Empire Delivers Faint Praise for the Prequels
With The Last Jedi less than two weeks away the film magazine Empire has launched an as-expected Star Wars edition, this time featuring alternate Rey and Kylo covers, an art card showing the best of Disney’s recycled designs and, of most interest, a supplemental magazine celebrating the saga’s 40th anniversary.
The magazine focuses the most heavily on the original trilogy, with a further eight whole pages dedicated to the Holiday Special and the Ewok TV movies. The tone of the Return of the Jedi section is generally denigrating of Lucas, so it comes as some surprise to find a tidy four-page article tucked away at the back that’s actually written in defence of the prequel trilogy.
Well, sort of.
Written by Ian Freer, What the Prequels Did For Us opens badly. Almost immediately the author states that the reputation of the prequel trilogy has plummeted “like Darth Maul falling down the reactor shaft” since the release of The Force Awakens; a claim that is disingenuous at best and easy to counter.
One needs only to visit YouTube, film forums or conventions and speak to actual Star Wars fans to see that, by and large, this simply isn’t the case. The shortcomings of JJ Abrams’ storytelling abilities were glaringly obvious in The Force Awakens, along with the unoriginality that has been discussed in detail in the two years since. If anything, The Force Awakens has only engendered a deeper respect for Lucas’ work amongst the cinematically literate.
Whether this opening is intending to provoke the readership or simply reflecting an out-of-touch editorial position, it’s a curious statement that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
In fact, the entire opening takes a hyperbolic, biting tone that undermines the valid points that the article eventually gets around to making. When it states that the prequel trilogy is “perceived as the apotheosis of Lucas-sponsored naff, an object lesson in how to get Star Wars spectacularly wrong”, it’s clear that the article wants you to believe that this perception is indisputable.*
So who exactly is the article for?
With Empire’s readership predominantly under age 35 and growing up after the original trilogy had left cinemas (your present author is 34, born in 1983), you would imagine that the editorial team would be more aware that they are talking to the generation that grew up with the prequels. Instead the article seems pitched more towards the bitter 40-somethings for whom Lucas is the enemy, and at whom Abrams’ curiously nonsensical film was targeted.
By continuing to state stale criticisms of the prequels as unquestionable truths, Empire’s irrelevance to Star Wars commentary only grows.
Which is a genuine shame. For when the article moves past the tired old talking points (yes, the line “I don’t like sand” gets quoted) it actually gives itself enough space to touch on some of the main contributions that the prequels made, both to the overall saga and to the art of filmmaking itself.
From a section on the groundbreaking CGI that the films employed to the fact that they truly brought Star Wars back from obsolescence (highlighting how Disney’s “It’s Back!” marketing position for The Force Awakens only added insult to injury for longtime fans), the article run through the pro points of the films in concise fashion, echoing sentiments that many of us have felt for years. The article even quotes James Cameron’s remarkably accurate response to The Force Awakens (“I felt George’s group of six films had more innovative visual imagination, and this film was more of a retrenchment to things you had seen before”); a welcome surprise for a mainstream publication in this era of Disney reputation management.
Yet ultimately it all proves hollow. The article closes on the position that these are bad films, but it’s OK to acknowledge all of the good points in them just as long as you repeat the mantra that THESE ARE STILL BAD FILMS AND THAT’S FINAL LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.
Apparently, the many indisputable positives printed literally centimetres above this conclusion bear no weight, just as the opinions of a substantial number of fans don’t count. It’s a bold position for a film magazine of dwindling readership to take, that’s for sure.
Still, it’s a start. A pro-prequel argument delivered without conviction is better than no pro-prequel argument at all, and at least some kind of positive message is finally getting out there.
Now the challenge for us bloggers, commentators and fans is to start framing those arguments in a factual, honest way – because, much like honest critical reviews of The Force Awakens, it’s a perspective that’s all but absent in mainstream media.
So thanks for trying, Empire, I guess. C for effort, but in the end it’s still an F for failing to show that you actually learned anything.
*As an aside, a much better example of talking about the PT while acknowledging a potentially hostile audience can be found here.