Look, I am aware that I cover video games and that I talk about games and then score them. What I don’t typically do however is discuss movies. The reality is that I don’t want to focus on movies, at least not all the time. The reasoning for this is that I know that I am not an expert on movies. I do casually watch movies and there are a few out there that I know I can critique because I either know that universe or I understand what makes them good. One such series of movies I can critique though, Star Wars. I know my Star Wars. I have read the books (not all of them), I’ve read the comics, watched the movies a million times and I even have the Shakespeare versions of the movie scripts! They’re actually a good read.
I know my wars amongst the stars and as a result, I think it is time for me to finally put into writing why I not only hate, but loathe Star Wars Episode VII. This opinion has existed for a while now and it was only recently that I started to consider that I loved the prequels more than this movie. I know that this is going to be met with a bit of scrutiny and people are going to think I’m crazy, but honestly, stick with me for a few minutes and I think you will understand what I’m getting at. So here we go, this is why the prequels are better than episode VII.
Characters and Story
So here is the easiest argument to bring up regarding the prequels vs Episode VII and that is in the story and characters. Episode VII’s story is lazy, it’s not good writing and it’s not even worthy of a Star Wars title. Every Star Wars movie should stand alone, but be left off to continue the story. The best example of this is in Episode IV, the Star Wars movies could have easily stopped there and you wouldn’t question it. At the end of episode IV when the credits roll you understood the characters introduced up to that point. I knew who Han, Luke, Chewbacca and Princess Leia were. I didn’t have the same amount of detail as I had by the end of the movie trilogy, but I knew their weaknesses and their strengths.
The prequels follow a very similar plot design. At the end of Episodes I, II, and III there are definitive endings. They are not left with cliff hangers, sure we could say that episode II has a kind of cliff hanger, but everything that was set to be answered in that movie were answered, the resolution just leads to what will be the next movie. We also know the characters by the end, sure we can argue that we already knew Obi-Wan, but it’s kind of pointless. Especially since he is only present in Episode IV and doesn’t talk much regarding the past and details.
(Ben Kenobi was interesting because you didn’t know his past, we didn’t know his story until the prequels which is in part why they are interesting.)
This was the beauty of character design. In 2 hours I knew who Qui-Gon Jin was, I knew who Kenobi was in the prequels, I knew Anakin and Padme. These characters were fleshed out and I understood them in the length of 2 hours. Sure not every character was great and a lot of them became childish, yes characters like Sebulba and Jar Jar binks come to mind. Regardless you even understood those characters and their desires/wants.I never sat at the end of one of the movies asking myself who this character was. I knew who they were.Now we can talk about Episode VII.
Now we could argue that there are two more movies to explore the entirety of these characters, but I have one simple response. Just because you have three movies to develop characters, doesn’t give you a pass on not developing your characters in the first film. What if Episode VII had flopped, well then we would never know who these characters are. At the end of Episode VII what do we know about Rey, Finn, Poe or even what the returning stars from the previous movies did in that time? Nothing. We know virtually nothing. We know that Finn is some kind of experimental Storm Trooper, Rey is scavenger orphan who magically has Jedi level control of the force and that Poe is an ace pilot. At the end of Episode VII we do not know these characters.
(Honestly, you know more about the characters in Episode I then you even can imagine knowing about the characters in Episode VII)
At the end of Episode I we know who the characters are. There was no question what the driving forces were for them. In Episode VII we have one character who is essentially a video game character (Rey), A character who is confused and decides to kill people (Kylo), oh and also not kill people, then we have a guy who is a star pilot (Poe) and we know virtually nothing about him. Episode VII wastes all time spent with character development. We got some good character development with Kylo Ren, but is one okay developed character better than any of the other characters developed in the prequels?
Now we can talk about the general story that is being told right along the Jedi story. I personally like the stories in the prequels, sure they aren’t as flashy as the originals, since it was about a rebellion against a Nazi-like army. The prequels did the best they could since it was set in a time of relative peace. The reason you don’t like the stories in the prequels isn’t the actual stories going on in the background, you hate the story of Anakin and how it is told. You hate the backstory behind the force, the inconsistencies in the prequels and the originals. You hate that you already know what is going to happen, regardless of what happens in those movies.
(This Transition wasn’t going to please all fans, but was it honestly that bad?)
Anakin is going to become Vader, Padme is going to give birth to Luke and Leia and something bad is going to happen. You know the Jedi’s disappear and that the emperor is going to eventually reveal himself. Of course not everyone is crazy about the story developments in the prequels. The Jedi story is boring, you aren’t going to have any kind of surprises, it’s not interesting because you already know the end result. What is good however is the story that constantly pushes the Jedi story forwards. The biggest complaint I have seen about this is the content contained within.
Stories focused around trade agreements, senate meetings and politics, oh yes that’s really boring isn’t it? I sure hope you say the same thing about game of thrones *COUGH COUGH*. Yes all of those things exist, because that was the lore that was established years before the prequels existed. Sure the original trilogy didn’t have any of that, at least not in the same way. The originals craftily hid this behind dialogue. Making these discussions behind main characters. Leia would discuss the senate, Vader would sit and listen to Governor Tarkin and a table of generals.
(What you remember from the scene)
(What the scene is actually about)
These scenes in the original skipped straight to character development instead of bogging you down with details. This was easy to do in the original because the Jedi side of the story was unknown, you didn’t know what was going to happen, why would you focus on the side story when you don’t know what happens in the main plotline? The prequels didn’t have this luxury. The trade federation causing a blockade was a side story to the main plot in Episode I and in all honesty it is the type of story that is necessary to push the overall plot forward. How else do you explain the Jedi’s finding a young boy who is strong in the force. To top everything else off then taking him with them?
How do you explain the story of Padme and Anakin without it being poised around the idea of a war on the verge of happening? How can you introduce storm troopers and the clone wars without the political intrigue? Those were necessary stories that needed to happen to allow the plot to move along in a way that made sense, sure there are other ways of moving the main Jedi plot along, but I’m not going to chastise the prequels for doing the best they could. Especially not when we get to the problem of episode VII. It doesn’t even try to give us those kind of story developments.
(Sure this isn’t as flashy as a space battle or a fight in the streets, but it’s more vital to the overall mythos and story of Star Wars)
Say what you will about the prequels, but at least they didn’t make the main bad guy or main story plot be about the fact that there is a giant weapon that can blow up planets. Episode VII’s plot revolves around that and finding Luke. OH NO NOT ANOTHER DEATH STAR!!!! Whatever shall we do. Oh yeah, I guess we will just blow it up like the last two. Sure now it’s even bigger and can do more damage, but at this point is that even an original thought? So the side plot is completely pointless and then we can focus on the main Jedi plot of finding Luke. Why are they trying to find him again? Why do the rebels need a Jedi? We don’t really know. They also need a piece of the map and it’s been like this for years and just now they were able to find it. Just in time to introduce new characters.
Everything in episode VII is explained by chance and freak accidents. The Jedi story we get is the biggest offender. Rey is magically more powerful than Luke was even after training. Even by the time we get to Episode V, Luke isn’t that powerful, even after spending time training with a Jedi Master. Rey can Jedi mind trick, overpower someone who supposedly killed all of the other Jedi and forced Luke, who is a Jedi master, into hiding. It’s a lazy and bad story. We are given no reason or explanation as to why Rey is this powerful, she just is. Finn can effectively wield a light saber and Poe magically survives with no reason given. This is just lazy and ineffective story telling.
(Maybe she read how to be a Jedi for dummies in between all the action scenes?)
At least the prequels are consistent with the story and characters. When a character is bad to the bone you know why. Captain Phasma, who was supposed to be the Boba Fett of episode VII ends up being a throw away character. If I hadn’t been told that she was important, I would have completely written that character off. Sure she can redeem herself later, but Boba Fett was impressive for a completely different reason. He was cold, quiet and calculated. I didn’t need anyone to tell me he was cool. Phasma gets beaten by a surprise attack and then thrown into the garbage shoot. Oh and also somehow is going to survive the entire facility exploding….right.
Sure we could talk about Jango Fett dying in episode II, but are we ever told that he is the best bounty hunter? No, no we aren’t. Jango Fett was going to be a temporary character and everyone knew that, he isn’t present in the originals. He was a story element added to ensure that Boba would exist in the originals and to explain his reasoning for being a bounty hunter. Yes Boba dies in a lame way in episode VI, but that’s not important. The fact is that the plot development and character development in episode VII is sloppy and to say that it is better than any of the prequels is a travesty.
(Well that plot twist…was expected.)
Now we come to what I feel is at the heart of my argument. I can ignore plot problems because I’m a gamer. I’m so accustomed to them it’s not even funny anymore. The truth of the matter is that the prequels embody the heart and soul of what I grew up with. When we talk about planets of course we get Tatooine again in the prequels, but we also get planets like Naboo, Coruscant, Mustafar, Kashyyk and Geonosis. These aren’t just set pieces either. In episode I Naboo is more interesting than any place we see in the entirety of episode VII. In the original trilogy we see a lot of Tatooine. This is okay because we get to see a lot of it. The different alien species, the economy and even the type of planet it really is. In the originals we see Yavin, but it ends up being just a place. Then we get to see worlds like Hoth, Dagobah and Endor. These planets are extremely different and have different types of flaura, fauna and alien species in them.
This was an important part of the Star Wars formula, building a believable universe. Instantly Naboo comes to mind when I think of the prequels and the worlds that exist within it. Naboo is an interesting planet, it is inherently split between the Gungans and the Humans (Nabooites?). They live completely different lives in completely different ways. We are treated to both walks of life in the movie, the wildlife, the views and all of this is done without someone telling us what is going on. Could we even start to say the same about episode VII? We are shown the planet of Jakku, which we learned nothing about in the time we were given. Then we see two different drifter colonies, and we know that a space battle took place there. We see the planet with Maz, Takodana (bet you didn’t know the name), and we learn nothing about that place. Sure her bar/area was supposed to be reminiscent of Mos Eisley, but its nothing special since we don’t have long before the First order shows up.
(Oh look, it’s the convenient plot device to prevent a real plot and developments from happening….CLASSIC!!!!)
That is the problem with episode VII and its world building. It’s all sacrificed for the sake of having more action. The places and planets in episode VII are not places, they were set pieces for an action scene. The barge that Han and Chewbacca were on, it was a set piece for the fight with giant tentacle monsters. The star destroyer with Finn and Poe, it was a set piece for an escape in a tie fighter. Maz’s place, was another set piece for a giant battle. The giant sized death star, you guessed it, another set piece for an action packed battle. In no part of this movie did they say, maybe there shouldn’t be a battle here. Maybe we should take time and explore this place and what kind of economy and people would live here.
Lord forbid we spend any time showing off the world. Thinking back to episode II we even see a lot of Coruscant, and I mean a lot. We get to see the Jedi Temples, the libraries, random diners and the seedier parts of Coruscant. This builds a world, a universe and a vision. Episode VII can’t even make me believe that any of these places had a purpose other than to have another cool action scene. In fact Episode VII has only two locations in which an action scene didn’t occur. At the rebel base and the 30 seconds on the planet with Luke.
(Like come on, you can mix action and storytelling! Just show off what the planet has!)
The prequels understood world building, they understood what made Star Wars unique. The prequels have interesting locales that I still to this day love and am interested in. I love the concept of doing RPG games in the prequel time setting due to the interesting planets and governments contained within. There is so much to access there because the movies made them interesting. Sure episode I only had 3 planets in it, but I knew what those 3 planets were like. I understood Coruscant, I understood Naboo and we already had quite a bit of knowledge on Tatooine. The point is that the prequels understood world building, they understood that it was more than just the action.
(Okay the CGI wasn’t great, but you know what, I’ll take bad CGI over bad story and characters any day!!)
The Action and Humor
Obviously as time goes on the big Hollywood executives start to misunderstand what it is that we want as fans. The original Star Wars films were never about the action. They were about the story, about the struggle of good versus evil. We had big set pieces and action scenes in the prequels and the originals, but they were most certainly a build up at the very end or the ending of a conflict in the plot. They set story aspects of characters, like Luke being an effective pilot by backing up what he had said previously in the movies. Everything connected back to the story in one way, shape or form. The prequels changed this a bit, it did have more action, lightsabers and just overall adrenaline, but it wasn’t overdone.
The prequels have big action scenes. Like the end battle of Episode I. We not only get to see the epic fight of Darth Maul vs. Qui Gon and Obi Wan. We also get to see fights on a bigger scale. We see the Gungan army taking on the Trade Federations droid army, we see the princess and her band of merry men fighting to take over the Viceroy in the capital. You see Anakin fighting in the sky against the trade federation. Episode III is even a big explosive action movie at most points, but in-between the fighting, and sometimes even during, you get the plot and exposition. Sure we could argue that the prequels are not as good as the originals in this sense and I 100% agree with you. I like the action, but Star wars is so much more than just the action. It is the plot, the story, the world and the characters.
(If this doesn’t get your panties all steamy…I don’t know what will)
Then we come back to episode VII. The force awakens ignores all pretexts of world building to make an action movie. Here’s the first 30 minutes of the film, and it really doesn’t get better from there. You get a few seconds of exposition in the beginning between John Hurt and the opening text crawl, bam action. The first order shows up, kills people and takes hostages. Kylo Ren shows up, stops a giant blaster from hitting his smug face, then he’s gone. We get a few minutes of silence while Rey shows up, you find out she is alone, runs into BB-8 and they are friends now. Then we go back to Finn who decides he doesn’t like being a stormtrooper suddenly and then takes Poe Dameron with him to escape. Few words are spoken and they steal a tie fighter and kill troopers on their way out (weird since the whole reason Finn wanted out was because he didn’t want to kill people?). Then we get back to Rey and she runs into Finn, First order shows up and then its back to the action and running away. Few minutes of silence, then you run into Han Solo and you get some brief story and then giant tentacle monsters.
Time and time again episode VII proves that it wants to be an action movie. It’s not an epic Science Fiction story, it’s a 7 year olds favorite part of what he understands about Star Wars. Ask a young boy who likes Star Wars and they will say, I LIKE THE ACTION, THE SPACE BATTLES AND LIGHTSABERS!!!!!!, that’s it. That is all that episode VII is. It is an action movie. To make this worse the humor and one liners that are injected into the entire movie are just not what Star Wars is about. Star Wars continuously makes the conscious choice that if there isn’t action happening on the screen then a joke has to be made. I guess it’s just a rule now.
(I’m not saying that humor shouldn’t exist in Star Wars, only that episode VII goes overboard)
To start off let’s talk about the first scene where we see Poe and Kylo talk to each other. We get a bit of Poe’s humor and character here, but it feels like it’s forced. Poe asks who is supposed to talk first in a sarcastic tone, which instantly sets us as audience members in a weird position. Is Kylo Ren a serious character? Is he feared? Or is he just a joke to the rebellion. Notice how nobody joked around Darth Vader in the originals or even the multiple bad guys in the prequels? That’s because it undermines the seriousness of the character, they have to demand respect. Kylo Ren is instantly put in a joking status which makes him look weak. The bad guys in previous movies killed and tortured people. It was serious moments that built them up. Even in episode V, Han doesn’t make fun of Darth Vader, he respects him as the evil character that he is.
There is a better scene though that really embodies this and it starts off as being a very good scene. The scene where Kylo takes his anger out on a computer monitor, it builds up the fact that he is confused, that he is young and angry. The problem, it is instantly followed up by a scene where troopers walk in, then walk out in a hurry escaping his wrath. Is it funny? Heck yes, but it ruins the seriousness of that scene. There needed to be time taken to develop these characters. Sure the prequels had a lot of reasons that they failed to capture a lot of the audience and let fans down, but episode VII was not the film to fix all of those problems.
The reality here is that I dislike episode VII. I don’t think it is a good Star Wars movie and I think it’s just an okay action movie. The action is cool and the jokes are funny, but it fails to live up to even a modicum of its potential. I want more of what made the originals good, I want new plot lines, new worlds, new characters. Sure the three prequel movies have more content than episode VII and you can say that it’s unfair. I would still however hold to the opinion that any of those three movies are better than what episode VII was. The prequels had world building, they had story arcs, characters that mattered. I agree that there are a lot of things that it crapped the bed on, but guess what it had to.
How do you explain the backstory of something and make it feel like the lore from the originals. You can’t bring something to life that without sacrificing vision. The magic is going to disappear somewhat. As episode VII was being developed they dropped all of the previously canon stories, this gave them free rein to do whatever they wanted with the future films. So instead they made an action movie. An action movie that wasn’t even the best action movie of all time. It was just okay. Episode VII is not better than the prequels, it is a shining example of what happens when corporate Hollywood gets ahold of your favorite franchise. It creates a monster. The prequels are better, and that’s an unpopular opinion for you.