So I finished watching the Prequel trilogy today. Yay! Good times. Somewhat.
...OK, so, The Phantom Menace. Let’s dive right in, ok? OK. The acting is really bad. It's been a long time and I don't remember ever noticing how bad the acting is here. This is a cast that should be able to perform far better than they do. Liam Neeson is in this fucking movie! That makes me think the problem wasn’t the actors but the directing. It’s bad. Real bad. Every line of dialog in this movie exists to point out the obvious or to explain away some contrivance that exists because George Lucas thought it would be cool. There are ways to weave a good story with “things you think are cool” and this ain’t it. This movie is the very definition of “plot points for the sake of something you thought was cool”. Roughly a third of the movie exists just for the purpose of getting young Darth Vader in the film. If you wanted to write a movie about young Darth Vader, then fucking write a movie about young Darth Vader. You could have stolen Hero With A Thousand Faces again and turned the entire thing on its head, thematically. Instead you wrote a political movie where the politics are bland and/or stupid.
George Lucas writes terrible dialog and awfully obvious contrivances, but he has a good sense of how to pace out a movie and a great sense of how to make a good action scene. And, most importantly, George Lucas is perfect at pacing out those action scenes. He knows when to start them, how to start them, how long they should go, how to escalate them, how to make them look really fucking good, and how to pull the camera back so that you can actually understand how the fight is moving along instead of zooming way in on their faces (lookin’ at you, Lord of the Rings). Where people are, who is doing what, that sort of thing. If any part of these movies hold up, it’s the cinematography and framing and such. I mean, I’m not a film expert, there’s a million things I could be missing here, but I thought it all looked great. It ain’t Ridley Scott, sure, but it’s still upper echelon action scenes as far as I’m concerned.
While we’re at it, John Williams’s score in all three movies is great, possibly a better score than the original trilogy, possibly the best score he’s ever done. Despite the stupid story beats, awful dialog, and unlikeable characters, every time John Williams wants me to feel something, I feel it. It’s good. It’s great. The score and the action are the two parts of this trilogy that are consistently, genuinely great and they float the whole trilogy.
...but anyway, why the hell does Qui-Gon bring Anakin along for the battle? Why on Earth wouldn’t he have asked the Jedi Council to hold him or something? Surely there’s someone around who can watch and feed the kid for like a week or two? Surely the Jedi Council would be interested enough in a kid with the highest (sigh) midichlorian count ever seen to keep the kid around?
And where did this prophecy come from anyway? Who made it? How are Star Wars prophecies made? Why does it hold such sway over the Council? George Lucas doesn’t seem to have cared, he just wanted it to be there. It doesn’t even need to be there for the plot to work, you could throw it out and lose nothing. NOTHING!
And how is Jedi Mind Tricking not a Sith skill? Listen, making Stormtroopers believe these aren’t the droids they’re looking for is fairly harmless, but tricking a leader to allow you to essentially steal their submarine thingy isn’t exactly appropriate for the goody two-shoes paragon-of-virtues monk order.
OK, look, if I keep questioning leaps of logic like this we’ll be here all day. I enjoyed The Phantom Menace. It’s a bad movie and you shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t. But I had fun. I enjoyed the bad parts for their badness and their good parts for their goodness, leaps of logic and third-rate JRPG level dialog be damned.
...actually, hold that latter bit. I need to save it for the next bit.
Attack of the Clones. Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. I know I have to every time it’s time to talk about this movie.
I didn’t like this movie when I was ten, I didn’t like it at all as a teenager, and I like it even less now. Anakin Skywalker is a shitty person. He’s a shitty dude! He’s that guy that thinks he’s the best thing in the world and when someone tells him that maybe he oughta look in the mirror he gets all pissy! He’s written like an angry twelve year old! He’s awful! And he’s a creepy bastard. There are a few scenes where Hayden Christensen has such a leering stare at Natalie Portman.
Most of this movie involves Anakin taking Senator Amidala to Naboo to protect her after an assassination attempt. Yes, Senator Amidala, no longer Queen because she reached her term limit... wait a second. She was fourteen in the first movie. And a queen. An elected queen. Queens aren’t elected, but more importantly, who the fuck elects a 14 year old!?
Anyway, look, you can sum up this subplot entirely at that fireplace scene. I don’t even need to expand on it. I’m not exactly a master of words, here, but how does someone write that, look at it, and go “yeah, this is good stuff!” Ugh.
But let’s talk about Obi-Wan for a moment. Obi-Wan is great. Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of the character is the hero I’d want to follow for an entire franchise. Charismatic, smart, likeable without being a roguish type. Great guy. The slight bit of detective Obi-Wan we get here is the best part of this whole movie, followed by chasing and fighting Jango Fett. That spaceship chase scene in the asteroid field is awesome and the best example of what I meant by George Lucas pacing an action scene. It’s slow at first, no music, Jango lays down these mines and right before they blow, all sound from the movie is drowned out and then they go BWAAAAAHHHH like a decade before Battlefield trailers were doing it. It looks great, it sounds great, I enjoyed it immensely, or perhaps I was merely enjoying the reprieve I got from the torturous “romance” scenes. Either way, it was good, best scene of the movie and one of my favorite action scenes from the prequels. It doesn’t get enough love, probably on account of being sandwiched between the worst writing and acting Star Wars has ever seen.
And finally, Revenge of the Sith, a movie I genuinely liked.
Listen, the dialog here is also bad. There’s some “romance” scenes between Anakin and Padme, but they’re short and there aren’t all that many of them. Those plot holes and leaps of logic and contrivances are all here and they’re all present throughout the movie...
...but also, it’s got the quippiest Obi-Wan of the whole trilogy. It’s got the most fun action scenes and the best meme content. It’s got the Darth Plagueis tale, which would be cringe-y if I didn’t believe that Ian McDiarmid wasn’t treating this whole thing as a try-not-to-laugh contest. It’s got the most consistent tone of the whole trilogy as well.
When it finally ends, when it shows Padme’s funeral procession, when Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Senator Organa are discussing what the hell they’re supposed to do now... it actually all felt tragic. Despite all the garbage dialog, stupid plot holes, and shitty Anakin being obviously awful, I cared about what was happening. Unlike The Phantom Menace, I didn’t walk away from it surprised at how much worse the acting felt. Unlike Attack of the Clones, I wasn’t diving into Discord and Reddit for the sake of my sanity. Revenge of the Sith kept my attention the whole time and in a good way.
None of these movies are good. I mean, Revenge has a lot of stuff I enjoyed in it, but I still hesitate to call it a good movie. They deserve a lot of the hate and ire they’ve received and if I had seen The Phantom Menace when I was in my twenties instead of when I was 9, I think I’d have hated it, too. But I have the power of nostalgia with me, and re-watching these movies didn’t totally break it. Perhaps someone twenty years from now will post a blog or something proclaiming that they still enjoy the Sequel trilogy despite all its flaws and I will read it, flabbergasted that anyone could enjoy that garbage. (I think I might actually hate The Last Jedi).
...anyway, I watched A New Hope last week so now that I’ve finished the prequels, I’m going to go watch the good Star Wars movies. I don’t think I need to write anything up on those, I watched them sometime last year and came out feeling like they do, indeed, hold up. Except for that god-awful musical number in Return of the Jedi. Gonna skip that. That can burn in hell.