Star Wars: Attack of the Prequels

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This is Plinkett, and he’s pretty angry about The Phantom Menace. His “review” mostly consists of an hour-and-a-half lambasting of George Lucas, Jar Jar Binks, and young Anikan’s crappy acting. The movie was released in 1999, and he’s still fuming. He’s not alone either. Multitudes of forty year old Star Wars fans share his hate of that “floppy eared frog thing”, so many that a film was made as testimony against the sins of George Lucas. This is because, unlike me, the first Star Wars movie they saw was A New Hope. They saw it in 1977, and they were as young as I was when I saw The Phantom Menace and just as entranced by lightsabers, space-ships, and Jedi’s. They fell in love with the saga, and when the third installment came out in 1983 they impatiently waited for their next Star Wars fix. They waited sixteen years, now long past anything resembling childhood, to be massively disappointed by the Phantom Menace. Every nit-picking detail was torn apart, every single plot-hole, bad line, and Gungan was heralded as the “rape of their childhood.” Their former love for the man that had given them the saga that had shaped their lives was transformed into a deep-seated hatred. How and why did Lucas screw them over so badly?

For an American, taking part in the political-economy of the mass market is a sacred act. It has gone beyond simply trading for what is needed for survival, even entertainment, and passed into the realm of a cultural ritual. Like the cannibalism of Papa New Guinea, the obsession with media is ritualistic. Taking part in media, and thus your culture, is very important to an individual. They latch on to what they see, deriving values and morals and norms from the pictures on the various screens that take up their day. The movie is one of the biggest and most important mediums for media consumption. Television is every day, internet is every day, but movies are once in a while. More exciting and more important, movies are always heavily advertised and the talk of the town when they come out. People latch on to them, love them.

The young children, now in their forties, lining up to see Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977 were entranced and enchanted with their first participation in a culture rocking media event. Star Wars was huge, and it still is, but when it came out it was described as a “craze” and “phenomenon.” For those youths caught in the original trilogies glow and splendor the excitement could not have been more palpable. They not only “bought in” to the idea of space wizards, the literally bought in: Action figures, play sets, toy lightsabers, Han Solo Halloween costumes and tons of x-wing Lego sets. The usually commonplace, ritualistic consumption of media captured them because of their young age, their first experience with the political-economy was like losing their virginity, and everybody remembers their first time.

Old and tired and haggard by life, the same youth who played countless hours with their star wars action figures reject the new Star Wars as blasphemy. When their kids saw Jar Jar it was a funny frog dude. When they saw Jar Jar it was a stupid, convenient character to make into an action figure. When their kids saw the super cool Jedi light speed to escape the droidekas lasers, they saw a plot hole covered with convenient CGI. When their kids saw the must-have Obi-wan with kick twist action, their parents thought “9 dollars?!? That’s robbery!” While their kids saw a space epic they saw a vehicle for merchandise, a commodity to be bought and sold on the marketplace like a barrel of oil.

The parents of today cannot accept that the “garbage” their kids are eating up is the same garbage they ate up. They do not and will not see the original trilogy for what it was: a vehicle for merchandizing, product placement, and corporate profit. Even though those things are equally true for both trilogies, they choose to believe that CGI, Jar Jar, and George Lucas are responsible for the love they did not feel for The Phantom Menace. So they make reviews and criticize Lucas at every turn, their anger and hatred burning into frustration at inconsequential characters, computer generations, and plot-holes instead of their childhood memories. 

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30 Responses to Star Wars: Attack of the Prequels

  1. Dan Dravot says:

    Heh. Yeah, you pretty much nailed it.

  2. bc says:

    You liked Jar Jar? My kids hate him.

  3. max says:

    Well said, my man. Now excuse me while I don my storm trooper costume and march in the Macy’s parade.

  4. geerussell says:

    Three pretty good movies were followed by three pretty bad ones. The end.

  5. ExOttoyuhr says:

    Absolutely! Everyone knows that one piece of pop culture can’t possibly be of greater or lesser literary quality than another piece of pop culture! It’s all garbage! Preach it, brother!

    Determining how Gone with the Wind, Rabelais, and/or Shakespeare do not qualify as pop culture — determining the definition of pop culture in general, other than “something I brand myself as better than” — is left as an exercise for the reader. The test is whether a work is good or bad, not whether it’s pop or not pop (and Plinkett has a great deal to say about cinematography, even if you discount everything else).

    I’m not claiming that Star Wars was on the level of Gone with the Wind, let alone Shakespeare; but there is a difference between The Empire Strikes Back and The Phantom Menace that isn’t dependent on being over 40.

    Another reason for the rage at The Phantom Menace et al. — here I speak from personal experience — is that the storyline of the prequel period, called the Clone Wars in Star Wars fandom (and referenced in the first movie), had been fleshed out in great detail in the ’90s, especially by the novelist Timothy Zahn — who isn’t a great writer, but is hardly a hack, and is very good by Star Wars standards.

    We were really looking forward to seeing the Clone Wars on the big screen, the good guys with TIEs and Star Destroyers, the Republic exhausted and sinking into empire, and Anakin Skywalker going from “best star pilot in the galaxy” to embittered servant of an isolated or malevolent new ruler. (The hunting down and destruction of the Jedi was also going to be a whole lot more than a photo montage.) It’s not just about the prequels we did get; it’s about the prequels that we never will.

    • Guy Fox says:

      I’m not claiming that Star Wars was on the level of Gone with the Wind, let alone Shakespeare; but there is a difference between The Empire Strikes Back and The Phantom Menace that isn’t dependent on being over 40

      Ah, a world where most 40-year olds would be able to compare Othello and Darth Vader or Palpatine and MacBeth… A beautiful dream. Thanks for the pick me up. While we’re dreaming, can I have a pony?

      • ExOttoyuhr says:

        I honestly didn’t follow your post. Could you clarify?

        • Somebody says:

          My guess at what Guy Fox meant is:

          Ha ha ha, silly nerds! Shakespeare™ has the Authentic™, Intelligence™ and Adult™ brands. Star Wars™ only has the Childish™, Silly™ and Play-toy™ brands.

          • ExOttoyuhr says:

            Even if that’s the case (and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt), what does it have to do with the text he quoted? That’s what I’m not clear on.

          • Somebody says:

            The fact that you are seriously thinking about the drama in Star Wars and want to compare it to other movies automatically brands you as a child. To some people, the movies you like to watch and think about are not just a reflection of your personality, but completely define who you are. They believe this because they themselves derive their identities from the types of movies they watch.

            Personally, I agree with Mr. Plinkett that the drama in the originals was better than in the prequels. But I also agree, that the reason this pisses most people off so much, is because they really wanted to re-live their childhoods through the prequels.

          • ExOttoyuhr says:

            I feel like something isn’t clicking in this conversation. I explicitly said that the Star Wars movies are not on the artistic level of Shakespeare or Gone with the Wind, and you and Guy Fox (as far as I can tell — I’m still guessing about what he was trying to say) are reacting as if I said they were on that level, which, again, is something I did not say, because I don’t think it.

            About your point on branding: is it really the case that even saying “Star Wars is not as good as the greats” means childishness (assumed negative in US culture — contrasting with Japan, for ex.)? If so, how is that judgement conveyed in the first place? This begins to sound like how the characters in the reigning Chinese Emperor’s name were taboo, so you couldn’t write them… but the only way to know which characters they were was for someone to write them down.

        • Guy Fox says:

          I meant that there’s plenty in Star Wars that you could analyze at the level of Shakespeare. Big themes like guilt, revenge, ambition vs. morality, etc. are there (though I grant that they’re stronger in the older trilogy than the new one). The problem is that almost nobody would notice such themes in any of them. Not in Shakespeare, not in earlier Star Warses, not in newer Star Warses. The difference you’re referring to doesn’t exist for most people. Case in point: Inception brought in more money than Independence Day at the box office, but and only about 1.45% more and that’s ***only in nominal money***. Big difference in meaning without any significant difference in reception.

          The difference isn’t dependent on age at all, it’s so seldom noticed that it is practically non-existent.

          So do I get the pony, or what?

          • ExOttoyuhr says:

            OK… Let me back up and express the core of my post in fewer words:

            “While nothing in Star Wars is on the level of great literature, the second trilogy was lower-quality than the first; and that someone calls something pop culture does not mean that it is a priori no better or worse than something else that the same person calls pop culture.”

  6. JohnJ says:

    I have to agree with ExO on this one. The prequels were objectively worse than the originals, for a lot of reasons. Not all movies are created equal.

  7. Adrian says:

    I pretty much agree with Plinkett, I didn’t have action figures then and I don’t have kids to complain about action figures now, I didn’t know exactly why I didn’t like the movie (by the way it’s not because of Jar Jar Bing, there were all kind of silly characters in the originals too) Plinkett pretty much explained what’s wrong with the prequels, I don’t buy that’s because we see them with different eyes, they are flawed in way too many ways. I think Plinkett hit the nail when he asked people to describe Qui-Gon Jinn and Princess Amidala.

  8. rapscallione says:

    Plinkett’s character was definitely set up to be the exact person you just described, but his analysis of the movies was spot on. He wasn’t a fanboy complaining that it didn’t live up to his standards, he just went about what would normally be considered a very good critique by adding really odd characters, so it became entertaining even if you didn’t really know the movies that well.

    I’d say that the first 3 movies became merchandising vehicles. Those movies actually took hard work and ingenuity, squeezing what they could out of the budget they could manage. The newer trilogy consisted of Lucas trying as hard as he could to be able to direct the movie without getting out of his chair.

  9. herereadthis says:

    A simple excercise – describe the following characters without mentioning what they look like or what they do. Don’t try too hard. An example: Han Solo – roguish, immoral, scoundrel. Try it out on Princess Leia, Old Ben, etc. Or, even the villians – describe Darth Vader without telling me what he looks likes or what things he does. Not too hard, right?

    Alright now…. Qui-Gon Jinn….. well? And… Darth Maul?

    Phantom Menace was an awful movie. That is that. The fact that a bunch of middle-aged fans flew into a rage doesn’t not change the fact that Phantom Menace was an awful movie.

  10. HP says:

    1. Lego didn’t start making Star Wars sets until the prequels.

    2. I saw the original three when I was about 9, and Episode I when it came out when I was 13. It was terrible then.

  11. Lopt says:

    Wouldn’t you prefer, though, if the sort of people who don’t like the things you like only do so for the wrong reasons?

    Unrelated, but kinda interesting– from the period after Episode 6 was released until production of Episode 1 began, no on really cared that much about Star Wars, except for a small but fanatical fanbase. After the news reports of people camped out to buy tickets started trickling through, the trope of “Star Wars as object of fixation” started appearing in TV shows and movies, so you had characters with secret Star Wars obsessions, cameos from the actors, etc., etc. until it just became accepted wisdom that Star Wars was not just a series of movies, but some sort of cultural touchstone. Memory is surprisingly plastic in that regard, even for people who’ve actually lived though the era.

    • ExOttoyuhr says:

      On the other hand, the presence of this small but fanatical fanbase (enlarged in numbers and vigor by Timothy Zahn’s first novels and the West End Games “Star Wars RPG”) is what provided the idiom of “Star Wars as object of fixation” for the main society. It always existed, and was a cultural touchstone for at least a subculture.

      I also doubt that there was any period after 1980 in which “Luke, I am your father!” would not elicit some recognition from the audience.

  12. DataShade says:

    I was born a few years after the original Star Wars came out, so maybe this article just wasn’t meant for me, but I think you’re wrong.

    Prior to the release of Phantom Menace, Lucas hadn’t directed anything for, what, 14 years? And it’s not like Indiana Jones/Crystal Skullfuck was really any less of a disappointment.

    Yes, inarticulate nerdrage is inarticulate, but much articulation do you really need from people you don’t know and can’t possible care about?

  13. statelymulligan says:

    Plinkett’s reviews are critical analyses from someone who cares deeply for the mythology and clearly has an education in film. He’s not only bashing on the prequels and Lucas, as you seemed to indicate- he compares the cinematography and dramatic elements between the two sets of movies in order to show why those films were better than these. And he does so in hilarious, insightful fashion.

    I had more fun watching his (feature-length) reviews than I did the prequels themselves.

  14. SunnyBunny says:

    I’m just going to go ahead and file this under “Desperately Seeking Attention”.

    • ExOttoyuhr says:

      I’m inclined to agree. You might also consider the “jumping the shark” bucket, since there’s not much here about the use of either set of movies in identity-construction; or the “world Communist revolution” one (a strangely large one on this website), particularly on the strength of the last paragraph.

  15. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    Is it bad that I think both trilogies are fucking shit?

    • Guy Fox says:

      No, probably not, if we’re talking about the effect on humanity as a whole. But leaving it at that with no explanation does make you seem pretty angry and potentially ignorant. It’s just kinda odd that you’d want to post anything if that’s *all* you have to say.

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