Tuesday 2 April 2019

On first viewing the Star Wars prequels (The Phantom Menace, 1999; Attack of the Clones, 2002; and Revenge of the Sith, 2005)

I had avoided these movies because I heard they were not very good - but last week I decided to give them a try after watching Keri Ford's video which mentions them.*

My overall impression is that the Star Wars prequels are worth watching, as an honest and good hearted endeavor. In terms of quality, they start badly, and get better - until Revenge of the Sith is a very good movie - with some outstanding world-building and action sequences.

But it is hard to exaggerate how embarrassingly inept The Phantom Menace can be! - considering it is a big budget movie by an experienced director. At times it looks and sounds like a cheap, daytime soap opera; and its plot is clunky and misconceived. At a basic level - in terms of script, directing and editing - it fails to communicate the story clearly. TPM takes considerable determination to wade-through...

What you do get from these prequel movies is, as I said, seriousness of intent and some nobility of vision. This is worth a lot; and stands in contrast to the recent Disney efforts which (aside from Rogue One - which was very good) are aiming to be no-more-than entertaining froth at best; but at worst are often calculatedly subversive of the depiction of Goodness that is an underlying motivation for these movies.

(I did not really appreciate this aspect in my previous Star Wars reviews. My opinion has been changed by re-watching all of the six early movies (1977-2005) in the past month. In early reviews, I considered the Disney additions simply as stand-alone movies - here, in contrast, as putative contributions to Lucas's Star Wars subcreation, his world building; which I now understand and appreciate better than before.)

The prequel is honest, heroic, takes risks, makes mistakes, demonstrates limited competence in the craft of movie-making - but (more importantly) is on the side of Goodness; in stark contrast with being rooted-in an attitude of cynical, or sniggering, subversion of the original Trilogy.

In the end, the Revenge of the Sith comes through with some moving moments; and a significant understanding of the nature of evil and the corruption of a good-but-flawed man; contrasted, as it must be, with depictions of Goodness maintained in the face of similar temptations, and despite errors of judgment. 

* Keri comments at my Inklings blog; and intermittently produces rambling, strongly New Zealandish, strangely-compelling videos on all kinds of subjects including Owen Barfield - which is how I discovered him. 


Ingemar said...

One of the most unjustifiably vilified persons in the prequel trilogy was Hayden Christensen.

The Star Wars fandom after years of hate have come around to the fact that HC's portrayal of Anakin Skywalker is not entirely his fault. HC went to great lengths to pattern his physical mannerisms to those of David Prowse and his speech cadence to James Earl Jones. Yet the script and the direction don't do him any favors. Try to imagine the greatest British or American actors try to make these lines sound convincing:

"I don't like sand. It's rough, coarse and it gets everywhere."
"I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me."
"Love won't save you Padme. Only my new powers can."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ingemar - As I have said before, bad acting among professionals is very rare - the fault is almost always with the director. In the early prequels, almost all the acting *seems* bad, even among actors that we know are excellent (from their other perfomances), so this tells us that it was a directing problem.

The dialogue doesn't help, obviously! Lawrence Kasdan did the original scripts, and he is (when allowed) an outstanding writer of dialogue (e.g. The Big Chill) - shame he wasn't hired for the prequels, although he has come back for some of the recent movies.