In part two of our two-part English in Blockbuster Movies: Star Wars series, we will take a closer look at the reaction to Star Wars prequels, beginning with The Phantom Menace in 1999. So, let’s get ready to learn about the Star Wars Prequel Backlash!
- Learn how to talk about movie premieres
- Learn new general English and movie-related vocabulary
- Learn how to use Roman Numerals in English
- Discover interesting facts about the Star Wars fanbase
Difficulty Level: Advanced
Time: Approximately 15 minutes
Imagine being someone who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You collected the toys, you watched re-watched the movies, you memorized the dialogue, and you loved just about everything related to Star Wars. As one of a large fanbase, you became desperate for a new Star Wars movie.
Finally, in 1999, your dream comes true; a new Star Wars movie is released! It’s a prequel to the original trilogy, providing a backstory for one of cinema’s greatest villains: Darth Vader. You wait in line at the movie theater dressed in cosplay as one of your favorite characters. You sit down to watch the movie and…it’s terrible!
A Disastrous Debut
This is what actually happened to millions of fans in the summer of 1999 when Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released. Though plenty of people really enjoyed the film, the general consensus was that it just wasn’t as good as the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, most people thought it was flat out terrible.
A lot of the backlash to the film revolved around a single character: Jar Jar Binks. This goofy alien provided comic relief in the movie, but many fans weren’t laughing. The character was mostly hated because his humor and behavior was aimed at a younger demographic.
Unfortunately, many of the moviegoers who saw the film were adults who grew up with the original trilogy and didn’t enjoy the juvenile humor. As a result, critics and fans who spent years heaping praise onto George Lucas and Star Wars suddenly turned their backs on the series.
When Lucas released the sequel, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, things didn’t get much better. Fans still hated Jar Jar Binks and complained about the casting of an unknown actor, Hayden Christensen, in the starring role. Christensen was just 19 at the time, but many criticized his acting as well as the film’s script. Nonetheless, Christensen reprised his role in the final film of the prequel trilogy, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Too Little, Too Late
While Revenge of the Sith received much more positive reviews than its two predecessors, the damage had already been done. Many fans believed that George Lucas retroactively ruined the original Star Wars trilogy with the prequels. However, the prequels still grossed a combined total of $2.2 billion at the box office, while critics praised all three movies for their excellent visual effects and elaborate fight scenes.
After the prequels, George Lucas decided to part ways with the Star Wars franchise, handing the film rights over to Disney. The films made since his departure have generally been well-received. However, many diehard Star Wars fans still haven’t gotten over the disastrous prequel trilogy — even though The Phantom Menace is over 20 years old!
Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:
- Dialogue – (noun) – Spoken words or conversation in a book, play, or movie.
Some of the dialogue in Star Wars uses alien languages.
- Fanbase – (noun) – The fans of a certain person, group, or artistic work.
The Star Wars fanbase is comprised of millions of people all over the world.
- Prequel – (noun) – A story that occurs before an existing story in a series.
George Lucas started with Episode IV so that he could make prequels to the original trilogy later on.
- Trilogy – (noun) – A group of three artistic works (movies, books, etc).
Despite all of the criticism, the prequel trilogy does have exceptional visual effects.
- Backstory – (noun) – The history of a fictional character.
The prequel movies focus on Darth Vader’s backstory.
- Cosplay – (noun/verb) – Dressing up as a fictional character from a book, movie, comic book, or video game.
Star Wars fans often cosplay whenever a new movie premieres.
- Consensus – (noun) – A general agreement;
The consensus is that The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie ever made.
- Flat out – (adjective) – Absolutely; without hesitation.
Many critics flat out hated the prequels.
- Backlash – (noun) – A negative public reaction to something.
Looking back, many people believe that the backlash to the prequels was a huge overreaction.
- Comic relief – (noun) – Humorous elements in a story used to offset more serious drama.
Jar Jar Binks was not the comic relief that many fans wanted.
- Juvenile – (adjective) – Related to young people; immature.
Jar Jar Binks is a juvenile character.
- Heap – (verb) – To direct a lot of praise or criticism at something.
Critics heaped praise on the original trilogy, but they did not show the same love for the prequels.
- Reprise – (verb) – Repeat; return to an earlier position or role.
Ahmed Best reprised his role as Jar Jar Binks in all three movies.
- Predecessor – (noun) – Something that is replaced or followed by something else.
Attack of the Clones is the predecessor of Revenge of the Sith.
- Retroactively – (adverb) – Having an effect in the past.
The prequels retroactively changed some of the characters from the original trilogy.
- Part ways – (verb phrase) – To end a relationship; to separate.
George Lucas decided to part ways with Star Wars in order to pursue other interests.
Take a look at the following sentences from the passage:
This is what actually happened to millions of fans in the summer of 1999 when Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released.
When Lucas released the sequel, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, things didn’t get much better.
Nonetheless, Christensen reprised his role in the final film of the prequel trilogy, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Notice anything unusual? Each of these sentences uses Roman Numerals. While you might be familiar with Roman Numerals (many other languages use them), they serve a few specific functions in English. Let’s look at all nine of the main Star Wars movies for a few more examples:
- Episode I: The Phantom Menace
- Episode II: Attack of the Clones
- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- Episode IV: A New Hope
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
- Episode VII: The Force Awakens
- Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
- Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
No matter which language you’re using, Roman Numerals are used in place of Arabic Numerals (1, 2, 3, etc). So, why don’t the Star Wars titles just use Arabic Numerals if they mean the same thing? There’s no specific rule for using Roman Numerals in English, however, they are often used in the following ways:
- To number chapters, episodes, or acts in plays, movies, and other works of fiction.
- To indicate the time on certain watches or clocks.
- To show the current number in a series of annual events (the Super Bowl, Super Bowl, etc.).
If you’re unfamiliar with Roman Numerals, they’re actually pretty easy to learn. Here are the basics:
- I = 1
- V = 5
- X = 10
- L = 50
- C = 100
- D = 500
- M = 1000
To express other numbers, you will need to add several of these letters together in a particular order. For example, if you put “I” before “V” it represents 4 (think of it as 5 minus 1). Alternatively, if you put “I” after “V” it becomes 6 (think of it as 5 plus 1). The same system can be used for larger numbers. Here are a few more examples:
- XV = 15
- XXXIII = 33
- LIV = 54
- CXII = 112
- DCXXI = 621
- IIIM = 997
- MVIII = 1008
If you’d like to learn more about using Roman Numerals in English, check out this helpful guide!
Now, let’s look at a few questions to review the passage, vocabulary, and grammar:
1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?
A. The Star Wars prequels weren’t very good, but they’ve gotten better with age.
B. The Phantom Menace was released over 20 years ago, but many fans are still angry about it.
C. Star Wars fans and critics reacted negatively to The Phantom Menace and the subsequent prequel films.
D. George Lucas regretted making the prequels because the public backlash was so severe.
2. Who’s past do the prequels focus on?
A. Jar Jar Binks
B. Luke Skywalker
C. George Lucas
D. Darth Vader
3. Which term is most closely associated with cosplay?
4. Which of the following could part ways?
A. Movie director
B. Business partners
C. The Phantom Menace
D. Jar Jar Binks
5. Which of the following is NOT a common way to use Roman Numerals in English?
A. Clock numbers
B. Book chapters
C. Annual events
6. What is the correct Roman Numeral for 22?