30 Jan 2017

Misconceiving The Star Wars Prequels


SPOILER WARNING: The first six Star Wars movies.

You know the drill by now - the Star Wars prequels suck. They're flashy, CGI-infested pulp sci-fi stories with annoying wooden characters that make stupid decisions. It seems I would get into these arguments a lot several years ago, but nowadays a lot more people tend to be turned away from the idea that the prequels were good. Maybe it was because of the resurgence that came with The Force Awakens. But no matter what people think, one argument that always seems to come up is that the prequels had "amazing lightsaber battles".

These so-called battles are often described as "exciting" or "dramatic" by fans of the prequel trilogy. I'm not one to shit on people for having different opinions to mine (at least not today), but I can't help but disagree with the idea that the lightsaber battles were anything more than boring filler nonsense. It all comes down to one think: emotion.

You see, the reason the lightsaber battles worked so well in the original trilogy was because there was some emotional stake involved. The first battle we see is on the Death Star between Vader and Obi-Wan. You can sense the tension between the two before Obi-Wan even ignites his saber. It's weird to see that Vader went from ripping apart a corridor full of rebel soldiers to that, but think about it. These are old friends-turned-enemies, and both parties mutually knew Vader would overpower and kill his former master - hence the fight becomes more like a formality or sign of respect, a chance for Obi-Wan to go out with honour. It'd be too cruel even for Vader to deny a Jedi that. It's the sensitive weight this fight carries that gets us to care about it.


This was probably the most important scene from the entire saga.
Then there's the fight between Vader and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, which is Luke's first big test in his journey to becoming a Jedi and eventually culminates in the revelation that the Sith lord is his father. Luke goes into the fight believing that he's been caught by Vader, possibly killed by him, but continues anyway to buy his friends some time to escape. Instead, Vader sees his skill with the Force and wants to recruit Luke so they can bring order and peace to the galaxy. By this the point, the viewer is probably concerned for Luke, scared that me take Vader up on that offer. It distracts from the actual revelation that comes moments later. "No, I am your father."

It was a discovery that caused many jaws to drop in 1980.

The third and final lightsaber duel in the original trilogy comes at the climax of Return of the Jedi. While it is split between three different conflicts, we view the stakes at the battle in space and the battle on Endor on a larger scale, while the battle between Luke and Vader on a smaller, more personal level. These are characters we've followed since the beginning. We've seen Luke grow from a lonely farm boy, to a Rebel hero, to a Jedi Knight - and here comes his final test. The fight in Return of the Jedi is a lot more interesting than in Empire. Just look at the way he enters Jabba's Palace. Wearing all black, hiding his face, and acting very mysterious; he's in a different place than he was at the end of the previous movie. One may suspect he is turning over to the dark side, which is something we see a lot of in the final fight. Vader battles Luke, and the way he responds is so aggressive. The Emperor keeps encouraging him to allow his emotions to control him, to release his anger to defeat his father. Luke, of course, refuses to give in - but he finally does when Vader threatens him by using Leia against him. This sends him over the edge. He screams, he charges at Vader. The two engage in a short but powerful fight that ends in Vader losing his hand. He comes back to his senses, and realises what's done. He is a Jedi, and won't be turned.



We know how the movie ends; the Emperor realises Luke cannot be turned and so he instead decides to destroy him. This pushes Vader to realise what he really cares about; his son. The emotion here is so personal, and incredibly powerful. I imagine a lot of fathers saw a great deal of empathy in Vader's actions here. I don't want to say he exactly redeemed himself, but from that point until his death he absolutely came back to the light side. It's a beautiful way to end the trilogy.

The prequel trilogy on the other hand? It lacks the same values. First off, were there really any characters in those movies that we cared about on the same level that we cared for Luke, Leia, Vader, Han or Obi-Wan? Take a look at the lightsaber fight at the end of The Phantom Menace. Was Qui-Gon Jinn really that cool? Sure, he was played by beloved actor Liam Neeson - but the character himself had no real personality. As a member of the audience, do we care if he lives or dies?

Attack of the Clones features a large battle involving dozens, if not, hundreds of Jedi. Again, most of these characters show up only for this scene. The battle is supposed to be the lead-in for the Clone Wars, and we definitely get a good idea of the scale, yet it was a case of showing a lot about a little. The original trilogy managed to portray battles so vividly because they mostly followed our heroes on a personal level. When we see Luke doing the trench run at the Death Star, we get a feeling of how scared and overwhelmed he feels, and it makes his inevitable trust in the Force a lot more believable. The battle of Geonosis follows random Jedi after random Jedi and it has no coherence or motivation behind it.



And finally, the worst one. The battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. I say this is the worst one because the sequence goes on for fucking forever. There's a case of dramatic irony at play here, because we all know the result. Obi-Wan wins, Padmé gives birth to twins, and Anakin becomes scarred, disfigured and is required to wear the iconic Vader suit. Considering the emotional weight in the fight between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope, this fight just seems largely pointless. There isn't even anything in the original trilogy that even implies Palpatine and Yoda fought, so that battle also reeks of Lucas' madness.

The lightsaber battles in the prequel trilogy were simply created to be flashy, CGI-ridden extravaganzas. When Lucas was writing the films, he clearly forgot what made them so captivating to begin with; that the personal burden behind each and every action scene. Star Wars went from using violence in complex, impassioned ways to throwing out as much as possible. This is the problem I have when people tell me that the action was the best part of the prequels.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Additional Links