The new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, opens on the 17th of December and like most sad auld bastards that saw the first Star Wars film on a cold December night in 1977 I’m positively excited for a new film that looks like it might, just might, be decent at least.The reason for this severe trepidation is the rightfully maligned prequels that started with the complete mess that is The Phantom Menace.
I decided to go back and rewatch all the Star Wars films, and to be fair, the prize for utter ineptitude does go to Attack of the Clones (more of that in a bit) but The Phantom Menace isn’t as bad as I remember it, which to be fair, isn’t saying much as it’s still a terrible film. But I get what Lucas is trying to do by making it an accessible kids film (which is what Star Wars should be) but a film that opens talking about taxation and trade sanctions becuase there’s nothing I loved more as a kid than to talk about taxation and trade sanctions.
Now for a brilliant criticism of the prequels I suggest going to Red Letter Media and looking at their excellent (and funny) reviews because they’re the best reviews of the prequels I’ll ever see. For myself the problem I had with The Phantom Menace was that after seeing it with a load of mates when it first came out, I (like probably millions of others) didn’t say ‘it’s shite’ but lied and said I enjoyed it. That’s not to say there’s good in it. The pod race is fine.The end lightsabre battle is fine. There’s the odd decent scene,I even don’t mind Jar Jar Binks and certainly don’t hate the character because it’s a kids film, but it’s painfully, tediously boring.
The Phantom Menace is dull. For an action-adventure film that’s death but it is. From the opening crawl there’s a lot to take in that’s tedious because here’s the thing; I go to a Star Wars film to escape things like taxation, not have it as a major plot point!
Yet the film could have been saved if somebody had the bollocks to tell George Lucas his script was rubbish. I mean, at what point did he really think that Padme (a girl supposedly in her late teens) would fall for Anakin (a child not even in his teens) in a relationship that is the core of the prequels? It’s all a mess and I recommend watching the making of documentary because you can see it all unfolding in front of you as if it was an episode of The Office, but instead of Ricky Gervais, it’s George Lucas as it’s star.
I once drunkenly came up with a better plot years ago. Naboo could be blockaded because it has some MacGuffin it refuses to share with the bad guys and the bad guys are cracking down on Naboo because they’re bad guys. We’re introduced to Padme from the off as a wise beyond her years leader, who is rushed off planet to protect her but her chief pilot is killed by whatever is more effective than those shite robots, so young Anakin steps up to fly them out of the blockade and to any safe backwater where they can meet with the Jedi sent to help protect them and bring them back to Coruscant.
From the off we see Anakin as a ‘great pilot’, a good guy and Padme is taken by his heroism, plus you could play up a Princess and the Pauper vibe here so you’re making it clear this is a fantasy film as opposed to a tax return. When they meet up with the Jedi, they see the force is strong with him but they need to get off planet so you still have your pod race and all that before Darth Maul turns up and chases them across the galaxy as he tries to kill Padme.
Then the film goes pretty much as it does except you’ve curbed all the bollocks about L’il Anakin, and you’ve got a more exciting first half of a film that doesn’t involve people standing around in rooms talking and talking and talking.
But if The Phantom Menace is rubbish, Attack of the Clones is just inept.
Like the previous film there’s some decent set pieces that are fun I suppose, but on the whole I just look at it and think that poor old Ewan MacGregor thought these films would be more fun than they were. The big problem with Attack of the Clones is Hayden Christianson.He’s not a particularly bad actor, nor is he a good one but he’s a young actor here speaking some complete pish for dialogue not to mention being badly directed.
Lucas does at least realise his faults. He introduces Christopher Lee as Count Dooku as the central baddie here, but if Lucas had planned ahead he’d have stuck Dooku in the previous film as a bit of bait and switch. Make audiences watching this in order (episodes one onwards) think that Dooku is the baddie that turns into the Emperor and make Palpatine the real phantom menace. Of course if you’ve seen the films in order you’d know who the baddie really is, but it’d have been fun to see a mystery unfurl for fresh viewers. Nah, Lucas didn’t think of that. He just threw in lightsabre fights (oh that Yoda fight, dear god, that Yoda fight) , big creature battles and lots of shite that looks like cut scenes from an average PS2 game.
Attack of the Clones sucks. It’s a bad, bad, bad film. By now though Lucas has at least realised he needs to have his characters in certain places by the end of the prequels but because he’s clearly not planned all three films out carefully, he throws virtually everything into the last prequel, Revenge of the Sith.
This is the least bad film of the prequel. Again there’s some decent set pieces, but it’s a bad film. MacGregor at least has a bit to do as an actor, but he’s chronically wasted in these films but at least here he’s allowed to act a bit rather than just say his lines and then fuck off to have a wee cry in his trailer.
Problem is that by now thanks to Lucas being unable to think ahead, everything gets crammed into it’s running time so Anakin being a great pilot and a hero? Cram that in quickly. Padme being pregnant? Cram that in quickly. The end of the Clone Wars? Cram that in quickly. Anakin turning to the Dark Side? Cram that in quickly. The death of the Republic? Cram that in quickly?
Yet Lucas has time for a lightsabre duel between Anakin and Obi Wan that should have been the emotional centre of the prequels. It should have been epic instead of tiresome. At no point did I give a single flying fuck about anyone in this duel and instead I remember sitting in the cinema wondering if this was a good sign that the film could nearly be over and I could nip for a piss. Nope. Once the duel is over, there’s more exposition crammed into the final minutes of the film including the extraordinarily offensive Padme death scene where she just dies because the story requires her to. Here’s where my drunken idea idea at the time can be repeated. Padme and Anakin have a psychic link because although Anakin is strong with the force, Padme is also sensitive so they link with each other utterly. They could have set that up in the previous film so you’d have all these romantic scenes played out without the need for terrible dialogue. Just allow actors to act.
Anyhow this bond would weaken if one was threatened with death and you you could establish at the end of the second one that as Anakin is having his arse handed to him by Count Dooku that Padme is also affected. So going into the last one when Anakin turns to the Dark Side, it acts as a cancer in Padme that starts to kill her faster as Anakin commits more and more atrocities in the name of Darth Vader until the moment he puts on the armour and then she dies as the Dark Side infects her system completely. Effectively Anakin kills his beloved Padme but by this point Anakin is gone, replaced by Darth Vader. Play up the fantasy/fairytale aspect. It’d have been grim, but still within the rules set up by the series and for people watching it in order that haven’t seen the original films it sets Darth Vader up as one evil bastard.
But no, Padme just dies a pointless empty death. Darth Vader does his McBain scene, the films end, the credits roll and those of us with full bladders empty them in an act symbolic of the prequels themselves as after all they were full of piss too.
The Star Wars prequels are examples of dreadful filmmaking not to mention how to take a talented cast, not to mention a much loved idea and waste it because nobody’s sat down and even done a basic plot of all three films. People aren’t excited by endless scenes of people sat down at desks talking unless you’re David Mamet writing something like Glengarry Glen Ross then it’s dynamic but Lucas should never have been let near scripting or directing these films. They’re the cinematic equivalent of being stuck between floors in a lift knowing you’ll move eventually but you’ve not worked out when you will, but you’ll get there.
Thankfully signs are that J.J Abrams has at least worked out in advance with his collaborators where the new trilogy will go so there might be a bit more going on, but one thing to come out of revisiting the prequel trilogy is that I have no urge ever to see these films ever again. I don’t think I could manage to sit through them again without falling over like a dead Padme.
Next up, the original trilogy gets rewatched…….