While the Star Wars prequel trilogy is generally considered inferior to the original, the films have made contributions to the cultural lexicon. The original trilogy did this in spades. Terms such as The Force, Jedi, and Death Star now go beyond the simple descriptions found in the film.
However, beyond the critical panning, the prequels are here to stay. Later this week The Phantom Menace is being re-released to theaters in 3D and it has been 13 years since its initial run in the theaters. In that time every person and their mother have pointed out every single little nitpick possible, so what is left to check out about these films?
The fact that the new film trilogy has been talked about ad nauseum has caused parts of the films to enter into our cultural consciousness. I’ve picked out four concepts that have far surpassed Star Wars, despite their birth in what are known as sub-par films (I happen to find all three enjoyable in their own right, but I feel I am the minority). I could have done a top 5 list, but I did not want to force the issue just to fill out a nice round “list-friendly” number.
Jar Jar Binks
Yes, the much-maligned Gungan from Phantom Menace. Since 1999, every annoying sidekick character from any film has been compared to Jar Jar Binks, especially if they are rendered in CG. In the film itself, Jar Jar was entirely out of place next to the subdued performances of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman. He will forever be remembered as the single reason that Star Wars was “ruined forever.” One could wonder if the prequels wouldn’t have had such a rocky start if his role was diminished (not including him on the Tatooine scenes, perhaps), or entirely re-written. But, alas, Jar Jar Binks is forever the poster boy for annoying CG characters.
Did anyone want to know how the force worked before 1999? Weren’t we completely okay with the force being a mysterious “force” that was unexplained, but worked? Well, in The Phantom Menace we were introduced to small life-forms within Jedi cells known as Midi-chlorians that give their symbiote the power of the force.
Talk about over-explaining something. Heck, the Lost writers have referenced midi-chlorians multiple times when fans would keep agonizing over the lack of “answers” through the mysterious show. Sometimes it’s better not to know each and every little detail of a fictional fantasy world. From now on when a science fiction or fantasy author is asked something extremely particular about their created world, they can always fall back on midi-chlorians. Sometimes it’s best not to know.
Now this term has proliferated into a more general lexicon than just terms being used to compare or describe literary works. Padawan is starting to be used in everyday life and sometimes even by those who are not big Star Wars fans. It has evolved into a catchall term for a member-in-training.
While at work I was witness to this firsthand. One of my managers was calling a new associate a padawan to trainer associate who was overseeing the new hire. The manager is not a particular nerdy person, but his use of the term made complete sense, at least to me. I had to explain the term to the other associate, who did not get the reference, but I was amazed the manager would use that sort of reference in a work setting.
Had this been the first time I had heard “padawan” used in everyday life, it would not have had as much weight, but there were also many times in college that the term was used. I forsee “padawan” gaining legs as a word, especially as the younger generation grows and some of their vernacular is integrated into the general language.
But prequels have been in existence long before the Star Wars prequels came to the screen, you say. Star Wars didn’t create them, you say.
Sure, the idea of prequels have existed long before the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but how many times did you hear the term in general conversation before the idea of the Star Wars prequels came along. Prequels, for the most part, were not labeled as such. In 1984, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released. For all intents and purposes, it was a prequel. George Lucas was rumored at this time in first coining the term, but the general public just thought of it as a sequel. Most works of this type were still considered sequels that just happened to take place before the earlier work.
The Star Wars prequels changed all that. Not only did it introduce the term into the cultural lexicon, but prequels were now marketable as popular films. The the years since, prequels have been released every year for every genre. There have been comedy prequels (Dumb & Dumberer) that have been critically panned, as well as critically praised blockbusters (X-men: First Class). The Star Wars prequels was the critical mass that have made the term “prequel” the immediately understood term that it is today.
The Star Wars prequels have left their mark on our society, despite many attempting to forget them. They are still powerful films. They performed strongly at the box office, packing the seats. Even if those movie-goers didn’t fully appreciate the films, they have still been affected by them after all these years.
Personally, I cannot wait to see them in 3D.