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GATHERED MOSS: GEORGE LUCAS STAR WARS PREQUEL TRILOGY

The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy from 1999 to 2005
THE PHANTOM MENACE: There's a moment in what's supposedly the first... Actually, we all know the groundbreaking classic STAR WARS came out in 1977...

And wasn't, till later on, renamed EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, which, unlike cool titles like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI, created to exist on their own merit, sounds like the name of a life-affirming Movie of the Week, or a tagline to one: "In Jenny's bitter life, there was finally... A NEW HOPE!"

Year: 1999 Score: *1/2
But the second that George Lucas, behind the reigns after over twenty years of Executive Producing as opposed to directing, shows his two heroic Jedis, Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi, in a lazy wide shot, leaping down to where their ship awaits after battling horse-faced droids after the confounding opening scrawl... the actors weren't even human, but CGI... That's when it was known that PHANTOM MENACE would be a lazy venture, at the very least.

Jingle All The Way... to Destiny
Well actually, there is a lot going on, from oil strikes to senate debates to busy planets with endless traffic jams, and a Jedi council, including a monotone Sam Jackson, a slime-green Yoda, and other freaks that resemble the Mos Eisley Cantina had it been an intellectual mutant coffee shop. And you would think, when finally fixated on our central character, and why the prequels exist in the first place... a young Anakin Skywalker, who would later turn into the most notorious villain in the galaxy... By this point we should be fully intrigued. But other than a decently shot Tatooine Pod Race, the kid is just too young, and should have started out a rebellious teenager so not to waste an entire first episode on a child with the heart of gold. Meanwhile, the lone potential of who should have been the main adult hero, the already established icon Obi-Wan in younger form, and spending so much energy with the infamous Jar Jar Binks, a dinosaur like, Jamaican-sounding doofus so inept his eventually victory, like Anakin's finale battle in a space dogfight, turns out all by mere accident. Leaving the only "suspense" to a fast-paced light saber duel between Darth Maul, who looks as if Satan himself owned his own tattoo parlor backed by Clive Barker, against Neeson's Llama-mullet Jinn, who should have never been created in the first place.

Episode Two year: 2002 Score: **
ATTACK OF THE CLONES: Begins with a sort of tragic, melodramatic opening that you would see in pulp stories of yesteryear, which is what Lucas based the entire series on, but as Natalie Portman's acting as Queen Amidala/Padmé becomes continuously worse until her infamous "I've fallen and I can quickly get up" moment later on, after leaping from a spaceship into the sand, this entire episode feels like a soap opera, mostly centering on the now intrepidly grown-up late-teenage Anakin, played by a tremendously dry and uninteresting Hayden Christensen, who, at this point, as the guy who eventually morphs into a horribly famous galactic villain, merely whines his way through a doomed tryst between Amidala: their love scenes are like watching two awkward children playing doctor.

Siamese Giraffe Alien
The only attempt at adventure finally lies with who should have been our main hero all along... And Obi-Wan does have a nice asteroid-avoiding moment after investigating a planet that, guided by a long, sleek and angelic alien obviously homage to Steven Spielberg's pristine vision of extra-terrestrials in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, we find out all Stormtroopers (known originally as Clones) share the same face and body under their white uniforms: that of the father of the coolest character in the original series, Boba Fett. Lucas tries his hardest to, after basically getting rid of Jar Jar, inject humor back onto the original non-forced, natural comic relief of lofty droid C3PO within a conveyor belt, and the action... also including a gladiator homage... isn't altogether horribly filmed, providing a necessary break from the vapid love story. George also lets his usually mellow-wise Yoda go to town in a hyperactive fan-favored saber duel, which, like all action sequences, looks straight from a kid's video game consul. And in one sequence, Obi Wan visits a 1950's style diner (an hour after entering a modern sports bar with gambling on wide-screen TV sets), getting information from a cook wearing a wife-beater shirt and being served "Jawa Juice" by a robotic waitress on rollersakes. No joke. And this occurs in a galaxy far, far away that just happens to mirror the Eisenhower era back on Earth? They must have found a satellite containing scenes from the Lucas masterpiece AMERICAN GRAFFITI within the STAR WARS universe. Well, at least someone was inspired and entertained.

Episode Three year: 2005 Score: **
REVENGE OF THE SITH: This is the vehicle that everyone says is "finally good" and "ties it all together," but nothing doing. Imagine if you found out the reason Adolf Hitler was such a tyrant was because he had a dream of his... girlfriend dying. Well after waking from a nightmare, and a few subtle lectures from Ian McDiarmid's nefarious though bland mastermind Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (whose acting was incredible in RETURN OF THE JEDI), this causes Anakin to finally, after two-and-a-half motion pictures, finally become evil during a rushed 11th hour mass slaughter that Lucas admitted he based on the end of each GODFATHER film: a collage of victims being massacred, in this case by the hands of an otherwise spoiled brat who just wanted life with wifey to be peaceful and endearing.

"I have no place here!"
There's some potential during the first twenty minutes that, according to some sources, was actually co-directed by Steven Spielberg involving Anakin, Obi-Wan and R2D2 in some old school heroics flying space ships and then trapped inside the villain's immense crash-landing vessel. And of course, during the mid-section, all this means actual war, involving a rushed Chewbacca Wookie Planet cameo and what feels like snippets of CNN battle coverage instead of being thrust inside the palpable game-changing conflict that caused the rebels to be rebels in the first place, leading to a CGI-filled stand-off between Obi and Anakin and finally concluding with a tiny Darth Vader (Hayden demanded that he, not David Prowse, don the attire) screaming "NO!!!" at the top of his (or rather, James Earl Jones') lungs... Something hopefully fans don't do this weekend after viewing what director J.J. Abrams, with the help of EMPIRE and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK scriptwriter Lawrence Kasden, have created to bring things back to basics. As dizzily complicated as plot-lines got with George's horrendous prequels, they abandoned the pulpy flavor that made his "used future" so delicious in the first place. Let's just pray FORCE AWAKENS aims for simple-good and not epic-greatness... You can't top the original series anyhow so, just go for the silver and we'll forget about the prequels that only deserved Razzie Awards.
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