The Star Wars prequels are not great films. Many people have gone into great detail about what those films did wrong. So, instead of repeating all of their problems, I’m going to talk about what the Star Wars prequels did right.
Twentieth Century Fox Distributed
George Lucas is a savvy businessman. When he inked his contract to make the first Star Wars film, he famously gained exclusive rights to all merchandise. But many people don’t know he also gained control of all sequels, prequels and spinoffs. Because of that oversight, Twentieth Century Fox had to negotiate to be the distributor for each new Star Wars movie. They did have one important bargaining chip, though: Fan expectations.
Alfred Newman’s Twentieth Century Fox fanfare is so familiar to Star Wars fans that if it were left out, it just wouldn’t feel like a Star Wars film. Thank goodness Lucas decided to work with Twentieth Century Fox on the prequels. Seeing and hearing those familiar sights and sounds from the very beginning assured audiences their decades of patience were about to be rewarded.
The Opening Titles
Few movies can start with enormous paragraphs of crawling text explaining years of back story and be taken seriously. But you can’t start a Star Wars movie any other way.
In the original Star Wars films, the opening summary helped audiences get some idea of what to expect rather than just throwing them into a confusing situation with no guide. In the prequels, audiences still felt confused about the story even after the end credits rolled, but at least they had a minute of classic Star Wars music to enjoy as they struggled to read and understand what was going on.
John Williams’ Music
Of course, the opening credits wouldn’t be so great to watch if it weren’t for John Williams’ score. His new themes are just as potent as ever in the prequels. “Duel of the Fates” is probably the highlight of Episode I’s soundtrack, making a straightforward fight scene feel downright epic.
“Anakin’s Theme” in The Phantom Menace is underrated and beautiful. It encapsulates the innocence, sadness and foreboding future of young Anakin Skywalker. “Across the Stars,” the love theme from Attack of the Clones, builds on “Anakin’s Theme,” putting the tragedy front and center in its sounds of restless longing. I didn’t care much for the score of Revenge of the Sith, probably because it was difficult to hear over all the noise.
Shmi Skywalker’s Death Scene
It was sad to see Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, killed in such a contrived way in Attack of the Clones. She was a good part of the The Phantom Menace, adding depth to what her son was giving up by leaving home. In Episode II, I felt most engaged as I watched Anakin track down his mother. But I was totally unprepared for what happened when he found her.
He finds her tied to a cross and she has clearly been tortured and badly beaten. Despite her agony, she is happy to see Anakin and she treats him in such a tender way, saying she’s proud of him. But then, just as she is struggling to say “you” in “I love you,” she suddenly goes limp in his arms.
The way Anakin struggles to keep her with him and how she looks when she dies are devastating. In this scene, I love those two characters and there’s nothing more I want than for them to be happy. But I know that they’ll never be happy together again. The fact that she couldn’t even say “I love you” cements the tragedy. This is a superb, well-acted scene filled with emotion.
Anakin Skywalker’s Reaction to His Evil
Even better than Shmi’s death scene is Anakin’s reaction to it. He casually leaves the tent and proceeds to slaughter all the Sand People in the village who he feels are responsible for his mother’s death. And that leads to my favorite scene in Attack of the Clones.
It’s a very simple scene. Anakin is standing in a room working on some piece of equipment when Padme Amidala enters and offers him something to eat. He’s not hungry. The worry and inner conflict are eating him up inside. Not looking or talking to anyone in particular, he says, “Life seems so much simpler when you’re fixing things. I’m good at fixing things.” Those two sentences contain so much truth. Anyone who has done something terrible that they think they can never be forgiven for knows how he feels at that moment. You feel like your life is over, so you try to go back to when things made sense. But you can’t. Even going through the motions of doing something good feels like a failure because your heart isn’t in it.
As soon as Anakin says,” Why’d she have to die?” the spell is broken and I’m suddenly reminded of how poor the acting is in Attack of the Clones. But for the few precious seconds before that, I was completely engrossed in the movie, and I understood Anakin’s pain.
The First Part of the Arena Battle
The first part of the arena battle in Attack of the Clones is an exercise in what used to pass for great entertainment. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin and Padme are weaponless and tied up when they’re confronted by three huge creatures looking for a meal. Our heroes have to use their brains to escape their bonds and then somehow fend off the creatures. There are no cheap tricks and no copouts – it’s just three people desperately trying to stay alive.
Unfortunately, when the Jedi and the deus ex machina… I mean, clone army, arrive, it all goes downhill. But those first few minutes were thrilling.
Old-Fashioned Wipe Transitions
The original Star Wars films have a unique feel, partly because of the creative wipes that transition from scene to scene. For example, when a damaged C3PO is standing up, the screen wipes from bottom to top. Luckily, they used many of these same wipes in the prequels. You might not even notice them because they’re fairly subtle, but they add to the experience.
Each of the prequels ends with a scene (or several brief scenes) without dialogue. This is a nice homage to the original films’ endings. It gives us a chance to celebrate the victories, mourn the losses and contemplate the future of the characters. This sense of continuity further adds credibility to the prequels as true successors to the original trilogy.
I wish the Star Wars prequels had been better. I wanted to love them, but I instead have to settle for liking these small parts of them.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All photos from the Star Wars films are the copyright of Lucasfilm, Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox.
Nice stuff and I cannot disagree with any of your observations. My wife and I recently rewatched all 6 films in order over a couple week period. It was brought home to me again how many great and fun things were in these prequel films and how much the bad seemed even worse by comparison to these small moments of magic and triumph. There are parts of the prequels that feel like Star Wars to me and I’ll always be grateful for them, even while wishing the three prequel films could have been something special.
Flawed as they may be, if you think the few good things about the prequels are those you have listed above, I’m afraid you didn’t even understand what were those films about.
Thank you for your comment. The Star Wars prequels did many things okay, but I wanted to highlight the few things that stood out that they really got right.
Yes, I got what you intended to do with your text, and I agree in a couple of your statements. But in my opinion, highlighting the wipe transitions over things such as Anakin’s final step into the Dark Side shows little understanding of what Lucas did with those movies. That final step (just an example, but one of the most important things in the entire saga) was a departure of the easy explanation everyone was expecting: “Anakin turns baaad”. Instead, Lucas explores the flaws of the human being, showing how a moment of failure, a misstep in a decision, makes a man start down a dark path, just to avoid admitting he was wrong.
Beautiful moments as Anakin’s farewell to his mother in Ep. I, the sequence-shot at the beginning of Ep. III, or spoiling the “I am your father” revelation in Ep. V, transforming (in perfect Hitchcock tratidion) 5 minutes of surprise in 200 minutes of suspense. Those (among others) are, for me, far more important things that wipe transitions or the 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare.
P.S. : Sorry for my poor English, as I’m from Spain.
I appreciate you sharing this. Again, it wasn’t my intention to talk about everything in the prequels that is significant to the story of Star Wars. I understand how important the moments are when Anakin turns bad in Episode III and other times that are key in the character’s development. But, in my opinion, those moments were handled poorly and so they didn’t make my list of things worth mentioning.
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