Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fixing the Prequels: Finale



The Fixing the Prequels series was never, as I’ve noted many times throughout, a project for me to complain about the much-hated films. My goal was always to acknowledge the Prequel Trilogy’s very real problems by suggesting ways they could have been overcome whilst preserving the main story, while also arguing that the films are often much, much better than their reputations have developed. I intended this series to end a long time ago, and my hope was that as time went by, the Prequels would gain a bit in the main estimation of pop culture. I never expected them to become beloved, but I hoped that their many good qualities would look better from a distance, and the angry and often obnoxious rhetoric about them whenever they were brought up would become less toxic.

This, sadly, has not happened.

The tone regarding the Prequel Trilogy has remained as belligerently hostile as ever, with seemingly every discussion of Star Wars that comes up either devolving into, or at least involving a substantial detour, into “Why the Prequels were awful” and “Why George Lucas is the worst thing ever” and all the other boring memes, like “Lucas needed someone to tell him ‘No’” and the always-dreary appeals that all the best thinking about the Prequels was ever done by the noxious Red Letter Media guy. Even the sale of Star Wars to Disney, with the subsequent rejuvenation of the franchise with a new trilogy of films plus a number of spin-off movies, ended up with a lot of cheering that “Hooray! Finally we get Star Wars that has nothing to do with George Lucas!” and “I wonder if they’ll completely ignore the Prequels!” and so on.

To this day, while I understand a lot of the criticism these three films have received, I’ve never understood the outright hatred of them. Their mere existence serves to dredge up a fairly ugly side of fandom every time they arise in conversation. I just end up shrugging and saying “Oh well”, all at the same time avoiding a lot of Star Wars discussion, because I just tire of saying the same things, over and over again.

Episode VII has a title. Let's mark the day by bitching about THE PHANTOM MENACE! #StarWars

Anyway, I have some final thoughts on things regarding the Prequels and Star Wars in general, so I thought I’d gather them in one place as an epilogue to this series in general.

Midichlorians

Might as well start here. I touched on the midichlorians in several places throughout the series (here and here, mainly), and my view on them has generally not changed at all. I see the midichlorians as an error on George Lucas’s part, but not from a philosophical standpoint but rather from a storytelling standpoint. I’ve never bought into the notion that by introducing midichlorians as some kind of “mechanism” for the Force, Lucas undermined the mysticism of the original trilogy. The problem is that there just doesn’t seem to have been any story reason to introduce them. The midichlorians add absolutely nothing to the narrative. They’re just kind of “there”, gumming up the works. There’s a very vague implication in Revenge of the Sith, when Palpatine tells Anakin that Darth Plagueis was able to influence the midichlorians to “create life”, that somehow he is responsible for Anakin’s “virgin birth”, but that’s all we have to go on. It’s my understanding that one of the “Expanded Universe” novels actually did something with that concept, but I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter now anyway, as the whole “Expanded Universe” has been swept beneath the rug. The very base suggestion seem to be that the Force somehow noticed that it was out of “balance”, and that it therefore influenced the midichlorians to bring forth a specially powerful being to restore that balance. This, though, also is never really dealt with or stated outright, so the midichlorians remain what they always were: a vexing idea that seemed to have no real reason to be there in the first place.

The “Balance” of the Force

This, too, was a vexing concept that was never really discussed. The prophecy was that someone would bring “balance” to the Force, and it was pretty much assumed by everyone that Anakin was the “Chosen One”. Oddly, though, it was never really discussed at all just how the Force was out of “balance” in the first place. The Jedi seemed to assume that “balance” would mean the destruction of the Sith, but...we’re talking balance here, right? Equal measures of yin and yang, not all the way one way or the other. I suspect that what Lucas had in mind here was that a thousand years of the Jedi maintaining peace and justice in the Old Republic led to a calcified, entrenched group of Jedi who were pretty much so set in their ways as to never budge. This is hinted at a number of times in the Prequels, what with the Jedi’s surprise that the Sith could have returned without being noticed and other similar markers along the way. Not until Revenge of the Sith does Yoda note that they might have misread the prophecy all along.

The general implication is that Anakin must play his role, turning to the Dark Side and destroying the Jedi so that they might rise again, stronger and wiser. Metaphorically, Anakin is like the forest fire that clears the forest of dead brush that is choking off new growth, and that “balance” is not restored until Anakin personally destroys Emperor Palpatine, at the cost of his own life. With their deaths, Governor Tarkin’s words from A New Hope come true, as the last remnants of that earlier time are, at last, “swept away”.

All this plays into my notion that Lucas probably should have played more strongly with the angle that the Jedi were not in their prime at the time of their fall, but were actually succumbing to ruin and rot without ever realizing it. For years I’ve thought that the Jedi were roughly analogous to the Knights Templar, who also retreated so far into their own arrogant self-assurance that they too did not realize that their end was at hand almost until the moment the attacks came and they were tied to the stakes and the firewood at their feet lit.

No “signature” ship

Now here’s a criticism of the Prequel Trilogy that does not come up as often as some others, but it’s one that actually does have real resonance with me: there is no single ship that appears throughout the Prequels, no one ship to signify the Prequel era and tie the films together.

In space opera, ships are important. In fact, ships become characters themselves. In Star Trek, each iteration of the Enterprise has been a beloved part of each show or movie. Firefly fans, like myself, can’t imagine the show without Serenity. And in the Original Star Wars trilogy, the Millennium Falcon is as iconic as it gets. When Luke and company defeat Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, the real moment of triumph is not when Jabba’s sail barge explodes, but rather when we cut to space right after, and the Millennium Falcon soars to space again.

The Prequel Trilogy has no single ship to tie everything together and serve as a backdrop for the adventures within, and that’s a problem that I just couldn’t solve in this series, given my intent on keeping the main story of the Prequels intact. The closest we get is that a chrome-hulled Naboo cruiser appears in each film, but it’s a different ship each time. There isn’t one ship to serve as the backdrop for all the adventures; there’s no single ship that is the scene of victories and heartbreaks. Ships matter in space opera, and while there are a lot of neat ships in the Prequel Trilogy, none of them becomes a home to the story. A great ship is a character in itself, and the absence of one definitely hurt the Prequel Trilogy’s sense of inhabitability. There was never a really strong sense of returning to a familiar place, as there often was in the Original Trilogy when we saw the Falcon, or even Luke’s X-wing or the bridge of a Star Destroyer.

Palpatine’s “Long game”

This is, to me, an underrated aspect of the Prequel Trilogy. I remember after The Phantom Menace, people complaining about the fact that Palpatine/Sidious is exerting all that energy to get a treaty signed to make Naboo subservient to the Trade Federation, and pretty much the exact opposite happens – and yet, Palpatine still wins. Why did he care, then?

I suspect that he actually didn’t care. Not really. Whether the treaty got signed or not never really mattered; what he was doing was sowing discontent in the very fabric of the Republic. He was creating tension that he could then use to his advantage, giving rise to a notion of the Republic as increasingly faulty and unable to function. Whether or not Naboo fell in line or somehow managed to get off the hook was never of major concern, which suggests that Palpatine was actually a genius at adapting his plans and spotting opportunities while everyone else was merely reacting to day-to-day events. Consider: Palpatine was scheming the creation of the Clone Army a full ten years before a need for such a thing was even recognized. That’s a pretty big thing.

This, in turn, suggests that Palpatine’s eventual fall was due to his eventual failure to keep adapting to circumstances. As Luke Skywalker would eventually say, “Your overconfidence is your weakness,” and this turns out to be exactly right. The Palpatine of the Prequel Trilogy would never let a bunch of sentient teddy bears destroy his precious defense shield! The Palpatine of the Prequel Trilogy was never overconfident.

The nature of the Sith

The films never really make much clear about who the Sith are or what they were doing. The implication is that they are basically the Dark Side equivalent of Jedi, but some history would have been called for at some point. What was the “revenge” they were seeking? What were they trying to accomplish? The films didn’t really address any of this at all, which I always found slightly vexing. Some of this was eventually explored in Expanded Universe stuff, but again, the Expanded Universe has been wiped clean, so...I guess we still don’t know. (Maybe they could take the step of only erasing Expanded Universe stuff past Return of the Jedi, but even then, it’s still disappointing.)

Whither Star Wars?

Where does Star Wars go from here? I expect that Disney is going to try making it into a mega-franchise not unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will be interesting. Star Wars is going to end up looking very different each time out, I suspect. Will it be too much? Probably not for me, but I do kind-of worry about losing something along the way: the sense that Star Wars was about a single story. I’d hate to see Peter Jackson start making all manner of “Middle Earth” movies, about anything and everything he can think of, once The Hobbit is done. But even so, it’s a big Galaxy, with lots of stories to be told. Maybe one day The Empire Strikes Back will be joined, at long last, by another Star Wars film none of whose action takes place on Tatooine!

I’ll be there, whenever there’s a new Star Wars film to be seen. Will I have the same connection to Star Wars as it continues to unfold? I don’t know. I’ll see the movies, but there’s a very real sense in which my Star Wars ended when Revenge of the Sith came out. What comes now will be fun to watch (I hope), but it really feels like what’s coming is the next generation’s Star Wars, not mine. I hope they play nicely with the old toys. And if they find grand space opera to their liking, I’ve got one for them!

With that, I think I can safely, and finally, call Fixing the Prequels complete. This has been fun, and at long last, I can end with this:

3 comments:

Jason said...

I have to confess, I feel a bit wistful about the end of this project... I think "Fixing the Prequels" might have been how I found you in the first place.

You and I disagree on many of the specifics of how the Star Wars series has been handled (and how it would've been handled better), but generally speaking, I'm on your side. I really wish people would lighten the hell up about the prequels. In the end, they really are just movies, guys.

I suspect the deeply bitter people simply can't wrap their heads around the fact that George turned out to be human after all, and that their expectations would've been impossible for any storyteller to live up to. It'll be interesting to see whether the upcoming movies get accepted... or not... and whether reaction to them may include any sort of reappraisal of the prequels.

In any case, thanks for some great thinking on a subject that all too often ends in bad feelings.

Roger Owen Green said...

Your affection for them makes me want to try to give them a chance. (Saw #1: HATED it, and never saw the other two.)

Nick Zwar said...

Seriously, what bothered me most about the prequels is that they tied in poorly with the original trilogy. For me, that was the biggest le-down.