“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.