I was around when the world exploded with the buzz of a new Star Wars film being released for the first time in over a decade. Lines formed outdoors. Tents were set up. People waited for days. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was going to be the great sci-fi movie of our time - a movie we could rally around and share with future generations. And people loved it (no, really, I swear). But after sixteen years of backlash piling up, have we forgotten what The Phantom Menace did right?
My friend Jason G. seems to think so. Enjoy the read.
4. George Lucas’s attempt to make the prequels different from the classic trilogy.
We’ve already seen from the recent Star Wars Rebels animated series how enslaved to the classic trilogy the whole franchise will go. This nostalgia together with the backlash after the questionable quality of the prequels, will entrench this next Star Wars film firmly in the style of the classic trilogy. This, for me, lessens the excitement a little, and reflects this depressing rehash, remake, revisit nightmare movie culture we currently find ourselves in.
3. Story structure designed to balance six episodes, not nine (or more)
Episode I: The Phantom Menace ended with four simultaneous story lines all playing out and cross-cut together. This, as the first episode of the saga, was supposed to mirror the multi-stranded end battle of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – originally intended to be the final movie of six. The two sequences mirror each other, thus giving us structural balance. By default, the multi-stranded battle of this next trilogy must come in Episode VIII, preferably at the beginning of the film. It is highly doubtful this will happen, though.
The darkest episode of the classic trilogy was, of course, Episode V: The Empire Strikes back, the second instalment of that trilogy. In the prequels, the darkest episode was saved for Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, thus ending that trilogy in tragedy. By default, the upcoming Episode VII, if it is to fit into the structure laid out by the two previous trilogies, should be the darkest of the next three films. But no way they’ll be doing that. You just know the darkest episode will be Episode VIII, the middle act of the new trilogy.
The epic, standalone (not multi-stranded) space battle came at the end of Episode IV: A New Hope – the first in the original three films – when Luke attacks the Death Star. This was mirrored by having the standalone space battle at the beginning of Episode III, when Anakin and Obi-Wan rescue the chancellor. By default, the standalone space battle of the upcoming trilogy must occur at the end of Episode IX, or perhaps, even more radically, the middle of Episode VIII. But it will not.
2. The lightsaber fights
Unemotional, soulless, too obviously choreographed, say what you like about the lightsaber battles of the prequels, there was a lot of them, and some of them went on for aaaaaages.
George Lucas, since his film school short THX 1138 4EB, has always had a love for art house experimental film. OK, after American Graffiti, he seemed to have ditched this obsession in favour of more commercial filmmaking – except in his editing style. He loves taking the beginnings, middle, or ends of shots and editing them together to create unique and visually arresting sequences. The classic trilogy is, of course, full of great editing of this style. However, one of the best moments of experimental editing of any Star Wars film (of any action film per se) was surprisingly, in the bloody terrible Attack of the Clones. The lightsaber fight between Anakin and Count Dooku treats us to a moment of pure visual abstraction: sabers fizz and whir, sparks fly, sabers clash, all edited on pure movement and kinetic energy. When Anakin swings his laser sword, Dooku swings his; when Anakin twirls it around his head, Dooku mirrors him. The sequence, aided with a break in the 180 degree rule, is cut together so that the two characters seem as one in a balletic dance foreshadowing Anakin’s future as the next evil Sith lord. This moment is pure experimental cinema, the likes of which you’d only expect to see in some sleazy art house cinema in Soho.
Yes, The Force Awakens will undoubtedly be better than all three prequels combined, absolutely no doubts there, but will it give us something we haven’t seen before? Will it push the boundaries of cinema? Say what you like about the prequels, but they tried in that respect, damn it! They tried to push the boundaries of big budget Hollywood movies. Oh they failed, of course, they failed. But they did try, they did try.
Jason Greensides is the author of the contemporary literary novel The Distant Sound of Violence. He’s interested in ‘outsider’ types, and the protagonist of his novel, Nathan Dawes, through his inability to connect with the opposite sex, his philosophical ramblings, and yes, his crazy theories about Star Wars, certainly qualifies in this distinction.