I know I’ve written about nothing other than Star Wars since The Force Awakens came out. I promise this will be my last post on it for a while, but a funny thing happened watching the movie that I just had to talk about. As I thought about what TFA contains, and the events of the movie itself, I began to think about it in the context of the franchise. After watching TFA I realized that I have a greater appreciation of the prequels. Spoilers from TFA will follow.
This is not a value judgement. I don’t think that the prequels are better than the TFA (nor do I think they’re even good), but TFA was basically a repackaged version of A New Hope. It added nothing to the franchise other than thrills and some excellent new characters. The prequels contained bad dialogue, dated CGI, and some truly abysmal acting, but I find myself waxing for them after seeing TFA, which is something I never expected. Here are the things that the prequels did that TFA doesn’t.
It’s an Original Story
Okay, so we knew before it started that Anakin Skywalker was seduced to the dark side and became Darth Vader, who then hunted down the remaining Jedi Knights in the galaxy. We knew that Anakin and Obi-Wan fought in the Clone Wars … but that was about it. We really didn’t know what else was going to happen going into these movies, and even some of the things we expected (like Obi-Wan being trained by Yoda) turned out to not exactly match our expectations from the original trilogy. Granted, the execution on these new stories is far from perfect, but George Lucas delivered a story that was still uniquely Star Wars while at the same time being a whole different story.
Lucas Subverted Our Expectations
Lucas knew many of the fans had stripped every ounce of backstory from the original trilogy in anticipation of the prequels, and Lucas did everything he could to keep the surprises intact for superfans. Instead of seeing Yoda train Obi-Wan, we see Yoda trained all the younglings and we get Qui-Gon in his place, a brooding and somewhat amoral Jedi. We get one of the most awesome new bad guys ever in Darth Maul and he dies in the first movie (very unlike Vader). Instead of meeting Anakin as a teenager he’s barely out of diapers and he’s a freaking protege who was immaculately conceived and is a prophesied chosen one (didn’t see that coming). Lucas did everything he could to keep us guessing how Anakin actually fell until the last movie, and ironically the same reason he fell was the same reason he came back to the light side. Some of these decisions are not the right storytelling one, but he did everything he could to keep viewers on their toes. TFA did nothing to subvert my expectations. I knew barely halfway into the movie that Rey would be the Jedi, that Kylo Ren was Han and Leia’s son, that there was a new Death Star that could basically be destroyed THE EXACT SAME WAY, and, of course, that Han was going to die. There were no surprised, just repackaged thrills.
The Prequels Have World Building
The Prequels did more to expand the universe of Star Wars than any of the films. We get our first onscreen use of the term Sith. We get to find out what the Republic was and why it fell. We understand not just what the Clone Wars were, but why they were fought, what sides they’re were, and who the clones were. We also found out why the Star Wars universe in the original series is so racist toward droids. More than anything else though, we learn what an actual Jedi Knight was, what their order looked like, and why and how it was destroyed.
The Prequels Embraced the Expanded Universe
Lucas doesn’t get enough credit for this; even though he created Star Wars, he never acted like he owned Star Wars. Not only did he embrace the idea of an EU, but he incorporated that EU into the prequels. The Sith are not mentioned in the original films, but they are in the books that succeeded them. We see nods to organizations and characters from the EU, like Black Sun, the Mandalorians, Corusant, and the Nightsisters of Dathomir, that eventually became canon through the prequels or The Clone Wars cartoon. Sure, aspects of them were altered to fit into canon, but they were either tacitly acknowledged or explicitly accepted. I understand that most of the post-Return of the Jedi EU either needed to be altered or erased to make way for a new trilogy, but certainly there could have been a blue skinned Imperial Admiral somewhere on The Finalizer.
The Score was a Centerpiece
The score that John Williams wrote for I,II, and III are so good as to be better than his scores for the original series. Each one is a masterpiece of orchestral excellence that draws motifs and cues from what came before, but was wholly new. The new score, however, is demure at best and uses nostalgia as a crutch at worst. It doesn’t have room to breath in the new movie due to the fast pacing, and as a result it’s hard to hear the magic beneath the explosions. To give an example, there’s no “Duel of the Fates” moment, or in the original trilogy there’s no “Binary Star” moment, or “Yoda and the Force” moment (where he pulls the X-Wing out of the swamp). The closest we get to that is when Rey pull’s Anakin’s lightsaber into her hand, and the music playing is “Binary Sunset.”
Seriously, nothing like this.
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