In celebration of a certain film, and because this is a time of year to be POSITIVE damnit, I am going to push my goodwill and seasonal cheer to the limit and set out TEN THINGS I liked about the Star Wars prequels.
There will be spoilers for the prequels, but it’s not like that didn’t happen the moment they wee releas-no, no. No, POSITIVE, fercrissakes. There will be NO spoilers for The Force Awakens because (1) I wouldn’t; and (2) I haven’t seen it yet.
I accept my limitations. Some of these “positives” are going to be qualified up the wazoo, but nonetheless, let’s get down to it.
(cracks knuckles, rolls shoulders)
1. The Music
Safe ground here. John Williams is one of the great film composers and he’s putting in some solid hours on these three films. In actual fact if you strip out the iconic connotations of tracks like the Imperial March, I think the prequel soundtracks might actually be better. Duel of the Fates in the first one, the Padme/Anakin love theme, the bitterness of Anakin’s betrayal, a lot of the best moments of the films are made more so because Williams is giving it 11/10.
That… Okay, that’s one down. And a good one, hard to argue with. Maybe this isn’t going to be such a stretch… so let’s springboard right on to one of those music-mad moments with:
2. The Darth Maul lightsabre fight in Phantom Menace
Oh hell yeah, now I remember what I liked in this film. Ray Park’s choreography is awesome, and can that man fight! “He was well trained,” says Liam Neeson earlier, and it’s plain that old Maulie is more than holding his own against both Jedi, and with style. The moment where the energy doors (…?) shut, and Qui-Gon kneels down to meditate while Maul paces like an animal is a perfect example of characterisation by action – perhaps the single most powerful moment of the entire film. And yes, Darth M gets wasted as a character, otherwise, when he really should have got away to live another day (maybe to replace Count Dooku or Grievous in the later films?) but this really is one of the best bits of fight choreography going around.
Hell, 2 down. We can do this.
Oh… we’re onto Attack of the Clones already then? Okay, that was quick. But the planet Kamino, where the cloners live, that was a thing. It had wild seas and flying beasts you could ride, and some fantastic music, and then there were the Kaminoans as well, and they were weird as all get out. They were tall and walked oddly, and they were completely apart from any of the big power blocs of the SW galaxy, whilst being super hi-tech. And they were polite, and they spent their entire time with Obi Wan talking at complete cross purposes. The whole trip to Kamino (up until the point where Euan McGregor is exchanging fisticuffs with Poppa Fett) is a really effective alien encounter, because it takes him way out of his comfort zone.
Okay, let’s stick with the planets then. I liked Geonosis, the planet with the arena and the like at the end of Attack of the Clones. I didn’t like it because it was another big ball of rock, which it was. I liked it because it was full of insect people. That’s just the way I roll (1). And I am going to qualify the crap out of this one because I did not much appreciate the fact that the insecty Geonosians are treated like the battle droids they build – things to be cut into pieces by lightsabres without conscience or remorse. But to my admittedly biased eyes they were cool, and they could fly, and had sonic weapons, and some pretty nifty spaceships. (For expanded universe/RPG fans, didn’t they look like the Verpine?). Also, they had a nift semi-insect sort of monster, so that’s an extra point in their favour right there.
5. The Attack of the Clones
Not Attack of the Clones in its entirety but the actual attack of the clones at the end of the film that bore its name. Honestly? Jedi! Battle droids! Insect guys! Clones! Clones of clones! The guy they cloned the clones from! That whole great big fight, both in the arena and beyond it, is a cracking action sequence. You get to see proto-AT-ATs and all sorts of weird droid walkers and artillery, and the clones are cool and heroic and tick all the right space marine boxes (2), and they die a lot, which makes it a better fight than if they just swept in and won everything at cost price. I can absolutely see why they made a whole load of clone-related cartoons to expand on what we saw here. It’s the highlight of the second film and one of the best land battles of the entire series.
6. Accumulated Military Technofetishism
I AM being positive, damn you. I am not immune to that part of the geek soul that can look on the terrors of a galactic empire and feel a tender spot for the snowtroopers, just simply because such a thing exists, and that in itself is part of the world-building that so successfully constructs a universe beyond what you see on the screen. And yes, it’s a fascistic part of that universe that blows things up (in this case, blows things up in the snow) but still. There is a definite wargamey attraction to seeing all these different armies and troop types and vehicles, because we’re too old to play with action figures now so this is the closest we get. The prequels – 2 and 3 especially – have multiple cultures with their own tech and weapons all piling in. The ostensible bad guys of the Trade Federation are not just monolithic but have a whole variety of droid soldiers, and then there’s the gungan shield tech and those wookie dragonfly things and the proto-Empire clone kit (so does all Imperial technology basically arise from the imagination of the Kaminoans?) and this probably makes me a bad person but I could take twice as much of the actual clone wars on screen, and lose Anakin frolicking in meadows entirely.
7. The Secret Origin of Anakin
But speaking of Anakin, I have either created some freaky headcanon, or there is a maddeningly interesting throwaway bit in Revenge of the Sith that casts Anakin’s origin in a whole new light. We remember that his mother Shmi (presumably she was named by Kryten from Red Dwarf) said he arose from, you know, actual immaculate conception, which would have raised a lot more eyebrows had we not already been wrestling with Midiclorians at around that point. Ergo, unless she came from some subspecies of humanity prone to parthenogenesis (3) he was, apparently, brought into being from the force, which apparently can donate a Y chromosome when needed. Except… in Revenge, Palpatine/Sidious talks about Darth Plagueis (seriously?), a Sith Lord and impliedly Sidious’s master (whom Sidious equally impliedly offed, raising the interesting speculation on its own that he is a bad apple and the Sith themselves really were just different to the Jedi, rather than flat out evil). Darth P was “powerful and wise enough that he could use the force to influence the Midiclorians and create life” – said while specifically turning to look meaningfully at Anakin. Now, this is used as a hook because Anakin is having mortality issues, but… did Darth P psychically beget Anakin, then? Has Little Orphan Ani’s rise and betrayal all been a Sith long game? I mean, I can’t even begin to think how that would work. The whole meeting with Anakin in Menace is so ostensibly random (and certainly the Sith don’t seem to second guess the trip to Tatooine) that it doesn’t seem to mesh at all, but it is a fascinating, albeit unexplored, possibility.
8. The Phantom Menace
Whoa! Back from the brink! Not The Phantom Menace, but the actual false flag operation that is running throughout the prequels. It doesn’t really click for me in the first two films, what with the rather dreary politico-economics on one hand, and on the other we have Sidious lampshading it at every moment (wouldn’t it have been nice if the rather pleasant, chatty Palpatine of film 1 had turned out not to be the Sith lord after all? Because there was no suspense on that point whatsoever, let’s face it. If only this had been a film with, I don’t know, clones or something, so the surprise reveal could be that they were two different people after all, one the unsuspecting and well meaning puppet of the other…) But in Revenge, it all comes together, and it is actually rather clever. The fact that one man manages to barter a petty trade dispute into a proxy war, into a fear-fuelled election to supreme power, into a bigger war, and then into a full on coup, when you look all works quite well when you can look back at it from the sharp end, and the poor old Trade Federation as much the victims as anyone else (although they are also jerks, tbh).
9. Order 66
This is what I tear up at. Not Anakin and the younglings (there is no need, either here and now or in a galaxy far, far away, to use the word “younglings”, and certainly not three times in quick succession) or poor old Yoda drawing his pension on Dagobah or Padme popping her clogs because Republic medical science not only can’t deal with birth trauma but also apparently can’t predict twins – or at least everyone seems rather surprised at that twist (4), but those various Jedi, whom we can call at least acquaintances, meeting their montaged ends on planets across the galaxy at the hands of their former followers – and also, the tragedy of the clones themselves because up until that time they were good guys with names and emergent personalities and everything, and after that they’re faceless stormtroopers in every sense of the word. And John Williams pulls out the best track of the score, and it is heartbreaking. It is a genuinely powerful sequence of scenes.
I said 9 things, right?
Ah crap, I said 10. Okay. I’m thinking hard here. I can have the Destroyer droids, yes? Or… no, they kind of come under general military memorabilia I suppose, cool as they were. So… Come on, there must be another thing. How about that four-armed guy in the diner who Obi-Wan goes to for the skinny? Can I have him as number 10? Or… well, I can’t, really. Because if I wanted to talk about the marvellous warmth of Ron Falk’s performance, and the obvious close rapport between him and his old friend Obi Wan, I would then have to contrast it with Obi Wan and Anakin, who have absolutely no rapport at all, and how much of a horrible person Anakin comes over as – backtalking his master and shutting down Padme in front of her own government, and what does she see in- no, POSITIVE, damn it.
Oh hell with it.
There. I’ve said it. Not Jar Jar bloody Binks, nor even CGI Brian Blessed, but the other ones. Because of the Star Wars RPG from West End Games, that itself preceded the prequels by some margin. There was a scenario in one of the supplements where the PCs had go to a planet that was fairly non-spacefaring, and there were natives to help fight the Empire off, and then the writer of the scenario (if I’m remembering this right) basically breaks it down and says, well, this time they’re not going to be teddy bears. This time they’re going to be lizard men. How does that affect the mix? And the point is, it affects the mix because lizard men are way farer game fpr stormtroopers to gun down than teddy bears, and therefore the PCs are going to have to really work with them rather than letting the little furry deus ex machinas get on with it. And there was also the possibility that these apparently low tech lizardmen had a hella force capable guy as their leader, if you wanted to run it that way, or various other fun options. But when I saw the gungans in Menace I realised that, just for a moment and in a very small way, that fun little scenario had become canon. Here were the armoured lizard men taking on the galactic bad guys.
There. I have been positive and amassed karma. Please can The Force Awakens be all I want it to be.
(1) sort of curled into a ball like a pillbug
(2) and, because they’re fighting for a multicultural and varied Republic, they don’t tick that bad space marine box. The fascist one. Yes, they will do later, but not now.
(3) I bet the Geonosians can do parthenogenesis. The Geonosians are ace.
(4) Thank you Fan Girl Happy Hour for that.