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For more than 40 years, Star Wars has been a cinematic phenomenon that has captured the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers worldwide. It is a brand so well recognized and beloved that it is nearly impossible to imagine a world without it. And yet, since the release of the prequels, there has been a divide forming between the fans. There seem to be factions that have arisen out of the debates that this franchise has brought up.
There are the purists that only love the original trilogy. These fans mainly belong to the generation that grew up in the 1970s and 80s. This group will never accept the modifications made in the special edition and they basically disown the prequels from canon. They won't even call the movies by their current official titles. Instead of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope they will simply call it by its original title: Star Wars. They refuse to acknowledge anything else in the film series as a result of their disappointment with nearly everything that's recent. This group has a deep disdain for the prequels and believe that they have no redeeming qualities.
Then there are the ones that actually like the prequels despite their obvious flaws. I count myself as a member of this group. The bulk of this group, like myself, grew up in the 1990s and these were the Star Wars movies that we got to experience in the theater. As a child, I loved all (at that time) six films. I'm sure I wasn't the only fan whose imagination was captured by all those movies. Despite the fact that the prequels weren't as good as the original trilogy, fans should recognize that it was exciting to be a young Star Wars fan in the late 90s and early 2000s just like it is for kids today with the new movies, comics, and shows.
The Disney acquisition of Star Wars complicates things a bit in the world of fandom. From this arises the pro-Disney fan and the anti-Disney fan (which can be best described as a cynical purist).
All these groups have their differing opinions but their love of the franchise is what they all share in common, which I find interesting. I believe that nearly everything that I've seen from Star Wars has something interesting or fun and has something to contribute to the franchise. Let's explore some of the popular opinions on the movies and I will give examples of what they add to the franchise and prove that there is always something that the true fan can appreciate. For the sake of length (and also to avoid stating the obvious) let's assume that the original trilogy is universally loved and that certain early spin-offs (Holiday Special, Ewok Movies, Droids animated series) are irredeemable and contribute absolutely nothing to the franchise.
'Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition' (VHS 1997, DVD 2004)
Let's begin with what was an omen of things to come. Back in 1995, the original trilogy was released on VHS (if you don't know what that is, google it). This was the VHS that I watched as a child (I actually didn't get to see the special edition until the DVD release in 2004). But in 1997, the special edition was released and the movies had updated special effects and even new scenes added in. This irked a lot of fans as they found these changes to be unnecessary and they spoil the experience of watching the movies.
Here's my defense of the special edition: Though admittedly the new effects are not seamless (Jabba scene in Episode IV) and some additions were unnecessary (especially that weird musical number in Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi... it's cringeworthy), some changes are definitely welcome. The Death Star Battle in Episode IV needed an update and I believe that the CG made the action more dynamic and nicer to look at. Also the addition of some new establishing shots and creatures on Tatooine weren't bad either. Empire Strikes Back fortunately was the least modified of the three. The main change that they made in this one was the addition of some exterior shots of Cloud City, which look beautiful, and some new footage of Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine that replaces the original scene where the Emperor is played by an old lady with horrible makeup. Finally, Return of the Jedi didn't have major changes either (except for the aforementioned and nightmarish musical number). All they added was a monster's body to the Sarlacc pit and eyelids on the Ewoks. Two minor changes that don't necessarily hinder the film.
'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace'
(Deep breath) OK, so now I get to defend the prequels. I must admit, this is going to be challenging. Before I go any further, let me just state that I don't disagree with most of the criticism that the prequels get, I'm merely saying that it is not all bad. There is still some good in there.
Back in 1999 expectations were at an all time high; Star Wars was coming back after 16 years. Imagine having to wait that long for the next movie; thanks to Disney you don't have to anymore. Anyway, we got The Phantom Menace and though it was a successful movie, it had a mixed reception from fans. Main complaints were: an uninteresting plot that centered around politics, young Anakin is boring, big spaceship blows up at the end (we've seen that twice before), and of course Jar Jar.
My defense: If you ask me, I agree with these complaints to a degree but again, it isn't all bad. Yes, the plot was pretty mundane as it centered around trade routes and turmoil in the galactic senate. But, it does give us an idea of how society, government and politics work in the Star Wars universe and that isn't a bad thing because we get to see how things work before the Empire. Less emphasis on this aspect would've been nice. As for Anakin, they just needed a better actor, preferably older. Blowing up the big ship at the end served to connect Anakin with Luke and show the audience how father and son had similar origins but ultimately had different fate because of the path that each chose (light vs. dark). Finally, Jar Jar...there's really no use in defending him so I'll skip him. However, it is because of him that this movie gets a bad reputation and fans forget some of the good things that this episode has to offer. For example, the podrace scene. It is a truly exciting action sequence and one of the highlights of the prequels, maybe even the whole series. There is also young Obi-Wan, expertly played by Ewan McGregor. Young Obi-Wan is one of the few things that no Star Wars fan can or should complain about in the prequels ('nuff said). Let's also not forget what Episode I gave us: the best lightsaber duel in any of the movies: Jinn & Kenobi vs. Maul. The choreography is beautiful, rhythmic and a work of art. It shows the Jedi in their prime and shows the audience how action-packed a duel can be, as opposed to what we see in the original trilogy.
'Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones'
Alright, I'll be brief on this one. There is a strong argument to be made that this one is the weakest of the prequels. Overuse of CG, cringeworthy dialogue, and an awkward romantic subplot between Anakin and Padmé.
My defense: Though heavily flawed, this movie has some highlights.
- The chase scene in Coruscant
- Jango vs Kenobi (both the dogfight and their fight on the landing pad in Kamino)
- Anakin starting the path towards the Dark Side at the Tusken Raider village
- Christopher Lee as Count Dooku
- Hundreds of Jedi fighting in Geonosis led by Mace Windu
- The battle of Geonosis between the Clone Army and the Separatists
- Dooku vs. Anakin and Obi-Wan
- We finally get to see Yoda use a lightsaber.
...and we got a lot less Jar Jar!
'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith'
Many will agree that this one is the best of the prequels (cynics will say it is "the least bad"). There aren't many complaints for this one. Some examples include:
- Dialogue between Anakin and Padmé is still a bit awkward
- More overuse of CG and greenscreen
- Darth Vader's "Nooooooooooo!" at the end.
Not a whole lot for me to defend here. This movie is clearly the best of the prequels and has what is arguably the best opening scene of the series with the Battle of Coruscant. This movie is full of good battle scenes in cool looking planets like Kashyyyk (we finally get to see the Wookie homeworld) and Utapau, among others. I must say that one good thing to take away from the prequels is that they introduced some interesting and memorable planets (like Coruscant and Naboo). Other great moments include the duel between Palpatine and Windu and Palpatine vs. Yoda inside the Senate. this movie also gave us what I consider to be the second best duel in the series: Anakin vs. Obi-Wan. Not to mention we also get to see the birth of the Empire and the rise of Darth Vader.
To summarize, the prequels do have redeeming qualities for true fans. Contrary to the beliefs of the purists they are not all bad. Are they flawed? Of course. Are the common criticisms fair? For the most part. Is the original trilogy better? Yes. Like the protagonist, Anakin, the prequels have a dark side but there is also good in them. We as fans can't keep bashing these movies and forgetting what they contribute to the franchise. Many fans will claim that they are overly critical because they care about and love Star Wars so much. To me, that doesn't make any sense. If you truly love something, you have to be able to accept the good with the bad. It's kind of like a relationship, either with a family member or a significant other. And I'm not saying you have to like the prequels or anything outside of the original trilogy. You're allowed to disagree and dislike, but let's be honest, what do you gain by bashing something that other people like? What do you accomplish by being unfair and overly critical? I use the word "unfair" because a lot of people will say that they have yet to experience that feeling of excitement from when they saw the original Star Wars. Here's the hard truth: you're never going to get that feeling again, especially in the same exact way that you want it. Let's all (as fans) recognize that each movie has its value and let's not take their flaws too seriously. After all, they're just movies.