Review: “The Prequels Strike Back”

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“The Prequels Strike Back: A Fan’s Journey” (2016)
Dir. Bradley Weatherholt

Full disclosure: I was a backer on Ministry of Cinema’s crowdfunding for “The Prequels Strike Back” and as such, I got access to a digital copy of the film.

In many ways, “The Prequels Strike Back” is like a movie version of SWPAS’s comments section. In fact a couple of you guys actually are in the film! The hour-and-20-minute documentary basically has two messages: there’s more to the prequels (and Star Wars as a whole for that matter) than meets the eye and it’s time to stop beating up on the films and on George Lucas.

Director Bradley Weatherholt stars as narrator/host as he journeys to different locations and interviews a variety of people about the prequels: fans, movie critics, scholars, journalists, someone who did visual effects on the films, a couple of well-known geek personalities (Chris Gore and Kevin Smith), actor Christian Simpson, and Mike Klimo of the Ring Theory fame. Weatherholt describes himself as a lifelong Star Wars fan who felt that after all of the backlash dumped on the films and it was only fair to re-evaluate the prequels and give them their due. The film goes through some of the lightning rods for criticism and addresses them from both sides but it bears noting that Weatherholt doesn’t feature mad dog bashing either. Most of the rebuttals can be boiled down to: the OT did it too (in fact the film emphasizes more than once that the OT still doesn’t get that much respect among critics, film historians, and directors), people’s expectations were too high, older Star Wars fans were too attached to the OT to give the prequels much of a chance, Star Wars was mostly intended for kids, and Jar Jar wasn’t all of that bad. The good news is the film does not take the tone of giving left-handed compliments to the prequels. The tack it does take is that a lot of what was dumped on the prequels or on Lucas was unfair or exaggerated.

This is all very entertaining but the documentary is at its most engrossing when it interviews Klimo, Joshua Sikora, Anne Lancashire, mythologist Dr. Jonathan Young (who you might recognize from History’s “Ancient Aliens”), film historians and critics, and a music journalist. If you’re a fan of the 2007 t.v. special “Star Wars Legacy Revealed,” you will love this portion of the film. It’s catnip for those of you who live for the mythology of Star Wars and love to analyze its structure. In fact, I learned a thing or two I hadn’t known before. Watch for the music journalist’s segment as he talks about John Williams’s score. There’s something about “Across The Stars” that I heard for the first time that amazed me. Apparently there wasn’t time or opportunity to include an interview with Camille Paglia, who was going to be included in the film, which is too bad because she always has great stuff to say about Star Wars.

I’ve seen quite a few unauthorized or fan documentaries over the years but this film is head and shoulders above all of them in production value. Everything is professionally shot, the picture looks great, and unlike just about every other unauthorized Star Wars documentary or show I’ve seen, this actually does use clips from the films. This movie would’ve been a lot less had it just been talking heads instead of using the Star Wars saga as illustration. The film moves along at a solid pace, divided along according to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Most of the film was shot in 2015 but completed before TFA came out, so it figures a little into this but just a teensy bit since it was still an unknown quantity.

The film interviews fans who got into Star Wars with the prequels, which is great, but I think it would’ve helped had there been more emphasis on what they loved about the films, what it meant to them in their lives, and what they do to celebrate their fandom, whether it’s collecting or cosplay or thinking about film school or whatever. It would’ve shown the movies had as much of a lasting effect on those fans as the OT did on the ‘70s and ‘80s generation. At one point the documentary addresses the romance between Anakin and Padmé and while it does talk about its traditions in courtly love and so forth, which is fine, I felt like it needed the input of a fan who loves that aspect of the prequels (hint: there’s a ton of them on DeviantArt and Tumblr). There’s one girl who’s talking about a scene in ROTS and I honestly couldn’t tell if her reaction was positive or negative. It probably could do with more outright defenses of the films along the lines of what I’ve done with the Great Scenes of the Prequel Trilogy series. It appears that Chris Gore may have turned to the light but what was his story behind changing his opinion? It’s not really covered in the movie but it would’ve made for an interesting story of how he’d been “one of them” and then realized the movies had value after all.

“The Prequels Strike Back” is overall a thoughtful movie for thoughtful people, which means it won’t reach those who are hellbent on being haters for largely emotional reasons and the whole psychology behind that would take up another film. But if you read this site, you’ll really enjoy it. At one point, Weatherholdt makes the point of comparing Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey with Lucas’s Star Wars films. Ignoring one of them is missing out on everything.

“The Prequels Strike Back: A Fan’s Journey” is due for digital release on September 14 and will be screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX on October 6. It’s unrated but some language puts it in R-rated territory.

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11 Responses to “Review: “The Prequels Strike Back””

  1. Design Sharp Says:

    Great review and I agree. It’s well done and can’t wait to watch again. I donated too and it was money well spent.

    I do agree about Chris Gore. I’d love to hear what changed his tune though I suspect it’s because he has kids, but it still be nice to hear about it.

    Also I wish they had discussed Midi Chlorians, but perhaps they could do a sequel post the ST someday.

    • maychild Says:

      I was flabbergasted when I found out (on this site) that Chris Gore, formerly one of the most odious of the bashers, was actually featured on this documentary, for our side. The cynical part of me took over then: I figured the documentary would take the lukewarm, apologetic, damning-with-faint-praise, “Yes, the prequels suck, but…” tone that I’ve seen more times than I care to remember. So I’m glad to see (again on this site), that that’s not the case.

      I too would like to know what persuaded Gore to change his mind, although I think it probably is that he’s now a father and was able to re-evaluate the prequels by seeing them through his kids’ eyes, so to speak. If so, I must give him accolades, because I’ve seen plenty of bashers who proudly declared that they would “make sure their kids hated the prequels too.” Like that one jerk quoted in the media who said he wouldn’t let his kid watch TPM “until he was old enough to know how bad it was.”

  2. Nariel Says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m particularly looking forward to the part of the film exploring the mythology of SW. I loved the 2007 documentary and I’m always interested in more of that 🙂

  3. Jacobesico Says:

    Glad to see someone else doing the prequels justice.

  4. Keith Palmer Says:

    All the uneasy speculation that this film would “in trying to show both sides let negativity drive out positivity once again” or even just “dwell too much on possibly too elaborate theories” made me cautious about it; I’m glad to see a positive appraisal. I might even have to look into how to buy a copy myself.

  5. jayoungr Says:

    Does anyone have a link to information on how one can watch this? Is it available for rent, or only for purchase? Any chance it might show up on Netflix or something similar?

  6. Tony Ferris Says:

    I will admit a mote of trepidation in approaching The Prequels Strike Back myself, but I needn’t have concerned myself.

    This is a thoughtful, intelligent, and impressively made documentary, which advocates for both George Lucas and the prequel trilogy – in much the same way as many of us have been doing for years – while cleverly casting its narrator as someone ‘struggling’ to come to terms with the movies and their place, and importance within the wider culture. As well as the unwieldy, unfair, and critically suspect rejection the movies suffered by the series’ fanbase.

    Is there scope to delve deeper into certain subjects? Sure. But the movie is concerned with covering all bases, and while it diligently unpacks all the familiar points, it can only devote so much time to each.

    One aspect I’d personally love to see explored in greater depth for instance, is the history of acting styles in cinema, how they shifted over time, and how that plays into the decisions Lucas made regarding performance in Star Wars. In fact there’s hardly a subject broached that couldn’t be the focus of its own documentary. Nonetheless, sufficient time is allotted to give a clear sense of each argument, and in the end a compelling case is made for why the prequel trilogy is overdue a reevaluation.

    More importantly, it makes a case for a reevaluation of George Lucas as artist, and if it has any impact in that regard, it will be of enormous value indeed.

  7. Emina Says:

    What was said about ”Across the Stars”, if you don’t mind me asking?

    • lazypadawan Says:

      I don’t want to spoil what’s in the movie (and I’ll thank the rest of you to not spoil it either for anyone else who hasn’t seen the doc yet)…if you’re dying to know, send me an e-mail at SWPASadmin@gmail.com.

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