It’s inevitable that when discussing Star Wars with fellow fans online, it will invariably become a pissing contest over who is the bigger fan. I’ve gotten in a few of these verbal dust-ups and I’ve seen a trend come about it that I’d like to discuss. But first, answer me this:
In order to count yourself as a fan, must you like everything about it? In other words, is it an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to fandom?
This comes to mind after having discussed at great length with fellow fans exactly why I thought that the prequel trilogy was a massive pile of hot CGI garbage and that George Lucas staying away from the franchise is literally the best thing that could happen to Star Wars. Having said that, chaos erupted.
My first point is fairly easy to break down. If you’ve seen the prequel trilogy, you’ll have already noticed that it looks and feels in no way like the Star Wars films that came before– err, after– them. This is because George Lucas opted to film practically every single second of the three films in front of giant green screens. Granted, the effects were relatively good for their time, but it had a more Who Framed Roger Rabbit? feel too it that I just could never shake.
As far as the trilogy being complete garbage, I had thought that much was fairly evident in Lucas’ hamfisted attempts at writing dialogue or Hayden Christiansen’s whiny performance of arguably the most badass villain in cinema history. It wasn’t just campy, it was embarrassing.
Which brings me to my second point. Think back on the original trilogy and which of those three was your favorite. Chances are, you’re thinking of The Empire Strikes Back, and for good reason. That film has been praised as being as close to perfect as a film could ever hope to achieve, and to this day remains an icon of cinema history. It’s a great movie. It’s also the one that George Lucas has the least to do with. He penned the initial outline, edited a bit of the writers’ drafts, and completely backed off of directing the film, and it came out perfect. Then he decided he needed more of the spotlight in Return of the Jedi and we got fucking space bears. Outside of the films, amazing stories were unfolding that had almost no input from George Lucas. Knights of the Old Republic was one of the greatest Star Wars stories ever told, and with a twist ending that would make even M. Night Shamalayan’s head spin. Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords followed it up and told another fantastic story. Fast forward a few more years and The Force Unleashed and The Force Unleashed II added a gripping narrative that took place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
All I’m saying is when George Lucas isn’t in the driver’s seat, incredible things happen. And before you start bashing The Force Awakens, Rogue One, or The Last Jedi, really think if you’re hating them because you honestly think they were bad or because you’re falling victim to “the internet says I have to hate it so I hate it” syndrome. Because that is a whole other article for a whole other time.
It’s usually at this point in the argument that someone calls into question my fanhood of the franchise, claiming that if I were a “true fan”, then I am obligated to enjoy and even defend the prequel trilogy and George Lucas above all things. These are often the same people telling me that The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi are hands-down the worst films ever made. So much for the obligatory loyalty, I guess.
To break it down simply, I respect the prequel trilogy, but I don’t like them. And I am under no obligation to defend George Lucas as anything but the creator of a vast and important universe to me, but one who was responsible for nearly killing it several times. The story the prequel trilogy was trying to tell was necessary and important. If done properly, it could have done so much more to add weight to the events of the original trilogy. Instead, it became an animated circus act that relied on the original trilogy to give it any sincere meaning. And the man responsible for Jar Jar Binks was George Lucas.
I’m allowed to feel the way I feel about any of the films, and after all was said and done, I felt betrayed by the prequel trilogy. I enjoyed the fact that it closed the gap before A New Hope, but it did it in such a way that it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Most of it was an obvious cash grab; Lucas aiming to profit off of toy sales and video game licensing. The rest of the story was fairly hollow, given only the illusion of grandeur, and played out by big name actors (and then Hayden Christiansen) who are capable of much better performances but were being chained into the cartoony, campy realm by George Lucas. It’s almost as if he forgot he was making a big budget film and thought he was making a weekly kids’ television series. I firmly believe that had the prequel trilogy been written and directed by just about anyone else, they would have gone down as some of the finest films in our generation. Prime example: This video below which took a scene from A New Hope and blended it with scenes from Revenge of the Sith, added some orchestral numbers and produced one of the most tear-jerking scenes of any Star Wars story ever. That is not a credit to George Lucas, but the creator of the scene who used what he was given to create something compelling, emotional, and thoughtful.
In my time of defending myself, I’ve come to a thought. Perhaps masquerading behind a false veil of happiness when it comes to the prequel trilogy is doing more of a disservice to the franchise than openly admitting they were shit. The kind of hopeless nostalgia they are locked into denies them the ability to see The Force Awakens as a good story, told so in a way that didn’t pander to the children in the audience. They tell me constantly that in order to be a fan, I must like everything that surrounds that universe, including the Expanded Universe (now thankfully considered non-canon). I either like everything, or I hate everything. There is no in between. My response?
“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”