Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy – A Collective Retrospective 

Written by on 28th February 2024

By Joseph Lynch 

Star Wars The Phantom Menace. Credit: Alamy

Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy – five words that can conflict a conversation. The original Star Wars trilogy reigned the silver screen from 1977 to 1983. The characters were immensely compelling, the fight scenes were stupendously crafted, and the level of poignancy and emotional depth that was applied was so strong that it could make you forget you’re even watching a sci-fi fantasy flick. The trilogy was electric with its appeal, being celebrated by general audiences and cinephiles alike. Even the most prestigious film lovers were satisfied with its success. George Lucas’ “Star Wars” was considered one of the most consistent film franchises all of time. 

But all good things come to an end, no? 

It was in the year of 1999 that the first prequel film, “The Phantom Menace” would release. Despite being bathed with financial success, fuelled with anticipation and having incredible actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan McGregor on board, the film’s critical response was…  

I mean, disastrous. 

Whilst many enjoyed it, most audience and critic reactions were shrouded in negativity. From the laughably bad screenwriting to the shallow and dull characters, the film wasn’t exactly looked at as a classic. It was quite a time for pop culture. Then came episode two. Then came episode three. And even after the series’ run, the slander remained persistent. 

But in the last week, I decided to grab my popcorn, turn my TV on and rewatch these films all these decades later and see if they really are the abomination that audiences and critics claimed, or if they’re legitimately overlooked. Was it just film snobs being smug because of its popularity? Was it just Star Wars fans being overly negative because their precise wishes weren’t fulfilled? Or are they truly just… bad? 

Well, after giving these films a whirl for the first time in years of watching them, I can honestly say that I love them. They’re sort of flawed masterpieces in my eyes. Not only are they cohesive in regards to narrative, but they’re also so creative. Characters like General Grievous. Sebulba the Pod Racer and of course, Master Yoda are enough to make anyone feel the magic of this universe. Even the infamous Jar Jar Binks made me smile and cheer. As a child, I remember watching these films and adoring them, but even with my nostalgia bias aside, I still admire the creativity. The characters, the planets, the quotes… the brainchild that is George Lucas has created a world of pure magic that I believe anyone can resonate with.

The fight scenes were also genuinely mystifying. The term “edge of my seat” gets really overused, but the final climax battle at the end of the trilogy… come on! I think it was amazing. The galactic aesthetic of it all and the music is also brilliant, to say the least. But good music is to be expected when you have the global film score megastar John Williams in the credits. Inevitable. I mean, again, I have a massive bias from watching them at a young age, but I still think that even with the bias attached these films are superb.   

Well, for the most part.  

There were some issues. I mean, it would be pretty boring if I encountered no problems whatsoever. After all, films from decades ago are going to hit a few stumps. I did say they were flawed masterpieces. 

The CGI, for starters, is… let’s just say it’s not great. The green screen is blatantly obvious from a modern perspective, particularly in the second entry, “Attack of the Clones”. Every time I noticed this; I couldn’t help but feel temporarily disconnected from this otherworldly environment that Lucas crafted. Even the spellbinding final fight of the trilogy suffered a little. There are some moments where the CGI holds up, like the character of General Grievous’ introduction, however, these moments were unfortunately all too rare. Then again, you can’t truly demean a film for something for a flaw that was mostly out of its control. In all fairness, they didn’t have to be so excessive with the CGI use, but at the same time, these are films from the 90s and very early 2000s. 

Another issue I found was the chemistry between some of the cast. Whilst the actors do their best to conceive great performances, these efforts are ultimately wayed down by the lack of connection we feel. The chemistry between the star-crossed lovers Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amadilla, for example, feels a little forced and at times lifeless, which could be either down to miscommunication from the director and writers, or simply just the underwhelming nature of the material they were given. There are some outstanding moments of acting, though, such as Samuel L. Jackson’s classic coolness, Ian McDiarmid’s cold portrayal of the antagonist Palpatine and Natalie Portman’s non-romantic scenes. I just felt that the characters lacked humanity at the time. 

The final problem I had looking back on these films all these years later was the attempts at comedy. As much as I loved Jar Jar Binks, for example, he felt severely overused in parts of the first film, as well as a throwaway moment of dialogue that felt like awkward attempts at gags. This was saved, however, by the creative decision to amplify the dark tones of the first two movies and turn episode three into a bleak, fully dark atmosphere. 

At the end of the day, I understand the jabs and nit-picks people had back then about these flicks, but to be honest… I don’t care. I had a blast rewatching, and I feel the issues depicted and stated in many reviews of the time were simply just a struggle to comprehend a set of films that were so different to the originals – more comedy, new characters, and an overall fresh atmosphere. My recommendation is that you check these out again, give them a go, and most of all, give them a chance. Unless you’re a born hater. 

In that case, the force is probably not with you right now. 

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