Patton Oswalt Sums Up The Underwhelming Imagination of the Star Wars Prequels

From his comedy album Werewolves and Lollipops, Patton Oswalt sums up many people’s disappointments with the premise of the Star Wars prequels:

It’s weird that objectively I fully understand and usually agree with many of the criticisms of the prequels and yet still personally love them. Are they flawed? Absolutely. They could have been 15 times more awesome if done differently in any number of ways that have been meticulously dissected over the last 13 years.

But I still think that even at 1/15 their potential awesome, they were still an awesome experience for me both when I first saw each film and through countless repeat viewings. I know I’m virtually alone in feeling this way. But there it is.

Your Hatred?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Cor (formerly evil)

    Daniel -

    Let go of your hate.

  • brad.

    I am not gonna lie i still have a soft spot for the preequels. i mean yes i get the criticisms and i agree with most of them, but i have to say taken as a whole, it sets up Vader nicely,a man who has the best intentions and they are not enough to keep him from turning in fact they are the reason he does turn, which was a nice parallel to what Luke went through, similar experiences, different choices, different outcomes. i liked the transition from democratic republic to imperial dictatorship,under the fear of an outside “other” and the capitalization on that fear that so often happens and allows for a power grab within a governing body. yes Jake Lloyd was annoyingly twee, but i thought that exaggeration of his kindness added a depth to Vader’s turn to evil. and yes Hayden Christiansen’s perfromance was sub par but what can you do? and yes Jar Jar is a f**k awful character, i can ignore him though. i guess my point is you aren’t alone.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    I loathe the first movie, but the second is pretty ok and the third worked for me.

    But I’m sorry, Jar Jar and the horribly racist dialogue of both him and the trade federation – not to mention the Jewish/Arab trader Watto that owned Anakin & Shmi – that was way, way too much for me to forgive. There simply isn’t any way to redeem that movie.

    I understand that sci/fi cultures are often based on earth cultures as starting points, but they don’t have to have the most offensively awful accents of all time. Seriously. Just no.

    The second movie generally worked for me except for the rapid love development between Anakin & Padme.

    Now, the charitable interpretation is that the Emperor is using his powers to influence the emotions of both Anakin & Padme, but this is never hinted at on screen. You just have to assume whenever a character does something totally unbelievable and out of character, it must be because the emperor made it so. I’m sorry, give me something to hang my hat on, please. Don’t make me create the rationales for why your movie might not completely suck in its portraying human emotion with all the sensitivity and nuanced understanding of C3P0.

    However, the love storyline is long and major. If they aren’t deeply in love, then Anakin won’t bite at the emperor’s hook when he sends the dreams to Anakin. So make me believe that they are actually in love. Make me believe that Padme could actually fall in love with such a jerk. Maybe the Emperor should have made him exceedingly gentle and lovable around Padme & only an asshat when not in her presence. That would have tipped viewers off that there was manipulation going on & you could actually believe that Padme might fall for him. As it is, Padme seems to have no frikkin’ brain at all.

    But, once the set up is done and we accept that at the beginning of movie 3 the two of them are in love, then the actions of the characters make sense. At that point, I’m fine, but you just spent 2 movies forcefeeding your audience the most horrendous BS to get us there.

    Even the battle scenes in Episode 1 sucked. There was just nothing redeeming about that movie. I have watched the series a couple of times since the prequels came out. I always start with Episode 2 and enjoy the good bits (Yoda fights!) while tolerating the awfulness (the aforementioned inability to understand human relationships as well as the obnoxiously silly (and ultimately pointless) assembly-line scene which everyone knows was just a big set up screaming, “Here’s the video game! Look here! You’ll have to dodge things on a conveyor belt, see. Doesn’t that make a perfect video game? Won’t it be awesome? Put in your pre-order now!” If anything it was worse than the extended pod-racing scene, whose outcome was admittedly in less doubt, but which was at least worked into the plot.


    Okay, I’m done. As far as I’m concerned, there were only 2 pre-quels, just like there were only 2 sequels.

    Speaking of sequels, I really wish someone had made a Matrix sequel. That would have been cool.

  • Midnight Rambler

    Yeah, no – they genuinely suck. I didn’t quite realize exactly why until I saw these video reviews, which besides being funny and a lot more entertaining than the movies themselves, go into the cinematic reasons why they’re so bad (the second and third ones are better than the first). They’re also done by a serial killer, so maybe that perspective helps.
    Red Letter Media – Star Wars reviews

    • Rob Langley

      These are essential viewing.

  • StevoR

    I still think that even at 1/15 their potential awesome, they were still an awesome experience for me both when I first saw each film and through countless repeat viewings. I know I’m virtually alone in feeling this way.

    No, you’re not alone. That’s pretty much how I feel too.

    The first movie was so disappointing although it still had its moments – the Darth Maul lightsaber duel*, the Jedi chopping up battledroids and, er, that’s about it.

    The second movie was an improvement – Good section on Kamino with Obi Wan and Jango. Final Geonosis arena battle worked well. Just don’t think too hard about the timing! (Or any of it really – as usual.)

    The third prequel was really pretty durn good although not quite up to the original trilogy.

    At least the music worked brilliantly for all of them.

    Oh and, yeah, I still enjoyed them all.


    * Which I’m convinced Darth Maul won on points!

    Aside : Darth Maul has to be the least evil Sith Lord ever based on what we saw him actually do. No, looking bad doesn’t make you so.

  • starskeptic

    Patton Oswalt hit it exactly – with the original trilogy intended to evoke older movie and TV serials it makes no sense to go back and explain why the bad guy is bad – nobody cared then; and Midi-chlorians? WTF!!! Trying to give the Force some sciencey-sounding explanation was worse than Jar Jar…

  • Ben

    Midnight Rambler–yeah, I watched those reviews last year. They are hilarious and spot on. I can’t believe they wrote the script for Phantom Menace in, what, 4 days? Yeah. No wonder.

  • Darth Marmalade

    Thank you, Daniel. As my handle suggests, I am a huge Star Wars geek. The prequels were pretty much what I expected — I knew that they could never re-create the life-changing experience of Star Wars (before it was called “A New Hope”), and I was just looking for another trip (or three) back to the Star Wars galaxy. And that’s exactly what I got. Rather than bashing the prequels, I’m more interested in why people continue to do so.

    I can’t remember a bad movie that I saw in 1999 and am still complaining about. Yet Patton Oswalt can still do comedy about it and find an audience. Redletter guy can drone on for 70 excruciating minutes, and folks nod in agreement and never question what it is about these movies that deserves such devoted, attentive hatred. The Star Wars prequels are grand, loud, explodey fun; I’d like them to have more substance, sure, but I’m not going to let that poison my life.

  • Ashley Moore

    I believe the prequels were made to bring balance to the Force.
    Everyone Loved the original trilogy, so Lucas made a trilogy that everyone would Hate.

  • Tyrant of Skepsis

    I am only mildly annoyed by the pod race stuff in the first movie, and find the most painful part of all of the prequels to be the (love) dialog in episode II. That being said, I find that Patton Oswalt comes across as an idiot in this excerpt. His reasons for disliking the Star Wards prequels are shallow and frat boy level dumb.

  • Tyrant of Skepsis

    Star Wars dammit, though I’d watch Star Wards, too.

  • Katkinkate

    I think Lucas didn’t have his heart fully into them. He was enthusiastic and inspired for the first 3 he did and they turned out great. I think he felt pressured to do episodes 1-3 and wasn’t as inspired or enthusiastic and so didn’t try as hard. I’ve seen a few things from Lucas and he’s not consistent in his efforts. He can be a fantastic story-teller, but sometimes his stories are crap.

  • Verbose Stoic

    The problem I have with Oswalt’s comments is that, basically, he’s complaining that the prequels were prequels. Yes, that’s what prequels do; they show you what happened to create the situation you’ve already seen in the originals. And prequels are done enough that at least some people like them; maybe he’s not one of them.

    Most of the objections I’ve heard, though, are not that the prequels were prequels, but were that they were BAD prequels. Anakin comes off more like a whiny brat than someone with genuine ideals that went bad. The romance is at best stilted. Boba Fett’s origin weakens the character. The political situation that drives so much of the prequel trilogy is convoluted and incomprehensible. And this is so common that at my blog I posted a precis of how I’d have done them differently.

    My opinion is that Lucas should have gone off and written a sequel triology, and turned over the prequels to people who are good at prequels (or, at least, were better writers than him). I think you could have done worse than getting, say, Timothy Zahn to work out the basic storyline working with a scriptwriter to make it all fit. And then Lucas could have written the sequels more in the style of the prequels without having to worry about trumping things in the original series or having to deal with all the things that prequels do. (I mean, he contradicts a key pivotal scene in RotJ with the ending of RotS. You really can’t do that …)

    Full disclosure: I used to watch all of the movies in in-universe chronological order the first day of my December vacation, and ended that only this year because my vacation was pushed later in the month and I had an essay due the weekend I would have watched it.

  • rjlangley

    For me the worst part is that it now seems GL expects us to watch the films in in-universe order, and not order of release, making all the surprises of the original trilogy – Yoda’s and Vader’s and Leia’s true identities and so on – no longer surprises at all. Add to that that the new special effects make the old films seem to proceed at a much slower pace in comparison, and the changes to the original trilogy to gloss over the plot holes GL introduced and make the entire saga fit together better…I can’t bear to hear Boba Fett’s new voice, or see Ian McDiarmid as the TESB Emperor (with his face fully visible!) or hear Vader scream ‘No!’ as he sees his son tortured. Most of the special edition changes I was okay with, but these latest ones ruined it for me.

    And another thing: if we ignore the EU, use just the films for canon, and assume that dropping into the Sarlacc was the end of Boba Fett…does giving him the backstory of a lonely orphaned child and then sentencing him to a millenia-long death full of excruciating pain strike anyone else as a bit on the harsh side?

    • Verbose Stoic

      Kinda. Especially since all he really did in the movies was bring Han in for money — and pushed Vader for that to be alive — and then try to stop them from escaping, which is what he was also paid to do.

  • StevoR

    @13. Verbose Stoic – February 8, 2012 at 5:33 am :

    he contradicts a key pivotal scene in RotJ with the ending of RotS. You really can’t do that …

    Really how /what?

    • Verbose Stoic

      In RotJ, right before Luke goes off to face Vader, he meets with Leia in the Ewok village and asks her if she remembers her real mother. She says only flashes and that she died when Leia was very young. Luke replies that he never knew his mother, and they go through all of that scene where Luke reveals that he’s her brother, ending with him leaving and Han confronting Leia and that whole hugging scene. Now, watch RotS. If Padme dies in childbirth, how did Leia ever know anything about her? And Luke was actually born first, so even that doesn’t make sense.

      Now, this would be just a minor little slip-up if it wasn’t, you know, in a critical and key scene, and wasn’t the whole basis of that scene.

  • nemothederv

    I’d go into why the prequels suck but there’s hardly any dead horse left to beat after all of this time.

    Want Star Wars? watch the clone wars cartoon. They’re about 20 minutes a piece and as basic as it gets but the story telling is good and the voice actors aren’t half bad.

    Does anyone even like 3d?

  • Tyrant of Skepsis

    “Does anyone even like 3d?”

    All the 3D I’ve seen so far in cinemas hat abysmal Left-Right separation contrast, and was thus vastly inferior to a good sharp 2D picture, and barely watchable in high contrast scenes. They are getting away with it now because it is a new gimmick, but in the long run its an annoying and expensive scam if quality of the average theater’s equipment doesn’t improve.

    Also, what screws my eyes every time is that the lenses in my eyes have to focus on the screen at a fixed distance a few yards away while they are angled to focus on something at an entirely different distance, from very close to infinity. This disparity is invariably tiresome and unpleasant in longer movies.

  • Glenn Davey

    People value the originals more because it’s embedded in their childhood. That’s it.

    They are not, objectively, good films. Mark Hamill was as hacky an actor as Hayden Christensen. There, I said it.

    Darth Marmalade, above, described the PREQUELS as “grand, loud, explodey fun; I’d like them to have more substance, sure, but I’m not going to let that poison my life.”

    That is exactly how I feel about the original trilogy.

    They’re not super-great movies, but they’re big and fun, campy, with lots of shit acting (bless Carrie Fisher, lord knows she acted her untalented ass off) — Alec Guinness was the only one who knew he was appearing in one of those titanic piles of shit that would actually make lots of money because the general public love this crap..

    George Lucas just repeated the same old formula a couple decades later. You think Jar Jar Binks is weird or hacky, try looking at Chewie with objective eyes. Jabba the Hut?

    I LAUGHED when I saw Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker in the swamps. Riding around on his back, or sitting trying to emote a sentence, I laughed either way. It was an unintended laugh, because the scene was ridiculous despite the efforts of the producers. Was this made for children?? Or adults? Because it kind of insulted my intelligence to watch this puppet jerk around on screen while hearing a disembodied voice that sounded like it came from the same vocal chords as Kermit the Frog.

    I was frankly embarrassed for all those people who thought it was the greatest thing they’d ever discovered in their lives.

    Sorry, the originals deserve just as much stick as the prequels. Both trilogies are cut from the same GL cloth, only the originals are judged SO MUCH better in hindsight through the glasses of nostalgia.

    If you want a big, loud, shit, sci-fi romp, go for the originals to see it done in 70′s style or the prequels if you wanna see the same, but in modern style with modern pacing.

    • sambarge

      This is so true.

      What made the original movies great was that you saw them once at the theatre when you were 8 yrs old and then, in the case of SW:EIV, you went home and played Star Wars all summer. I don’t think I saw that movie again until I was a teenager. The movie had 10 yrs to percolate in my brain before I saw it a second time and, no offense to Lucas, it was better the way I remembered it.

      As an adult, I have to acknowledge that none of the movies are that good. Empire is probably the best of the trilogy but if I had seen them first as an adult, I would never have been a fan.

    • Tyrant of Skepsis

      Nah, Glenn, you’re completely wrong. I first saw the original Star Wars trilogy when I was 18, and I have pretty much the same feelings concerning old vs new Star Wars as most who were Star Wars fans since their childhood. As far as atmosphere and story go, the old movies are not comparable to the prequels – Chewbacca is a truly comical character because of his implicitly violent nature combined with minimalistic communication skills. Jarjar is cheap slapstick.

    • Glenn Davey

      Also, the romance between Han Solo and Leia is worse than your remember. Watch it again.

      More from 1980 NY Times review regarding the ‘romance’: “After one has one’s fill of the special effects and after one identifies the source of the facetious banter that passes for wit between Han Solo and Leia (it’s straight out of B-picture comedies of the 30′s), there isn’t a great deal for the eye or the mind to focus on. Ford, as cheerfully nondescript as one could wish a comic strip hero to be, and Miss Fisher, as sexlessly pretty as the base of a porcelain lamp, become (is it rude to say?) tiresome. One finally looks around them, even through them, at the decor.”

      At least Amidala was fucking, fucking, fucking hot…

    • Verbose Stoic

      There are two issues here:

      1) While the OT isn’t perfect, the PT is, in fact, objectively worse. Take, for example, the two romances. Compare TESB’s romance with AotC’s. The dialogue is absolutely horrible in AotC’s, and isn’t believable. It’s a pain to watch. TESB’s is at least bearable, and makes sense. There are a lot of things that are just done poorly in the PT even compared to the OT.

      2) Prequels demand more stringent writing than the OT did. In ANH, Lucas does explain what it means for the Senate to be dissolved, but we wouldn’t really care anyway. We only need enough plot to get to the next scene. But prequels are supposed to fill in the blanks, and so the plot is paid more attention to. And it failed in the PT. That’s why I suggested that it would have been better for Lucas to do more sequels instead of prequels; it would have been easier for him to do that style of writing without irritating everyone.

  • Jafafa Hots

    Watched the first prequel, was slightly entertained for a few moments then became very bored. I may have fallen asleep.

    Haven’t bothered to watch the next two.

  • sambarge

    What disappointed me most about the prequels was the lack of Solo back story.

    Full disclosure – I’m a Star Wars nerd. When I was 8 yrs old, I wanted to grow up to be Han Solo.

    I’ve read many of the books written about the Star Wars universe and no one filled in Han’s back story. Lucas apparently won’t let them. So, I was expectant that Han would turn out to be connected to the prequels through his family or something. But no.

    Frankly, I didn’t need to know where Boba Fett came from. I recall in the original trilogy that Fett actually was fairly minor and largely forgetable. Who fucking cares where he comes from?

    I was disappointed but not surprised. By the time the prequels came out, I was aware that even the original trilogy wasn’t that good or, at least, really dated (story, script, acting, FX).

    • Verbose Stoic

      There actually is a trilogy of books in the EU that fills in Han Solo’s backstory a bit, with even some hints of his childhood:

      I liked it myself, and it ties into the original Han Solo books and the books about Lando as well.

    • sambarge

      Oh yeah, I’ve read those. I mean, what is Han’s connection to Luke and Leia’s story or, more correctly, what is the connection between their parents? Is Han just some dude that Obi-Wan picked out of a bar? Because if I’m going to get Fett’s background, then why not Han’s?

      Also, Greedo did not shoot first. Han is a badass and he shot Greedo first and slyly, under the table. If he wasn’t a badass, his redemption wouldn’t matter as much.

    • Verbose Stoic

      According to Crispin’s novel, he was indeed just in the right place at the right time. However, his ex-girlfriend played a key role in the events leading up to “A New Hope”.

      It would have been nice to have included Han’s backstory, but considering what he did to eveyone else’s backstory maybe it’s a blessing that Lucas didn’t [grin].

    • rjlangley

      It would have been nice to have included Han’s backstory, but considering what he did to eveyone else’s backstory maybe it’s a blessing that Lucas didn’t [grin].


      To be honest I would have liked less backstories for other characters. Why put Chewie in at all? Why just point out Aunt Beru when she serves no purpose in the story? Why not keep Fett’s mystery (and original badass voice). Plus where the OT contradicts the EU, the EU tends to be far, far better.

    • sambarge

      “…but considering what he did to eveyone else’s backstory maybe it’s a blessing that Lucas didn’t…”

      Truly, this is my only consolation.

  • James Thompson

    I tried watching them on TV, but fell asleep.

    Horrible acting, casting, directing, screenwriting, etc.

    At least Plan 9 is campy

  • plutosdad

    I watched a very interesting independent film The People vs George Lucas. It had quite a few interviews with other famous authors such as Neil Gaiman. I think these are the two main points:

    1. when we watched Star wars we were kids, and he made these for today’s kids, not 30+ year old kids. Kids today love the movies, so he succeeded at his goal.

    2. no matter what Lucas did we would still hate it, it’s in the nature of fandom to hate everything new. So i would disagree the movies would be better if he changed a few things, we’d all still hate them. :)

    Neil Gaiman mentioned that fans are always telling him “why did you do this? You should have done this!” and his attitude is basically “it’s my book” they can write their own if they really want.

  • Mark

    Patton Oswald is incredible.

    But, yeah, I agree completely with you – they could have been way better, but they were still enjoyable, and I still watch them with a good attitude.

    Except for Jar Jar.

    Someday someone should remake all 6 movies and Jar Jar should be replaced with an Uruk-Hai type of guy.

    Quai-Gon Jinn: You almost got us killed! Are you brainless?
    Jar Jar: I ain’t had nothing but maggoty bread for three stinking days!!!!
    Quai-Gon Jinn: Oh. Oh, well that explains it. Carry on.

  • Steve

    No hatred. Some pity, perhaps.

  • Glenn Davey

    This 1980 NY TIMES review ( of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ sounds curiously like the criticism levelled at the prequels by Harry S Plinckett of RedLetterMedia.

    “Directed at a distance” sounds like George Lucas. “Bland”. “Tiresome”. “It’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation.”

    “Gone from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ are those associations that so enchanted us in ‘Star Wars,’ reminders of everything from the Passion of Jesus and the stories of Beowulf and King Arthur to those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Oz books, Buck Rogers and Peanuts. Strictly speaking, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ isn’t even a complete narrative.”

    “Ordinarily when one reviews a movie one attempts to tell a little something about the story. It’s a measure of my mixed feelings about ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ that I’m not at all sure that I understand the plot.”

    My point here is to simply say that biases come into play when people evaluate a film. Firstly, the technological feat of the films blinded people to plot and acting problems. Secondly, time has done a brilliant job of applying a tub of Vaseline to the lens of our collective memory.

    Bias. Objectively, the new films are as shit in their OWN ways, but also shit in many ways the originals were also.

    Not to mention that a thorough study of film and literature shows that the writing of Star Wars isn’t just inspired by its artistic predecessors, but that it is shamelessly derivative.

    The whole saga is a horrible cobbling-together of plots, names, tropes, techniques… only executed in a much inferior way. Mass hype (group-think, brainwashing, whatever you wish to call it) and regular re-releases with changes have convinced people that they should like this stuff.

    It’s kind of a religion now… where “fans” are unwilling to face criticism without feeling highly emotional and even offended at the suggestion that some out there might have legitimate criticism.

    Pointing out the fact that the franchise has made billions of dollars is like trying to prove God’s existence by pointing out the billions of people who believe he exists.

    Skepticism can be applied to art as well as superstition.

  • Glenn Davey

    Also, forget Jar Jar Binks.

    Yoda is one MONUMENTALLY racist Asian stereotype. It’s almost offensive. It’s in the eyes, and the stilted grasp of English.

    Makes me feel complicit just watching it.

  • Glenn Davey

    *scratch “almost”