STAR WARS: The Ultimate Review (PART TWO)

Aidan Herklotz

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     DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers to the prequel trilogy of the Star Wars movies. It also contains spoilers for the first part of my Star Wars review series. While you don’t need to read the former article, you probably should, as it provides context for some things. This article also contains opinions that some may consider controversial. You have been warned.

     I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, or even before that. In 2005, my parents took me to see The Revenge of the Sith in theaters. I was three years old, it was the first film I ever saw in theaters, and I don’t remember a second of it. And I’m sure I saw the other Star Wars movies on VHS before that, but you’ll have to ask my parents. What I’m saying is, I’m pretty devoted to the franchise, so I think I can review them properly. Considering that The Rise of Skywalker has now been released — apparently the last in the franchise — I thought I’d go ahead and review all nine movies, in order of release date. This is the second part of the review series. Last time I did the original trilogy, and this time I’ll be reviewing the prequels

4)  STAR WARS: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Never again will a film be anticipated as much as The Phantom Menace, and never again will something so anticipated be so disappointing. It’s sad really. You can go back to the ‘90s and see how excited people were for this movie, and then see how terrible everyone realized it was. And that’s what I’ll be talking about in this review: why it’s terrible. Apparently some people today think that the prequels aren’t as bad as everyone thinks and that they’re better than the sequel trilogy, but they’re so, so wrong. While I do have my problems with the sequels (we’ll get to those later), the prequels far outweigh them. The biggest problem anyone has with The Phantom Menace is that it influences literally nothing in the rest of the franchise. None of the events or characters from The Phantom Menace are mentioned in the rest of the prequels. This makes the film seem unnecessary, which is why it’s usually left out of the supposed “perfect” viewing order of the Star Wars movies, as seen here (x).

Another large problem with The Phantom Menace is its so-called “corporatization” of Star Wars. I talked about this in my Return of the Jedi review, where I wrote that George Lucas is a businessman first and a filmmaker second. This means that a lot of things are just added to sell toys. I’m talking about podracers, Darth Maul’s lightsaber, Jar Jar Binks, battle droids, and so much more. You can also notice that a lot of things in The Phantom Menace were added to please a wider audience. Jar Jar and Anakin are both for little kids, Amadala changing clothes in every scene is for little girls to have something to look at, and Captain Panaka is just to have another black person in the movie. That man’s only character trait is that he’s black. They even did this better in the original trilogy with Lando, which was 19 years before this. I really hate pandering in film. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one, something that George Lucas actually understood when he made the original trilogy. He must have gone senile sometime between 1983 and 1999.

Anyways, since I mentioned Jar Jar Binks earlier… let’s talk about him. This is the single most hated character in Star Wars, maybe even in film history. I wouldn’t say this massive amount of hate is completely justified, but I still hate this character. It’s not even like he’s influential to the franchise or anything; he’s just completely unnecessary. Why is he in this movie, and why does he have so much screen-time? In The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar has 17 minutes of screen-time. That doesn’t sound too bad, but when we compare that to Darth Vader in A New Hope, who has a measly eight minutes of screen-time, it really puts it into perspective. The main villain of Episode IV has half as much screen-time as the bumbling sidekick in Episode I. And Jar Jar’s just so hilarious too, he has funny lines like “Well, that smells stinkerwhiff” or “Mesa in big doo-doo dis time!” or perhaps “Icky-icky goo,” which Jar-Jar says when he steps in poop. This character is truly sophisticated, and his comedy can only be understood by the most intelligent filmgoers. But, in all seriousness, who put this in the movie and genuinely thought it was funny? I know Jar Jar was geared towards children, but I definitely didn’t find him funny when I was a kid. Characters like Jar Jar and Anakin were added into this movie just for kids to have someone to relate to and want to be like, but when I was a kid I didn’t want to be like Anakin driving a podracer — I wanted to be like Han flying the Millenium Falcon, or Luke using the Force. Something Episode I and Episode II both fundamentally misunderstand is that you don’t need to be the same age or race to want to be like a character; they just need to have a definitive personality and character.

Don’t even get me started on the story, because it makes no sense. Firstly, if they’re a TRADE FEDERATION why are they trying to block trade? Secondly, why do the people of Naboo start to starve and die off after, like, a week without trade? They should still have farms and maybe an emergency supply of food, right? This would make more sense if it were a city planet like Coruscant, which would need constant imports all the time just to keep their people alive, but from what we see, Naboo’s mostly forests, plains, and rivers. Lastly, I don’t think you can just “sign a treaty” to make an invasion illegal. George Lucas obviously doesn’t know how war works, which is a problem considering it’s in the title of the entire franchise. Also, the fact that the eight-year-old Anakin destroys an entire space station when a squadron of trained pilots couldn’t is just ridiculous. Episode I is also plagued by the “no main character syndrome.” A single protagonist is good in sci-fi movies like this because it gives us someone to relate to and ground us in reality (see Luke in Episode IV). I have so many problems with this movie, but I’m going to have to move on as this section’s getting too long.

FINAL REVIEW: 2/10 bigger fish. Disappointing.

5) STAR WARS: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Before I rewatched all of the Star Wars movies for this review, I was under the impression that Attack of the Clones was the worst Star Wars movie. I now realize that I’m wrong — The Phantom Menace is actually the worst. But why did I have this preconception? My philosophy was that while The Phantom Menace was terrible, it didn’t really have much of a lasting impact on the franchise, while Attack of the Clones actively impacted Star Wars in a negative way. I still think that that’s true, but that doesn’t make Episode I any better from a filmmaking standpoint. So, great job Attack of the Clones, I don’t think you’re the worst anymore. But you’re still pretty damn bad.

My main gripe with the prequels, and Attack of the Clones especially, is the extreme overuse of CGI and special effects. Fun fact: the only shot in the entirety of the prequels (all three movies) that doesn’t contain any CGI or special effects was two to three seconds of poisonous gas coming out of a vent in Episode I. Every single other shot in all three movies contained some kind of special effects, which is just insane. It’s not that most of the effects are bad or anything, it’s just that they’re overused and relied upon to tell the story. It was George Lucas who once said: “A special effect is a tool, a means of telling a story. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” Most of the prequels are just special effects without stories. You will never find a genuine “clone trooper armor” prop from these movies because they never actually made any; every single clone was CGI, and as a result, they just look fake. I can understand doing this when the clones have their helmets off and we can see their identical faces, but that only happens for maybe ten seconds. Imagine if Lucas did that with the stormtroopers in the original trilogy. Also, if the acting seems a bit weird or off in these movies, it’s because the actors aren’t actually seeing what they’re acting at. If you go back and watch the documentaries about the prequels, you can see that the actors are all just standing in a blue room with no actual props or settings at all. When you compare this set design, creature design, prop design, or even character design to ones in the original trilogy, it just looks too clean. It seems as if technology in the Star Wars universe has advanced since the original trilogy, but it should be the opposite, since these movies are taking place several decades before the originals. And no, you can’t tell me that “technology only advanced in the Star Wars universe because technology advanced in real life” because that would be the biggest continuity error in film history, and it doesn’t provide an in-universe explanation. And, let’s get one thing out of the way: I don’t care if an explanation was provided or this was fixed in a comic or book, because I shouldn’t have to have a book explain something that should have been in the movie in the first place.

Now let’s get to the story and the most despised part about Attack of the Clones: the acting. I don’t really understand this. I think that the main characters in this movie are played by genuinely good actors (unlike the kid-Anakin in Episode I), and that they did the best with what they were given. To be fair, they didn’t really have much to work with. The dialogue was terrible, George Lucas never got out of his chair to give them any direction (seriously, watch the documentaries, he never stands), and they’re all just acting at special effects anyway. It’s not the actors’ fault that the romance scenes in Episode II are bad; it’s just the writing. You see, sometime between the originals and the prequels (AKA when Lucas went senile), George Lucas decided to become Shakespeare. If you go back and watch the Padme-Anakin scenes from this movie, you can see that some of the dialogue is a little… off. Here are some examples: “I’m not afraid to die. I’ve been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life”; “You love me? I thought that we had decided not to fall in love — that we would be forced to live a lie and that it would destroy our lives”; and “I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me.” I had no idea I was watching a cringier version of Romeo and Juliet. Anakin is also a total creep (see: “I hate sand, it’s course, rough, irritating, and it gets everywhere”). He keeps coming on to Padme when she frequently tells him no, and he kills an entire tribe of tusken raiders (not just the men, but the women, and the children too). And her only response to that is, “To be angry is to be human.” It’s completely unbelievable. I hate to do this, but I keep comparing the good things from the originals with the bad things from the prequels. Lucas did this much better with Leia and Han’s romance in Empire. They’re basically in the same situation that Padme and Anakin are in Attack of the Clones: hiding from enemies, forced to be together because of circumstance and a need for each other. If Lucas just completely copied every romance scene from Empire into this movie, it’d be better than what we got here. Also, Anakin just constantly complains about Obi-Wan, that’s in like half of their scenes together. The first scene in the movie establishes that they’re supposed to be friends, and then all they do is argue and complain about each other for the rest of the film. I would count how many times people say Obi-Wan and Anakin are friends, but I’m not gonna bother.

My final complaint is about lightsabers: they’re used way too much. It seems that the Jedi ignite their lightsabers for every little thing in these movies. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are attacked by poisonous gas, pull out the lightsabers. Anakin finds out Palpatine is a sith lord, pull out the lightsaber. I’m surprised that the Jedi don’t instinctively draw their lightsabers whenever entering a room. I was always under the impression that lightsabers were a kind of “final resort”, which is why they’re used more sparingly in the original trilogy. I’ve heard the argument that the Jedi using lightsabers too much is intentional, since they act like police pulling out their guns and firing instinctively. While this is an interesting theory, if it was the case then lightsabers would be seen as a bad thing, but Obi-Wan tells Anakin that “this weapon is your life”, which is totally missing the point of the original trilogy. In the prequels, the overuse of lightsabers is merely because they’re famous, and that the fanboys scream in joy every time a lightsaber comes on screen. And, of course, the main offender: Yoda. Why, oh why, does Yoda have a tiny green lightsaber and flips around the room fighting Count Dooku? Didn’t Yoda tell Luke that weapons weren’t important to a Jedi, but it’s your will and what you have inside that makes you a great Jedi? And didn’t Yoda tell Luke that “Wars not make one great,” even though he literally becomes a general in this film. I feel like Yoda should have just been the old mentor character that doesn’t get into fights and only passes wisdom onto the younger, more adventurous Jedi.

In conclusion, while I still hate Attack of the Clones, I have to admit it’s better than the train-wreck that is The Phantom Menace, but I’d still rather watch Episode I than Episode II. One of the few things that Clones did better than Menace is that Jar Jar has less lines. Also, the clones don’t attack until two hours into the movie. I didn’t know where I’d put that in, but I wanted to say it.

FINAL REVIEW: 3/10 I hate sand. Embarrassing. 

6) Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Here it is, the last of the prequels. For some reason, this movie is revered by the Star Wars fan-base nowadays, mostly because of the memes. But many are still under the impression that this is actually a good movie (some even say it’s better than Return of the Jedi). While I will admit that Revenge of the Sith is the best out of the prequels, it’s still not exactly good.

The characters and the acting is better, and I actually quite like Obi-Wan. All he does is be witty and fire off one-liners, which is a step up from the last two movies and makes him seem more likable. This is mostly attributed to Ewan McGregor, whose performance peaked in this movie. Anakin also isn’t nearly as creepy as he is in Clones; in fact, I actually quite like his arc. I think his fall to the dark side is conveyed really well, and the scene with him and Obi-Wan after their battle is really emotional. The scene with Anakin’s induction into the dark side is really good too, and Hayden Christensen’s face conveys a lot that isn’t said. Once again, the Emperor is my favorite part about this movie, and Ian McDirmad’s performance is really what makes it great. I usually don’t like exposition dumps in movies, but the “Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise” scene is pretty entertaining, and it actually tells us something about the sith. One thing I don’t like about Anakin and the Emperor is how their faces get disfigured after the turn to the dark side. I always assumed that the Emperor looked like a wrinkly raisin in Return of the Jedi because the corruption of the dark side had turned them that way, and that that was the consequence of evil. But no, Anakin was burnt alive and the Emperor was zapped by lightning. Also, why was Palpatine scarred permanently by force lightning, but Luke was just a little singed?

Anyways, I was talking about the characters. Padme is actually the most boring compared to her in the other movies — at least the first two movies she gets something to do. In Episode III all she does is sit around and be pregnant. She’s basically just a Macguffin to convince Anakin to go to the dark side. In the originals, I always wondered why Vader turned to the dark side and put his entire life in a different direction. It turns out that it was one of two reasons: One, it was the will of the force, and Anakin was the chosen one, or two, Anakin loved his wife. The first reason is just lame, and second is just unbelievable. To make a man turn to evil because he needs to save the one he loves can be done well, but first you need to make a believable romance. As I said in my Attack of the Clones review, Padme and Anakin have anything but a believable romance. Also, you can’t just “die from a broken heart,” that’s not how it works.

I also believe that Revenge of the Sith is really long and drawn out. The movie would’ve been much better if they completely cut the whole General Grievous subplot. It’s completely unnecessary. In fact, if you just cut out General Grievous entirely, the entire movie would be unchanged. Revenge of the Sith really could benefit from some cuts; most scenes in the second act are just walking and talking, and some characters just repeat things they said in prior scenes.

I also have some gripes with Grievous himself. Everyone hypes him up to be this bad-ass who kills jedi for fun, and in fact, that’s what he’s portrayed as in the 2003 Clone Wars animated miniseries (which you should absolutely see, it’s so underrated), but they don’t show this in the movie at all. In fact, Grievous just runs and hides (like he always does, apparently). This is also another example of overusing lightsabers, but luckily this isn’t as bad as the other films. The overuse of CGI is also not as bad as in Episode III, though this may be because there aren’t as many alien characters in this one. Speaking of alien characters, Jar Jar Binks has no lines. Thank God. Revenge of the Sith actually has a lot of intense emotional moments, like when the music swells up and Anakin is looking off into the distance on Mustafar contemplating what he’s about to do, or the entire Order 66 scene. Somehow this makes it so I’m sad when characters who have no lines die. These moments are when Episode III is at it’s best.

Once again, my least favorite parts of this movie are the lightsaber fights. Many fans seem to think the Anakin vs. Obi-Wan fight is the best in the series, but I totally disagree. While the dialogue between these two is some of the best in the movie, there’s just way too much filler between that. They jump on a pillar falling down a lava-waterfall, they tightrope-walk across a small beam, they swing on ropes over a lava-river, and it’s completely unnecessary. This is a moment where simpler is better, and it could benefit from some toning-down. And don’t get me started on the Emperor vs. Yoda fight. Every time Yoda opens his stupid mouth I want to die. While the Anakin vs. Obi-Wan fight benefits from dialogue, the Yoda-Emperor fight is weakened immensely by it. “Not if anything to say about it, I have” is such a cliche line that I cringe whenever I hear it. My absolute favorite part about this fight (and the Windu vs. Emperor as well) is Ian McDirmad’s facial expressions. Seriously, go back and focus on his face, he looks so goofy that it’s pure entertainment.

Overall, Revenge of the Sith is definitely the best out of the prequels, and it’s surprisingly a pretty solid movie.

FINAL REVIEW: 6/10 killed younglings. Drawn-out.

Now that The Rise of Skywalker is out, I’ll be releasing a full review of the sequel trilogy, so stay tuned!