Editor’s note: This week, in celebration that tomorrow is May the 4th, we’re having an all Star-Wars themed update. May the 4th be with you!
As a lover of good movies, a lover of stories, and a lover of Star Wars, I often find myself at odds with opinions on the infamous prequels from nearly every perspective. On the one hand, they are badly written and badly constructed and overly marketed and overly focused on special effects. On the other hand, Star Wars. My love of the series does not cause me to dismiss criticism as “not getting it,” nor does my acknowledgment and acceptance of, and even hearty agreement with those criticisms diminish that love. It’s a curious sort of feeling; I consider it my immersion into the world of the story, but it could just as easily be considered a kind of brand loyalty. We might as well call it the Force: a binding metaphysical power that draws Star Wars fans together. In spite of the low quality of the originals, the Star Wars culture has prospered. In fact, it could be argued, in some cases, that the low quality actually strengthened the fandom’s resolve.
One of many Star Wars fans’ favorite thing to do is complain, but many of the harshest critics betray their feelings. Since the release of the prequels, and subsequent further alteration of the originals, the fandom has responded with a slew of observations, reviews, and edits. Their disappointment often springs from a love of the series and a desire for it to be better. The most amusing response I’ve seen is Red Letter Media’s Plinkett Reviews, which are 70-minute mash-ups of clips from the movies with voice over commentary.
While incredibly scathing and occasionally sophomoric, the RLM’s Plinkett series is clearly a labor of love and provides great insight into not only what makes the movies bad, but also into the reasoning behind the decisions that ultimately made them bad movies. He ridicules the controlled environment in which Lucas worked as the heart of the problem. The original trilogy’s production was fraught with limitations of all kinds which forced Lucas to improvise and gave the movie an organic quality. The prequels, with the liberal use of green screen and digital effects, were created in as controlled an environment in which a movie can be made. Movies are also an incredibly collaborative art form; in the originals, Lucas was working with far more people who were willing to question his judgement. Due to their success, however, many were afraid to question Lucas’ judgement regarding the prequels.
The well-thought-out criticisms of the prequels are a joy to watch even for all but the most zealous fans of the prequels. Something even more common than complaint for this fandom, however, is the will to take what was supposedly done wrong and attempt to make it right. Few independent edits of mainstream work have gotten as much attention as The Phantom Edit and Topher Grace’s recent re-edit of the prequel trilogy in its entirety into a single film. The Phantom edit, which cut almost 20 minutes off the original film, is available for free; sadly Grace’s edit is purely for personal study and will likely not be released to the public.
Re-editing or rearranging the footage isn’t the only way the fandom has voiced their opinion through film. Alexandre O. Phillipe’s 2010 documentary, The People vs. George Lucas, directly addresses the problem many fans have with the creator. Phillipe addresses not only the prequels, but the constant changes Lucas is making to the originals, like adding footage and changing certain images. We have discussed before what rights a fandom tends to invent for itself, but given the cultural impact of this particular series, it’s at least a little bit understandable here.
This goes beyond just a simple matter of the prequels being bad and the original trilogy being good. A good friend of mine was introduced to Star Wars by The Phantom Menace, and I have to this day not met a bigger fan of the series than her. The arguments over the quality of the prequels, or utter lack thereof, have opened up new discussion over what made the originals great in the first place. Clearly, for all their problems, the prequels still capture something that makes people love Star Wars. The Force may not be as strong, but it lingers. In the meantime, though, perhaps Lucas should quit while he’s still somehow ahead. Alternately, with all the tinkering Lucas has done himself, it be only fair that everyone else be able to play with the story, and put the universe in the public domain. Or perhaps, with all the fan-vids, parodies, and edits, it effectively already is.