Star Wars Prequel Trilogy Review

Posted: December 19, 2015 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this little independent movie coming out called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In case you didn’t know, it’s actually the seventh in this huge sci-fi fantasy franchise that began way back in 1977. Still lost? Well, that’s where I’m here to help, because I’ve taken it upon myself to go back through the first six before seeing The Force Awakens, and you’re welcome to join me on this journey if you so choose.

We begin, unfortunately, with the three prequels …

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

I have no illusions about the fact that I liked a lot of crap movies as a kid, but at the same time, I don’t think I can or should be blamed for it. Among the list of said films that I look back on and say, “What the hell was wrong with me?” is Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s not hard to see why, though: writer/director George Lucas obviously made the film more with the kid audience and toy marketability in mind rather than good storytelling, but my naive young little mind being what it was, I ate it all up. Before now, I can’t remember when was the last time I watched The Phantom Menace in full, but it’s one I’ve been dreading on revisiting for quite some time, and boy oh boy, is it something.

There’s really very little point in sitting here and criticizing how the film is built around an incredibly uninteresting interplanetary trade dispute (what is this, a third-rate intergalactic version of The West Wing?), so why don’t I just focus on the plethora of other problems that plague this movie? I know there’s been plenty of bashing for this film over the years, but I’ve never formally gotten the chance to do so myself, so go with me on this. The Phantom Menace makes it abundantly clear that George Lucas neither has an ear for convincing and natural dialogue, nor does he have a knack for coaxing strong performances out his actors. So much of The Phantom Menace feels stiff, especially in terms of specific plot points and the required emotional responses to both those and the characters. Not only that, but the movie as a whole simply feels too mechanical for its own good. Where’s the passion? Where’s the compelling storyline, the fun and relatable characters, the expansion of intriguing mythology? Right down the trash compactor, that’s where.

Things start with Jar Jar Binks and just get worse from there. It’s safe to call Jar Jar the hemorrhoid on the ass that is this movie. Every second he’s on-screen seems to lower the IQ of the viewer. One could ask what the hell George Lucas was thinking when he came up with this character, but the answer is simple: give kids what they “want.” The rest of the cast of characters aren’t much better, as they’re all either mostly boring or annoying. I won’t give Jake Lloyd much grief because this was a very tall order for any young child actor, and the material he was given didn’t do him any favors. But what’s the excuse for actors like Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, all of whom had more experience before this? I’ll admit Neeson does the best with what he has, and he’s the most tolerable to watch, but that’s the equivalent of polishing a turd. The rest of the acting verges on Amateur Hour.

The majority of whatever merit The Phantom Menace has comes from its technical aspects: most of the lightsaber battles and action scenes (stupid inserted one-liners aside), some decently-constructed sets and John Williams’ score. The climatic three-way lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul is pretty awesome and even though the pod racing scene feels overlong, I have to admit I enjoy that as well. And as bad as this movie is, it’s surprisingly well-paced, so that’s a plus for me. The Phantom Menace is still an unbelievably mishandled movie, however, and unfortunately, it would be a warning for things to come.

*1/2 /****

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

The fact that Attack of the Clones is not only a really bad movie, but also the worst of the prequels, is particularly disappointing and frustrating because this is one that, IN THEORY, should — and had the potential — to be good, but the execution lets it down nearly every step of the way. The same sets of problems that hindered The Phantom Menace are still around, but in addition, there are new ones that specifically relate to this installment that brings the overall quality down even further. Objectively speaking, Attack of the Clones is probably the messiest of the Star Wars prequels, and I say that because there are so many things — both good and bad — at conflict with each other, fighting for dominance, but they’re all ultimately mushed together in a sloppy, CGI-fueled hodgepodge of elements that’s curiously both bad and somehow watchable at the same time. Like I said, though, there are quite a few glimmers of potential that break through the cracks here and there, but it’s a string of bad decisions that kills those glimmers to make this the frustrating kind of bad movie.

Let me elaborate on those glimmers: Attack of the Clones is essentially centered around the gradual descent of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to the mindset that will eventually turn him to the Dark Side of the Force while at the same time, he tries to hold onto his humanity. That right there is a great premise that should allow for some good, compelling drama, but instead, it involves a number of scenes meant to be powerful that just fall flat. The main emotional crux of the story is Anakin’s romantic relationship with Padme (Natalie Portman), and how Anakin’s internal conflict is sometimes at odds with that and his Jedi training. That right there should invite a decent amount of strong character moments and scenes, but the script ruins that by cramming too much into the running time and not developing anything properly. For all the awful dialogue on display, I’ll give George Lucas this: he at least had the right instincts, but he fails to effectively execute them.

If the relationship between Anakin and Padme had been both better-written and acted, it would have helped the movie. If there wasn’t such an abundance of childish humor and stupid one-liners punctuating the action scenes, at least some of the potential here could have been met. But Lucas constantly mishandles his own material. Consider if Anakin had been written and portrayed stronger: the impact of his character arc would have felt more impactful. Instead, practically none of the big character moments hit home because they’re being handled by a writer/director who doesn’t know how to properly write these scenes, nor get convincing performances out of his actors. If those elements had been done right, then Attack of the Clones COULD really have been good.

Speaking of good, I’ll say this for the movie: despite the unnecessary over-reliance of CGI throughout, I enjoy the majority of the film’s action sequences. The spaceship chase in the asteroid field is neat, as is the whole climax of the film, which has a nice energy about it. And of course, John Williams’ score for the movie is excellent — and undeserving of a film this bad — particularly the central theme:

I’d personally consider Attack of the Clones the low point of the prequel trilogy, in spite of the presence of some promising elements. At the same time, though, I actually do wish this movie was better, because with a few script polishes and a more capable director, this could really have been good. As it is, Attack of the Clones is the frustrating kind of bad movie, and that’s one of the worst kinds.

*1/2 /****

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Revenge of the Sith is the best and most watchable of the prequels, but that isn’t saying much, nor is it saying that it’s a good movie; it’s just the least annoying film in the bunch. As was the case with the first two, whatever good may be present is massively outweighed by the bad. However, I wouldn’t call Revenge of the Sith an awful movie, merely a mediocre one at best.

The most unfortunate thing about it, though, is that for a movie meant to have a considerable amount of dramatic weight, and for a film that’s over two hours long, Revenge of the Sith feels rather rushed most of the time. Or maybe it’s just that George Lucas put more effort in the technical aspects of the film instead of the character/plot beats (which is pretty likely), I dunno, it all just feels in a hurry to get to the end, as if Lucas himself was ready to be done with it. The whole first act of this film is one big continuous action sequence, so that already cuts into the time that could’ve been spent telling more of the story. But no, George Lucas could care less about story; he just wants to show you all this CGI and a multitude of battles that never end. Speaking of, only a few of said action sequences work. The rest of them simply feel like padding for the running time, in spite of the stakes involved in the story.

It goes without saying that the acting is still awful and the dialogue still stilted as hell a lot of the time, but what about the stuff that DOES work? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the conversation between Anakin and Palpatine in the opera house. That scene is one of the best of the film because the intrigue of the mythology being told and the power of the atmosphere in the scene itself is really strong. The montage of the Jedi falling victim to soldiers of the Sith is also pretty powerful, in particular just the simple shot of Anakin activating his lightsaber in front of the young Jedi trainees. The climactic scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin on the volcanic planet works not so much for the fight itself, but because the emotion of it is felt. I also think the final shot of the film in and of itself is pretty goosebump-worthy. And there are a handful of action scenes I enjoy.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Revenge of the Sith is a disappointing end to an even more disappointing trilogy. The temptation is certainly there to just ignore the prequel trilogy altogether and pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s like the alcoholic family member everybody’s ashamed of but they have to acknowledge simply because they’re still in the family, no matter how much you wish it weren’t so.

**/****

Stay tuned for my Original Trilogy Review!

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your ratings of these films. I was 7 in 1977 when Episode IV came out so I bonded with that film throughout my childhood and the prequels were just a disaster in terms of building a feeling of connection with IV. On Christmas Day I’m taking the family to see Episode VII and I’m hearing it’s more like IV than the prequels which is ironic because Lucas made the prequels and a different director has made VII.

  2. […] Source: Star Wars Prequel Trilogy Review | PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews […]

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