I admit I have a soft spot for TPM. I watched it for the first time in October '99 for my eleventh birthday and the experience still feels fond. I’ve never seen it with rose glasses, though. Something about it felt a bit off even then and, as much as I did laugh initially at Jar-Jar Binks, even my eleven years old self knew the character was far too much over the top and in-your-face by the end of the movie. I won’t go into the movie’s fault, of which there are many, as these have been discussed in detail here and elsewhere to no end.
It did have great moment, though! The space scenes were visually gorgeous, probably the best in all the Star Wars movies - think the initial Trade Federation blockade and invasion, the royal ship escaping through the blockade, and the final star fighter battle. It had a fantastic lightsaber duel, decent firefights in the royal palace and courtyard (definitely best in the entire PT), the droid army actually looked semi-competent and a credible threat after stomping the Gungans. Ewan McGregar and Liam Neeson were a great duo on screen. TPM had not only tangible sets but the locations were interesting, magical even. The movie has a fantastic soundtrack. And in its theatrical release, prior to that pink-hued, DNR bloated garbage home release, TPM just looks beautiful. At rare times, it does manage to capture the magical feeling of a galaxy far, far away the OT has.
Then came the couple of other prequels…
Horrible dialogue and acting, nonsensical and heavy-handed plot, bland directing aside, I think the greatest fault is that both AotC and RotS fall in that “uncanny valley” feeling. Especially the latter. The digital sets just look off. Not “fake”, off. When I watch RotJ now, I can clearly see scenes that I know are “fake”, composed shots of matte paintings, decors, and props. But they’re still real, tangible. The actors are actually “there”, even if that “there” is just a set. It gives a lifelike quality to it* that neither AotC nor RotS have. They just feel empty, sterile, flat even.
There’s a single scene from either AotC or RotS that actually is visually appealing to me, and that’s Jango and Obi-Wan’s star fighter duel. Everything else looks like an early 2000s video game pretending to be a movie. It just doesn’t work.
I applaud Lucas for trying to push cinematic technology but even with everything about them as-is, AotC and RotS would have been better movies if had stuck with actual film, real sets and props instead of going full-on, bluescreen only.
- Not to mention that a properly restored OT with digital retouching used to just clear matte lines and help compositing can dramatically improve the SFX (think Adywan’s Revisited), something that cannot be done for the Prequels.