On this site, I try not to bring too much attention to the negativity aimed at our beloved films but there was a silly bit on i09 (which I won’t link to) on how “neurological” impulses or other has something to do with why “we hate George Lucas.” Naturally there was a lot of PT bashing.
I don’t think you need to have taken classes on neurology to diagnose those fans who heartily dislike the PT. A couple of years ago, I posted on my LiveJournal the main reasons why the PT haters are the way they are. So some of you have already seen the following essay, but many of you have not.
It’s often a basher’s accusation that those who enjoyed the PT are somehow lying because they don’t understand how anyone could not share in their hatred.
On the other hand, due to many years in the trenches and a lot of discussion about this issue, I think I’ve come to understand why there are those who don’t feel the love.
In the interest of fairness, not everybody who dislikes the PT is a basher per se. Bashers, as I define them, heap a lot of cheap shots/personal attacks, emotion, hyperbole, and rhetoric without really explaining why they dislike something. The over-the-top flames are supposed to be their explanation. I’ll give you an example. Criticism is “motive wasn’t sufficiently explained” or “I would’ve staged the scene differently.” Bashing is “so-and-so is a greedy hack and so-and-so is a no talent #$@#$.” I will discuss bashers briefly, but not every disgruntled fan is necessarily a basher.
Whatever the case, it’s my position that even those who genuinely and sincerely dislike these movies haven’t judged them fairly. These fans often accuse me of being blind to faults, but they feel much more strongly about these faults that I’ve noticed don’t necessarily bother them in other movies.
It should also bear noting that I’m discussing those who liked at least some of, if not all of, the OT. Somebody who despised Eps. IV-VI probably despised Eps. I-III for the same reasons (though of course there are exceptions out there).
1. They were pre-disposed not to like the PT
Believe it or not, there were many people who were never prepared to give TPM or its sequels a fair shot. I know because I ran a fanzine through that period and I was reading sites and online groups since the mid ’90s. I personally corresponded online and off with many fans. Those who fit into this category can be subdivided into two categories:
A. Fans who worried about the PT overshadowing the OT
You wouldn’t believe how often I heard or read from fans pre-TPM’s release their fears that somehow these new movies would displace the sacrosanct OT of their youth. Now it seems preposterous. In fact, I think the PT helped keep the OT in the spotlight all of this time. But back during the unprecedented hype post-SE and pre-TPM, this was a real anxiety among some fans. I heard, “No matter how good it is, it will never mean the same to me” or “I’ll never love it as much as the OT.” They felt in order to be loyal to the OT, they had to keep themselves emotionally distant from the PT.
B. Fans who believe Lucas lost his way with ROTJ and never got it back
People who think SW anti-fandom started with Jar Jar’s first appearance in TPM or even with the Special Editions are wrong. The first time I encountered this sentiment among SW fans was in the early 1990s. If there are those who say fans like me believe Lucas can do no wrong (not really true), these are fans who believe that Lucas can do no right. They started off beating up on the “kiddie” ROTJ and went from there, trashing everything new on the SW pike. There was one guy on the AOL SW group who kept posting only how much SW sucked. When fans reported cheering crowds when they saw the Special Edition trailer with Independence Day in 1996, this guy claimed crowds booed or sat in stony silence at the showings he went to. These fans took the opinions of anti-fans like Chris Gore and Mark Altman to heart. They subscribed to the idea only other people were responsible for the OT’s success, not Lucas. They’re the ones who spread every negative rumor about TPM’s filming. They’re the ones who said TPM’s title was “proof” they were right about Lucas. A few claimed they hoped TPM would prove their “fears” wrong, but even then it was hard to believe. You shouldn’t be surprised that these fans became popularly known as “bashers.”
For whatever the reason, if you’re pre-disposed not to like something, you’re going to look for every flaw imaginable and magnify it to prove your point.
2. Some fans wanted the PT to be something SW never was
Before TPM came out, I heard more than a few “OT generation” fans say that they hoped this series would be darker and more adult. At a party I attended a month or two before TPM’s release, someone told me, “We’re the ones who made SW successful. They owe a movie made for us now that we’re adults.” “The Matrix” was cited as an example of what he was looking for.
These fans, along with those pre-disposed to disliking the films, are often the ones who cite poor acting, poor dialogue, poor direction, too much special effects/CGI as the reasons why they didn’t like the PT. Now the PT was certainly darker than the OT overall–after all, not even in TESB were children murdered–but boy, were those “gee I hope this is going to be like ‘The Matrix'” types shocked by TPM.
Others wanted loftier artistic ambitions, feeling that the PT didn’t quite take itself seriously enough. They forgot the OT’s pulpy, B-movie roots.
Whatever the reasons, it’s a bit selfish for fans who enjoyed the OT as family-friendly films in their youth to expect the PT to exclude today’s youngsters just to fulfill their sense of ownership in the saga. Their tastes changed as they grew up, so they expected SW to change to meet those tastes. In a lot of ways, Lucasfilm has tried to address this with the direction the post-ROTJ EU took in recent years. And we know how that’s worked out so far.
3. Some fans wanted the PT to be exactly like the OT
While some hoped for a PT radically different from what SW had been before, others wanted the sense of familiarity and nostalgia overnight. These are the fans who wanted it to be 1977 all over again, or at least what it had become in their minds.
To some degree, I’m sympathetic to these fans. The first time I saw TPM, I felt a little disoriented the first half hour or so by seeing a completely different cast in totally new situations, and I was prepared to give it every chance. Just as fans hold on to that feeling of wonderment years ago, the same fans let that feeling of “What the heck is this?” dominate their perspective of the films.
There definitely were stylistic changes. The “used universe” look is present only here and there in the PT. Everything else appeared shiny, new, and fabulous. The plot isn’t focused on the clearly drawn Alliance vs. Empire conflict. It’s mostly drawn around politics, fear, mistrust, decline, and the lack of clarity. While the OT heroes were not without their flaws, the PT puts its protagonists’ flaws on full display. There was never before a slapstick character like Jar Jar. The personalities of the actors are different.
It was these fans who thought the PT needed a Han Solo character. It was also these fans who probably had the highest expectations for the PT, wanting to be transported to a more simple time and hoping TPM would soar to the top of the all-time box office chart and blow Titanic out of the water.
4. The bandwagon effect
Never underestimate the power of a crowd, or at least the power of who has the loudest voice. Whether it started with fans online who saw the same negative comments over and over until they started to repeat them, or whether it was someone’s will withering in the face of a non-stop media attack, the time post-TPM is a study in “if people hear it enough times, they’ll start to believe it’s true.”
Speaking from personal experience, I can see why all of the negativity could wear someone down. I loved AOTC the first time I saw it, but I was paranoid over the next day or two before seeing it again that maybe I didn’t really love it as much as I thought I did! It would’ve been a lot easier to just join in the hating. Even to this day, I sort of feel put on the spot whenever I’m asked, “What did you think of the prequels?” Like I have to put on my armor or something.
Of all of the reasons I’ve discussed, this one is the most pernicious because the effect of it can go on for years. People can get over their initial disappointment or expectations but somebody who has never seen the movies before can hear over and over how “bad” they are, and will probably judge the films accordingly.
Eleven years ago, Lucasfilm revealed the title of Episode I and judging by the near-hysterical responses on the internet, I had a sinking feeling in my gut that too many fans were not going to give the movie a fair chance. Sure enough, I was proven right months later but even I was surprised at the extent of the backlash directed against TPM. It set the tone for how AOTC was received and while ROTS certainly got the best reception of all of them by a long shot, the haters haven’t given up yet either.