Why We Hate the Prequel Trilogy

Last year, remember how traffic felt a little lighter on December 16, 2016? Or how there were a few less colleagues in the cubicle next to you crunching away on their Doritos? Or how our nations GDP dipped three points because everyone stayed home.

No, it was not because of the approaching holidays. No, it was not because of the wet winter weather gripping both coasts. It was because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released in theaters and America took a collective national sick day as the hardcore Star Wars faithful, casual fans of nerd culture, and the allies of geeks everywhere took a day to visit a galaxy far, far away.

Why do I remind you of this? Because on Friday, December 15, 2017 this will all happen again. This time, in response to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Sci-fi writers and filmmakers, storytellers and adventure seekers; we all love Star Wars. Lucas succeeded in achieving his goal – creating stories to inspire the generations which he feared were growing up without myth. The latest films, created following the post-Disney acquisition, despite their imitativeness and serious flaws, have been met with fanfare and praise. We can expect Star Wars fans to feel the same way about the upcoming Last Jedi film – compete and total praise.

But sometimes, I wonder why? Why are Star Wars fans so quick to praise the sequels to the original trilogy, while simultaneously condemning the prequel trilogy? The very prequel trilogy which directly tie into the original trilogy as envisioned by the creator of Star Wars. Yes, neither series is as good as the original; but both have their shortcomings and successes. Why do Star Wars fans hate the prequel films so much, especially given the gross failures of the most recent films?

Spoilers throughout.

Now, before I start dissecting Star Wars, I have to acknowledge the predicament that Lucas found himself in as a storyteller. It must be incredibly difficult telling a story to an audience, when they already know the ending. We all hate sitting through jokes we know the punchlines too, it is the same thing with feature films. So, when moments feel forced – such as the faux romance between Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones – they are indeed forced. We all knew Obi-Wan would fail to train Anakin. We all knew Anakin would succumb to the dark side. We knew Palatine would rise to power and crush the Jedi. With such crucial elements, pre-determined, it is understandable that the prequel trilogy feels so deprived of genuine character choice.

Lucas was also tasked with the impossible task of topping Star Wars; films which changed cinema and truly set the bar for generations of filmmakers. The expectations set by the original trilogy are unmatchable. This was one of the factors which prevented other talent filmmakers from helping Lucas see his vision through (something which substantially aided him in the production of the original trilogy).

I understand that subpar dialogue and an oversaturation of CGI did not help the prequel films win any fans. Yes, of course there is the Jar Jar issue as well. In the defense of Lucas, he has always maintained that Star Wars was for kids – perhaps Jar Jar is evidence of that. I want to mention these things just so they are mentioned, but instead let’s focus on the story components which are the failures of the series.

Now, I personally believe that the prequel trilogy has a number of things that were done right. We got three films full of Jedi mind trick, force powers, and epic lightsaber battles. These are some of our favorite aspects of the original trilogy, and we get the chance to experience these elements further. We experience the history of the Universe; watching the technological evolution of our favorite vehicles. We see some of our favorite Star Wars characters young, spry, and in their primes. We see the Obi-Wan and Anakin fight we have always dreamed of seeing, and we get to see the most infamous battle in the history of the Galaxy, the Clone Wars, something really only alluded to within the original films and Expanded Universe. So why do we hate the prequel saga so much? Personally, I believe it comes down to three major flaws.

1. The character of Anakin Skywalker.

The first of which is Anakin Skywalker, and the character’s short comings are more than just poor casting. Anakin is never the badass we expect him to be based on Obi-Wan’s descriptions of him in A New Hope. Instead, we are presented with a whiney-baby of a hero who bemoans the lack of responsibility he has yet to earn, and never earns. While attempts are made to show the character as a gifted swordsman and pilot, it is unnatural and in every instance, seems to come at the expense of Obi-Wan’s own competence instead of the Anakin’s natural ability. The Clone Wars television series greatly corrects this misstep, by portraying the character in more heroic ways, but it would have been nice to see this in cinema.

We never see that character truly fall from grace. Anakin is presented as the hope of the Jedi Order – the mysterious child with the highest midi-chlorian count ever. Instead of being seduced be the dark side of the force; he seems to simply choose the Sith over his fellow Jedi out of his teenage angst and boredom. To make matters worse, Lucas attempts to reinforce his apparent lack of motivation with some lackluster dialogue line from Anakin where he describes how from his position “the Jedi are evil.”

Nice try George, but we’re not buying it.

An Anakin Skywalker with a little more Michael Corleone to him, where we seem him change into the very things he was never meant to be, could really have done wonders for the trilogy. Or we needed a real Harvey Dent moment where everything he believed in – everything we believed in – is destroyed, and we learn he simply does not have the fortitude we though he had to hold on just a little bit longer. Perhaps if Padme had died earlier in Revenge of the Sith, we could have even seen that. That is what we wanted, and that is what we expected since we first learned that Darth Vader was Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back.

The character of Anakin (as presented in film), could have been redeemed in the eyes of fans, had the prequel trilogy ended with an epic Lord Vader scene, something akin to the Vader scene in Rogue One. That scene, with Vader light-sabering-the-crap out of rebel soldiers, would have rounded out the trilogy better than the rigor mortis inflicted Vader bemoaning the death of Padme with his metallic wail.

2. The lack of a B.A.M.F. Villain.

On the subject of Darth Vader, the second major problem, is the lack of a strong antagonist. In storytelling, the best heroes are the foils of powerful, motivated villains. The original Star Wars creates one of the greatest villains in the history of cinema. He is the envy of all other cinema villains. In A New Hope we are introduced to the intimidating and sinister Lord Vader. The physical manifestation of fear. He is powerful, mysterious, with a commanding screen presence. He wears a cape. He chokes people. Total bad-ass. In The Empire Strikes Back, we fully experience his ominous ruthlessness; and the range of his Sith powers. He kills his own officers, blocks blaster fire with his hands, and cuts the hand off his only son. Finally, in The Return of the Jedi, we uncover the missing pieces of Vader’s own past and we get to see the man behind his mask. We learn that his son Luke was correct and that somewhere deep within the evil Darth Vader, goodness still lives.

Yet, the prequel trilogy has no antagonist with Vader’s credibility. For that matter, the prequel trilogy lacks an antagonist with consistency. I believe that the primary flaw is the premature death of Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. With his sinister appearance and a meager two lines worth of dialogue, he is a character shrouded in mystery. By the time of his ambiguous death at the end Episode 1, we have not learned much about the character beyond his use of a double-bladed lightsaber. Lucas was well on his way to crafting a character with truly Vader-like-aspirations.

Then we get Darth Tyranus, who leave much to be desired. Darth Maul’s “replacement” in Episode II, he is little more than an old man with a scratchy voice and crooked lightsaber. Lucas attempts to craft a compelling backstory – a few insignificant lines about his past as a Jedi – but as an audience we really find nothing interesting about him. While the character of Darth Maul earns our respects for his chops with a lightsaber when the guy fights two Jedi at once; the fights scenes with Tyranus are lacking, often leading us in disbelief that the old curmudgeon is able to fare as well as he does. In fact, by beating Obi-Wan twice and Yoda once, he does so only the expense of the competencies of the two Jedi Masters, not as a testament to his skill.

While the character of General Grievous is an unexpected turn from the Sith Lords of the other films, he appears too late in the series to garner any serious attachment. His alien race, his rank of general, his collection of lightsabers, and his pneumonic-cough, tease us a potentially interesting character. Yet, too many questions are left unanswered, and he has far too little screen time to actually matter.

I think Lucas really missed the mark here. Darth Maul had the makings of a truly sinister villain, and it would have been wonderful to explore his background further through the prequel trilogy. Had Lucas made Darth Maul returned in Episode II, donning new mechanical legs and a serious grudge against Obi-Wan, we could have had something really captivating.

3. We all love Han Solo.

Finally, the Star Wars prequel trilogy suffers from the lack an independent thinking, a true rogue, someone in the mold of that “scruffy` scoundrel” Han Solo. More importantly, Solo plays an irreplaceable role in the original story. First, in A New Hope, he is really the only unpredictable character in the film. He has no problem playing by his own rules and acting independently and selfishly. If Lucas had followed his original story line and followed through with killing Solo in The Return of the Jedi, the growth of Solo’s character would have been demonstrated his final character arc by sacrificed himself for his friends and their cause.

In the prequel trilogy, all the characters easily seem to fall into a few camps, with few of them truly acting selfish enough to put their own well-being a head of the greater plot objectives. There are few character who are true radicals, playing by their own set of rules. Solo’s brash, cocky, ready-fire-aim attitude is the perfect foil to the calm and calculated behavior of the Jedi; and could have really ratcheted up interpersonal conflict in the films.

Han Solo also grounds the films for the audience; something he does in The Force Awakens as well. He alone, is the one character in the Star Wars trilogy who can smirk at the ridiculousness of everything. He acknowledges the things other characters seem to take for granted – planet sized space stations, the all-powerful force, and how “swords” best blasters in combat. This making the story acceptable and dare I even say – passable – to audiences. Solo shares our confusion and skepticism.

At times, things are almost too heavy for a Star Wars film in the prequel films as the story gets too caught up in the politics of the galactic civil war. A Solo type character could have brought some levity to the prequel’s, as Solo repeatedly does. His wit makes us laugh, and keeps the grand galactic adventure from ever becoming all too serious. With Solo appearing in The Force Awakens, and with Finn poised to become Solo 2.0, the new trilogy seems to have insured itself a way to keep grounding the film in fun.

All these failures of the prequel trilogy may still manifest themselves as failures of the sequel trilogy. The story is not yet complete, character arcs are not finished, and we really have no idea where things will go or how it will end. For all we know, it is possible that in three years we may look back on the entire sequel trilogy with nothing but disgust and disdain?

We need to give Lucas credit where his credit is due. As our favorite character Yoda taught us, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Lucas did finally make the prequel trilogy he alluded to in 1977, that is an admirable fact in its own right. In doing so he took us to new worlds and showed us new characters from the expansive Star Wars Universe we thought we knew so well. Realistically, the prequel trilogy never had a chance of standing up to the original. In the same way, we know that the dozens of Star Wars films to come will never truly capture the sentiments of the original either. The intangibles of the originals; manifested largely through emotional nostalgia, can never be replicated. However, when we try to divorce emotion for the equation, and look at pure story, there is abundant room for improvement.

The older the prequel trilogies get, the more nostalgia may begin to set in. Maybe fans will be more willing to evaluate the films independently, celebrating their merits instead of solely condemning their short comings. The real question which remains is, in the years to come, what feelings will die hard fans hold towards many successive trilogies? I hope that The Last Jedi is a welcomed addition to Star Wars canon, but fear we will have to wait until the final addition to the new trilogy before we can full evaluate the successes and failures of its story.

title

Top Ten Fake “Transformers: The Last Knight” Spoilers

You don’t have to wait until June 21st to get the inside scoop on Transformers: The Last Knight

10 - It's come to this: To get parts in non-Star Wars movies, C3PO has to do nude scenes now.
10 – It’s come to this: To get parts in non-Star Wars movies, C3PO has to do nude scenes now.

9 - John Goodman reprises his voice role as Hound because damn it, he's going to make 9 movies a year whether you like it or not.
9 – John Goodman reprises his voice role as Hound because damn it, he’s going to make 9 movies a year whether you like it or not.

8 - Watch as Sir Anthony Hopkins whisper acts his way through another paycheck.
8 – Watch as Sir Anthony Hopkins whisper acts his way through another paycheck.

(more…)

Theresa May wants a majority of one's own.

Great Britain’s Elections Translated into English

Theresa May Wants a Majority of One’s Own..

Britain heads to the polls June 8th. In the words of swinging 1960s Londoner Alfie, “What’s it all about?” Fear not, Boblius is here to answer all of your questions…

Didn’t they just have an election in England? Over that Brexit thing?

Yes but that was a plebiscite about whether to leave the European Union, not who to send to Parliament. The government put this divisive policy question directly in the hands of the voters who chose to leave the E.U.

(more…)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Top 8 List for Episode VIII

Top 8 Questions after watching the new trailer for Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

8. Is Disney borrowing from their Marvel well to add wall crawling to Rey's abilities because normal Jedi powers aren't cool enough already?
#8 – Is Disney dipping into its Marvel well to make Rey a wall crawler because normal Jedi powers aren’t cool enough already?

#7 - The first lines heard are "Breath, just breathe." Is Luke reviving the lost Jedi art of Lamaze coaching? Do the words "Captain Phasma is pregnant" excite anyone else?!
#7 – The first lines are “Breath, just breathe.” Is Luke reviving the lost Jedi art of Lamaze coaching? Do the words “Captain Phasma is pregnant” excite anyone else?!

(more…)

drew

American Illustrators, The Movies, and Drew Struzan

PhantomMenaceMuch like the word “genius,” the label “artist” gets bandied about quite a bit. When I was taking fine art classes in college, one of the more colorful and exuberant life drawing and painting instructors — let’s call him Charlie — a very hyperactive and passionate painter, talked to us about what it meant to be an artist.

“So you all want to be artists, huh?” He shouted as he strutted in and around our rows of easels as we worked. “I’m just here to teach you how to paint and hopefully paint well. I can’t teach you to be an artist. An artist is a way of life, man. Are you willing to starve for your art? Are you in it for the money? Van Gogh sold one painting in his life. He went mad and then committed suicide. He was an artist. Are you willing to let it consume you? Let’s just concentrate on painting for now.”

Now, I’ve always been fascinated by illustrators who were adept at rendering the human form, faces, and textures were able to put their subjects into fascinating settings and conjure up just the right mood. I had a knack — still do, though not so practiced of late — of being able to capture likenesses fairly well when I drew. The best illustrators and painters are very talented at drawing and their pen and pencil work alone is worthy of collecting. Without a foundation in accurate lifelike drawing a lot of paintings and illustrations meant to be realistic tend to look less real, less lifelike and dull.

ArchersIn America, there have been several periods where talented illustrators emerged. In the 1910s, 20s and 30s, the works of Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, and Howard Pyle (to name just a few), adorned the covers of Collier’s, the Saturday Evening Post, or in Wyeth’s case numerous works of literature: The White Company, Robin Hood, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and The Last of the Mohicans.

Sometimes, these talented men worked on a grand scale – many of them, like Wyeth and Parrish were commissioned to do large murals — and much of their work for magazine covers, stories, and book covers were originally painted much larger and reproduced much smaller for print. When I worked at Stanford, helping to put out the Stanford Daily back in the early 1980s, I happened upon an exhibit of N.C. Wyeth’s work at a small gallery in Palo Alto and was awestruck by one of the paintings he had done to illustrate Robin Hood, depicting the outlaw’s band of merry men crouched behind the base of a massive oak tree with their bows pulled back waiting to let their arrows fly. The texture and color of the grass and the men’s costumes looked as rich and fresh as if it had all been painted yesterday. My recollection was that the work was enormous but time has a tendency to romanticize and embellish the truth. In fact the work is an oil on canvas about 40 inches tall and 32 inches wide; i.e., about the size of a standard movie poster (though five inches wider). And the painting was actually for sale at the time for about $25,000 and I dreamed of owning it one day.  I still dream.

(more…)

forceawakens-logo-02

SPOILER REVIEW: The Force is Definitely Awake

If the title wasn’t clear enough; the second section of this review will contain ALL THE SPOILERS.

If you’ve somehow stumbled into this post by mistake, don’t worry, you’re still safe… for now. I’ll start with a basic, spoiler-free synopsis & review and then dig deeper into the good stuff a bit farther down in the post. It will be ridiculously obvious where the spoiler section will start, but if you haven’t seen the film and don’t even want to risk it, then you’d better make the jump to light speed and get out of here now to avoid any plot or character-related spoilers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” .

With those disclaimers out of the way, here goes.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

Currently holding strong at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m only adding my voice to a growing chorus when I say that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a fantastic film.

forceawakens-logo-02Director, J.J. Abrams and co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan & Michael Arndt, managed to flawlessly capture the look, tone, and feel of the original trilogy. I’m not going to waste time beating up on the prequels too much, but for the first time since 1983, everything about this actually seems like the Star Wars I fell in love with as a kid.

The universe depicted in the original trilogy wasn’t exactly shiny and new.

Spaceships like the Millennium Falcon were falling apart and didn’t always work perfectly; droids like C3P0 and R2D2 were dented and scuffed; and the locations were populated by strangely believable creatures going about their daily business. These kinds of imperfections and the physical reality of everything on screen, combined with John Williams’ luscious and emotionally powerful score, gave the world a visual realism and emotional depth that the cartoonish CGI perfection of the prequels completely failed to accomplish.

The magic in those original films has had a profound impact on now several generations of young people who would – like myself – grow up to be film-makers and creative artists. I’m beyond thrilled to say that “The Force Awakens” reminded me of the creative inspiration I felt as a kid seeing Star Wars for the first time.

But the record-breaking success of this film will be owed to far more than style and tone.

(more…)

2000px-Star_Wars_Logo.svg

Star Wars and Story

There is something about the pending arrival of The Force Awakens that I find to be deeply unsettling. As December 18th approaches, that feeling in my gut grows and those nagging voices in my head hound me as I fall asleep. Now, I converted to Star Wars when I was six years old, and have been a devout follower since. I’ve attended Celebrations and multiple Fridays at Comic-Con, yet something haunts me about this latest installment of the franchise.

empire-strikes-back-03At first I thought it was Lucas’s lack of creative involvement. But let’s face it, while George Lucas is a masterful storyteller; some of his greatest decisions as a filmmaker where to employ talented individuals to help him bring his vision to life. When we look at one of the greatest films ever made – The Empire Strike Back – Lucas brought on Irving Kershner to direct, and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to convert his story to screenplay. Lucas is still involved in this project as a creative consultant, and maybe this film will not fall victim to the same snags that prequel trilogy did with an oversaturation of Lucas’s involvement.

Then I considered that maybe my fear was that the new Star Wars film, wouldn’t feel like a Star Wars film. Any true Star Wars aficionado experienced culture shock when watching the prequel trilogy, resulting from an over-exposure to CGI. JJ Abrams has maintained that he will remain true to the practical effects used in the original films. Based on Abrams earlier films, we know that he is no stranger to preserving the integral magic of cinema with astonishing, practical effects.

Maybe my disappointment rested with the issue of “cannon”. Surely, this new film could not exist within the realm of the expanded Universe which has grown exponentially in the past three decades? However, the Expanded Star Wars Universe is in fact, expansive; and there are many contradictory story lines already within. One of the best examples of this was when the origins of Boba Fett were “rewritten”, after the revelation in Episode II that he was in fact, merely an imperfect clone. I made peace with that blasphemous information (though I still maintain that Fett’s original origin story is the better of the two) and I imagine that I will learn to make peace with future revelations, no matter how harmful.

(more…)

mad max boom

Raw Behind the Scenes Footage of Mad Max: Fury Road

Reminder as you are watching this footage, director George Miller was 69 years old and cinematographer John Seale was 70.  These two and their production team just schooled every action film made in the past 15 years.  Green screen should used to enhance the story, not be the story.  Mad Max used green screen, but you will notice it only for certain camera angles and shots that required it for the safety of the actors and stunt performers.

Any wonder why the actors in the Star Wars prequels felt like they couldn’t act their way out of a cardboard box? They couldn’t because they were acting to nothing except the chroma green box they were placed in. Never underestimate the power of doing it real.

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg Opened His Big Mouth and Made Nerd Nation Upset

Pegg at CCApparently actor Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek, Mission:Impossible) made some controversial comment regarding the current “nerd culture” being used to infantilize our society in order to keep it under control. The preoccupation in popular culture today of entertainment originally targeted to teenagers and their juniors.  Specifically comic books & video games and their film adaptations, cosplay and their conventions, and the more recent explosion of re-makes, re-boots and re-imaginings of favorite childhood memories is all keeping current social national-global conversation fixated on fantasy rather than reality.

Here is Pegg in his own words:

Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, in which he talks about the infantilzation of society. Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth? A time when we were shielded from painful truths by our recreational passions, the toys we played with, the games we played, the comics we read. There was probably more discussion on Twitter about the The Force Awakens and the Batman vs Superman trailers than there was about the Nepalese earthquake or the British general election.

(more…)

THE REAR VIEW: The Empire Strikes Back

empire_strikes_back_ver6This week on The Rear View podcast I had the pleasure of sitting down with film composer Ryan Rapsys to talk about one of his favorite movie scores – John Williams’ The Empire Strikes Back. It was this score that Williams first introduced the “Imperial March” to his canon of iconic and unmistakable film themes. The film itself is often held up as the superior of all the Star Wars film, and it can be argued that film score may be what helped elevate its standing.

Ryan and I discuss the importance of collaboration with the director early in the filmmaking process and why a strong melody is vital in tapping into the emotions of an audience. The power of sense memory is unmatched when it comes to music and film. Filmmakers wishing to make an impact on the culture should always be looking to connect with their audiences and a simple and memorable melody can by just the ticket. You can also checkout Ryan Rapsys’ work on Soundcloud. 

 

Spinning New Tales from Old Ones

On the news that Disney will be releasing a Star Wars film every year for the foreseeable future bouncing back and forth between various lead characters, Drew Taylor over at Studio System News decided to list 11 characters from big Hollywood franchises that he thinks would make for worthy spin-offs in the never ending struggle to squeeze every last bit of life out of an idea.  While a couple of his choices seem worth exploring (Dutch from Predator and Q from the Bond films), I feel he’s reaching on most (The Worms from Men in Black and David from Prometheus) and there is no reason to.  There are plenty of much better characters to draw inspiration from.

 

I think these seven movie characters deserve their shot at the lead role. And as an added bonus, I’ll even use my excellent casting director skills to cast the roles.

1 & 2 –  Clemenza and Tessio from The Godfather I & II (1972, 1974)

This might seem sacrilegious as it would be poking fun at one of the most celebrated movie families, but hey it’s the mob – let’s have it.  I ain’t out to glorify the mafia so this would be a kind of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead comical thing.  The two long-time friends and underbosses to Vito Corleone fend for the family during the same time-frames as Godfather Parts I & II where certain scenes get to overlap.  Vincent D’Onofrio as Clemenza and Hugh Laurie as Tessio would make a perfect madcap match.

 

3 – Quint from Jaws (1975)

A prequel.  The young seaman is back from surviving the sinking of the ship that delivered the bomb in WWII and fighting off the sharks that terrorized the survivors.  Suffering from PTSD, he retreats to Amity Island to reconcile the demons and begin his revenge against the shark.  I’d give this part to Tom Hardy. (more…)