As the whole world has been reminded of constantly for the past year, a new dawn has been rising for Star Wars fans. Normal people may be counting down the days until Christmas, but Star Wars fans have their own type of Advent calendar (hopefully bounty hunter themed) leading to the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Being one of those fans, I’ve taken it upon myself to re-watch the whole series in chronological order. Unfortunately this means having to watch the first three films again. The prequels are notorious for being the butt of the whole franchise, and yet annoyingly they are still an integral part of it, particularly in filling in the gaps for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Of course they’re not perfect (most people would say that they’re just not good), each having their own pitfalls, some incredibly larger than others (I’m looking at you, Jar Jar). Naturally there’s an ongoing argument as to which prequel film is the worst. Because of certain elements of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith is automatically deemed as the best of the prequels. But if you look at it not on a best-to-worst scale, but on a tolerable-to-beyond frustrating scale, the ranking is going to be slightly different.
It’s safe to say that Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones have been battling for the title of “worst Star Wars film” for quite some time. Each film has a very big flaw: Phantom Menace‘s is Jar Jar Binks, and Attack of the Clones‘ is Padme and Anakin’s relationship. Personally I would take Jar Jar over Padme Amidala and Anakin ‘I’m a whiny brat’ Skywalker any day of the week, but diehard Star Wars fans who didn’t see Phantom Menace as a kid are personally offended by Jar Jar’s existence. Understandably so, since they are able to see past Jar Jar’s goofy behavior that attempts to mask the fact that his character is a blatant racial stereotype. Yes, he’s a character that should not exist. When it comes to Padme and Anakin, however, it’s just impossible to believe that these two ‘love birds’ are the parents of Luke and Leia. Of course this all just leads to the one fundamental problem that all of the prequel films have: the writing. This becomes blatantly obvious in the penultimate film of the series, which is the reason why Revenge of the Sith, for me, earns the title of the most frustrating Star Wars film.
This is the film where the laziness of the writing becomes incredibly apparent. The interactions between characters have an increased awkward undertone to them (despite the best of efforts of certain actors, one of them not being Hayden Christensen). Most of the delivery of the dialogue is stiff due to numerous reasons, some being the dialogue itself, the way certain scenes are blocked, and the amount of green-screen. But certain lines of dialogue and their delivery stand out, confirming that most of what’s in this film is solely done out of obligation, a mere stepping stone to get to the original trilogy and nothing more. The names Luke and Leia are merely read off the script by Natalie Portman as Padme after she gives birth to them (and then conveniently dies). No thought is ever put into coming up with theie names; there’s no discussion of it between her and Anakin beforehand; she just willy-nilly pulls them out of an imaginary hat. The same goes for Palpatine when giving Anakin his new Sith name. Apparently the name Darth Vader doesn’t have any deep meaning, it just sounds super cool.
These examples might seem nit-picky, but moments like these occur so often, adding up to an astounding level of mediocrity. The height of true frustration, however, comes from the scene between Mace Windu, Obi-Wan, and Yoda in which they discuss Anakin’s trustworthiness. Obi-wan brings up the prophecy mentioned in Phantom Menace, seeking confirmation that Anakin is indeed the one who is meant to restore balance to the Force. Yoda’s response proves the laziness of the writing as he claims that the prophecy could have been misread. Yes, misread by supposedly the wisest and most intelligent beings in this galaxy. Thinking that this excuse would fly with fans shows that George Lucas didn’t completely take them into consideration when writing the script. He merely just wanted to make a cool looking space movie, sacrificing quality dialogue and even just decent storytelling. These may be harsh statements, but after producing great work in the original trilogy, it shouldn’t be a surprise that fans expected more from Lucas with the prequel films.
Phantom Menace is slightly enjoyable because it’s the first of the prequels, the bringing back of a beloved series. Obviously it doesn’t completely follow through (mainly because of bad writing, acting, and Jar Jar), but it does deliver in some respects. The final act is actually pretty invigorating, thanks to the epic fight scene between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul (with the help of John Williams score, of course). Attack of the Clones suffers even more from bad writing and acting, and is only saved by decent action sequences and Ewan McGregor’s dynamic performance as Obi-Wan. Revenge of the Sith wraps up all of the bad qualities of the first two films and is masked by okay special effects. Technically it may be the “better” film, but use that term loosely. Its only real achievement is validating all of the negative moments of the series, culminating in an ultimately unworthy lead up to the original films. The frustrating part is that it could have been good and had all the potential to save the series. Instead, Lucas made no real effort to fix problems that occurred in the first two, establishing the prequel trilogy as one giant mistake.