The real reason the Star Wars prequels aren’t great

Everybody knows, by now, that the original three Star Wars movie range from fantastic (Empire Strikes Back) to pretty tolerable (Return of the Jedi, although I like that one a little more than most). Everybody also knows (not entirely justly) that the prequels are terrible.

I am here to blow your mind: the prequels are not bad movies. They are poorly executed, but not bad. If you ask the average person why they hate the prequels, you will get one response: Jar-Jar.

Jar-Jar was an incredibly stupid idea, and almost single handedly cripples the first movie. Yet he’s barely present in the second and third movie, so that can’t be enough.

Maybe it’s Darth Vader going “Noooooooooooo?” That might kill the third movie, but not the second one.

The second one has a stupid title, but other than that it’s pretty solid.

Here, I’m going to give you the top five reasons the prequels aren’t great (but still very watchable.)

5. Jar-Jar. Goes without saying. Ostensibly created to appeal to kids, yet I don’t even think kids like him. That he’s the one that votes the Emperor into power is almost — almost — enough to redeem him. Almost.

4. The original movies were really awesome. This can’t be overstated: nobody would get so worked up about the prequels if the originals weren’t damn fine movies.

3. The early death of Qui Gon Jinn. I thought about putting Darth Maul here, but we got Christopher Lee as a bad guy for the second movie, which is a serious upgrade. Qui Gon Jinn was almost as awesome, but I really think we should have had a flashback or two in the later movies — they did it with Obi-Wan, why not Qui Gon?

2. Spoiler alert, assholes. If you haven’t seen the original Star Wars movies, the prequels will ruin 90% of the major plot twists. It isn’t subtle, either. For all the problems “Nooooooooo” gets, I have two words that should have definitely been left out of Revenge of the Sith: the names of Padme’s kids. This should absolutely have been left off camera. I, somehow, saw the original movies without having perhaps the single biggest plot twist ruined; if you watch the prequels, I think that scene in Empire Strikes Back is ruined. Not entirely, but weakened.

1. Hayden Christensen. Take a look at his IMDB page.  I have seen exactly one other movie on that list: Shattered Glass, which I saw (ironically enough) on the way home from Russia in 2004. It’s an okay movie, and he’s okay in it. Here’s the problem, though: Hayden Christensen got the mother of all roles to launch him to stardom: Anakin Skywalker. Look at the original movies: the only person in the main cast who wasn’t given a hefty boost to their career was Carrie Fisher, mostly because she because of cocaine.

The prequels have a fantastic cast. Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Christopher Lee were all superb choices. I still can’t believe Ian McDiamrid wasn’t the Emperor from the first three films. If anybody’s career was launched to the moon from the prequels, it was probably Natalie Portman, who became a household name thanks to these movies. Yet there’s a problem.

The original Star Wars movies were ensemble pictures. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are the major heroes, obviously, but lots of other characters play critical roles in the story line for brief periods. It’s about the struggle between the Empire and the Rebellion, not just between say, Luke and Vader or Han Solo and authority. To a certain extent, this is true about the first prequel, too. You have several people sharing the main role, including Obi Wan, Qui Gon, Padme, and even Jar-Jar.

However, the second and third movies should, absolutely, have been Anakin Skywalker’s movies, front and center, no doubt about it. He is the single most important character, and for whatever reason, they made a terrible choice. Christensen’s acting feels wooden and forced. Yes, Anakin is a conflicted teenager, but that shouldn’t be literally his only emotion. At no point does he dominate the scene. He has no presence.

It’s worse when he’s paired with people like Christopher Lee, who completely engulfs him. Christopher Lee is that kind of actor — he either raises your game or completely demolishes you. I took Yoda 100x more seriously when he fought Christopher Lee. I took Anakin less seriously.

If the second and third movies are to be fantastic films, Anakin has to be the person worth watching. He isn’t. He’s just… there. His one flash of greatness was when he goes to the Jedi Temple. The purposeful stride, the complete lack of remorse — that was a compelling moment. The moment dies when he reverts to whiny teenager mode again. The battle between Obi Wan and Anakin at the end of the third movie — which should be the highlight of the prequels — isn’t. It isn’t Obi Wan’s fault. It’s Anakin’s.

So, there you are. If I could do one thing to those movies, it would not be erasing Jar-Jar. It would be erasing Anakin.

6 thoughts on “The real reason the Star Wars prequels aren’t great

  1. You’re missing my biggest reason: the writing. George Lucas is a terrible script writer. He has some great ideas, but note that the best movie in the series is the one he didn’t write. Good writing may not have saved Hayden Christensen but at least it could have helped, and an elite writer probably would have figured out that Christensen was all wrong for the role as envisioned and try to alter the role subtly to fit Christensen better.

    I’d argue that pretty much all of your problems that you list come down to bad writing. Even the World’s Worst Cinematic Relationship contender (edging out Twilight) came as a result of writers who couldn’t get the job done.

    For a reminder, I bring to you the Red Letter Media review of Star Wars: Episode II.

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