A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, a 9 year old child sat transfixed in a cinema in Blackpool, watching a space opera on the big screen for the very first time.
I was vaguely familiar with Star Wars, having caught glimpses of the tale on VHS tapes borrowed from the next door neighbours, but with no older siblings or sci-fi fans in the family I hadn’t been too sure what it really was.
By the time I walked out of The Phantom Menace with my parents, I had to know everything about it. I had to eat, sleep and drink Star Wars – you could get Darth Maul chocolate bars in Woolworths back then – and learn everything there was to know about this fascinating universe.
And I HAD to cover my face in talcum powder to look like Padmé that same Halloween. While throwing a piece of maroon cloth over my shoulders to attempt to look like I was fighting a big battle just like she did at the end of the film.
Much like the Trade Federation’s Naboo blockade, that was a non-negotiable.
Thus began my obsession with Star Wars, a franchise I might well have missed out on had it not been for the arrival of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and my new role model, Padme Amidala – or Naberrie if you did the research.
I went back and watched the original trilogy over and over, until I could recite it word for word. A Lego podracer was top of the Christmas list – mum and dad were NOT going to spring for a Naboo fighter or a Millennium Falcon – and every fact file, illustrated dictionary and sticker book had to be bought.
In the years between Phantom Menace and Attack of The Clones, my VHS copy of the first prequel was watched so many times it quite simply stopped working. Jar Jar Binks was never a major concern – in fact, I don’t think I even thought about him as part of the plot most of the time.
While even a 9 year old old could tell the acting was quite frankly awful (bar Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Ian MacDiarmaid, obviously) the story was now stuck in my mind. Because of that supposedly awful prequel, I wanted to know EVERYTHING about how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, how Luke and Leia came to be, and what happened to all the Jedi in between the trilogies.
It really was a triumph for merchandising and advertising, if nothing else.
And as long as there were lightsaber battles I didn’t care that there was a terribly written love story to tell. Because for all their flaws and drawn out tales, the prequels did something rather important: they opened up a whole new world.
While some might argue they’re hardly the best introduction to sci-fi, they were most definitely mine. None of my friends liked Star Wars, and barely anyone at home knew anything about it, so if it hadn’t been for those three films (and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation over my neighbour’s son’s shoulder) I might now find myself among the minority who quite simply never got into sci-fi.
Phantom Menace – for all its flaws – was the highest grossing Star Wars movie at the time of its release. And there were plenty of fans singing its praises by the time they left the cinema. In fact, not a SINGLE prequel was a box office flop.
So why have we all started prequel bashing in the run up to the release of The Force Awakens?
Well, some genuinely don’t like those three films and that’s perfectly fine – they were never going to be as good as the original trilogy. But it seems as though slagging the prequels off is now just becoming the ‘cool’ thing to do. Sure, there are plenty of things to criticise, but there’s plenty in the prequels worth celebrating too.
Like that cracking “death sticks” scene in Coruscant’s underbelly, the Emperor’s exceedingly sinister rise to power, and the incredible three way lightsaber duel that saw Darth Maul kicking the galaxy’s most noble warriors in the face. Duel of The Fates is a cracking piece of film score work.
They may be coarse and rough at times (like the whole teenage angst ridden romp that was Attack of The Clones, or Natalie Portman’s tendency to deliver sentences that were supposed to sound interrupted as uninterrupted sentences – what was with that?), and they’re certainly NOT the best films that ever graced the screen, but the Star Wars prequels quite simply aren’t THAT bad.
And no, love hasn’t blinded me – I genuinely believe that. They opened my eyes to the world of science fiction, and encouraged me to explore it. Without those supposedly awful films, I might never have found my way into the fanatical realm.
So next time you begin your “the prequels were awful” tirade, take a moment to think about the men and the women (AND THE CHILDREN TOO) who might never have fallen in love with Star Wars without them.
And y’never know, if The Force Awakens doesn’t live up to your expectations maybe we might just end up being friends. Let’s just try to walk before we start attempting the Kessel Run in less than 12 par secs, eh?