter. Han Solo has no analog in the prequel trilogy. Neither, really, does Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker.
Anakin is clearly intended to evoke his son, with similarities in origin, appearance, and story arc. But actors Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen never convey the same sense of earnest wonder or eager heroics that Mark Hamill did.
4. Lame Jedi Order
The Jedi Order suffers the same fate as Boba Fett in the prequel trilogy. The air of mystery surrounding Alec Guinness’ portrayal of Ben Kenobi, and the sage wisdom of the hermit Master Yoda, led audiences to believe that the Jedi were towering magical figures committed to justice for all.By contrast, the Jedi seen in the prequel trilogy end up deserving their fate. Aloof, insensitive, and apparently blind, these knights of the old republic fall to the obvious machinations of a single and far more competent Sith. Indeed, the prequels make old Ben and recluse Yoda far less endearing. Instead of powerful agents of the light, clinging faithfully to the galaxy’s last hope, they emerge from the prequels as hapless victims of their own arrogance who ultimately fail even to guide Luke in the true will of the Force.
3. Lame Battle Droids
How do you get killer robots wrong? Just copy James Cameron, who proved the concept in Terminator. Recall the cold hard reality dished to Sarah Connor by her frayed protector, Kyle Reese:
Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.
That’s the sense of dread which should have been evoked by Star Wars’ battle droids. Instead, we got bumbling and half-assembled toasters which seem barely capable of crushing a bug.
2. Yippie Little Annie
The prospect of exploring the adventures of Anakin Skywalker, doomed to become the Sith villain Darth Vader, held no end of promise. Unfortunately, little of that promise was delivered.
Again, I get Lucas reasoning in taking us back to Anakin’s youth. He wanted to emphasize the tragedy of Vader by showing us the earnest, sympathetic, and capable young boy he once was. But again, that could have been done in several ways without compromising the integrity of the character.In the end, Anakin’s prequel arc portrays him as a manic-depressive who never should have been entrusted with responsibility of any kind. Instead of the good-natured child who fell into bad choices with good intentions, Anakin turns on a dime with no rational motivation whatsoever.
1. Jar Jar Binks
Lucas has defended Jar Jar as essentially no worse than C-3PO, who provided comic relief throughout the original trilogy. That fails to recognize the real complaint. People don’t hate Jar Jar because he’s funny. They hate him because he’s not. The Gungan proves fairly useless in any given circumstance, and that’s at his best. At worst, he’s a liability so destructive that his only redeeming characteristic is accidently hurting an enemy.
He even leads a vote in the Senate to empower the galaxy’s greatest dictator. Threepio he is not.