Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Defense of The Prequels

   This is a collection of my thoughts on The Prequels, of Star Wars. That is to say Episode 1 The Phantom Menace, Episode 2 Attack of the Clones, and Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith. Perhaps I'm the only one in the world who likes them, whatever. I mean, I don't think they're the greatest of the Star Wars films, but I find the major aspects of them (the art, Palpatines' politics, Anakin's journey towards the dark side intertwining with the government's journey toward the dark side) fascinating, moving, entertaining, and fitting, because it is straight from the creator, George Lucas. I think the stories work. I think the art works.
   As of this writing, I've seen the Episode 7 The Force Awakens twice, but I may or may not write about it yet here in this post. But as always and at any rate, SPOILER WARNING.
   The whole of Star Wars has personal meaning to everyone, and it's totally subjective. People may say Star Wars is about this and that, or it SHOULD be about this and that, that the Prequels weren't about this and that. Well so, this is my opinion.
   People say Star Wars is about the hero's journey, about Luke. Well, yes and no. I mean, yeah for ANH, but now it's much bigger than that. The Star Wars series is about the Skywalker family and how they fit with the Republic/Empire. It's both intimate (about family) and big (about society). I think it's kind of that simple. It's how all these things relate, as the Force relates to everything, surrounds, binds the galaxy together. It's operatic, it's mythic. Also, it is melodramatic. It has always been. It's pulp.
  The Galactic Republic, probably most exemplified by the look of Naboo and Coruscant, is SUPPOSED TO BE glossy, grand, not dirty, rich, etc. It's the height of society. I have like 15 "art of" and "making of" Star Wars books I've read cover to cover, and the concept design is thought out and fitting for the SW universe. Naboo is decorative like art nouveau and classic Greco-Roman, as in contrast, the Empire is cold and sterile, like the inside of a computer. After the Senate and Jedis are crushed and the Emperor takes over, the world goes to shit. Infrastructure goes to shit, things become rusty and dirty. After a war, people salvage, people make-do. The Rebel Alliance are scappers, cobbling together old parts to make their vehicles, because they are not the Empire with money. When there is a totalitarian regime, the lower and middle classes are neglected, competition and entrepreneurship is squashed. You just get what the government allows you to have. You barter, salvage, smuggle, run a black market, as Han does.
   Little Anakin used to be a good innocent boy, saying "Yippees" as someone from the '50's might, like Lucas, or someone from a Norman Rockwell painting, as Lucas and Spielberg both have Rockwell collections. And it's so interesting to see this kid become the most evil mofo of the universe, Darth Vader. So, Jake Lloyd wasn't the greatest actor. Neither was Mark Hamill. And certainly many of the Imperial officers in the Classic Trilogy (ANH, ESB, ROTJ). But, Lloyd did have some great moments of anger, at the Jedi Temple, and this was probably key in him getting the part. I think his character attributes were great -- a kid piloting a dangerous pod racer (showing Jedi reflexes), a generous being wanting to help strangers and a kid in love (innocence), and someone who can fix anything mechanical (but can't fix life and death of his loved ones, and also becomes mechanical himself). His life is turned upside down by leaving his mother to go with the Jedi. Perhaps it's one the reasons he hates the Jedi later. They make him lose attachments.
   Hayden Christensen, like Mark Hamill, I think looked older than the age they actually play. From complaining about not getting to go to Tosche Station, or complaining about being held back by Obi-Wan and the Jedis, they are both impetulant brats (like father, like son) that probably should look younger, however the actors probably needed to bridge the span from teen to adult. Christensen's Anakin comes across strong, and creepy, to Padme because the Jedi's don't get out much. They are celibate monks. And he's a teenager with emotional problems, seduced by power. I have more of a problem with Natalie Portman's acting, as she only plays being weirded out, one note, but her character needs to have a glimmer of interest even before her love confession at the top of the Geonosis gladiator arena scene.
   The greatest thing about the Prequels is the political intrigue. It's the aspect most hated by most, but their loss. It's the story that mirrors and entwines the Skywalker's. Senator Palpatine plays both sides (multiple sides) of the trade conflict to start a crisis to create a situation where he could move in as Supreme Chancellor, and then Emperor. Anakin would be Palpatines' muscle in the end. Anakin's drive for power for control stems from the things he couldn't control in life (his mom's plight, vision of Padme's death, how the Jedi's don't really like him). And so, Palpatine's story of the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis and the knowledge to "cheat death" to peak Anakin's interest is probably one of the best scenes in the series. Ian McDiarmid should've gotten some sort of Academy Award. After Anakin becomes Darth Vader and terrorizes the galaxy, HE is the one to kill the Emperor and find redemption. It's an amazing arc.
   Other aspects that I love about the Prequels were the lightsaber fights of Jedi's and Sith in their prime, Darth Maul, the podrace, the Clone Wars, the brotherly feud between Anakin and Obi-Wan also mirroring the Jedi and Sith point of views, how the Clone Army story-wise and visually becomes the Imperial Stormtroopers, the portrayal of democracy dissolving into a dictatorship by imperialism, militarism. If you know anything about history (kings in general, Napolean, Hitler, USA, etc.), it's the history of our world told over again and again. War motivating a fascist security police state. Bureacracy and corruption motivating calls for more executive power. This is both universal, and personal. It's Anakin's story. It's the Galactic Republic/Empire's story. I think it's genius.
   Jar Jar Binks was innocence (and slapstick), but sometimes "too much." But so is C3PO, a character I can't stand. There is "cheese" to be found in the Classic Trilogy -- the "you rebel scrum" lines, Chewie's cowardice of the dianoga, the antics as they all run around the Death Star, the Ewoks hijinks. A lot of it is campy. It's fun. The Battle of Naboo had "accidental" victories because it was still a innocent time. The Clone Wars is where the Civil War starts to get serious. Well, as serious as SW can be. By ROTJ, things got the most dark, more was at stake; it came to a head for the Skywalkers. The series had to have a progression.
   Lucas' world of Star Wars, his visual choices, is a certain aesthetic. His choices are appealing and popular. I don't like Star Trek aliens; I like Star Wars aliens. Many concept artists can present designs in front of Lucas, but he is the one calling the shots. Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, Doug Chiang, Terryl Whitlach, Iain McCaig, and Ryan Church worked on many other films, but I'm not crazy about any of their other designs, they weren't as memorable as the Star Wars films. Disney had an eye for design and how it appeals to the majority of audiences as well, and had his artists almost make a science out of it, using proportions and style. For the lack of a better word or explanation, it was an aesthetic. The character designs of these greats, Lucas and Disney, sell mechandise. They are appealing to the masses. I can't say any designs of Don Bluth or Dreamworks appeal to me. I don't have a desire to purchase their toys, if they had any.
  I should probably write another separate post of my thoughts on Episode 7 The Force Awakens, which is mostly positive, but briefly my thoughts on the designs were kinda...meh. The orangey-ET Maz was ugly with small eyes and thin lips. The tentacle ball was ugly and stupid, like something from JJ's Star Trek movies. The stormtroopers looked like cheetahs. Kylo Ren was a bit racist, looking like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. The Supreme Leader Snoke looked like ass. Captain Phasma belongs with the cylons. However, BB-8's design was genius. Rey's speeder was great simplcity. Jakku the junk planet was awesome.