Let me draw a line in the sand here and now. This will upset some of you, but it’s an argument I’ve been making since many late nights in college amongst beer, food and friends.
I hate the Star Wars prequels.
If you ever come to my house, you’re free to use my Wi-Fi. The password is “theprequelssuck.” It kills my wife when I share the login details with her normal friends, and it’s my way of constantly reinforcing my opinion amongst the Star Wars faithful in my life.
I hate the prequels for myriad reasons. Anakin is awful; I’d argue he’s worse than Jar Jar Binks, though it’s close. The special effects are over-the-top in a bad way. Lucas managed to axe the best villain in the arc during the first movie rather than keep Darth Maul around til the end.
Don’t even get me started on the politics. Watching the prequels was like tuning into C-SPAN in space with commercials about podracing.
But, and I’ve shared this with a few of TechnoBuffalo’s staff, my real derision for the prequels comes from their lack of good relationships and central characters. Beyond the special effects, episodes IV, V and VI each have a unique theme: a constant main character and a supporting cast of great friends. That’s what makes it work.
The space, the battles, the Force and the crazy aliens wouldn’t hold up without the relationships central to the story line, and that’s exactly why I feel like the prequels were complete and utter crap.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Luke
Mark Hamill, as much as I love the man for Star Wars and his roles in almost everything after, was not a great actor. He’s become exceptional, especially with voice acting; however, Luke was pure cheese of the cheapest quality, and most of Star Wars fans will totally admit that fact.
With that said, Luke was absolutely, without a doubt the main character in episodes IV, V and VI. Each film contained a nice and succinct arc for Luke, and his look, mood and motive progressed over the whole course of the trilogy. Luke slowly turns into a similar version of his father as the films move forward, and this was absolutely done on purpose.
He gets his father’s old blue lightsaber from Obi-Wan in A New Hope, he loses a hand and becomes part cyborg in The Empire Strikes Back and he dons all black in The Return of the Jedi. George Lucas and the creators of the original trilogy were able to dedicate extra special attention to Luke because of the pure narrow focus of the films.
The original trilogy is tight, simple, easy and relentless in its presentation. It’s about a single theme, good conquering evil, amidst a chain of friendships. That’s all it is.
The original Star Wars trilogy holds up because of the relationships it presents. Three friends, Han, Luke and Leia, go on an adventure. Set it in space, under water, in the wild west or the big city, it doesn’t matter. The core motion of the story relies on these three friends and, in particular, Luke’s growth.
It’s funny, sad and fantastic whenever things happen to those three characters because we’re so intimately involved with their motives. We all breathed a sigh of relief when Han shows up at the Death Star to blast the TIE Fighters off of Luke’s back in the trenches. Han’s not so bad, right? We all shuddered when we learned who Luke’s father was. That moment is one of the most empathetic and shocking in cinematic history. When Leia and Han do finally get together? We were happy then, too.
These friendships presented a foothold for viewers in a galaxy far, far away. We were able to enjoy the craziness around us because we could relate to the simple joy between three friends. It’s what made Star Wars work.
Who’s The Main Character In The Prequels?
Well, who is it? Who’s the protagonist? Who’s our hero?
Unlike Luke in the original trilogy, there’s no single and identifiable character that viewers are meant to side with throughout the duration of the prequels. Arguably, it starts as Anakin, the young hopeful boy looking to rise out of slavery and into the world of the Jedi. Through horrible writing and acting, Anakin becomes little more than a whiny teen and a terrible punchline. His growth isn’t nearly as remarkable as Luke’s, and he winds up burning all of his relationships.
Is it Obi-Wan Kenobi? I’d argue it is, though that doesn’t come without lots of questions marks. Old Ben, before he’s Old Ben, serves as Anakin’s mentor. He’s undeniably good throughout the trilogy, but he shows flashes of an uncontrollable youth with Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi-Wan is the only person we really root for. Everyone else is sort of a mess.
That lack of main characters means that we, the viewers, struggle to focus on a single person or group of people in the films. The relationships that were so crucial to the original trilogy, that trio of friends, are lost in a sea of space politics, pod races, intergalactic battles and discussions of trade blockades.
Think of how many characters play “big” roles in the prequels. Anakin, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, Boba Fett, Jango Fett, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Maul, Palpatine, Yoda, that guy Samuel L. Jackson plays, Padmé Amidala, Count Dooku, Jar Jar, General Grievous, you get the point? It’s not like these characters each have passing scenes and small segments like, say, Admiral Ackbar. They are pivotal people in the prequels, and we spend a lot of time with each of them.
It’s too much. There were way too many nuances and distractions in the prequels. All that weight and bluster made the flicks hard to enjoy like the originals. The simplicity vanished, and in its place was fake complexity.
We Need Friends in VII, VIII and IX.
That’s it, for me. The prequels failed because they’re missing the central ingredient of friendship. There’s no one to focus on, no group dynamic to come to terms with and nothing to break the relentless boredom of political discussion.
We knew Anakin and Padmé were going to get together because, well, we have Leia and Luke. We knew exactly what was going to happen with Obi-Wan and Anakin because we all saw the original trilogy. The bad news? Those were the best relationships in the prequels. They were the best, and they were boring.
Episode VII needs to bring back the simplicity of friendship. Before Abrams and company get to saving the galaxy one more time, we need to fall in love with another Luke, Leia and Han. Their dynamic needs to be just as good as the one we had in the original flicks. If they can do this, if the new cast is up to presenting that friendship, the new trilogy could be amazing.
Happy May the 4th, fellow nerds.