I am almost certain my review for the first film of the prequel trilogy, The Phantom Menace, was one of the most scathing reviews I have ever written. In retrospect, I feel somewhat bad for being so harsh on it. Unfortunately, I will not be reneging on my statement that Jar Jar Binks is the worst character in cinema history, but otherwise, the prequel films were not as horrendous as their reputation would make one believe, and the final film allows this flawed but still highly enjoyable trilogy to go out on a pretty good high, but not one as monumentally great as the ending to Return of the Jedi.
It is difficult to approach this film, because it is a very revealing film, as there is a clear distinction between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. The character motivations, the settings and the stories are different, and for two of the films in the prequel trilogy, the story can run relatively independent from the original trilogy. However, the third film, this one, has a heavy burden – it has to serve as a connector of sorts. It needs to do two duties – serve as the final film for the trilogy, but also segue into the original trilogy, which is a difficult task, considering how tonally different the two films are. It was actually very pleasant to find that this film can be compartmentalized into two sections, with the first half serving as a farewell of sorts to the prequel trilogy, before the stage is set for the introduction of the outset of the original trilogy, and Lucas gradually changes the tone and pace so that the final film can ease into the original trilogy without it being too startlingly different.
The entire purpose of the prequel trilogy was to determine the origin of Darth Vader, and it seems a bit excessive in retrospect, but when your character becomes the most iconic villain in film history, then an origin story is always welcome. Darth Vader was a truly enigmatic character in the original trilogy, and thus Lucas had free reign to manipulate and mold the character as he wished in the prequel trilogy, and because very few actual details of Darth Vader are ever mentioned in the original trilogy, it makes his story in the prequel films all the more compelling. Revenge of the Sith allows for Darth Vader to experience terrific characterization, and as a character, he goes through all the major motions, starting as a powerful but naive young man, and then falling into despair and then suddenly being redeemed (albeit as a villain), in a strange morality play. The “construction” and transition from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader was tense, melodramatic and kept one on the edge of your seats. The moment Darth Vader rises off the operating table, the sins of the prequel trilogy disappear, and the original trilogy takes the reigns. It is a wonderful moment and one of the best moments (if not the very best) of the prequel trilogy, and makes the entire excruciating six hours that preceded it truly worth it. Hayden Christensen did receive immense amounts of criticism for his performance as Anakin, but it is clear to me that it wasn’t his fault, and rather that he was miscast. He seemed to be more adept at the evil side of the character, which made his performance his far superior to his performance in the previous film. There are some disastrous moments where his acting completely fails him, but the pure giddiness of seeing his transition from unlikable anti-hero to bona-fide beloved villain was absolutely wonderful.
However, the prequel trilogy is just as much about Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader as it is about Obi-Wan Kenobi. Once again, Ewan McGregor is fantastic in the role, and now, finally as the wise and powerful Jedi, McGregor’s performance comes full circle, with The Phantom Menace beginning with him being a young and naive padawan, just like Anakin. Both characters reach the peak of their storylines here, and I could not have possibly hoped for more. McGregor is an absolute saving grace to this film series, and his performance here is wonderfully strong, and he continues to impress me with the fact that he could single-handedly carry this entire series, and without the help of any other actors, as all of those that could help him carry this film were in roles that were far too small, while those in big enough roles gave weak performances. McGregor is a great sport for doing these films, and he deserves praise for simply just being great. Christopher Lee is wonderful (obviously), but his screentime is limited as he is killed off fairly early on. Ian McDiarmid is a compelling villain, and Frank Oz gives wonderful characterization to Yoda, taking him from simple scene-stealing wise-man and turning him into a fully-dimensional character, all through his vocal performance, which I think was splendid. The cast itself was great, but McGregor stands heads and shoulders above all of them.
I am well aware that I sound like a broken record, but it needs to be reiterated – Star Wars always looks magnificent. Lucas went to extraordinary measures to ensure only the most advanced technology was used to render this galaxy, which constantly pays off, because the films, as flawed as they are, always look absolutely beautiful. The original Star Wars trilogy was both a technological marvel and an acting masterpiece, and while the prequel trilogy is weak in terms of acting, the technological brilliance knows no bounds. As each Star Wars films goes on, so does the technological achievement, and with the new trilogy coming in only a few hours, I look forward to seeing how the films can possibly be better, technologically (it won’t take much for a film to improve on this prequel trilogy, acting-wise).
In conclusion, I liked (not loved) the prequel trilogy. I thought they were vague shadows of the original films, but they were entertaining enough, and they didn’t make me any less of a fan, and just widened my interest in the Star Wars universe. They were good films (especially when Jar Jar Binks didn’t appear – I really hope this is the last time I ever have to write about him…unless they make him the villain in the new trilogy, which will be truly exciting and will redeem the character). I do implore you to watch the original trilogy before watching the prequel trilogy, because it is truly better that way. The prequel trilogy was fun, and Revenge of the Sith was the best of the bunch, without any doubt.
So that’s a wrap on the prequel trilogy. I am now caught up with the Star Wars universe, and I am ready to watch the first of the sequel trilogy, when it comes out in cinemas here tomorrow (16th of December – two whole days before the USA, which is exciting to say the least). I am fully expecting a fun, nostalgic film, and one that I hope is more original trilogy than prequel trilogy. Until then, see you tomorrow, and may the force be with you (and everyone else hoping that The Force Awakens will be the great film we deserve!)