Could the Star Wars prequels have ever been accepted?

Brian G Turner

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Often it's difficult to appreciate a piece of art and its influence relative to the times.

While Star Wars has a strong mythic element and a real attention to small details that could make a film successful in its own right, I've often wondered if it wasn't mostly down to the visuals?

In 1977, space was still a great frontier we could only look at through telescopes. It was the year the Voyager missions were launched - missions that would provide the stunning images of the planets that we now take for granted.

And yet, from the start, Lucas presents space as an ordinary reality - one we can experience for the first time properly in film. Using locations, instead of sets, helped enforce this sense of reality.

Yes, there were sci-fi films before Star Wars - but I've yet to see one present such a compelling image of other planets - from space, and within their atmospheres - as Lucas did.

It wasn't just the big visuals, either - there were simple details that made it all the more real. When Luke watches Tatooine's double suns settings, I was astonished at how they did that - the suns looked real, not like special effects! And Lucas easily maintained that suspended disbelief.

Of course, everything was established in the opening shot - we saw a moon in the distance, then a bigger moon, and then see the edge of another planet's atmosphere! Then we are surprised to see one space ship - then astonished as another almost fills the entire screen. Lasers rage. Explosions go off.


Space has suddenly become incredibly exciting.

And we're seeing it as something new.

But by the time of the Phantom Menace, space no longer seems very new - Voyager has given a view of the planets of our solar system, and the images are now routine.

Various films have gone by that also use locations instead of sets for other worlds.

We've seen all this before.

The only thing that can be new is the story.

But even if the original Star Wars was released today, new and unseen, I'm not sure many people might regard it so highly.

And if that's accepted as the case, then how could any prequel really work?

Though I'm not a great fan of them, I can see Lucas trying to push boundaries - try to show us new things.

The new films could never live up to our expectations, because we still clung to that image of Lucas showing us something new and unseen. It would be impossible to repeat within the same universe he created.

It was inevitable that the new films should disappoint.

But. Now we have the first of the new sequels next year. Perhaps our expectations have finally been tempered? Or will these inevitably disappoint, and make those who saw the original cinema screenings simply feel old - for having been there at the beginning, to wonder at something new?

 

HareBrain

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But even if the original Star Wars was released today, new and unseen, I'm not sure many people might regard it so highly.

Probably not. I don't get very much out of them when I rewatch them now. But there is, nonethless, something archetypal about them. And they have real, larger-than-life characters. I'm not sure what the characters in eps 1-3 are larger than, but it's not life or anything like it.

Though I'm not a great fan of them, I can see Lucas trying to push boundaries - try to show us new things.

Absolutely. He starts a supposedly epic sci-fi film with a trade dispute**. That's never been done before. Or since. One wonders why.



** A trade dispute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

Jo Zebedee

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Horror! I think they'd still be popular. It was the characters and the actors that made it work. The settings were great, of course, but no one sustains interest over three films without a good, old people story, and the one in Star Wars is pretty timeless.
 

Vertigo

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Horror! I think they'd still be popular. It was the characters and the actors that made it work. The settings were great, of course, but no one sustains interest over three films without a good, old people story, and the one in Star Wars is pretty timeless.
The question though was about the prequels not the original three, Springs.

I would have to say that being as generous as I can possibly be the prequels are still massively inferior to the original three (and whilst they were ground breaking and I loved them even they don't really stack up against the likes of 2001 or Aliens IMO). So no, I don't think they could ever have been good films.
 

Brian G Turner

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He starts a supposedly epic sci-fi film with a trade dispute

I was thinking more in terms of the general visuals - trying to realise different worlds in their splendour. Unfortunately, the CGI never fully integrates.

And remember the Gungians (Jar Jar's people) had shields at the end of Phantom Mence to protect the Gungans from droid blasters? Is it my imagination, or does this technology conveniently disappear in later films? Or did the Gungans just jealously guard the patent? :)
 

Jo Zebedee

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The question though was about the prequels not the original three, Springs.

I would have to say that being as generous as I can possibly be the prequels are still massively inferior to the original three (and whilst they were ground breaking and I loved them even they don't really stack up against the likes of 2001 or Aliens IMO). So no, I don't think they could ever have been good films.

Oops my bad. They should never have been made in my opinion.
 

Vertigo

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I was thinking more in terms of the general visuals - trying to realise different worlds in their splendour. Unfortunately, the CGI never fully integrates.

And remember the Gungians (Jar Jar's people) had shields at the end of Phantom Mence to protect the Gungans from droid blasters? Is it my imagination, or does this technology conveniently disappear in later films? Or did the Gungans just jealously guard the patent? :)

I don't think the prequels in particular bear that level of scrutiny at all, Brian, They were so filled with inconsistencies that it's not worth listing them. I found the three original Star Wars films a lot of fun and only needing a moderate level of disbelief suspension. I found the prequels almost no fun (despite characters like Jar Jar they really did take themselves far too seriously) and I simply couldn't raise my suspension of disbelief far enough.

The battle with Jar Jar's mob against the droids was utterly ridiculous the idea of having two huge armies of foot soldiers charging at each other like that would be ridiculous with current weaponry (and probably has been ever since the charge of the Light Brigade - okay not foot soldiers but you get the point) never mind in the far future. They would have been massacred within minutes (shields or no shields). There was so much in those three films that went way way beyond "a fun adventure, never mind about plausibility." In fact I have never watched the last one all the way through it was simply too painful.
 

Perpetual Man

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What Vertigo said. (I have watched the last one all the way through, but never again)

But to add to springs 'they never should have been made' - I'd say in the form in which they made it to the screen. Something could have been made from the skeletal parts of the movie that was quite good, but it was all brushed over with spectacle and ridicule.

If you follow the Chancellor's plan it's quite a good idea - he ferments the disharmony of the Trade Dispute, creating crises from which the Republic can only recover by giving him supreme power. The Empire as it becomes is literally a logical and, when you think about it, legal evolution of the Republic. The council might have been duped, but they effectively made him emperor.

It also raises the question of Count Dooku. He's painted as a bad guy throughout, and yet he is a valid threat to Palpetine's plans, does that make him a misunderstood good guy?
 

J-Sun

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While Star Wars has a strong mythic element and a real attention to small details that could make a film successful in its own right, I've often wondered if it wasn't mostly down to the visuals?

Part of the wonderful opening sequence is that, after the brilliant exercise in scale, it went right to R2-D2 and C-3PO. Almost universally loved (at least R2-D2) and I saw them in action and danger. I remember thrilling concern as they dashed across the corridor with shots flying around them. Then I met Luke, the boy with the crappy life yearning for more and could relate. And then wise old kindly Ben. And the scruffy-looking scoundrel Han Solo. And the "wonderful girl" - sharp, brave, wise-cracking Leia. So it's not just visuals to me. Compare this to the universally reviled Jar-Jar. A bunch of stuffy boring arrogant egotistical holier-than-thou Jedis. Padme, who's most notable characteristic is how many ridiculous dresses she can wear. On the other hand, while pinball Yoda is stupid in the prequels and the Vader/Obi-Wan duel was mesmerising originally, many of the light saber duels in the prequels are far, far more visually impressive than the original saber duels. The visuals are the only thing good, in most cases, about the prequels. But they're just massive. Soulless. The Star Destroyer chasing the Rebel ship was massive, but simple, direct, awe-inspiring, and for a point. So it's mostly about character and story for me but, perhaps even more importantly, in tone, in feeling. And, yes, the visuals are also important, but sometimes less is more and pure visceral avalanche and a total lack of taste is not as impressive as well chosen unforgettable imagery that enhances the story.

In 1977, space was still a great frontier we could only look at through telescopes. It was the year the Voyager missions were launched - missions that would provide the stunning images of the planets that we now take for granted.

Well, yes and no. We'd already gone through the wonder of the moon and most of the population had become bored with it and the program had already been ended. But we did have Voyager and the shuttle was in development and so on. But the same thing happened with it - schools used to take time out to show complete live coverage of the launches and, eventually, launches couldn't even get a snippet on the evening news. So I think both trilogies arrived at relative low points (not as low as now, but low) in real space and the first served to reignite the passion and the second didn't. The first was heroic and epic and optimistic despite its darkness. The second was not - and was a prequel, i.e., went backwards, aside from all else.

And yet, from the start, Lucas presents space as an ordinary reality - one we can experience for the first time properly in film. Using locations, instead of sets, helped enforce this sense of reality.

Yes, there were sci-fi films before Star Wars - but I've yet to see one present such a compelling image of other planets - from space, and within their atmospheres - as Lucas did.

It wasn't just the big visuals, either - there were simple details that made it all the more real. When Luke watches Tatooine's double suns settings, I was astonished at how they did that - the suns looked real, not like special effects! And Lucas easily maintained that suspended disbelief.

Of course, everything was established in the opening shot - we saw a moon in the distance, then a bigger moon, and then see the edge of another planet's atmosphere! Then we are surprised to see one space ship - then astonished as another almost fills the entire screen. Lasers rage. Explosions go off.

Great stuff (your discussion and the clip). I've seen the movie I've-lost-count-how-many-times and just reading your talking of it made me want to go see it again. And whenever I do that, I always end up re-watching the whole trilogy even though just the first one is really the best and all you need. So I was relieved that you provided a snippet and I wouldn't lose another several hours. And after watching the clip, I still wanted to go put in my DVD! :) I've resisted so far but I bet I will be watching it again soon.

But even if the original Star Wars was released today, new and unseen, I'm not sure many people might regard it so highly.

Hard to know what you mean here. Like I say, I love the special effects still but if you mean "released into today's avalanche of FX Star Wars helped to usher in", then Star Wars would probably look very modest and unimpressive in FX terms. But young people still respond to it, I think because of the timeless story and the likeable, relatable characters. Especially the droids. :) But if you mean "released into a time in which Star Wars or the equivalent had never happened, so SF wasn't doing gangbusters at the box office, but in which the zeitgeist was otherwise as near to how it actually is as possible" I think Star Wars would still do great. We still have evil empires to battle and we still need hope.

And if that's accepted as the case, then how could any prequel really work?

Given that the originals did come out when they did, and had the effect they did, I don't think any follow-ons (especially prequels) could match the originals. But, as I indicate, there's no need for the second set to have Jar-Jar or senseless effects or unlikeable characters or dull stories. They could have been SO much better than they were. And it's not that I'm utterly slagging them. I could watch them. Once. But I'd have been just as happy if I hadn't and can barely recall them already. So could they match? No. Not without a miracle. But could they "work"? Well, sure. They could have been decent.

Though I'm not a great fan of them, I can see Lucas trying to push boundaries - try to show us new things.

The new films could never live up to our expectations, because we still clung to that image of Lucas showing us something new and unseen. It would be impossible to repeat within the same universe he created.

It was inevitable that the new films should disappoint.

True. All that factors in. But there are definitely levels of disappointment.

But. Now we have the first of the new sequels next year. Perhaps our expectations have finally been tempered? Or will these inevitably disappoint, and make those who saw the original cinema screenings simply feel old - for having been there at the beginning, to wonder at something new?

Yeah, the sequels have two advantages: they will be compared to the second set as much as the first and they are sequels which will advance the story line. So they would have to be spectacular failures to disappoint relative to the prequels. But I don't think there's any way to avoid making first-run viewers feel old in general. ;) I just hope they make us feel young in the theater. I hope they give today's kids something of what we got.
 

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Star Wars (1977) was a fluke. No one expected it to become what it was, a cultural phenomenon. For all the reasons that have been stated it was a hit including the feel good feeling when you left the theatre. The 1970's rather sucked. It was a rather depressing decade and the cinema for the most part played to that. A New Hope was a breath of fresh air and was something everyone needed. The Phantom Menace came out at a different time and also I believe hype had a huge part in dooming the prequels. While it is impossible to say for sure, I am inclined to think The Phantom Menace would have proved to be a very popular film had it been released in 1977, after all it was modeled after that first movie. Really, think about that. Let's say The Phantom Menace was the first one released, it (would have) had intrigue and mystery, awesome special effects, the hero's journey, flirty romance (albeit the were young), weird aliens, an incredible race scene, and a bunch of cool fight scenes at the end with a celebration. I KNOW A New Hope had a Cantina scene, the droids as our guides and only one conflict at the end instead of four (a mistake Lucas admits to), but we will always have A New Hope as the basis for our judgement, so...

Personally, I really dig the political storyline in the prequels and the characters/actors do not bother me at all, but I cannot get over the memory of how Star Wars influenced me as a child, so I do favor those movies. I will, however, always enjoy 1,2 and 3 as well for what they are. Maybe the originals are superior, but the prequels do not suck by far like many claim.

As for the sequels, they will do fine at the box office. JJ Abrams does have a tendency to put very sloppy plot elements in his recent sci-fi (reboot) films and as long as they have someone proofreading what he does and it does follow the hero's journey model that has been already established, they will be good. They must, however, feel like a Star Wars film. The Star Trek reboots had many great qualities, but they seldom had that Star Trek movie feel.
 

Venusian Broon

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I was thinking more in terms of the general visuals - trying to realise different worlds in their splendour. Unfortunately, the CGI never fully integrates.

And remember the Gungians (Jar Jar's people) had shields at the end of Phantom Mence to protect the Gungans from droid blasters? Is it my imagination, or does this technology conveniently disappear in later films? Or did the Gungans just jealously guard the patent? :)

I think there's a lot of that in those films. From memory the two Jedi at the start (was it Renton and Godfrey de Ibelin?) escape a trap by moving at 'ultra-lightning' speed. A skill I think that would have been very useful in the remainder of the next three films and made the Jedi pretty much untouchable. But it never used again as far as I know. (Ok if they were fighting Jedi-to-Jedi this skill would cancel itself out.)

What I would like to know is why the Imperial storm troopers are so fantastic in episode 3 that they can practically wipe out the Jedi using blasters, but by episodes 4-6 can barely hit a barn door at a dozen paces.
 

markpud

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Episode 1 was the worst by far... turning Darth Vader into a young brat?! The prequel should have covered about 10 mins of Obi-wan finding him and bringing him to the council, then jumped forward to the time period of the second movie. Use Darth Maul here and get rid of Grevious or Duku..The Clone Wars animated series (later seasons especially) show that there was plenty of good story possible in that period pre-war to have Obi-wan training Anakin. Then the whole turning of Anakin to the dark side, and his horribly portrayed romance with Padme need a re-working and you've hopefully got something that makes a bit more sense by the time it gets to the youngling massacring (spoiler alert!).

But more broadly the tone of the movies was all wrong. The CGI stuff was all wizz-bang action with things flying here there and everywhere, but every live action scene of dialogue is either 2 people stood talking, or a bit of walk and talk. But all incredibly flat. Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor are great actors but didn't sell the characters with any sense of urgency, even when faced with the most dire of news, it was just time for another slow walk to go jump in a CGI ship and then spring to action.

Well, that said I have high hopes for the new trilogy! There's no need to worry about forcing the story to the inevitable point we all knew the prequels had to get to, so there's more freedom for Abrams to tell an interesting story about what happens when a dominating emperor is killed and a power vacuum opens up. Can the rebels and the last of the Jedi restore peaceful society? Will more Sith rise? Do Wookies go grey like the rest of the returning cast have? At least there's the new animated series to help pass the time!
 

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The PT still has it's own fans. a recent viewing on ITV had my friend watch it with his you son, Dylan for the first time. Episode one came on and Dylan wanted to be a Jedi. Episode two, he was Obi Wan Kenobi. Episode 3, Yoda. Episode 4 came on and he never spoke about is again. The movies were commercially successful, but unfortunately George Lucas didn't make these movies for me, he made them for Dylan.
 

Chris Guillory

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You have a good point that I never considered before @Brian Turner. We do take for granted the fact that views of space, both of our planet and those light-years away, are but a three second search on Google nowadays. And that, in no small part, may have led to the success of the original series.

But with Star Wars, Lucas also created characters, ideals, and its own type of magic. Fans fell in love with Skywalker, the Rebellion, and the Jedi way of life. I think fans went into the prequels with hopes that the feelings they had with the originals would be rekindled. And in this aspect, I think the potential for success was absolutely possible.

I don't know if my next observation holds any weight in what I say above, but my 9-year-old has seen all six movies. I showed them to him without any mention of when they were made, how I felt about them, or the fact that the last three were made more recently....and he's all about the original trilogy. All day.
 

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There was an incredible sense of wonder at the opening sequence of Episode IV, but I'd agree that it was the characters that made that trilogy so memorable along with the technology presented. The last we'd seen of lasers was on Star Trek with Kirk et al, and it had to freeze-frame to do it, and the sheer screen-filling gargantuan scenes of all those destroyers and Tie-fighters stays in my mind to this day. Inconsistencies litter episodes 1-3, as has been pointed out, but I almost left the cinema when they found Darth Vader as a little boy, Anakin: Virgin birth, FFS, and then Liam Neeson (who gave the most wooden performance I've ever seen from him) tests his blood and says 'wow, never seen so many kalurians (or some such) as a marker of 'the force'. I feel Lucas lost sight of storylines in presenting what he thought were amazing special effects. I read an absurd comment that basically said Lucas hadn't been able to make episodes 1-3 before, because the special effects industry couldn't do what he wanted. If that's true, then you see why those episodes had such poor chaarcterisateion and plotlines, because all he wanted was special effects. And I remain totally unconvinced by Anakin's fall into the dark side, after which he goes and slaughters all the other kiddies.

But I'm looking forward to the next editions - I'm hoping the actors have the clout to say 'No, Han wouldn't do that, he'd do this, instead' and we get back to the magic that was episodes 4-6.
 

BAYLOR

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The first three films were the best by far no question , Good and entertaining stories and fun to watch The Prequels were just godawful and not simply because of jar Jar Binks, thought he certainly didn't help. Part of the problem , Lucas had been out of the director chair for nearly two decades and it showed.

Then there was the writing , which seemed to be given far less priority then the special effects. Back when he did the original , he didn't have a really large budget and had to invent alot of the techniques and special effects. He had to put moer emphasis on having a good story.
 
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Brian G Turner

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We've just finished rewatching the last of the prequels.

There are so many flaws I can forgive in these films. After all, I loved Return of the Jedi, even though the same film had Ewoks beating Stormtroopers.

But I still consider the attack on the Death Star (II) scene to be the best space battle ever - IMO it remains to be surpassed, even by moderrn CGI (which is often too visible and kills suspension of disbelief):

However, the one thing that always, always makes me cringe in these new films - Yoda's lightsaber battles. He just looks like some mad rodent. I remember seeing Attack of the Clones at cinema with a friend, and our jaws dropped with incredulity when Yoda fights Count Dooku. It's difficult not to laugh watching Yoda fight, while inwardly crying. :)
 
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Michael Colton

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I do not have any comments on the actual content of the prequels since I am not a Star Wars person, but from a financial perspective they were absolutely 'successful.' Despite all criticism, I highly doubt Lucas regrets making them.
 

J-Sun

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But I still consider the attack on the Death Star (II) scene to be the best space battle ever - IMO it remains to be surpassed, even by moderrn CGI (which is often too visible and kills suspension of disbelief):

Ah, they cut out all the non-space stuff which means cutting out one of my favorite lines that I mangle into using whenever I can - the Emperor getting extremely excited about his "fully armed and operational battle station!!!" Beware of this fully armed and operational laptop! :)

Y'know, I tend to figure Star Wars would be seen as modest compared to modern flicks and maybe kids these days can see and follow millions of split second things on the screen better but, to me, a lot of modern special effects are white noise - just a wall of visuals that have little effect. But the vast majority of that clip is still extremely impressive and I can follow all of it - it's packed and fast but not overpacked or too fast. (I love the Star Destroyer casually exploding as Akbar directs people to concentrate on the Super Star Destroyer.) So maybe not so modest after all.

However, the one thing that always, always makes me cringe in these new films - Yoda's lightsaber battles. He just looks like some mad rodent. I remember seeing Attack of the Clones at cinema with a friend, and our jaws dropped with incredulity when Yoda fights Count Dooku. It's difficult not to laugh watching Yoda fight, while inwardly crying. :)

Very well put - that's the stuff I'm talking about when I talk about "pinball Yoda" - he's like this green ball bouncing around inside a machine rather than an actual "person". Totally silly and paradoxically unimpressive - undignified. Laughing and crying, yup.
 

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