On a discussion board at TheForce.net, there’s a thread devoted to positive articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. And wouldn’t you know it! My “Fixing the Prequels” posts get a mention!
And then it gets a little strange. Seems that at least a couple of fans over there don’t think I love the Prequel Trilogy enough. I can remember this happening two other times since I started writing those posts, and it always feels a bit odd to encounter folks who take me to task for insufficient Prequel-love. It’s almost always the other way ’round, and in all honesty, we’re talking about a world in which “You like the Prequels!” is a shorthand for “You’re a dummy and you have no idea what you’re talking about and we can remove you from any discussion of movies at all!”
So, what’s the basis for my insufficient Prequel-love? One person says this:
The Byzantium Shores fella is a bit peculiar, in that he includes the PT in his 50 favorite films list, yet proceeds to eviscerate all three of them via rewrites.
I don’t think I’d change a frame of my fifty favorite movies–that’s why they’re my favorites. They absorb and envelop me, without discernible imperfections. (I’ve never watched The Maltese Falcon and thought, “Gee, this Bogart/Lorre exchange is a bit on the dry side. I know what’ll spice it up!”)
And then another replies thusly:
Oh, yes. I find that a bit strange and a little distasteful, as well.
“I love this film, but I’d change this, and this, and this, and this, if I could!”
It’s somewhat like saying, “I love my girlfriend, but if this were different, and this, and this, and this, she’d be heaps better.”
Uh-huh. OK. I see what you’re getting at here…but…well, I’m sorry, but this is just dumb.
The idea being expressed here is that if you really really really and truly truly truly love something, that means that you can never think it’s flawed in any way. To love something is to be of the belief that it is perfect. I don’t think I’m unfairly reading these two quotes, either — the first person says that his “favorite” films work on his “without discernible imperfections”. And then the second person agrees with that goofy bit about “I love my girlfriend but….” nonsense.
First of all, if what I do in those posts can be described as “eviscerating” the movies, then I hope these folks never watch the Red Letter Media guy in action. Or pretty much read any randomly selected article about the Prequel Trilogy, ever. “Eviscerated”? I went out of my way to point out nearly each and every thing I loved about those movies in those posts, some of which were big things and some of which were tiny moments that got ignored by the haters. Many of my tweaks are just that: additional lines of dialog added into scenes I leave otherwise intact. I don’t even counsel the removing of the infamous “I don’t like sand” line from Attack of the Clones. I said it many times while writing those posts: my goal wasn’t just to highlight the bad but to also shine the light on the good, of which there is a lot in those movies.
More importantly, though, is this business of “loving” the movies. I would hope that when we talk about how I “love” my wife and how I “love” a movie, we’re talking about two different notions with the word “love”, because otherwise, it’s just creepy. But let’s unpack that a little anyway, shall we? Because the fact is, I love my wife despite some real flaws, and I know that she loves me despite some gaping holes in my character. Love does not render one blind to flaws or imperfections. Love means that the flaws and imperfections are not enough to derail the love itself. That these two don’t seem able to grasp this is rather distressing.
I’m reminded of something Leonard Bernstein once wrote, in an essay about Gershwin. He cast this particular essay as a dialog between himself and a friend (a Broadway producer, if memory serves), and at one point, Bernstein lists a lot of flaws in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. He takes the work to task for basically being a collection of tunes stitched together with cadenzas and other kinds of rather unconvincing transitional material, and he sounds rather harsh in doing so, prompting the other guy to remark, “Wait a minute: you’ve performed the Rhapsody any number of times and have also recorded it on several occasions. Don’t you like it?”
“I adore it,” Bernstein replies.
“Then how can you take something you adore and riddle it with holes?”
Bernstein then says, of the Rhapsody in Blue, that despite its glaring flaws he adores it because “What’s good in it is so good that it’s irresistible.” And that is generally how I feel about the Prequel films: they are flawed. They are bumpy and uneven. They have moments that fall flat, They even contain scenes that are downright bad. But you know what? I still love them. I love the Prequel Trilogy because what’s good in them is so good it’s irresistible.
I love a teenage figurehead queen deciding that she’s not going to be the easy target for the bullying Trade Federation. I love the slightly rogue quality in Qui Gon Jinn. I love that the Jedi never realize there’s even a threat until way too late. I love how Palpatine hides in plain sight and executes his plans almost in full view. I love that Anakin’s fall from grace is brought about by his desire to clutch tightly on things he loves, almost echoing what Leia Organa would later say to Grand Moff Tarkin: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” I love that Anakin’s wrong choices will frequently mirror choices his own son will face decades later. I love planetwide cityscapes and battles in the rain with bounty hunters. And I love that a Gungan ne’er-do-well finds redemption on the battlefield, even if his arc is somewhat mishandled by too many trips to the comedic well.
I love a lot of other things about the Prequel Trilogy, and I don’t have to pretend that its missteps aren’t real to still find them, on balance, to be engaging, fun, and moving films that draw me in emotionally every time I watch them.
This makes me want to rewatch the Prequels. And I haven't really wanted to before.
You know, it's interesting… after 15 years of hearing nothing but prequel hate from people in my own age cohort, I've recently been encountering younger Star Wars fans who grew up on the prequels and The Clone Wars animated series, and they have a very different attitude… far more reverential, and even intolerant of ANY criticism. Much like, come to think of it, Gen Xers were about the original trilogy, until the Great Disillusionment and resulting Fanboy Wars. I think what you might have run into might be nothing more or less than an old-fashioned generation gap.
And to me it's a sign of sheer immaturity to be unable to both love something and recognize areas in which it could have been improved. Casablanca is pretty uniformly regarded as one of the all-time greatest films ever, but tell me that Ilsa's line "Are those cannon I hear or my heart?" doesn't crash against the ear like a brick wrapped around a bargain-bin bodice-ripper.