Many will probably disagree with my placement of George Lucas’s three-part return to the Star Wars universe. I have heard all the scorn for this trilogy: Jake Lloyd is the worst child actor of all time. What’s with all this Midi-chlorian crap? Hayden Christensen is so whiny and insipid as Anakin. The romantic dialogue is as corny as a popping machine and less entertaining. The politics drag, and the acting is mediocre. Nothing is as good as it should have been. These films are an embarrassment to the originals. Jar Jar Binks must die!
With all these criticisms, how then did the Star Wars prequels earn a place in my top 100? Quite simply, it’s because they’re far better than most people give them credit for. Do they compare with the first three as a whole? No. Are they flawed? Yes. But amid the minor annoyances that have garnered so much loathing, there are genuine moments of brilliance, with the visuals especially, that do make them worthy of the Star Wars name.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the weakest of the three because of its two most hated elements: Jar Jar Binks and the young Anakin Skywalker. Neither one ever bothered me much. There are much worse child actors than Jake Lloyd out there, and Jar Jar’s comic relief is not totally without charm, though it’s overplayed compared with the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi (again, I don’t mind the teddy bears). I agree that Lucas should not have tried to explain the Force with inscrutable talk of Midi-chlorians, but to me, these minor frustrations are overshadowed by the exciting, effects-laden sequences and the otherwise solid casting. Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson (the first time I’d seen either of them) lend respectable sobriety, which is needed next to Jar Jar, and Ewan McGregor plays an up-and-coming Obi-Wan Kenobi who grew to become my favorite character in the next two films. Though his demise was a bit shocking at the time, Darth Maul also proves to be a formidable adversary. The pod race is far from pointless, as some detractors claim; it’s meant to buy Ani’s freedom and to be tense, impressive, and above all fun, and in my opinion, it succeeds, as do the battle scenes at the end. And let’s not forget John Williams’s magnificent score, which truly qualifies the film for its genre of space opera; no score could come closer to matching his musical achievement with the original Star Wars.
The first film was certainly closest to deserving its opprobrium, but Episode II: Attack of the Clones is as close to perfect entertainment as the prequels get. Perhaps I’m biased by the fact that it was the first Star Wars film I viewed in the theater, but it’s easily my favorite of the prequels. From the speeder chase on Coruscant to Obi-Wan’s rain-drenched duel with Jango Fett, Attack of the Clones offers the most exciting plot, as well as several explanations to burning questions, such as “What do all those stormtroopers look like?” While I think the first film’s obvious age difference between Anakin and Padmé was written away with the casting of Christensen, their relationship is sufficiently progressive to make it believable, even if the dialogue is indeed shallow. Plus, Anakin’s return to Tatooine is certainly a plausible prelude to his descent to the dark side. Episode II also possesses what is probably my favorite sequence of the entire saga: the Coliseum battle and its combination of giant monsters, droids, clones, bounty hunters, Jedi, a few pithy lines, and hopelessly romantic epicness, not to mention a subsequent peek at Yoda’s latent lightsaber prowess. I, for one, did not leave that theater disappointed.
I enjoyed watching Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated Star Wars: Clone Wars, which was released between the second and third films and set the stage for Episode III; thus, I was excited for Star Wars’ supposedly final installment. Revenge of the Sith is not an obvious favorite, not because it is bad (it actually received the best reception of the three), but because it is a tragedy, one that is surprisingly well-told. It essentially explains how Darth Vader came to be and how his children were separated. Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s life, foreshadowed by his premonitions about his mother in Episode II, is an effective catalyst for his moral plunge, though his embracing of murder is no less shocking or frustrating. The special effects of Episode III far surpass any other Star Wars film, and from droid commander General Grievous to Yoda’s showdown with the Emperor, from breathtaking beginning to tragic end, it is truly a feast for the eyes. (I love how the Yoda fight turned the long-established setting of the Senate chamber into an extravagant set piece.) The lava duel finale at last achieves the visual and emotional awe that words like saga and space opera imply; plus, the Emperor’s political intrigue provides timely, if occasionally ponderous, insights into the clandestine machinations of dictators. As splendid as Revenge can be, it’s depressing as heck and “ended” Lucas’s films on a disheartening note sorely in need of A New Hope.
Haters and critics can ridicule and underrate these films all they want, but George Lucas’s complete vision of the Star Wars saga is an absolute spectacle that earned him an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award after Revenge of the Sith was released. Yes, the dialogue is its weakest point, but the actors do their best with the sometimes clunky lines, such as Darth Vader’s lame climactic “Noooo.” Quiddities aside, the entire story of Anakin Skywalker deserved a full telling, and the Star Wars prequels supplied a fantastically realized narrative and some of the finest action sequences of the modern CGI era. I’ll be interested to see what J. J. Abrams has in store for the continuation of the franchise. Considering what he’s already done with Star Trek, I have high hopes for Episode VII.Best line from The Phantom Menace: (Jar Jar Binks) “How wude!” More serious best line for The Phantom Menace: (Yoda, to Anakin) “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.” Best line from Attack of the Clones: (Anakin, as their coliseum execution begins) “What about Padmé?” (Obi-Wan, as Padmé climbs onto a pillar) “She seems to be on top of things.” More serious best line from Attack of the Clones: (Queen of Naboo) “We have to keep our faith in the Republic. The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.” (Padmé) “Let’s pray that day never comes.” Best line from Revenge of the Sith: (Anakin, crash-landing Grievous’s ship) “We lost something.” (Obi-Wan) “Not to worry. We’re still flying half a ship.” More serious best line from Revenge of the Sith: (Padmé, as the Emperor takes over with full senatorial support) “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”
Rank: 53 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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