With the release of the second The Force Awakens teaser trailer on the 16th of April, Star Wars has once again positioned itself as a major Force to be reckoned with. I myself was swept right along by the excitement and spent the following days in a state of ecstasy while watching the live feed from Star Wars Celebration: Anaheim. In the excitement, however, there were a number of extremely bittersweet moments for me, starting during the opening panel with JJ Abrahms and Kathleen Kennedy. It seems that not a single conversation about Star Wars can occur without subtle, or not so subtle, shade being thrown at the prequel films (The Phantom Menace, The Attack of the Clones, The Revenge of the Sith). And after mulling it over, and over, I have realized I can’t be the only Star Wars-fan who is wondering why and questioning what this will do to the fandom.
I am a Star Wars fan, always have been and always will be. Born in the 1990s, my first real experience of the frenzy surrounding Star Wars came with the release of the Prequel Trilogy (PT). I had watched the Original Trilogy (OT) films with my family before then, but I could never have imagined how many people loved these films besides us. With the release of these new films, I suddenly became part of a wider community and found my own passion and excitement reflected by millions of people around the world. I reveled in the speculation around what would happen and eagerly anticipated the release of each trailer and each film. It felt glorious. Unfortunately in the years following the release of the PT, my memories have soured under the utter disapproval that is daily strewn across the Internet about the PT films.
When the OT films came out they were unlike anything many people had seen before. The viewers identified with the characters, fell in love with Star Wars and carried that love and passion with them their whole adult lives. The expectations for the PT films were so high that a let-down was almost inevitable. On the one hand I completely understand that not everyone can like, or love, everything. People are bound to dislike aspects of the films or disagree with some of the choices made by the director and writers, and they are completely within their rights to do so. However, in the case of the PT films something else has happened. Many fans of the OT films seemed to decide to completely turn against the PT films, bashing them on every occasion and denying there is a single redeemable feature about them. Since I grew up with the PT films I simply love them. For me, they are as much Star Wars as the OT films are. My father, who saw the OT films in the cinema, loves the PT equally. I find the hate that these films receive almost impossible to understand and I will (hopefully) explain why below.
One of the main things that is always brought up, even during SWC: Anaheim, is the increased use of CGI in the PT films in contrast to the practical effects in the OT films. With the announcement that he had “returned” to using practical effects, JJ seemed to be tapping into the opinion of some fans over the fact that the PT films look “too new”, have “too much green screen” and are “fake”. As you may be able to guess, I disagree. George Lucas always used special effects to enhance what he filmed, even in the OT films. The fact is that more practical miniature models were created for the PT films than for the OT films. Planets such as Kamino were largely built as miniature models and major sets were still built for scenes in Tatooine, Naboo, Mustafar etc. Considering how many films nowadays rely on CGI or how films such as Avatar are praised for their use of CGI, I simply don’t understand why people dislike this aspect of the PT films so much. (Hop over to the The Force.net forums for some amazing BTS-photos of the PT sets btw.) Besides this, it makes a lot of sense for the PT films to have a newer look. During the second PT film the Clone Wars starts, which leads to much of the disrepair and roughness people love so much. But the PT films are set in a pre-war time, which was more prosperous, and focuses on a group of characters which work at the very heart of the Republic. A natural consequence is that everything which is eventually broken down is still standing and shining in the PT films.Then there are the complaints about the terrible dialogue and the awkward acting. Watching the PT films I will agree that some of the performances aren’t always Oscar-worthy and that some of the lines given to the actors seem impossible. However, if we’re fair we have to admit that ‘But I was going to Tosche station to pick up some power converters.’ is not exactly a life-changing line either and that Mark Hamill’s delivery of it doesn’t stir my heart. Part of the charm of Star Wars is that it’s not slick and trim, that the characters don’t sound as if they have just walked out of a seminar on good communication.
Finally there are those who seem like they simply aren’t interested in seeing Anakin Skywalker’s story. They grew up with the OT films, identifying with Luke and wishing they were Han Solo. Darth Vader was and is an iconic villain who instilled us all with fear while also making us all wish we had capes. I can imagine that for some, seeing him as a child with dreams, fears and a mother, was strange. But the genius of Star Wars lies EXACTLY in that it never does what you expect. Who would’ve expected the main bad guy to be the hero’s father? No one, at least not then. And this surprise added immense depth to the films and made it more than a simple good vs. bad story. Showing how your bad guy started out was a gutsy move, one which once again gives us shades of grey rather than simple black and white. The PT films show us the galaxy at a larger scale. We get to see how war starts, how personal ties get in the way of ambitions and that not everything is as it seems. It flips the set up of the OT films ,’the good guys rebel against the bad guys in power’, right around to ‘the bad guys rebel against the good guys in power’. As a story-teller, George Lucas has only added to the depth and genius of Star Wars in the PT films.
Now, I don’t want this post to be about me complaining. There is enough complaining and arguing when it comes to this debate. Rather, I want to talk about the effect that this debate has on fans like me. In a recent-ish interview with Jon Stewart, George Lucas mentioned how glad he was to see how there is a generation of fans who first saw The Clone Wars tv-series before the films, how there are fans who first saw the PT films and then the OT films, etc. There is a multi-generational aspect about Star Wars which is the reason why it still garners the same kind of attention and love as it did in 1977 when A New Hope came out. This is why Star Wars is special and it is something that should be treasured!
When people like me who love the PT films and were introduced to the Star Wars-fandom through the PT films, see a disproportionate stream of criticism and hate directed towards these films it hurts. It may sound melodramatic, but these films are as much a part of us as the OT films are. When a small section of fans controls the fandom’s dialogue to such an extent that they make it seem as if the PT films are something of the past which is better left forgotten, a large part of the fandom will feel willfully ignored and potentially even insulted. Fans have invested not only their passion into these films, but also their time and money by creating fan films, fan fiction, art, cosplay, music and much more. The PT films substantially add to the emotional and literary depth of the whole Star Wars saga. Take the six films as a whole and you see a family saga the likes of which does not exist in modern day cinema. The six films form a continual narrative, the story of a single galaxy told through different generations, genders and species.
What I am leading to is that Star Wars is something that a lot of people are passionate about. Fans are bound to disagree on everything, from who shot first to how misguided the Jedi Council was. These debates are normal, they occur within each fandom and as long as they are civil, I encourage them. Something that shouldn’t happen, and which I am afraid might happen, is the creation of a definite rift between “fans of the OT films” and “fans of the PT films”. In rejecting a major part of the Star Wars canon, and thereby belittling a growing part of your fandom and community, the only thing you will achieve is anger and we all know where that leads. If this rift isn’t addressed we’ll end up with fans despising each other, belittling each other and one day probably start ignoring each other, to the detriment of the fandom.
Rather than aggressive negotiations, I propose a dialogue. Let’s talk about how the two different trilogies intertwine, how they influence each other and how seeing one informs your viewing of the other. Let’s agree that we don’t have to love everything equally but that we also shouldn’t utterly harass each other. This should happen at all levels and I hope that at Lucasfilm and Disney they take note of this trend. On their level they could do a lot to prevent a rift from appearing.
May the Force be with us all!
(This post was originally posted on my other blog.)