With Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the horizon, we thought it would make sense to go back and re-assess the original six Star Wars films, we opted to start with the prequels and recorded a podcast with special guest Carol Mulligan on hand.
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Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Nigel’s rating – ★★½
Released: 16 July 1999 (Ireland), US release May 19, 1999
Awards: 2000 MTV Movie Awards’ Best Action Sequence (For the pod race), Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor (Ahmed Best – Jar Jar Binks), Three Oscar nominations – (Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects)
With Episode I – The Phantom Menace, George Lucas opted not to please the fans who had stayed united as nerds, defending his world of creatures for over twenty years, but instead decided that the best way to serve the Star Wars brand was to create a film that was more suited to that most impressionable audience – children.
Re-watching the film now a good decade after I last saw it, you’re struck by just how dull the politics and characters that Lucas is trying to sell us are. Years ago I was able to just ignore them (as any teenage boy can do), but now they really threaten to take away any sense of fun from the film. Rather than spend more time on the glory days of the Jedi as “guardians of the galaxy”, we spend ages hearing about the intricacies of new taxations on trade routes to outlying star systems. Zzzzz.
Most of the (very talented) actors like Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman are stifled by the green-screen work and seem like they’re acting in an abstract theatre production, rather than in scenes of actual dialogue exchange between people. Lucas is not a good director of actors and his rustiness (having not done any directing in over two decades) is very obvious here.
What does hold up is Lucas’ work with Palpatine/Sidious and his current apprentice Darth Maul. He is a strong, mysterious villain and should have been given more to do other than the (still stunning) final lightsaber duel. Likewise, even after all these years, watching the pod-race in 1080p with surround sound will knock your socks off. Spending time with a care-free Anakin on Tatooine is also kind of fun now, though maybe it’s just the novelty of seeing real-world sets and locations though
So how do you go back and consider one of the most disappointing films in the history of motion pictures? Ultimately it has now taken on a kitschy, car-crash level of enjoyment and, taken on its own merits as a kid’s film, it’s really perfectly watchable. Lucas can also rest easy as the film’s place in film history is assured for two distinct reasons – i) truly ground-breaking, pioneering use of digital cinematography, effects and projection, and ii) being evidence that hype does you much more harm than good if the final product sucks.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Nigel’s rating – ★★
Released: 16th May 2002 (Ireland & Worldwide)
Awards: Razzie wins for Worst Supporting Actor (Hayden Christensen) and Worst Screenplay (George Lucas & Jonathan Hales)
Fun Fact: “The Senate votes to give the Supreme Chancellor sweeping emergency powers to go to war against the Separatist forces. This is the same ploy Adolf Hitler used to gain similar dictatorial power in mid-1930s Germany.” LOL. (IMDB)
Returning to a film that came out at the height of my teenage film fandom and era of DVD binging was both amusing and disappointing. Who would have thought that the fledgling romance between Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker would now appear this corny and ridiculous? The grand gestures and creepy obsession from little Annie were easy to overlook as teenage boy but now the whole relationship feels incredulous and underdeveloped, making any enjoyment of everything else going on quite tough. To be fair, this isn’t the fault of Natalie Portman who actually has quite a meaty, active role here (before being effectively neutered by the plot in Ep III), but instead is because of the lethal combination of Lucas dialogue with Hayden Christensen’s truly terrible performance. He really is as frustrating as you remember.
Away from that, this is where the character of Yoda really starts to reveal himself as the MVP of the prequels, with a beautiful CGI rendering (the puppet originally shown in The Phantom Menace has since been updated to CGI in re-releases of the film) and Frank Oz’s voice work a stand-out. The third act fight with Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku was exhilarating in cinemas and still holds up. But strip away the very solid final half hour and you’re left with a film that’s got more in common with a late 1990s playstation cut scene.
At least the film manages to feature “more Jedi” and “less Jar Jar”, so you sense that Lucas was at least listening to the fans a little.
Further Reading: Defense of the Clones: Lucas’s Latest: Cheap Thrills or Sophisticated Filmmaking? (Bright Lights Film Journal, November 2002)
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Páraic rating… ★★★
Released: 19 May 2005 (Ireland)
Awards: Won Empire Awards 2006 Scene of The Year for The Birth of Vader
Fun Fact: C-3PO has the last words in this movie and the first words in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Yay the semi good one of the prequels. So if you’ve seen the films you know the story and if you’ve listened to our podcast then you definitely know the story so here are 5 cool and 5 daft things about The Revenge of The Sith as I always like to have balance even when the force is in turmoil. (Páraic)
The Good Side
1) Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Beard
2) Samuel L. Jackson Dies
3) We get to stop seeing Hayden Christensen’s terrible acting at the end.
The Dark Side
1) Ian McDiarmid’s really bad make up as Darth Sidious
2) Jar Jar Binks is still alive
3) Hayden Christensen’s pouting
4) Yoda riding Chewbacca like a pony. Fuck off Yoda you can walk.
Further Reading: The novel if you’re that sad
Want to get the story without spending 7 and a half hours of your life watching all three films?
THE PHANTOM EDIT (the prequels distilled into one 2:05 film)