OK, I know my title is already causing some readers to object and/or question my sanity. I realized that when I wrote it. I didn’t want to write some cutesy blog where-in I bury the lead somewhere near the bottom. So, just in case there’s some doubt, let me assure you that:
–yes, I really do prefer the prequels to episode 7; and
–yes, I am talking about the “Star Wars” movies.
In our culture, saying you like something over something else—especially when discussing anything even vaguely art-related like movies, books, paintings or music—far too many people assume that what’s really being said is, “I like that one and hate this one.” So no, I didn’t hate Star Wars 7 (sometimes called “The Force Awakens”). I even saw it in the theater three times and I liked it more each time. Overall, though, I think my opinion of it is best summed-up by someone I overheard while exiting the theater following my second viewing, “Well, that was the seventh-best Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen.”
I am not here to bury or praise Caesar, or SW7, for that matter. I might get to what I liked and didn’t like about it—depending on how I’m feeling in a few minutes—but my first focus is to give some basic reasons why I liked the prequels. [Notice: there’s an assumption here that the original trilogy is almost universally liked. Of course, some people don’t like it at all but, among us die-hard StarWarsians, the original trilogy is very well thought of. I find this interesting because, from about 1984-1998 I frequently read articles by people who didn’t like “Return of the Jedi”. Then, they had something else to throw aspersions at, so “Jedi” fell into good graces and poor Richard Marquand finally got to rest easy in his grave.]
But I liked the prequels. I even (this will make some more heads explode and I don’t really care because I doubt their loss will negatively affect the gene pool in any way) liked Jar-Jar Binks. I didn’t want more of him, but I thought he did what he was supposed to do: provide some slap-stick and comic relief for the kids. I remember when my children first saw The Phantom Menace. They were enthralled with all of it, but got a special kick out of this goofy, gangly, funny-talking Gungan. Was he Shakesperean? Of course not. But for my money, he was far less annoying than C3PO is in any given appearance of the golden droid.
Which isn’t to say I ever wanted to do bodily damage to good ol’ 3PO. He’s funny, he’s occasionally helpful, but he is always rather prissy, like an upbeat Marvin. R2D2 is cool, of course, and I think it’s clear that the movies generally hold him back. (Was this the real reason he has such a limited role in 7? The fear that he would take over?)
People complain about the politics of the prequels; namely: there’s too much politics in the prequels. I never have shared that complaint. Were the debates in the Senate as interesting as, say, watching Darth Maul get de-lowerhalfatated? No, but they weren’t supposed to be. George Lucas had created this grand saga about a whole galaxy and the politics of that galaxy informed the action. Back when Governor Tarkin said the Emperor had dissolved the Senate, we all wondered what the Senate was—how did it operate? if it existed at all, how does a ruler disperse with it and still keep things together? didn’t those who were disbanded object? And then, when we saw the Emperor in “Jedi” (and glimpsed his hologram in “Empire”), we wondered, “How’d that creepy-looking freak get to be in charge?!” We’d heard rumors about Obi-Wan fighting Darth Vader on the edge of a volcano, but what happened to that old dude?
And, as I watch through the prequels (and read the books about George’s early drafts of all of the 6 original movies), I see an overarching story, with themes that rhyme (Eps 5&2 rhyme, then 6&1, then 3&4 tie up the poem) and the decades-long story of a galaxy’s change-everything war told through the eyes of a single family (and their droids).
I even like the dialogue in the prequels. Where some people complain—to the point of seemingly giving themselves bowel problems—about the dialogue between Anakin and Padme, I am impressed as a writer with what Lucas attempted. It’s just the typical story of the girl from the right side of the tracks who’s falling for the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks/galaxy. Do people really talk like that? No, but that’s the point: this isn’t southern California. These are a royal and a knight on a far off world. They’re not supposed to talk like the people you live next to! Did Lucas perfectly capture what he was going for there? Maybe not fully, but that brings me to a point where I have to mention 7.
Some of the things I have just mentioned that I liked in the prequels, I find missing in 7. Now, maybe, when 8 & 9 are out I’ll look back at 7 and see that it wasn’t just the world’s longest trailer, but was actually a quality launch-point for an inventive and well-told trilogy. Right now, though, I’m looking back at the prequels and seeing that Lucas tried (and, for me, succeeded) in both filling in a back-story and staying true to an incredible vision and I compare that to 7, which strikes me as the best …
I keep thinking back to a friend I had back in elementary school who lived down the street. He came from a rough home (pretty sure there was some abuse there) and loved to find solace by escaping into Star Trek, Space 1999, etc. When Star Wars came out, it became his world for several years. We both had a few action figures (which would be worth nothing now because we played with them ‘til they fell apart) and he had this idea of taking an 8mm movie camera and making a stop-motion version of “Star Wars” with our figures. Not a new story. He was mapping out how to create every scene from what would later be called “A New Hope”. It was going to be nothing more than a remake, a tribute, with no originality at all—at least as far as story went.
We went our separate ways in junior high, but it dawned on me while watching 7 that maybe my friend finally got his wish because someone went and made the best fan-boy copy-movie ever. With millions of dollars and the world’s best special effects guys (apparently), they went out and created a really beautiful tribute to (mostly) “A New Hope” with nods to “Empire” and “Jedi” thrown in. Even the official magazines of the movie tell of how the director and co-writer of the movie walked around NYC and Paris, talking about the movie and I picture one of them saying, “Remember that scene with the mynoks in ‘Empire’?” and then the other guy says, “Yeah! Let’s make the mynock bigger and put it on the front of the ship!” And on and on they went until they had created a visually stunning but creatively rehashed movie. Instead of continuing the poetry, if I may mix metaphors, it seems more like they’re just a really good cover band that just can’t quite capture the magic of the original song.
It’s making millions of dollars. Billions, even. People love it. “Rey” will probably jump up to the top 10 of names for little girls and “Finn” will be in the top 20 for boys and the percentage of people naming their sons “Poe” will jump from .000001 to .000002 overnight.
But I still like the prequels better than 7. When Obi-Wan says that what they’re going to do with the obvious trap is spring it (right after what gets my vote for the best space-battle ever filmed), I get a smile just thinking about it. As the pod-race goes on a little too long, I still crank up the sound to feel that thump-thump-thump noise in my chest. As the Jedi prove to be far more vulnerable than we had thought on Geonosis, I wonder why we’re surprised when Obi-Wan told us long ago that the Jedi were all but extinct—they had to have lost somewhere along the line and lost big.
I think it comes down to the fact that George Lucas’s vision caught my imagination, through all six movies but, to re-use my metaphor from earlier, the work of this cover band is good for a cover band, but it’s not really the way I want to hear the song.
In case you’re curious—and I can’t imagine why you would be, but since you’ve read this far—the “Star Wars” movies arranged in order of my preference would be 4-5-3-2-6-1-7. The order I usually watch them is still 4-5-6-1-2-3 (and then 4-5-6 again) though there’s something to be said for the idea of watching them 4-5-1-2-3-6, as if 1-2-3 are Anakin flashing back to what led him to that moment where he hacked off his son’s hand.