It seems the new STAR WARS overlords – which is to say, Disney – have little interest in reminding us the prequels exist, or that George Lucas did indeed think they would be an alright idea at the time. Earlier this week it was announced the CLONE WARS TV show would be ending, and all videogame announcements have been indefinitely postponed. And, earlier this year, the 3D re-releases of the rest of the prequels were also cancelled.
While these decisions have supposedly come from Lucasfilm, it’s obvious Disney’s hand may have forced them somewhat. It appears, therefore, the big D wishes to cut any and all ties with the prequels in light of the upcoming trilogy. But this, I feel, is a mistake. There’s plenty to be celebrated about THE PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH. They are an epic trio of motion pictures.
Do not deny me the chance to call them epic; for what better use of the word than to describe these sprawling space adventures? Oh, sure, they’re more political than the space-western genre collisions of Lucas’ originals, and rampant with more of the same poor dialogue that so afflicted those revered films. And yet their subtext is much greater, more developed and far less simplistic than that of A NEW HOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI.
Of course, the original trilogy set many precedents for action-adventure films in the years following; yet still its more complex themes of daddy issues seem underplayed in light of a more straight-up narrative of good versus evil. It’s only with the prequel trilogy; with the expansion of the STAR WARS universe to include such organisations as the Old Republic and the Jedi Order, that more complex and divisive themes of politics and religion come into play – and of course, a distinct muddling of good and evil (or the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ sides of the Force) in the character of Anakin Skywalker.
That’s not to say Darth Vader didn’t already covet these layers of complexity in the original trilogy whatsoever; they were certainly present, particularly in the underrated RETURN OF THE JEDI more so than anywhere. But a reflection of redemption for the sake of his son seems, particularly in the world of film, quite clichéd, at least in the present day, and in light of the themes presented by the prequels, the culmination of Vader’s arc is positively primitive.
Fear not; I am not dismissing episodes IV-VI as some kind of derivative, lackadaisical attempt at science fiction – they get a lot more right in other departments than the prequels ever managed. But the latest three films present a narrative arc that reflects modern reality; they are a product of their time, and, to an extent, intelligent sci-fi. The problem there, of course, is that people don’t want to learn about politics and religion in STAR WARS: they want to see an AT-AT stomping around in the snow and laugh at a camp gold robot.
In essence, therefore, the two STAR WARS trilogies serve different purposes. And yet the original trilogy seems as if, at the time, it was less relevant; the prequels reflect a modern society in ways that the original trilogy, even in the 1970s and 80s, did not. Does the very fall of the Jedi Order not point to an increasingly secular society, nor the Separatist movement to the rise of minority political parties or movements (e.g. UKIP in Great Britain, the Tea Party movement in the USA)? The prequel films offer us a much deeper, conflicted world than the original trilogy presented.
This is particularly notable within the aforementioned, and now sadly cancelled, CLONE WARS television series. While the show was, on a whole, largely hit and miss, one episode stood out to me most because of the way it addressed complex themes of good and bad within political structures, and how these can become confused at times – at least ‘from a certain point of view,’ as Sir Alec Guiness put it.
The episode in question, ‘Heroes On Both Sides’ (S3E10), involves negotiations between the Separatists and the Republic, and Jedi padawan Ahsoka realising that not everyone on the side of the Separatists is evil – the moral essentially being that your next door neighbour isn’t suddenly the equivalent of Hitler for having opposing political views. It’s a simplistic truth when it’s boiled down, but it’s not something that was ever present in the original trilogy; everything was offered in a very black and white format. There were no greys or middle grounds.
This, of course, made for entertaining cinema in a way that the politics of the prequels did not. But in the same way, the prequels made for far more interesting films (most of THE PHANTOM MENACE notwithstanding). REVENGE OF THE SITH proves to be the most interesting of the lot, and gets some of the entertainment right too. Who’s to say it isn’t a better film than the original three? They share the same traits of terrible scriptwriting and subpar acting. But REVENGE, while executing them badly, offers a more thematically complex ride.
There are those who will decry me for even suggesting that one of the prequel films may better one from the original STAR WARS trilogy all those years ago. And yet, it seems strange that the majority of those fans, who are the ones who grew up with the original films, would not enjoy the prequels for their more adult themes, while children still enjoy them for their sci-fi/fantasy element – because, at the end of the day, STAR WARS is simply trying to appeal to a different generation; a new generation.
While it might feel like something of an insult to all those 30 – or 40 – somethings who grew up with the original trilogy, particularly from a scruffy-looking nerf-herder like myself, the fact is that these films weren’t made with primarily the adult audience in mind. STAR WARS gained a whole new generation of fans in kids who loved the prequels; and yet it still managed to offer something more thought-provoking for the adults. Sure, it could all have been executed a bit better, but then so could have the originals – no matter how much anyone defends them.
I expect I’ll be shouted off the internet for this, but never mind. A NEW HOPE is, and likely always will be, my favourite film of all time. And yet to completely ignore the prequels of all their merits, not even counting those at face value (which, contrary to popular belief, do exist), would be to do the STAR WARS franchise a disservice.
It’s often said that no one hates STAR WARS more than STAR WARS fans. Hopefully one day most of them might see sense. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to hope JJ Abrams knows what the hell he’s doing…