In the lead-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we look back at the first Jedi (narratively speaking) with a series of stories about the much-beloved and never-disparaged prequel trilogy.
Last week, I watched the Star Wars prequels for the first time, because Vulture had decided to do a Star Wars Prequels Week, and my job quite literally depended on it. I had previously avoided the prequels, for a while by accident, and then for a longer while because everybody told me they sucked. I had a few major takeaways from the experience.
The first: It’s profoundly unclear to me how young children follow these movies. The brief moments of whiplash-inducing exposition, juxtaposed with lengthy moments of zero exposition whatsoever (“Here is this whole underwater society that we will never explain”, “The Trade Federation is bad, don’t worry about why”, “There’s a prophecy about the Chosen One because there just is”), create a narrative mindfuck the likes of which my adult brain could not keep up with, let alone process and synthesize.
The second: I can immediately tell the difference between Keira Knightley and Natalie Portman under 16 layers of whiteface, and this makes me proud, especially considering the previous sentence I just wrote.
The third: There are too many human-sized, human-shaped aliens.
I know that this is a controversial take, so I’m going to make this argument from multiple perspectives, some of them scientific and some the total opposite of that. Let’s begin with the science, while keeping in mind that science is confusing (much like the Star Wars prequels). The Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics argues that there are endless possibilities available to every speck of matter in the entire universe. On a larger scale, this means that there are, quite plausibly, unlimited universes, including those where we’re all living under a functioning democracy, or where we all have 75 stomachs, or where we don’t even exist — where other life forms have sprung up in our place.
Knowing this, the creators of the Star Wars universe went right ahead and based most of their alien progeny, in one way or another, on the human form. The majority of the Star Wars characters — prequels or otherwise — are either actual humans (ugh), or appear to have begun, conceptually, as humans, before being smushed, given some sort of demented face, or filled with pudding. “Isn’t the same thing true of literally every other sci-fi about aliens?” you ask. This is a fair point, but this is Star Wars Prequels Week, and also, I hold Star Wars to a higher standard than other sci-fis, because it has all the money. “Okay, what about Jabba?” you ask. Human-y face, stretched out, filled with pudding. “What about the Gran?” Demented face, otherwise pretty human-y. “What about the Amani?” Demented face, smushed, otherwise human-y. “What about Ortolans?” Demented face, filled with pudding — this is getting tiring, and I said “most,” please feel free to complain about me on Twitter if I have not addressed your specific alien.
My point is this: Statistically and scientifically, considering the innumerable ways in which matter can manifest, why aren’t any of these aliens, I don’t know, balls of gas? Or a pile of harmonicas with teeth? Or sentient teapots with David Bowie’s voice? It makes exactly no sense that nearly all of the Star Wars aliens would be wrought from the same mold as human beings. This is the kind of arrogant, Trumpian, derangedly self-centered logic that will have us all wearing “Merry Christmas” sweaters as we line up to be given rations of porridge during our forthcoming nuclear winter.
From a creative standpoint, these homo-sapien-aliens are equally disappointing. I understand the logistical problem inherent in the fact that humans are the only self-aware life forms able to step into a creature suit and sign a release form. (I also understand that this is specifically a constraint of the original trilogy, which set the standard.) However, these prequels are lousy with CGI, in every sense of the word. And even the CGI aliens look like humans with weird faces! It is truly an insult to the scientific and creative mind (and my mind) to make an entire movie franchise about interuniversal societies and be like, “And yes, the civilians all look mostly like humans, except for a few short ones and a few tall ones and a few wide ones and a few with some jacked-up faces.” Both hypothetically and quite literally, you can do anything you want with these aliens. Why not get freaky?
As viewers, we are stuck inside of our couches, watching these movies, for nearly eight hours on end (the only way to watch the prequels, in my deeply researched opinion). Making us watch alien upon alien toddle by, an endless parade of mushy, fucked-up faces shoved onto stocky humanoid bods, implies a lack of thoughtfulness, empathy, and, quite ironically, humanity. There’s a form of torture called “music torture,” where people have to listen to the same music over and over again until they go crazy. This is like that, except for your eyes. If I have to see one more Star Wars creature who is sort of green, sort of blue, sort of gray, and has very tiny eyes smashed irreverently into a giant face, I will lose it.
Lastly, and most significantly, I’d be remiss not to address the fact that this human-centric perspective is most insulting to the aliens themselves. As fictional characters inside a movie franchise hellbent on existing for the duration of eternity, these aliens already have no agency or free will. Now, on top of that, you’re telling me that they’re all just offshoots of the very life forms that created them and enslaved them in this perpetual desert hell? That they’re all just doomed to a life spent poorly imitating their masters and creators, on interminable display for yet other humans still, who would laugh and point at them and say, “Haha, that alien looks like me, except totally messed up”? What kind of malevolent, Dr. Frankensteinian shit is this?
As a hopeful believer in the theory that we are all just living inside a computer simulation, I understand the computer simulation’s impulse to create a bunch of sim people who create a bunch of sim aliens that look exactly like said sim people. It’s twisted and hilarious (if you are the computer). However, it does not mean that I condone it. I beseech you, future purveyors of Star Wars content: please give us balls of gas, if only to remind us, in these dark and terrible times, that anything is possible.