How I Learned to Love the Star Wars Prequels—And Why I Can’t Wait For Episode VII

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Nov. 5 2012 11:30 AM

Don’t Give in to Hate

How a child of the original Star Wars trilogy learned to love the prequels—and why we should all look forward to Episode VII.

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As others have noted, the original trilogy has plenty of problems. For starters, much of the acting is terrible. There is a reason that Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) had hardly any success as an actor after Return of the Jedi—he is not a good actor. As for the film’s more accomplished stars, even after the wild success of the first trilogy, they have looked back on their work and cringed. Alec Guinness frequently lamented his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi before his death in 2000, and famously once made a young Star Wars fan promise never again to watch the films in exchange for his autograph. Harrison Ford, less of a stranger to the role of swashbuckling hero than Sir Alec, has a long history of expressing contempt for the franchise. Nonetheless, critics of the prequels bemoan the performances in Episodes I-III—most frequently that of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker—while glossing over the original trilogy’s weaknesses, with some even suggesting that Hamill’s wooden performances are an essential component of the Star Wars charm.

More fundamentally, the plots of the original three films are far from airtight. While a reasonable viewer might be willing to accept that a fledgling Jedi heretofore not in any way battle-tested (or trained in military aviation—surely an X-wing is harder to fly than a sand-speeder) might execute a 1-in-a-million torpedo strike to destroy the otherwise indestructible, moon-sized Death Star in Episode IV, it strains any reasonable sense of credulity that a band of 3-foot tall, cuddly Ewoks could somehow overcome dozens of highly-trained storm troopers (whose precision as marksmen, at least, is lauded in Episode IV) with sling shots and well-placed booby traps. Certain fans might here employ the Ewok Caveat, arguing that everyone knows the Ewoks are terrible and that true believers long ago disavowed most if not all of Return of the Jedi as a sad omen of what was to befall the Star Wars universe in the ‘90s, when Lucas’ love of merchandising and money overtook his love of myth. But even The Empire Strikes Back, the crown jewel of the original trilogy, has its inconsistencies. How is it that the whole of Luke’s excursion to the Dagobah System and primary training with Yoda takes place in the same temporal window that Han and the rest of the crew spend hiding out and being chased by a Star Destroyer? Did Luke learn the ways of the Jedi—something that takes others a lifetime and customarily begins in childhood—in a day or two? Or were his friends in the Millennium Falcon holed up in the belly of that Exogorth for weeks?

My intent is not to undermine anyone’s affection for the original trilogy (I love these movies, too), but to show that a sober interpretation reveals that they are at times every bit as preposterous as the prequels, which have been harshly criticized and dissected on similar grounds. At the same time, Episodes I-III do not get nearly enough credit for the many things that they do well. The 9-minute pod race scene from Episode I, in which we see for the first time young Anakin Skywalker’s powerful command of the Force, is as gripping and technically sophisticated as anything Lucasfilm has done before or since. Episode III’s telling of how this bright-eyed kid becomes the evil Darth Vader in just a few years is convincing and at times heart-wrenching, particularly with respect to Anakin’s slaughter of a chamber full of youngling Jedi (thankfully indicated but not shown) and his final encounter with Obi-Wan Kenobi, his master and mentor (it does not go well for Skywalker). And if you like lightsaber battles, one of the Star Wars series’ key cultural contributions and one of the most exciting for kids, you will find far more of them in these films. In Episodes I-III we get to witness not only a spry Yoda and a young Anakin Skywalker wielding their sabers, but also the arena portion of the epic Battle of Geonosis (in which no less than 10 Jedi Knights display their skills), the spectacle of cyborg General Grievous skillfully handling four lightsabers at the same time, and perhaps the finest lightsaber battle of all of six films, between Obi-Wan Kenobi, his master Qui-Gon Jin, and the terrifying yet graceful Darth Maul (played out over John Williams’ haunting “Duel of the Fates”).

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I do not mean to suggest that Episodes I-III are cinematic masterpieces, any more so than Episodes IV-VI are. I only wish to point out that the prequels also have their moments of excellence. It follows that the sharp distinction between the original trilogy (wonderful) and the second trilogy (rubbish) is unwarranted—both are flawed, yet for long stretches remarkably entertaining space operas. Today’s kids seem to understand this better than their parents, who are often so concerned with protecting the legacy of their beloved films that they can’t appreciate the new ones. My son and his friends embrace Mace Windu as much as Luke Skywalker and are just as scared of Darth Maul as they are of Darth Vader. To them, Star Wars is a captivating, six-film succession, each episode replete with a healthy dose of quirky characters, action, and mystery.

That Disney of all potential suitors managed to purchase Lucasfilm underscores the point that the Star Wars universe is, as it always has been, meant to delight children and not necessarily their parents. Given Disney’s 90-year track record of delivering high-quality entertainment for kids, I am eager to see what they come up with in Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. When I told my son about the upcoming trilogy in the car over the weekend, he flipped out. In celebration, we purchased two lightsaber flashlights—a green Yoda for me, and a blue Anakin for him. Rather than continue the misguided, nostalgia-soaked veneration of the first trilogy, it’s time to hand Star Wars back over to its intended audience and celebrate the fact that today’s children will soon have nine Star Wars films to treasure.

Bret D. Asbury is an associate professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University.