This article is part of POMEmag Space Week 2017.
Dear reader, I hardly have to tell you: we’re living through an astonishing and, at least for the time being, frightening period of history. In times like these, it’s hard to resist the impulse to seek comfort, or at least some attempt at comprehension. The Star Wars prequels had been calling to me for this reason ever since the election: indulging nostalgia is a simple way for me to replenish diminishing reserves of hope through the lovely but easily digestible metaphors of the stories I loved in childhood. I hadn’t re-watched the Star Wars prequels since their theatrical releases, and while I definitely remember having problems with them when I was younger, I still recalled feeling some fondness towards them. Now that liberty is dying with thunderous applause, could this be the perfect time for a revisit?
Spoiler alert: it was bad. I had a genuinely horrible time wasting a precious obligation-free weekend. Fortunately for anyone who might be seduced as I was by memes and clever thinkpieces, I watched the prequels so you don’t have to – and I kept receipts. Without further ado, welcome to my incomplete list of reasons why you should never revisit the Star Wars prequels.
1. Everything is irredeemably racist.
Hating on Jar Jar Binks was practically a rite of passage for any nerd of my generation, but sadly, there are plenty of forgotten offenses that have been overshadowed by his gawky antics for too long. Take the Gungan civilization on the whole: they are talked about and treated as ignorant primitives, yet they managed to build an enormous, incredibly advanced and actually very beautiful city, complete with public transportation, entirely underwater. Not a single character in the films seems to recognize these frankly amazing achievements – certainly not enough to allow them democratic representation. It took the deaths of hundreds of Gungans (in a battle that had very little to do with them, and in which they were hugely outnumbered) for hapless Jar Jar to be appointed to the Galactic Senate — and even then, it was only at the bequest of the teenaged human queen of an entirely separate society. Okay.
Jar Jar Binks is also far from the most cringe-inducing CGI alien with questionable voice acting. There’s Watto, the greedy slave owner with a long nose and a stubbly beard and an ambiguous Middle Eastern accent (ugh), and the Neimoidians, self-interested and treasonous tradesmen whose accents range in a single conversation from the frattiest “Asian” impression you can imagine to kind of Spanish-Italian or something? UGH!!
And then there are the outfits, which borrow heavily from non-white cultures despite the notable absence of women of color in any Star Wars movies. One particularly egregious example comes from Episode II, in which Padme’s hair is seemingly styled to resemble the iconic bust of Nefertiti and/or the traditional hairstyles of Mangbetu women, with the unfortunate addition of a highly texturized perm that we never see on Padme at any other point in time. There may not be underwear in space, but there sure is white appropriation of culturally significant garments and hairstyles worn by powerful women of color!
The bottom line is that in the world of the prequels, the galaxy is white folks’ oyster, whether they’re destined to die giving birth to its white savior, or simply to fuck it up beyond recognition. It is a fundamental problem that pervades all of these movies at so many levels, from plot to design to direction, making them truly unwatchable.
2. Nothing makes sense.
While watching the prequels and writing this piece, I had to do a lot of googling. For example:
Why did the trade federation blockade Naboo?
I understand that this was a plot orchestrated by the Sith, but like, what was even their pretense and what do they get out of it? The answer is supposedly “taxes,” which is both incredibly vague, and to tie in to point one, the laziest white dude Tea Party excuse for a plot hole I’ve ever heard.
Is Palpatine from Naboo originally?
Yeah, which you would know if you read an Expanded Universe book that is probably technically no longer canon, n00b.
Who really ordered the clone army?
The jury’s actually kind of out on this one, I think? Maybe I was supposed to watch the Clone Wars cartoon more closely, I dunno. But The Animatrix did it first, and better, so… hard pass.
Why did the Jedi accept and utilize an entire clone army from an unknown source?
Contrary to what you are led to believe in the original Star Wars films, in which the Jedi belong to a deeply mystical religion that reveres the sanctity of all life, the Jedi of the Republic are just kinda flying by the seat of their pants in this wild ride we denizens of America in 2017 like to call “the fall of neoliberalism.”
What are the bioethics of the Star Wars prequels?
Religious leaders are totally okay with breeding subservient slave soldiers as long as it can help them eliminate political foes, and there’s no reproductive healthcare.
And last but not least:
Why create an army of clones when droid technology already exists?
Just like in our world, eccentric rejects with tons of extra money love to spend it on destroying civil society and human rights for nothing but lulz.
In addition to being devoid of any kind of political meaning, real or allegorical, the central tragedy of the film is undermined by George Lucas’s complete failure to depict real human feelings. In short, Anakin turns to dark side for truly no good reason. Here’s the long version: Anakin discovers his old pal Palpatine is the main bad dude, turns him in and confronts him with Mace Windu, prevents Mace Windu from killing Palpatine on the spot (because he suddenly believes in the merits of a trial by a jury of his peers despite running around flaunting Jedi law every chance he gets including murdering an entire tribe of people for vengeance in the previous movie), kills Mace Windu accidentally in this misguided attempt to secure justice, declares his loyalty to the Sith, and then immediately murders a lot of children, even though supposedly the whole reason he even got to this point is that he’s afraid his wife will die in childbirth???????? How did this guy go on to rule the galaxy with an iron fist when he is so astonishingly gullible? Then again, I guess that’s what you get for constantly telling an immaculately conceived former slave who was forced to leave his single still-enslaved mom behind forever to secure his freedom that he had better suppress all of his pesky fear and anger if he wants to grow up to be the galaxy’s most powerful wizard.
3. The romance plot line is nightmarishly #abuserdynamics and really just makes you glad Luke and Leia’s parents weren’t around to fuck them up as children so that they could survive to be traumatized by the war as fully cognitive adults.
I genuinely thought going into this that there could be nothing more uncomfortable than watching a 14-year-old monarch and a 9-year-old slave interact, knowing they’re bound to make babies together when they’re older. I must’ve either forgotten or not noticed the first time around that the rest of their relationship is even more deeply twisted. Padme spends about the first half of Episode II telling Anakin that he’s not allowed to touch her and that a relationship between the two of them would be extremely inappropriate. (For the record, I agree.) Anakin complains that she’s friend-zoned him and that he can’t control his feelings for her, which is apparently a convincing enough argument to compel her to make out and frolic in fields with him. She continues to insist that they can’t be together until he confesses to murdering a whole tribe of people in a vengeful rage, and then they have sex for the first time. And so on and so on, until he murders children in the name of protecting his secret illegal wife and unborn offspring. COOL. COOL COOL COOL. Don’t mind me, I’ll be back right after I pop this Klonopin.
4. This whole story is supposed to be tragic but really it’s just boring.
Obi-wan is a horrible mentor who always gives bad advice, Padme is too tragically manipulated by every single man in her life to even make Ice Town Clown jokes about, and I truly could not care less about Darth Fuckboy’s MRA tears. The dialogue is stilted, the action scenes are utterly devoid of grace, style, or stakes, and the massively expensive special effects make me feel like I’m watching an early PS2-era JRPG cutscene.
Bringing me to my next point:
5. CGI is so bad.
This should be illegal:
I confess, I am truly a hater and a little bit contrarian at heart; the possibility of discovering something valuable in what is popularly considered to be a massive pile of trash was a temptation I could not resist. I did not expect to be taken on a journey that would lead me down a not-really-well-intentioned path to hell; and yet, here we are. I sought to be the lone brave voice of approval in a climate of shallow, single-minded haterdom, only to woefully join the resounding hater chorus on my hands and knees, broken and defeated. May my ignoble sacrifice be a lesson to all: massively profitable pop culture franchises helmed by out-of-touch white men can’t even be counted on to help us forget our woes, let alone save us. Only we can do that.