Round 2 for Star Wars Breakdowns here at the Fantasy and Some Flights podcast! In this episode we get to tackle the Prequel trilogy, everything from trade embargoes to well done Jedi! This breakdown episode is slightly different than previous ones as Dalton is not a fan of these movies while Nelson most certainly is! Due to this, we get to engage in a bit of friendly debate on if these movies are good or not! So listen through, and let us know what you think about the Star Wars Prequels!
What's on our Flight (02:40)
Dalton’s drinking: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey. 46% ABV, finished in rum casks. A sweet flavor profile, enhanced by the rum finish. Bit of lemon and butterscotch. 3 cheers!
Nelson's drinking: Whistlepig Small Batch 10 Year Rye. 50% ABV, 100% rye mash. Toffee and rye grain dominate, an overall delicious rye worth the price. 4 cheers for this very special whiskey!
What's on our Minds (08:44)
Dalton: Project Hail Mary, the new novel from Andy Weir (author of The Martian). If you are a fan of The Martian, this book is a must-read. For me, it felt like reading The Martian for the first time again, an absolutely wonderful experience. The book has similar feelings of a main character stranded and solving problems on their own, with the reader experiencing the internal dialog of the protagonist. Critically, I think it falls just short of the success of The Martian due to a couple of story elements that did not connect well for me. With this book, I think Weir solidifies his style within science fiction and it is one I am excited to see more of!
Nelson's drinking: What If?, the newest Marvel series available on Disney+. This animated show takes a look at "What If" scenarios within the MCU, each episode standing-alone and replaying periods from the main storyline with small changes imposed. Nelson has been thoroughly enjoying them on Wednesday nights, especially as it precedes his streaming of Marvel Champions!
The main topic starts at 21:34 in the episode
Ah, the Prequels... Rarely are such strong emotions provoked in us as by the topic of this week's episode. Why do we have such a strong love / hate relationship with the Prequels? When we saw them as kids we were enamored. The graphics were enthralling and led to excellent merchandising and videogames that we just ate up as we were young and naïve. As we aged, became critical, and gained access to free exchange of ideas on the internet, we all collectively realized these movies are terrible. Thus, r/Prequels was born and we all had a grand time making memes and trashing the awful dialog, emotionless characters, and poorly explained plot lines. Now, some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people (*cough* Nelson *cough*) want to convince everyone that these movies have some redeeming qualities, specifically in the story. In this episode, Nelson and I describe in detail the problems in storytelling that the Prequels experienced and debate whether there is any redemption to be found in the story that the Prequels are attempting (and failing) to portray.
We decided to deviate from our normal 30 second summaries because the story telling in the Prequels is so bad and so confusing that frankly, until my preparation for the episode, I would have had difficulty describing the plot to you. Thus, we spend a large portion of the episode explaining the plot of the films and analyzing why they do not work.
Episode 1: The Phantom Badness
The first indication here that we are in trouble is right in the opening crawl. "The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute." - actual second sentence in the opening crawl. The movie is already failing to be interesting... Essentially the plot revolves around a shadowy figure (who you know to be Palpatine) manipulating the Trade Federation, who you are supposed to think are the bad guys, in to blockading Naboo, capturing the young queen, and forcing a quick treaty to garner political power for Palpatine. The Jedi are sent and decide to duke it out (even though it is a time of peace), rescue the queen, and end up adding Jar Jar and Anakin to the party along the way. Naboo goes to the senate for help, but the senate is revealed to be greedy and corrupt so they get no help. The queen calls for a reelection to elect Palpatine (the current senator of Naboo) as Chancellor with the hope that he will be more supportive. He sends an army to free Naboo, there is a battle that the good guys win, and Quigon Jin is killed by Darth Maul along the way, who is then killed by Obi Wan.
Now, there are multiple issues throughout this story that we analyze in the episode. First, there is no main character for the audience to identify with and follow through the story. Second, there is no real emotional connections between the characters for the audience to get involved with and care about. In fact, the movie has to strong arm the audience to show them who the good guys and bad guys are because there is not enough characterization for the audience to determine that naturally. Next, the plot of The Phantom Menace is essentially ancillary to the main plot in the trilogy. The only important plot point that happens in the movie is that Quigon is established as a force-sensitive father figure for Anakin, and that he dies. Other than that, the entire movie can be skipped without detracting from the story the Prequels are attempting to tell. In the end we are fed a confusing mess of unimportant politics and shadow wars without establishing emotional connection to a single character in the movie. But, at least we are given podracing...
Episode 2: Attack on My Hope
(for this trilogy)
The movie starts with an assassination attempt on Padmé , who has recently been promoted from Queen to Senator (?). Obi Wan and Anakin are assigned to protect her and prevent another assassination attempt at the hands of a changling hired by Jengo Fett. At this point, Anakin and Padmé go in to hiding on Naboo and Obi Wan investigates the assassin. As a part of his investigation he stumbles on to a clone army that has previously been commissioned by the Jedi, then is captured by Jengo Fett and taken to Geonosis. Meanwhile, Anakin and Padmé (predictably) fall in love, then head to Tatooine to investigate Anakin's dreams of his mother dying. Upon his mother's death, Anakin enters a rage and murders a village of Tusken Raiders. Shortly after, he and Padmé learn of Obi Wan's capture and head to Geonosis to free him, but end up captured themselves. A battle ensues where the Jedi employ the clone army to free the captured heroes and the movie ends with the promise of war looming.
Wow, what a crazy, convoluted plot to try to jam in to a two hour film for kids! There is assassination, political maneuvering and intrigue, and confusing power dynamics that make this movie incredibly difficult to follow. The movie struggles primarily with nonsensical decisions made by the characters. The plot feels extremely forced with the characters making decisions that only make sense if you consider where the movie is trying to go. Why is Padmé under threat of assassination? Why is Anakin, of all people, chosen to protect her? Why does the Jedi Council oppose the Separatist movement? Why does Obi Wan jump out a window to take a joy ride on an assassin's killer droid??? Some of these questions are answered indirectly or through supporting works such as The Clone Wars, but the result is a movie that is still struggling to connect with the audience and is telling a story that is far too involved for its intended medium and demographic. We consider this film the worst of the trilogy for its failure in story telling and absolutely abysmal dialog. You're making me uncomfortable, Episode 2.
Episode 3: Revenge of this Shit
We begin this film directly in an action sequence to rescue Chancellor Palpatine, who has somehow been captured despite being the most important person in the galaxy. Obi Wan and Anakin conduct the rescue, which culminates with Anakin decapitating Dooku. Anakin is then appointed to the Jedi Council as Palpatines representative, but not granted the rank of master. Obi Wan goes to have a cool lightsaber fight with General Grievous, who has only recently been introduced to the trilogy, and kills him. Palpatine plays on Anakin's fear of losing Padmé and tempts him with the power to save her, revealing himself as a Sith. Anakin reports this to Mace Windu who subdues Palpatine. At this critical juncture, Anakin's fear of losing Padmé overwhelms him and he saves Palpatine, who then kills Mace Windu. From here, Order 66 is executed to kill the Jedi, Palpatine is elected emperor, Obi Wan defeats Anakin (now Vader) on Mustafar, Palpatine and Yoda duel to a draw in the senate chambers, and Padmé dies after giving birth to twins. The movie ends with Vader the Sith lord we recognize and the stage set for the events in the original trilogy.
If anything, this movie struggles simply from trying to do too much. There are still issues with dialog and character connection that have plagued the trilogy, but there are noticeable improvements from the first two films. Similarly, the plot is slightly more direct than the first films which helps the audience determine what is going on. The failing is in showing the plots of Palpatine, which is the main driving force of the film. The audience is hard pressed, without careful forethought and analysis, to describe the exact plans of Palpatine and the methods he is employing to execute them, which is a major failing of the film and the trilogy as a whole. The strong emotions portrayed due to Anakin's betrayal are warranted but lost on an audience that has not been shown emotional connection between the characters thus-far through the story. Overall, this is easily the strongest film of the three but only because the other two are so horrific.
Legacy of the Prequels
We had extremely high hopes with the Prequels. Star Wars is an absolutely god-tier franchise with access to incredible funding and creative resources. Yet the Prequels are plagued with shameless money grabs, unnecessary fan service, and a basic misunderstanding of what made the original trilogy successful and how to replicate it. Thus our disappointment and frustration is born from the disparity between how good the Prequels could have been and the disparaging mess that jokers like us get to trash on in our podcast.
The Prequels also had very few things they actually needed to accomplish. Namely, they needed to show Anakin's transition to the dark side. They also needed to show the fall of the Jedi and Palpatine's subsequent rise to power. Those very simple story elements get almost completely lost in the politics and bureaucracy that is so central to the way the story is told. We tried to recommend a couple of improvements that in our minds could have refocused the trilogy and given it a chance for success.
The trilogy needed to focus on emotional connection, specifically amongst the Jedi. Anakin's decision to transition is an emotional one, not a rational one, and the trilogy failed to articulate clearly to the audience how his training did not equip him to process this type of emotion.
Darth Maul should not have been killed in The Phantom Menace. Rather, he should have played a part in all 3 films (cutting Dooku and Grievous from the story), feeding in to the emotional rivalry between Obi Wan and Maul throughout the story.
Lucas should have never been allowed to direct or write dialog. Ever.
Thank you for reading our analysis! As much as we hate on the Prequels we sure do love talking about them! If you are interested in discussing them as well, engage with us on our Discord (link in the top right). We are happy to debate and share memes until the end of time, in a galaxy far far away.