A Personal Defense of the Prequel Trilogy by John Wharton

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Here’s another interesting guest post for you folks today. Enjoy!

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume you’re a Star Wars fan. You’ve seen all six movies so many times it’s beyond counting, read the EU books and comics, played the computer games, watched The Clone Wars and Rebels and, for the masochists amongst us, maybe even the Holiday Special.

In December, The Force Awakens will hit cinemas and even now, over six months before the release, the hype for the film is beginning to spiral out of control.

Many are hoping the film will bring back “‘their Star Wars,” the one they loved as a child–the Star Wars of “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?,” the Star Wars of “I know” and the Star Wars with the emotional resonance of the final lightsaber battle in Return of the Jedi.

We all remember the rather cool teaser poster for The Phantom Menace, with a young Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine as the suns cast a Darth Vader shadow behind him. Then we had the trailer, which blew our minds and transplanted us back into our younger selves and gave us the belief that Star Wars was back.

For many, the film was a convoluted mess with too much talk of trade route taxation and Senate debates. Talk of racial profiling didn’t help the movie at all, with the inclusion of alleged Japanese, Jewish, and Caribbean stereotypes. Whilst this was nothing but scurrilous trouble-stirring, it all added to the general downbeat view of the movie. Still, we had two more movies in which to rescue the saga. Then in late summer 2001, the title of the second prequel was released and the title was, well… not great. And the naysayers didn’t waste any time in telling the rest of us they didn’t like it.

Then came the film and, again, the complaints were many and vociferous. The sharpest knives were saved for newcomer Hayden Christiansen and his lack of charisma, as well as his apparent lack of on-screen chemistry with co-star Natalie Portman.

Still, the hopeful among us prayed the third film would save the franchise. In 2004, the title was released and this time it found general approval. The film was released and, whilst celebrated by many as the best of the prequel trilogy, the naysayers continued their monotonous chant.

The celebrated and controversial Estonian psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, Endel Tulving, refers to memory as mental time travel. For some, it’s a trip back to halcyon days where we scored the winning touchdown in high school, for others it’s the warm memory of spending time with a loved one now departed. One such aspect is the way we form memories. There is reportedly a long-lasting improvement the memory of children whose mothers use an elaborative style of conversation after experiencing an event with their child. As we get older, autobiographical memory improves along with our ability to construct a coherent life narrative.

Maybe the Prequel Trilogy wasn’t as good as the Original Trilogy, but perhaps mental time traveling has clouded people’s views on the later films.

For me, watching the Original Trilogy runs parallel with the associated memories and recollections of being six years old and playing Star Wars in school, using stickle bricks as makeshift guns and lightsabers. For some reason I was always picked to be Han Solo, despite most definitely not being the coolest kid in the class. (I feel like I’d have made a more realistic Nien Numb.) As a six-year-old, the concept of carbonite was too much for my developing brain, so in true childhood fashion we gave it our own name. For some long-forgotten, bizarre reason we called it a Twix. (Yes, a Twix, like the chocolate bar.)

My first real memory of the movies themselves was sitting on the couch with my parents watching the films and from that point on, I was hooked. I loved the stormtroopers. One of the most vivid images of the Original Trilogy was the Emperor’s Imperial Guard, their blood-red uniforms which stood in stark contrast to the monochrome outfits of the rest of the Empire.

I must have bored my parents and family silly with my near-continual talk of Star Wars and, much to my shame, a family member also furnished me with a pirated copy of Return of The Jedi. These were the days when movies didn’t come out on video until a couple of years after their cinema release and then a video release was only in rental markets and unlikely to be owned by people at home.

By the time The Phantom Menace came out, I was almost 21 and the days of recreating scenes from the movie were long gone. The pliable and accepting mind of the child had vanished. In place of the innocence of youth was the more cynical and analytical mind of an adult. By the time of the Revenge of the Sith release, I was a much more skeptical and jaded 27.

The joy of being able to recreate scenes from the movies almost certainly enhances our enjoyment of them and, whilst now I still love watching Star Wars, the feeling I get is nowhere near the level of the pleasure I derived as a child. As children we could let go of our disbelief and allow ourselves to be transported to a galaxy far far away, but as we get older it becomes more difficult to allow ourselves to believe.

So, whilst I admit I’m not the biggest Prequel Trilogy fan, I’m starting to think that maybe Star Wars didn’t change. Quite possibly, it was the way I’d changed that altered the way I viewed the movies.

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