Friday, February 10, 2012

The Geek Chorus #3: Confessions of an Ex-Prequels Fan

It's Friday. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace has been 3D-ified & re-released. It's been almost 13 years since this film first came out. And in that time, from the looks of things, not a single goddamned thing has changed. The fans are still angry and bitter, still hurling insult after insult at George Lucas & his creations. After more than a decade, it seems they can still find more things they hate about the prequels and are determined to let the entire world know. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few people light aflame a few more effigies of Jar Jar Binks to mark the occasion. I once rode the very same bandwagon for many a year. But at this point in my life, I'm starting to wonder why. I've been in a generous mindset lately, striving to, in the immortal words of Abed from Community, "like liking things." In the spirit of that, I'd like to share with you my experience with these three movies, because frankly, they don't quite match those of your typical Star Wars fan.

I was 10 years old when Episode I came out. At the time I was not part of the internet subculture nor did I interact with any hardcore Star Wars fans. I HAD seen the original trilogy but only a few times, and seeing as at the time I had yet to develop good taste in movies, I immensely enjoyed it. In fact, I'll just say it: I thought Jar Jar Binks was funny (I was 10 people, give me a break). Hell, I rented it & watched it over & over again to the point of memorization (though I did that with every VHS I got my hands on back then).

As the other prequels came out I enjoyed each of them as well, though by the time Episode III came out I was 16 and while I still had bad taste in movies, I at least was starting to pick up on some of the flaws despite liking it overall. At the very least I knew that the infamous scream of "NOOOOO" was pretty stupid. It wasn't until years later that I became an active member of the "nerd" community in general and was genuinely shocked to find out how much everyone HATED the prequels. Sure, once it was laid out to me I understood why (Confused Matthew was my go-to "this is why the prequels suck" reviewer, Red Letter Media's stuff hadn't come out yet). After a while, I began to muster up genuine hatred for them and jumped on the bandwagon. Part of it was peer pressure (yes, even nerds can be guilty of peer pressure), part of it was the realization of how little critical thinking I had done up to that point. But regardless of the reason, I soon became ashamed of the fact that I had ever liked them at all.

However, over the past few months I've started to become disenchanted with the geek mindset of "we love to hate things". I plan to do a article expanding on this idea in the future, but for now I'll just say I've been reevaluating my outlook and asking myself why I now hate things I once enjoyed just because they've got problems and everyone else hates them. For example, I've started to ask myself why I consider Pirates of the Caribbean 3 a bad movie when I enjoyed it so much in the theater.

And that's why I find myself marking this occasion by looking back at The Phantom Menace with new eyes, or rather old eyes I haven't used in a while. The film isn't good, there's no question there. None of the prequels are. There's also no question that I did enjoy them on first viewing. Would I have felt different if I had been older & had a more critical mind, or if I'd had a deeper appreciation for the original trilogy as I do now? Probably, but would that have made me right? Taken completely on their own merits, removing all expectations set up by their predecessors, the prequels are really no worse than any other not-that-good big budget summer blockbuster.

Take a moment and honestly list all the things that are good about the prequels. The special effects? Possibly excessive, but undeniably polished & colorful. The action sequences? Not very dramatically involving to be sure, but always fun to look at. The design work? Just as creative and eye-popping as before. The music? Please. It's John Williams at his very best. Even the most bitter of haters cannot deny the awesomeness of "Duel of the Fates". Even the sounds effects capture the feel of the original while still updating them for today's technology. If nothing else, the prequels all look and sound EXACTLY like what we wanted.

Now that's a lot of praise there, but I'm aware those are all aesthetic qualities. I know it sucks that the important stuff, i.e. characterization & plot, were more or less a complete flop. I understand the disappointment, really I do, and I'm not going to pretend a legacy was not tarnished here. That said, there is NO EXCUSE for the way the fans have been handling it for the last decade. When this 3D re-release was announced, I thought perhaps at last the fans would show that they were finally over their hatred and just ignore it. Decide that they'd let the George Lucas slander fest go on for too long. But no, that's not want happened. As it is when anything Star Wars related gets announced, everyone started the old feud anew. Instead of letting bygones be bygones, we took the opportunity to reopen old wounds.

Internet? I AM DISAPPOINT. Are you not done complaining about Episode I by now? After 13 years you still haven't run out of things you hate about it? Are you really gonna let a movie, ANY MOVIE, fill the rest of your life with resentment? George Lucas did not rape your childhood, Jar Jar Binks is not the Antichrist, and there are worse things in this world than wooden child acting. Did you miss the entire point of the first three movies? All that talk of letting go of your hate, none of that got through? Because if not, I'd argue you're doing just as much to disrespect the legacy of Star Wars as George Lucas did.


Anonymous said...

You took the words right out of my mouth.

thunder fox said...

I'm a middle aged anarchist who grew up on the OT and I love the prequels too. People take all these movies too serious, or not serious enough, IMO. There's a great undercurrent of anarchy in the films. Despite being basically hopeful for good government, they still offer no political answers, just direct action. The movies basically tell you to let go and trust your instincts. On one level, the OT are "cultural crowdpleasers" but on another, people just don't get them. The prequels are less populist, but still have the same message, and if you like that message, one can forgive the flaws as easily as the OT flaws. I'm not afraid to say, Phantom Menace was brilliantly deceiving, and 2 and 3 made me, a grown man, cry.