Everyone has a reason to hate the Star Wars prequel trilogy. They are lauded as the beloved series’ worst films, and their lack of quality is usually the only thing all Star Wars fans can agree on. Instead of defending the trilogy as I normally would, shying away from the bad and highlighting the good, let’s talk about the worst of the worst. Specifically: Jar-Jar Binks, George Lucas’ writing and Hayden Christensen’s acting. These are the three most damning complaints hurled in the direction of Star Wars’ prolonged Vader origin story. So let’s take them to task and really examine these issues.
The first, of course, is that Jar-Jar Binks is allegedly a horrible character. This may be true. Jar-Jar’s character is portrayed as clumsy and dumb in a way that could only be rivaled by the Three Stooges: Like it or not, humour is always subjective. However, it is possible to like films, even without liking ol’ Jar-Jar. I know that some people seem to trend towards either liking everything or not liking anything, but you are allowed to enjoy parts of a flawed film. The Phantom Menace uses mature themes like taxing of trade routes that some kids might not understand as a metanarrative around the actions of the characters. Lucas always wanted to appeal to children, he has had kids in mind. Jar-Jar is for these kids. Just like it can be argued Ewoks before him, they are stupid often slapstick creatures that don’t serve much purpose other than to lighten the atmosphere for younger audience members.
To put it in a clear manner: you did not have to like Jar-Jar Binks in order to enjoy, appreciate or even watch the prequel trilogy (PT). This is primarily due to the nature of Lucas’ writing.
To segue into my second point, Lucas’ writing is under attack consistently throughout any debate about the PT. I believe Lucas’ largest weakness is his willingness to change his ideas at a whim based on fan reaction. Jar-Jar as a character was largely cut from the trilogy due to the massive amounts of negative fan reaction. Personally I think Jar-Jar is a fine character about as tolerable as C3P0, which is not to say I enjoy either of them but I do, however, understand why they are in their respective films.
Lucas’ entire PT is often abhorred by fans of the original trilogy (or OT) as being horribly penned, the overall story not being worthy of the character of Vader and that most characters don’t have motivated actions they take. Some other complaints I’ve found to be common are that the trilogy is either boring or too actionized. But due to the conflicting nature of these complaints I’ll just say that the amount of action you enjoy in a film is entirely subjective.
As I alluded to earlier, I want to examine the worst received line in the entire PT as spoken by Hayden Christensen. The original line is as follows: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” Now, if you know the PT pretty well you’ve probably heard this line done to death in hundreds of reviews, parodies and other media relating to the franchise. It is infamous. I challenge you to take a moment and think about which line comes prior. Which line from Padme prompted this? It reads: “We used to come here for school retreat. We would swim to that island every day. I love the water. We used to lie out on the sand and let the sun dry us and try to guess the names of the birds singing.” But why is that important?
It’s at this point that I have to resort to cheating. However nerdy you are, you may not know that there are deleted scenes from just before this. They show Anakin and Padme bonding in her parent’s home and, yes, doing just what she described. Swimming on the island, lying in the sand and letting the sun dry the two of them. It is this connection their forming that leads Padme to Anakin. See, at the beginning of the film Padme remembered Anakin as a young boy from Tattooine who loved pod racing and was generally an overwhelmingly simple kid.
It isn’t until Anakin reveals there are parts of his childhood that were harsh, and unbearable to him that she starts to realize that her initial image of him as a child has changed in a way she reflects positively on.
It’s important to remember that both Anakin and Padme are kids with no experience interacting with people their age. Anakin grew up as a slave and once he was released he joined the Jedi order — which forbids all romantic attachment. Meanwhile Padme is mentioned to have been a political ambassador since the age of eight. They’re both awkward, clumsy teens trying to impress one another. Of course in most people’s eyes you’d cringe and turn away at his horrid attempt to woo her. But, I would do the same at anyone their age if I saw them now.
Now you may argue that Christensen as Anakin Skywalker didn’t put on a good performance, or perhaps butchered the line previously discussed. But I think it’s important to take in a few facts about Christensen’s performance. Firstly, he is only in two of the three films, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. As such it is important to remember that while we discuss this trilogy the supposed main character only serves as such for two thirds of the films. Secondly, as many actors at Christensen’s age at the time, his performance is not consistently good or bad. He does better in some scenes than others and vice versa.
The most important thing to remember in my opinion is that Christensen is a fantastic actor. Whether you’ve seen Shattered Glass or Life as a House it is important to note that Christensen was capable – at the age of 19 of dissecting an incredibly honest portrayal from real people and turn that into a performance worthy of multiple golden globe and academy award nominations. In my opinion, the fault is in casting him.
Christensen was a young up-and-comer who took the lead role in a Star Wars film, any actor would have at his age. However, while a casting director saw strong, emotionally mature performances they missed a trend. Christensen was at his peak when he was playing a character who was at their core, realistic and human.
Say what you will — that description does not fit Darth Vader. I believe that is the single greatest flaw in casting Christensen in the role, it does not play to his strengths as an actor.
While I do believe that he had moments in which he shone, specifically in Revenge of the Sith I don’t think it is nearly as strong a performance as his other many noteworthy roles.
Maybe this article has helped you hate the PT just a little bit less, or maybe it has just made you hate me that little bit more. Either way, I just want to say that if you like one, two or all three of the Star Wars prequels, don’t be afraid to say it! It’s okay to like films that many don’t. I didn’t go over what I loved about the films, only what I believed to be its weakest moments — however they are chock full with real honest-to-goodness Star Wars fun.
Whether you agree or disagree I’d love to hear your opinion on the matter on Twitter! Tweet me @TheBrockPress if you want to start a conversation on this subject.