Today the Telegraph posted an interesting article, responding to Mike Klimo’s recent research into which Star Wars films was actually most popular with original reviewers, which more than anything else revealed the idiosyncratic tone which most media nowadays reserves for the Prequel films. First, let’s have a look at what Mike Klimo actually found out.
Klimo pulled together all the original reviews of the Star Wars films when they came out and applied the Rotten Tomatoes scoring system to them, which led him to the above results. Rather than showing a major divergence between the Originals and Prequels, as I assume many people would expect considering the way the Telegraph article started, it actually shows that critics were never George Lucas’ or Star Wars biggest films but saw that the films had some merit to them at least. At 60% The Phantom Menace is only one percent behind The Return of the Jedi, as the worst-reviewed of all six. A New Hope brings in the highest score for the Originals with 74%, a solid number for the film that started it all. Most surprising to many will be the score for The Empire Strikes Back, widely lauded to be the best Star Wars film ever. (I do have to say I’m rather partial to it as well.) At “only 63%” it’s falls into the bottom half with TPM and RotJ, still earning a good 63%. What the stats on the Originals simply emphasise again is that sci-fi, and fantasy, aren’t genres that usually get the critics very warm unless it’s Interstellar and Christopher Nolan. To return to the Prequel films, The Attack of the Clones comes in at a solid 67% while The Revenge of the Sith brings in a whopping 80%, making it the most popular film with critics.
Now, undoubtedly these numbers don’t say anything about how much fans enjoy the films or whether you can love a film even if it has flaws. What is interesting, however, is that these show what’s wrong with the tone in which the Star Wars Prequels are discussed. Just look at how the Telegraph comments on Klimo’s findings:
The general consensus – spanning critics, fans, obsessive Star Wars experts – is that the original trilogy is far superior to the prequel. But this study throws that all into disarray: The Empire Strikes Back, that firm beloved favourite, at a tepid 63%? Revenge of the Sith – better than the rest of the prequel trilogy but still a little bit bad – a clean winner at 80%?
Phrases such as ‘the general consensus is that’ and ‘everyone agrees that’ are very easily thrown around by the media and it seems as if not a single article about Star Wars can start without getting this little phrase in. Even in an article stating that clearly the Prequels were equally or better reviewed than the Originals, it seemingly needs to be said that the Original trilogy ‘is far superior’ to the Prequel trilogy. Again, here comes my often repeated statement, it’s absolutely within your right to like or dislike a film and form your own opinion. What isn’t right is actively bullying or attacking those who have a different opinion from you. After posting a link to this article on my personal Facebook feed this morning I’ve had to defend myself and the Prequels repeatedly in the comments, not something a Friday morning is supposed to consist of. It is nowhere near the general consensus that the Prequels are bad and definitely not everyone agrees, and yet it is not popular at all to say that actually the Prequels are rather good and have a lot of depth to them. Even those who have never seen Star Wars “know” that the Prequels are terrible and meet every opinion that differs with derision. It’s as if any self-respecting newspaper has to state that it also dislikes the Prequels so it will be taken seriously and will be allowed “into the club”. So when did popular culture turn into a flock of sheep, blindly following the opinion of a minority?
Personally I am not quite sure when the tide shifted, but it was somewhere after The Phantom Menace that “popular culture” decided to ignore reviews and take a small, angry and disappointed part of the fandom as the voice of the whole fandom, condemning the Prequels and their fans to ridicule with the fervor and dedication that’s usually reserved for sports. Star Wars hasn’t belonged to “just” the 70’s kids for a long time and yet their voices seem to be the one controlling the conversation about, not with, the fandom. Star Wars is one of the most organic and continuing fandoms, adapting to each new generation and decade it’s working in. This is a good thing, especially since it has never abandoned good story-telling for fitting into the Hollywood machine, because it ensures Star Wars will never die. As a Prequels-baby I have absolutely no problem with the fact that the Sequels will not have some of my favourite characters in them or that they will be set in a new world and time, because I know the Star Wars story will continue. Partially this openness has been born out of the fact I’ve had to defend Star Wars moving on from the Originals for a long time but it also comes from the fact I am not hearkening back to my childhood and wishing for the old days.
The split that has partially occurred in the fandom is something that, although not created by the media, is definitely something perpetuated by it. They love the seeming disgust the fandom has for half of its own canon and the arguments that fans get in with each other. It’s something that Tolkien fans are potentially in danger of as well, with some raising the The Lord of the Rings trilogy so far above the The Hobbit trilogy that it’s become a bit of a class-war. However, nowhere is it as intense and ‘free for all’ as with Star Wars. Everyone get to weigh in and the harsher your opinion about the Prequels the “cooler” and “more accepted” you are, when actually what you are doing is telling young boys and girls that their role models and favourite stories are garbage.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Just as George Lucas never displayed a single worry about the seeming Prequel-hate, so there are people in charge of the Star Wars canon who love all of Star Wars. Perhaps not all of it in equal measure, but no one can love everything. At the same time we’ve got a whole new generation of fans falling in love with Star Wars: Rebels and, without a doubt, the upcoming Sequel trilogy. The Star Wars Story films will explore completely new avenues within our galaxy and introduce people to Star Wars who thought it was never their thing. Star Wars is well and truly alive and thriving so despite the continuing efforts on some fronts to convince the world they’re right about the Prequels, let’s celebrate the awesomeness that is The Revenge of the Sith while thinking of all the good stuff that is to come.