Prequels Better Than the New Trilogy?
January 8, 2020
(The Channel Awesome logo and opening titles are shown)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Well, some time has gone by since the release of The Rise of Skywalker, and not surprisingly, there's been a lot of reactions to it.
(Footage of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is shown)
NC (vo): Some love it, some hate it, some are halfway, which, given the Star Wars climate online, is not that shocking. But there has been one argument that's been coming up when talking about the new Star Wars trilogy...
(Cut to footage of The Phantom Menace)
NC (vo): ...and that's praise for the Star Wars prequels.
NC: (throws up arms) Where did this come from? I thought there were rules!
(Cut to a clip of the original film, showing Han Solo shooting Greedo dead)
NC (vo): Han shot first...
(Cut to a clip of the lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens)
NC (vo): ...it's hilarious we thought "lightsaber game" would be the biggest problem with the new trilogy...
NC: ...and the prequels suck! There's just some things I thought we all agreed on!
(More footage of the prequels follow)
NC (vo): With their wooden acting, lame dialogue, over-reliance on CG, and inconsistent stories, how are these suddenly being seen as good?
NC: Are they the worst thing ever? No. In fact, I even did (Image of the following is superimposed...) a video praising the good elements in them. (becomes confused) But we're gonna use the G word when describing these?
(Cut to a clip of Anakin Skywalker's infamous confession to Padme Amidala)
Anakin (Hayden Christensen): I don't like sand.
NC: (confused) These?
(Cut to a clip of Jar Jar Binks)
Jar Jar: More? More did you spake?
NC: (more confused than ever) These?!
(Cut to a clip of a young Anakin (in The Phantom Menace) addressing Padme)
Anakin: Are you an angel?
NC (vo; sighs): Well, here's the funny thing. After completing this new trilogy, I was forced to look at the prequels again. I mean, it is three new films in a now-nine-film lineup. Most people know the original trilogy very well, (An image of Emperor Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker is shown) but when you see a character enter the new trilogy that was not only in the original, but in the prequels, too, it's hard not to think how all of these films might work as one narrative, what flows in the long run, but not in the short run, and vice-versa. In doing so, and seeing more and more arguments pop up that there was something important in the prequels that wasn't in the sequels...
NC: (face twitching in frustration) ...a part of me kinda...sorta...maybe knows a little bit what you're talking about. (beat, then quickly, in frustration while holding up index finger) But probably not!
NC (vo): Sure, I've had my ups and downs with this new trilogy, but there's none of them I hate, and parts of them even gave me goosebumps that I can't remember feeling in Star Wars since the original trilogy.
NC: However, and I can't believe I'm saying this...there was something missing that the prequels seemed to have.
NC (vo): It wasn't until I saw the conclusion, Rise of Skywalker, that I finally felt this, but I did feel it: that being...an emptiness, a lack of passion, the feeling that this isn't being made to delight the imagination anymore.
NC: But... (sighs) the prequels had that??
(Footage of the prequels are shown)
NC (vo): They weren't empty?
Obi-Wan Kenobi: I have a bad feeling about this.
Qui-Gon Jinn: I don't sense anything.
NC (vo): They didn't lack passion?
Anakin: (to Padme) You're so beautiful.
Padme: It's only because I'm so in love.
Anakin: No, it's because I'm so in love with you.
(The scene of Dex's Diner in Attack of the Clones is shown)
NC (vo): They were made to delight the imagination?
WA-7: Someone to see you, honey!
Dexter Jettster: Obi-Wan!
Obi-Wan: (coming in) Hello, Dex.
NC: Well, I argue...yes. (Beat) Not done well, but I did still nevertheless get that feeling from them.
NC (vo): Okay, to better explain what I'm talking about, we have to go over the trilogies really quick. I'm aware you know them inside and out, but to get a better idea, we really do have to recap them.
(Footage of the original trilogy is shown, starting with the one that started it all, naturally)
NC (vo): The first Star Wars took the world by storm, but as many have pointed out, even the actors, it was the imagination and effects that drew everybody in, not necessarily the writing, at least with the dialogue.
(Cut to a clip of the movie)
Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher): (to Governor Tarkin) I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.
(Cut to another clip)
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill): (to his uncle, Owen, having gotten C-3PO and R2-D2) But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.
NC (vo): The film is masterfully edited, though, to incorporate the best elements and leave out...
(Cut to a clip of a deleted scene, showing Biggs Darklighter addressing Luke)
NC (vo): ...this shit.
Biggs: You know they've already started to nationalize commerce in the central systems? (Cut to another deleted clip, also featuring Biggs and Luke) I may never come back and I just want someone to know.
NC: (confused) The fuck...?
NC (vo): ...giving us the best production you could get from such a creative mess.
(Now cut to footage of the next movie, The Empire Strikes Back)
NC (vo): In Empire Strikes Back, more chances were taken, and they learned from what worked and what didn't, so they knew what to take risks on and what not to. And this proves Star Wars wasn't just a lucky break; there was a continuing talent behind it.
(Now cut to footage of the third movie, Return of the Jedi)
NC (vo): Return of the Jedi was kind of a combination of the two: returning back to what was once popular in the first films, with the kid-friendly creatures and blowing up another ball, but it also incorporated some of the darkness from Empire.
NC: Not perfect, but a pretty damn good beginning, middle and end.
(The prequels now are shown, starting with The Phantom Menace)
NC (vo): When the long-awaited prequels came out, everything that was edited out of the first Star Wars was now put dead center: a lot of trade talk; a lot of scenes that went on too long; putting too much comedy in one character, leaving no personality for the others. Fans went through different stages of accepting that, after all these years, they got something that could be bad.
(Cut to a shot of a movie called The People vs. George Lucas)
NC (vo): There's even been films made about their different levels of denial.
(Now cut to the next prequel film, Attack of the Clones)
NC (vo): The next film, Attack of the Clones, scaled down some of the comic relief and trade talk, but not much else. The plot was still confusing, the dialogue still awkward, and the energy from the actors still on autopilot. In my opinion, this is the worst one, because it's not even a "so bad, it's good", it's just dull and lifeless.
(Cut now to the final prequel film, Revenge of the Sith)
NC (vo): But at the very least, the next one, Revenge of the Sith, did generate a lot of life.
Padme: (embracing Anakin) ...so long ago, when there was nothing but our love.
NC: (cringes and hesitates) ...in certain parts.
NC (vo): There was more focus on the villain, who's always been a ton of fun in these movies. It felt like there was conflict that, while clumsy, you could still follow. And it did take the darkest risks out of all the movies.
(The infamous moment where Anakin enters the Younglings' room is shown)
NC (vo): I mean, yeah, this boy says this line weird...
Sors Bandeam: Master Skywalker, there are too many of them! What are we going to do?
NC: (as Han Solo) Great read, kid! That was one in a million!
NC (vo): But he's dead the following scene. You never see that in the original trilogy. (A brief clip of Ewoks being blown up in Return of the Jedi is shown) Kentucky Fried Ewok, sure... (Cut back to the scene of the Younglings' dead bodies as Obi-Wan and Yoda look over them) ...but a kid, let alone kids? Yikes! A lot of people say this is the closest prequel to feel like a legit Star Wars film.
NC: But that's the word: "closest".
NC (vo): The prequels were still seen by many as a huge letdown. Slowly, over time, critics and audiences were seeing the chinks in the armor and realized this wasn't the epic comeback they were expecting.
NC: (holds up index finger) There is one group that surprisingly enjoyed them, though: kids.
NC (vo; sounding hesitant): Yeah, I can't say I'd be into trade talks and Senate meetings, but a lot of children still got sucked into the swordfights, the ship battles, and, yes, even the comic relief.
NC: I guess I can compare this to when I was a kid and hearing...
NC (vo): ...all the political talks in (Image of the following appears in the corner...) Batman, or the archaeological talks in (Image of the following appears in the corner...) Indiana Jones.
NC: It was the (makes "finger quotes") "grown-up" stuff you waited through to get to the action.
NC (vo): Where in those films, though, the adults could see how they connected to the story and characters' journey, these films, they couldn't. But if you were a child, what did it matter? There was more color and fast imagery and poop jokes to entertain you. Eh, fair enough. If you enjoyed these as a kid and hold fond memories of 'em, rock on. A lot of children, as they got older, though, did see the problems with them that adults had for years, but nevertheless, many still hold on to their nostalgia and enjoy watching them. So, one of the major questions becomes, is nostalgia the only benefit of the prequels?
NC: (looking thoughtful) Well...let's look at the new trilogy to figure it out.
(But first, we go to a commercial break. Upon return, we are shown a collage of a myriad Star Wars entertainment: books, video games, etc.)
NC (vo): After several spin-offs in TV, games, books, and God knows how many other avenues... (Now cut to a shot of George Lucas meeting Bob Iger, the current head of The Walt Disney Company) ...Lucasfilms was eventually bought out by Disney, with plans to keep George Lucas, the creator, but also to some the destroyer of their beloved series, out of it.
(Now footage of the newest trilogy is shown, starting with The Force Awakens)
NC (vo): With the release of Force Awakens, there was no doubt a return to several elements that people have been missing from the prequels. On top of great acting, charming dialogue, and more balanced humor, practical effects were utilized more, the look and tone was more rugged and familiar, and even characters from the original came back for another go.
NC: A lot of fans, including myself, found this almost a little...too familiar.
NC (vo): The biggest criticism is that it was basically the original film all over again, with a poor youth in white battling a bad guy in black, trying to get a droid to an underground army to defeat another giant bowling ball. While many had issues, there was this understanding that, well, it just wanted to show it could do Star Wars like the good old days, the version everyone seemed to like the most. A lot of us gave them the benefit of the doubt and said, "Okay, you get this one, but now, you have to do something different."
NC: (shrugs) And I guess that's what we got with...
(Footage of the next sequel movie is shown...)
NC (vo): ...The Last Jedi; divisive, to say the least. The same elements some hailed as deep and challenging, others saw as shallow and backstabbing. When I first saw it, I remember being super-invested and intrigued by some of the new directions they were setting up. But like many of you, the more I thought about it, the more I did see a lot of problems. So much was wrapped up that the previous film was clearly establishing to be resolved in two movies as opposed to one. And even what did wrap up seemed to subvert expectations, but not really replace it with anything epic. Sure, one or two surprises that don't give you what you're promised is fine, but this is kind of like doing... (Cut to a shot of...) ...Endgame without having Thanos or giving the characters back; there's just some things you know you have to follow through on. But it's all good; this is a franchise that's inspired... (A pile of a bunch of Star Wars books is shown) ...tons of books that took finished stories and continued them in the most brilliant of ways. They can still turn this into something.
NC: (shakes head) Well, Rise of Skywalker was something, all right.
(Footage of The Rise of Skywalker is shown)
NC (vo): Again dividing a lot of people, though I don't think as much as Last Jedi, the film tried to introduce both old and new elements, combining familiar tropes from the original trilogy with the tropes of this new trilogy in the hopes of ending on a strong yet familiar note. From what I've gathered, even the people that like this film don't love it. And the answer why is very clear.
NC: (shrugs) It just didn't feel like this was planned from the start.
NC (vo): Where Last Jedi almost seemed to retcon some ideas from Force Awakens, Rise of Skywalker seemed to retcon ideas from Last Jedi. Despite the director of the mostly crowd-pleasing Force Awakens coming back for this one, people just didn't feel the same excitement for this conclusion. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there's crowds that applauded and liked the movie a great deal, but I get the feeling it's not the same level of excitement that people felt in The Force Awakens, when so much was possible and on the horizon.
NC: Why is this? Well, let me ask you a question. Whose movies are these?
NC (vo): I don't mean who financed them or owns the rights or anything. I mean, if you were to ask whose films the original trilogies were, the answer would be obvious: Lucas. Sure, other people directed some of the movies and wrote them, and even Lucas himself changed the size of character roles, based on fan reaction. But behind it all, it was still his idea, his dream that, for better or worse, was the driving force behind it.
NC: Now, here's the thing: do I think they can't do a new trilogy without Lucas? No.
(Another shot of a pile of Star Wars books is shown)
NC (vo): Again, look at some of the books that have come out. These are fantastic stories written by completely different people.
(More footage of the newest trilogy is shown)
NC (vo): I do think, though, that with a series like this that started out so personal, it needs a personal touch all the way through. Had the films all been under J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson from the beginning, I feel like we would have gotten something more consistent and meaningful, whether we would have liked them or not. But it kept jumping back and forth between different creators, so it felt there was no clear vision from beginning to end.
NC: But like I said, they were also changing a lot in the making of the original trilogy.
(Footage of Luke and Leia in the original trilogy is shown: their first meeting, Leia kissing Luke in front of Han, Luke confessing to Leia that she's his sister and Darth Vader is their father)
NC (vo): Oh, you knew Luke and Leia were going to be brother and sister from the start? BULLSHIT!
Luke: My sister has it.
Leia: Somehow...I've always known.
NC: (freaked out a bit) That...just makes that creepier.
(As he speaks, the scene of Leia kissing Luke is shown in the corner, while NC shakes his head. Then we cut to more footage of the prequel trilogy)
NC (vo): You could even argue that Lucas having too much control hurt the franchise greatly. But it was still under somebody's vision.
NC: And I think that's what the prequels have over the new trilogy: a consistent vision.
NC (vo): Is it good? I don't think so. It still seems clumsy, confused, and constantly misdirected. But you always felt like this was one person's passion project, made to please the creator as well as the audience.
NC: (crosses arms) Imagine if other filmmakers rushed in to save The Room.
(Cut to shots of The Room)
NC (vo): Of course there's people that can make the film more coherent and logical, but you would lose that unique vision that nobody else has, even if it's awful.
NC: What if other filmmakers stepped in to take over Ed Wood's production of...
(Shots of the following are shown...)
NC (vo): ...Plan 9 From Outer Space? We'd probably have a middle-of-the-road B-movie that'd quickly be forgotten, instead of an epic disaster that's pleased people for years because of the passion that was put into it. Even if it was a misdirected passion, it was a passion from the heart.
NC: (waves hands) I'm not saying giving control to Lucas would've fixed this new trilogy.
(A clip from The Phantom Menace is shown)
Captain Tarpalls (Steven Speirs): Yousa in big doo-doo this time!
NC: (stares blankly, then shakes head) It just seems very unlikely.
NC (vo): But it arguably would have been more interesting to see the crazy stuff he would've come up with rather than just others trying to recreate what's worked before. There's certainly repeating in the prequels, but not like the repeating in the new trilogy. The prequels weren't good, but they were a fascinating experiment in what happens if you just let one guy, after years away from directing, do whatever he wants. Anakin's journey in the prequels has similarities to Luke, but it's still a different story. Rey and Kylo, the more the films continue, basically go through the exact same journey as Luke and Vader. If there's one thing I can't say about the prequels, it's that they just do the original trilogy again. Granted, the differences were lame, and that's a big part of what caused people to hate them, but they weren't just a carbon copy, and somebody made them for the same reason he made the originals: because he had a story to tell.
NC: (gestures to all three posters of the sequel trilogy) These feel like a studio made them to make money.
NC (vo): Now, granted, it's a studio trying to give creative control to clearly talented filmmakers, but there's no fixed goal figured out from the beginning that drives the passion.
(A collage of posters from nearly all films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are shown)
NC (vo): When you think of the Marvel movies and how much they had to plan out ahead of time for them to work and connect, it's still mind-blowing. Tons of movies mapped out; granted, not all of them good, but still with a clear goal to reach, and only a few hiccups along the way; that's impressive, especially when you consider all the creative voices they worked in.
NC: This was (holds up three fingers) three movies. Only three! And they clearly didn't have an idea of where they were going with them.
(Another group shot of Marvel superheroes is shown)
NC (vo): I know things were changed up in Marvel when a movie underperformed or an actor dropped out or whatever, but again, they had a general road map of where they needed to get to. (More footage of the Star Wars series is shown) These movies didn't seem to have a map. Rather, they started making up their way, got lost a few times, and then acted like this was always the best route.
NC: (waving hands again) And don't get me wrong! Sometimes, it's good just to make up the path as you go.
(Shots of Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, and Aliens, directed by James Cameron, are shown)
NC (vo): Hell, we've gotten some great movies out of that, even incorporating some different creative voices.
(Cut back once again to the various Star Wars clips)
NC (vo): But in this case, it didn't pan out. I think part of that is because this all came from a source that had a personal touch, again, whether for better or worse. And that is something that is missing from these new films.
NC: So, do I think the prequels are good?
(A clip from Attack of the Clones is shown: R2-D2 dragging C-3PO's head along in the middle of the big lightsaber battle)
C-3PO: Oh, this is such a drag!
(Now cut to the infamous scene in Revenge of the Sith of Darth Vader shouting "No!", with the caption "No!" popping up in red, which answers NC's question for us. Then, footage of all three Star Wars trilogies, with an emphasis on the last trilogy, are shown for the remainder of the video)
NC (vo): But I do get more of a connecting passion for storytelling than I do from this new trilogy. Every one of those feels more like an assignment. First one (meaning The Force Awakens) is, "How do you get people back to a dying franchise?" Second one (meaning The Last Jedi) is, "How do you try something new while also connecting to something old?" And the last one (meaning The Rise of Skywalker) is, "How do you attempt to make everybody happy?" There was never a feeling of somebody wanted to tell a story just because they wanted to. It felt like they wanted to breathe energy back into a profitable franchise.
NC: Was it all bad? I don't think so. I think a lot of scenes...
NC (vo): ...from this new trilogy has some amazing moments. Some more than others, but I don't see any of them as a complete loss. However, now that they're wrapped up, they don't feel as epic or touching as they could have been. I guess, in a lot of ways, it makes sense. The originals are seen as incredibly good, the prequels are seen as incredibly bad, and these are somewhere in between.
NC: But for those saying there was an important element to the prequels that was missing from the new trilogy, I...do think you're onto something.
NC (vo): The prequels are a mess, but it's George Lucas' mess. And whether he's being praised or despised, he has always taken responsibility for it, where it kind of feels like nowadays, more and more people are trying to point fingers at who screwed up where. For all the prequels' faults, they are their own thing. You always feel Lucas's thumbprint on every frame. Even in the original, despite Lucas's control having more influence in other films, you always got the feeling there was one storyteller behind it all. These other films feel like there's several, because, well, there were several; some cut, some brought back, some making things better, while others making things worse.
NC: So, while the new trilogy is all over the place, the prequels did at least stay in one controlled realm.
NC (vo): And if you like that realm, awesome. If not... (laughs) ...there's more than enough people who agree with you. So I guess it's pick your poison. You can either have a disastrous prequel series that's consistent with what it is, or a more competent series that never had a solid finish line ever drawn up.
NC: Or, you know, (The posters for the original trilogy are shown) watch good films from beginning to end.
NC (vo): I guess everyone is going to take something different from each movie. But whatever trilogy you like the most or hate the most, one thing is for certain... (An image of Greedo is shown with the caption "MacClunkey!") MacClunkey will always be stupid.
(Another caption pops up in yellow to the sound of a buzzer: "Some people are liking it!")
NC: (annoyed, shaking his finger at camera) No! I will fight you to the death on this! I'm the Nostalgia Critic, and I will fight you to the death on this! (gets up and leaves while muttering) "MacClunkey", what the dick?!
(The Channel Awesome logo is shown before the credits roll)