(I guess I better warn Jaquandor that he might want to skip this post as I give a mixed review of a Star Wars movie. So Jaquandor, you've been warned. :) Also, there's some spoilers, but seeing as how we're weeks away from the premiere, I don't know why I mention it.)
I saw Revenge of the Sith a week and a half ago, and I think finally the impressions and thoughts and such have simmered enough to let me post coherently and completely on the experience of the prequel trilogy, or whatever the hell it should be called. First of all, I do want to congratulate Lucas for answering the big questions: How did Anakin get to be Vader? How did the Emperor gain his power? How did the Jedi fall to the state we saw them in the original trilogy? Those are good questions and we got capable answers. Sadly, though, I realized as I watched Sith end that we only got answers that scraped the surface. We could've had more. We could've had another trilogy that does more than just entertain and look pretty. There was a promise of that in Phantom, and tantalizing glimpses in Sith, but Lucas dropped the ball where he so gloriously ran with it in the original trilogy. They're fun, beautiful movies that set out to tell us something and told us that something, and I'll buy the boxed set when it comes out. But I'll never be able to treasure these movies as I did the original trilogy, though I see many ways in which it would've been possible for the prequels to have been the treasures that the original trilogy is.
What do I mean by that? Well, I do want to make it clear that my opinion of the movies stems mainly from my writer's mind, and how I look at the construction of stories and characters. I don't know if that's a "fair" thing to do to any movie, but it's my frame of reference all the same. I had similar issues with The Chronicles of Riddick regarding how we were deprived of some fascinating worldbuilding and characterization in favor of stunning action sequences. Worldbuilding has never been and never will be difficult for any Lucas film. He always does an amazing job of showing us diverse worlds and creatures and making everything fit into the worlds he creates. He balances the showing and the telling so we believe that these worlds exist somewhere and life happens in the complex ways it happens for us. But characterization has been a huge issue throughout the prequels, and it is what's kept me from embracing these movies as I did the original trilogy.
Take Anakin. He's the focus of the prequels, and we've got to believe that he can go from a good kid in good hands to an evil man in evil hands. We've got to see that journey. And we've got to be cheering for him to stay good and wanting him to not become evil, even though we know he has to. Phantom did an excellent job of starting us on Anakin's journey. Attack then proceeded to do nothing to enhance or even advance his journey, unless somehow showing a whining brat of a teenager not getting his way and snapping when his mother dies qualifies. I didn't believe a thing about Anakin in Attack. He had no depth. He was a stereotypical brat. His destruction of the sand people seemed more like an escalated temper tantrum that happened to be convenient than vengeance for the death of his mother. And Padme wasn't someone he loved so much as an object he wanted to possess, most likely because someone had told him he couldn't have her. It was like he was already Darth Vader and the good Anakin had vanished in puberty.
And then we have his arc in Sith, which starts out OK. He's obviously conflicted with very good reason. He's got people he respects telling him different things and expecting everything and nothing from him at once. He's afraid for the safety of his pregnant wife and wants to do anything to protect her because he failed his mother after he had similar fears. I'm with him in this movie, believing that struggle, and thankfully forgetting about the shallowness of Attack. Everything's going along fairly well until Mace Windu goes to arrest the Emperor. Anakin, in a rough spot, tries to stop the battle between the Jedi and the Sith Lord so the Emperor can be arrested and the Jedi don't have treasonous taint on their hands, and ends up helping Mace to his death. Anakin staggers, says, "What have I done?" and I'm prepared for a battle of wits and perhaps light sabers as Anakin attempts to haul Palpatine to prison. Instead, ten seconds later, Anakin is on his knees, pledging his allegiance to the Sith.
But then he has to go kill him some Jedi, per Palpatine's orders. OK, I'm ready to forgive this brief (but humongous) dodging of character conflict and tension and watch it build again as he storms off to the temple. When he goes into the room with the younglings, I'm bracing for something truly amazing--yet tastefully done--to show Anakin's struggle. But all we get is two seconds of his face and two more of his light saber going on and then we're done. I understand not wanting to show the slaughter of children, but I don't understand the further dodging of revealing just how tortured Anakin is at that moment. Unless he's not supposed to be tortured anymore, that the weight of his good side was gone as soon as he pledged his allegiance. And I can't buy that. In a series of three movies that, as I understood it, were primarily supposed to show us how someone like Anakin could become someone like Darth Vader, dodging Anakin's character conflict seems a huge flaw. But I could've had improper expectations for the prequels. Perhaps they were just supposed to show us the mechanics of getting from point A to point B without really delving into the characters all that much.
Brief side note: When the hell did Padme go from butt-kicking Queen to whimpy, whiny, I-can't-do-anything-without-Anakin Senator? Because even though she had the poor sense to fall in love with an angsty, brat of a boy in Attack, she still ran off--of her own choice--to kick some serious ass at the end of the movie. Then all of a sudden she's pregnant and needs a man to so much as blink in Sith. WTF? We have a nice moment where she's in the Senate and we get to see some of her strength and wit with her line "So this is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause." Then she's right back to barefoot and pregnant and bed-ridden, apparantly, pining for Anakin. She shows no frustration or anger toward Anakin, which is what I would've expected, given her previous performances. She exhibits some backbone as she goes chasing after Anakin at the end of the movie, but then gives some mewling speech until Anakin quite understandably tries to shut up her whining by doing the Vader choke thing. I was actually cheering for him at that point, even if it meant killing Luke and Leia along with her.
I also had problems with the stakes of Sith, especially the final two battles. They're set up in a "who's going to survive" fashion when we bloody well know who's going to survive from the beginning. This might be where a movie just can't do what a book does. I dunno. All I do know is that I found the battles extremely anti-climactic because nothing was at stake. Absolutely nothing. That's the challenge with any prequel: surprising the reader/viewer by revealing that something they assumed from the previous material was actually wrong. MacDonald and Doyle do an excellent job of this in The Gathering Flame of their Mageworlds series. We know what has to happen by the end of the book, and we think we know how they get to that point, but boy-oh-boy are we wrong. All because we were allowed to assume something in the preceding three books that we learned was wrong. We had a hint of that with the midichlorions creating Anakin, and then learning that the Sith had the power to do such a thing in this last movie. Man, did I want to spend some more time with that little plot thread. Talk about playing with some stakes and characters and conflict. To think that Palpatine may have actually created Anakin? Whoa, that's something we weren't expecting. But it gets toyed with and abandoned, though not as quickly as the "crap, we have to mention how we can do that glowy after-we're-dead communicaton before the movie ends" line that Yoda says. That would've been another interesting thing to delve into and shake up what we thought we knew from the original trilogy.
The prequels are fun to watch and definitely beautiful, but they don't have that same transcendant quality that the original trilogy has. Which is really too bad--and kind of annoying. Especially because now I'll have to write what I think should've been seen in those movies in some fashion in a book of my own. Damn you, Lucas! I already have too many book ideas cluttering up my noggin! The one thing Lucas did absolutely right was the ending sequence beginning with Vader's first breath (though I would quibble with how he goes with the easier "your anger killed her, Vader" instead of the much more staggering "her death was caused by you trying to stop her death"). As we heard the music and saw the double-sunset on Tatooine, I was tearing up and praying that Lucas was smart enough to realize that the movie had to end right then. Thankfully he was, otherwise I would've had to have made a quick trip to California to beat him over the head with my boxed set of the original trilogy.