Last week, I wrote about The Phantom Menace, and that yes, it’s still as bad as you might’ve remembered. Our family just finished the other two prequels, however, and I realize that I probably owe The Phantom Menace a bit of an apology. My issues with the film (e.g., the terrible dialog) still stand, but the badness of The Phantom Menace pales in comparison to that of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
I’ve heard several theories that explain the remaining prequels’ flaws, such as George Lucas being so overwhelmed by criticism of The Phantom Menace that he suffered writer’s block. But what ultimately strikes me about these two films is how soulless they feel, be it the awkward (and gross) romance of Anakin and Padmé, the slaughter of the Jedi (a galaxy-shaking betrayal that hits with no dramatic impact, aside from that scene with Anakin and the younglings), or Anakin’s slide to the dark side (which is supposed to be inevitable but seems like it could’ve been averted if he’d just started an emo band).
There are, of course, good things about the prequels — specifically their (at times) groundbreaking approach to visual effects — but all of that gets overwhelmed by how, well, underwhelming everything ultimately feels. There doesn’t seem to be a point to anything that happens in these movies despite them being the origin story for one of cinema’s most iconic villains.
Put bluntly, the prequels, for all of their ambitious scope and technical wizardry, ultimately flattened the Star Wars franchise. By exchanging the Original Trilogy’s B-movie roots for dull, portentous political machinations and shallow character arcs, the prequels possess little of the myth-influenced adventure or derring do that makes the Original Trilogy so endearing.