In an Origin Story Far Far Away
Star Wars and story wars.
I’ll preface this personal word mishmash with the disclaimer that I know The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith are deeply flawed from both a visual perspective and story perspective. I know that. The legacy of Episodes I, II, and III isn’t that they are bad films (though many people will disagree with that statement.) It’s that they popularized the concept of an origin story about an iconic villain. Were the films executed well? No. Not really.
In the sixteen years since Revenge of the Sith, we watched young Han Solo and Lando Calrissian meet each other for the first time in Solo, and we learned how the Rebel Alliance obtained the Death Star plans in Rogue One. Now we have the popular Disney+ flagship show The Mandalorian, with future series like Visions, The Book of Boba Fett, and even an Obi-Wan Kenobi show coming down the pipeline. It’s a lot of Star Wars stuff, and I’m not even covering the non-television or movie content.
I can’t recall if I ever saw any of the Star Wars prequel movies in theaters but my family did eventually buy the Star Wars DVDs, so I do remember watching them at home. Being a kid, I remember thinking that the prequels were kinda cheesy, but I liked that Mace Windu had a purple lightsaber. I also liked the young Obi-Wan forming a bond with young Anakin, though even I knew that it was going to end badly.
I am not actively involved in Star Wars fandom and only consider myself a filthy casual when it comes to consuming that sort of media. I haven’t read the Star Wars books or graphic novels. To me, the Star Wars movie franchise is a (mostly) enjoyable escape into the science fantasy genre. I can’t deny that wonderful feeling when hearing John Williams’s iconic score play in the background while the opening credits crawl. No matter how I feel about the movie by the final credits, at least I’m excited to watch it at the beginning.
I say this because while I enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi for what they were, The Rise of Skywalker had far more flaws that border on forgettable and near-unforgiveable. Hell, I’d rank The Rise of Skywalker below any of the prequel installments. I’d rank it dead last.
You read that right. Cue the tomato throwing.
Personal opinion alert: there’s far more memorable moments in the prequels that I reflect on compared to anything I saw in The Rise of Skywalker. Qui-Gon Jinn’s fight with Darth Maul. Mace Windu wielding that sick purple lightsaber. Padme’s death. Anakin’s turn to the dark side in front of his horrified mentor. In a post-2016 election America, Padme’s quote “So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause” hits me twice as hard. Even the pod racing sequence still inspires a sense of joy and celebration. The costumes alone in the prequel movies are some of my favorite sci-fi outfits ever, only second to The Fifth Element.
And while I enjoy the prequels, I also know that its egregious missteps echo in newer Star Wars media too. After The Force Awakens premiered in 2015, the “Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord” theory became popular on the Reddit boards. Perhaps it was a way of making the most unlikeable character somehow redeemable as a villain. It would make sense considering the vitriolic backlash. The negativity and criticism towards Jar Jar was overwhelming to the point that actor Ahmed Best considered suicide. Although Best has lent his voice to an animated Jar Jar in the years since, it’s clear that there was an emotional toll that nearly ended Best’s career and life. Yet the hatred didn’t end there.
Star Wars actor Kelly Marie Tran’s treatment is similar to what Ahmed Best faced: endless racist and sexist comments to the point where she was chased off her social media platforms by so-called Star Wars fans. The Last Jedi polarized the Star Wars fanbase, but what was truly unconscionable was how her character Rose Tico was singled out as a failure of the film, rather than any valid criticism about TLJ’s story sequence. Rose Tico appeared for less than two minutes total in The Rise of Skywalker. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I definitely think how manbaby so-called fans reacted to Rose and the casino subplot is why her screen time was majorly reduced in TROS, along with a poor grasp on storytelling for actors of color (Remember Finn? Wasn’t he like, supposed to be a Jedi or something? IDK broooo).
I began this essay on the tide of rehash and mid/sequels and remakes happening in Big Media, but Star Wars happened and took control of this crazy train. Stay tuned for a future essay on adaptations, sequels, and what stories “deserve” being told.
I will leave you, dear reader, with this last statement: Watch the prequels again. Appreciate them for what they are, and criticize what should be rightfully criticized. If you must be mad about something, be mad that in the sixteen years since Revenge of the Sith ended, we still haven’t progressed. Or rather, the medium of storytelling is progressing far too fast without landing the mark.
Okay I lied. I have one more thing to say.
That Rey and Kylo Ren kiss was awful. It’s been two years and I still cringe at that scene. Absolute mess. At least Padme and Anakin had some buildup over the films, even if it was riddled with cheesy romantic dialogue.
P.S. Maybe it’s time to move on from the “moody genocidal maniac as love interest” trope, but what do I know.