Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
I am going to be completely honest, I loved this film growing up. I was a Prequel Era Star Wars kid, and this trilogy will always hold a special place in my heart.
That being said, this is an extremely average movie, and quite frankly, a “bad” movie by Star Wars standards. Jar Jar Binks always gave me a kick when I was younger, and I still appreciate some of the juvenile charm that Lucas was attempting (even though there is WAY too much of it). But, if he “made this film for 12-year-olds,” then why is there so much political jargon; uninteresting, extended dialogue sequences; and long stretches with little to no action; mixed in with, once again, TOO MUCH Jar Jar? I wish there had been at least some form of consistency and structure to the narrative.
As for the acting, well, what more can be said. It is simply uninspired, wooden, and drab. The only saving graces are Liam Neeson and Ian McDiarmid. Ewan McGregor is solid, but he is hardly given any material with which to work. Samuel L. Jackson has little more than a cameo. No other roles even come to mind that are worth mentioning.
Still, although some of the CGI has not held up at all, certain set pieces remain riveting even 20 years later. The pod race is truly an astounding technical marvel, and has aged remarkably well. But the real treasure is the final half hour of this film. From the Gungan vs. Battle Droid ground battle; to the space conflict over Naboo and Young Anakin’s destruction of the Trade Federation Command Ship; to DUEL OF THE FATES; there is some pure Star Wars magic to appreciate. Well, mostly DUEL OF THE FATES. And also DUEL OF THE FATES. Oh yeah, and do not forget, DUEL OF THE FREAKIN FATES.
The character design of Darth Maul is certainly one of the slickest in the entire Prequel Trilogy, but seeing him in action against Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan pushes him into legendary territory. The stunt work of Ray Park is mind-boggling stuff. Comprehensively, this may very well be the greatest lightsaber duel in the Star Wars Saga, when considering direction, choreography, editing, and the GLORIOUS John Williams score. JOHN WILLIAMS. JOHN TOWNER WILLIAMS. YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN. The score in THE PHANTOM MENACE is brilliant from top-to-bottom, but the grand finale of DUEL OF THE FATES has never been topped in the Star Wars franchise.
Overall, THE PHANTOM MENACE is seriously flawed, but it has just enough extraordinary moments of flat-out AWESOME STAR WARS to be regarded as successful – barely. But please, check your expectations at the door. And bask in the goodness of those closing 30 minutes.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
I was always taught that if I did not have anything nice to say, I should simply refrain from commenting. So that is the plan here.
Okay, okay, it is not quite THAT bad. We get Detective Obi-Wan, a pretty awesome final 40 minutes in terms of the arena battle, Mace Windu’s taking care of business, the Yoda vs. Dooku duel (I am one of those people that actually loves acrobat Yoda), and John Williams. He gives us “Across the Stars” (AKA Anakin and Padmé’s love theme), one of the finest tracks from the Prequel Trilogy. Other than that, well, you know it all already.
Hayden Christensen, man. I just simply do not understand. I have the utmost respect for him on an individual and personal level; he seems like a really compassionate, down-to-earth human being. But acting as Anakin Skywalker? Nah. It is bad. Just really, really bad. The same goes for Natalie Portman, an Oscar-winning actress who usually impresses in any role. It is not good on any level. Their romantic chemistry, one of the central plot points, is tough to watch. And Lucas did not exactly help them out with any phenomenal dialogue. The “Sand Monologue” is one of the most bizarre speeches in cinematic history. It is memorable, to say the very least.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES has some stuff to appreciate, but you have to be EXTREMELY patient to find it. And just as a disclaimer, I realize that some people out there truly love this movie. If you are one of those people, more power to you. I honestly wish I could love this film. But I just cannot.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
This is certainly the best prequel. But even still, I am so perplexed at the directing and screenwriting abilities of George Lucas. He is without a doubt one of the most imaginative creative geniuses to ever walk the face of the earth. So why can he not write dialogue for his characters and direct the actors? I cringe a little bit every time I see Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman together on screen. While I admittedly do not know enough about Christensen’s career outside of Star Wars to comment on his talent as an actor in general, I understand that Portman is a fantastic actress with an illustrious body of work. Thus, the blame should probably fall on Lucas for the poor execution of the central romance. What an arduous endeavor to watch these two awkwardly interact.
Despite these undeniable issues, I have to note that the overall direction in terms of tonal consistency, narrative flow, and pacing is much more balanced in REVENGE OF THE SITH compared to the initial two prequels. Lucas learned from at least a few of his mistakes. The VFX crew is also at the top of their game, the sound design is brilliant, and John Williams does his thing. What more can I say? He’s JOHN WILLIAMS! I do not even want to think about the prequels without his SUPERB music.
I do actually think I am prepared to call REVENGE OF THE SITH a “good” movie. Even with Christensen and the dreadful dialogue, we still get sublime scenes like The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise; the exquisitely shot, edited, and scored Order 66; and the emotionally climatic (yet perhaps a bit over-the-top) Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan/Battle of the Heroes. This film has more memorable moments than THE PHANTOM MENACE and ATTACK OF THE CLONES combined.
Still, I cannot help but feel that Lucas unfortunately mishandled the backstory of one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history. “What could have been” will always be in the back of my mind, but it does not change what we have. Oh well. I guess I will take the “high ground” and NOT make an angry YouTube video complaining about why I dislike certain sections of this movie. Haha. That was a joke. Get it?