“THE STAR WARS PREQUELS VS THE HOBBIT TRILOGY”
So, a thought jumped into my head the other day about these two film series that are very important to their initial fan base, which then got prequel trilogies which were largely lambasted by their fan bases at the same time, these being the Star Wars prequels that were released from the late 90s to the mid-2000s and The Hobbit trilogy that released in consecutive years in the mid-2010s. Now, I’ve never really talked about The Hobbit films. Hell, I wasn’t really reviewing them when they came out because I don’t really like the idea of sitting in a cinema for 3 ½ hours. I also wasn’t a big Lord of The Rings fan back then. I have now subsequently seen pretty much all the Star Wars films, though I still haven’t caught The Mandalorian so please don’t spoil that for me. And I have now seen all six of The Lord of The Rings films that Peter Jackson directed. But I wanted to compare them and contrast them. Both of these are considered at the best not very good, and at the worst disastrous by a lot of people, but I wanted to look that the positives and the negatives of both of these franchises. I’ve separated them into five categories, and whoever wins the most categories is the winner and was the more successful film series. Let’s begin.
Category 1: Soundtracks
We’ll start with the soundtracks. Now, soundtrack-wise, these films have both got excellent composers working on them. Both of them also bring back many themes of their previous series. The Lord of The Rings score is in The Hobbit films and a lot of the Star Wars score is in the Star Wars prequels. Now, comparing The Lord of The Rings and the Star Wars score is almost impossible, though if I was to compare the main series of both of these it would have been a win for The Lord of The Rings. I know that’s weird coming from a big Star Wars fan but you can’t beat the music in The Lord of The Rings series; it is one of the finest film scores ever made.
Now, The Hobbit and Star Wars both introduced some brand-new big songs into each of their film series. In the case of The Hobbit, they actually brought back a bunch of the songs that Tolkien wrote for The Hobbit and inserted them in, most notably ‘That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates’, the song about the dwarves breaking the dishes, and the ‘Misty Mountains’ song. And Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode 1) gave us a song ‘Duel of the Fates’ which wisely has not been overplayed. Let’s face it, that fight scene in the first movie with Darth Maul is mostly made by the fact ‘Duel of the Fates’ is the song they used. I’m tempted to give this one to The Lord of The Rings because I actually really enjoy the new versions of ‘Misty Mountains’ and the Bilbo Baggins song. But if they were going to do that, they really shouldn’t have cut out a couple of the other songs. For example, Bilbo has a song wandering back to the shire that’s cut, though it was recycled for Bilbo leaving the shire in the original The Fellowship Of The Ring film. And also, I wasn’t really a fan of the Ed Sheeran song, and some of the other changes made with the soundtrack in The Hobbit films don’t entirely work. If there’s one thing that was really consistent between all the Star Wars films it was that they had great scores and the stuff they introduced stuck more. On that basis, Star Wars wins this one.
Category 2: The action scenes
Now, I’ve commented that I think the best action scenes in most of the Star Wars films are in the prequels. Even with the new trilogy, it didn’t feel like as much effort had been put into the fight scenes, particularly the light saber fights. Now, you might think that The Hobbit would have the advantage here since we obviously have the big battles that The Lord of The Rings is famous for but they had some issue going in because—let’s face it—The Hobbit as a story is not really known for its big battles. Hell, there’s really only one battle in the entire story, which obviously takes place in the final film, The Battle of The Five Armies, and they had a lot of leg-room to work with. The battles had only been described to Bilbo in second hand. Bilbo’s the narrator of the story and he’s unconscious for most of the conflict. I actually think, all things considered, they did pretty well. And I say that completely genuinely; there’s a lot of great effort put into making it work. And really, there are some great fight scenes. They might have had to extend a lot of the book to get the fight scenes but there are some really awesome ones in there. Some of the confrontations with Azog are great and I really enjoyed some of the scenes, like getting away from the spiders, and despite the fact it was really bolted on, I did enjoy the dwarves’ encounter with Smaug during The Desolation of Smaug. The problem is there are also some ridiculous scenes in The Hobbit films. I’d like to point to the river-rafting scene which I’m amazed anyone had a straight face whilst filming; it was just a case of ‘Wow, what the hell are you doing?’
Now, on that basis, you’d think Star Wars has it won but it also has a rather pointless scene: the pod-racing scene goes on way, way too long. You could have cut this thing in half and it wouldn’t have made a difference in Episode 1. We all think of Episode 2 as having those brilliant scenes of the fight with Count Dooku, particularly Yoda’s fight with him which I’m amazed they managed to keep quiet about—they didn’t show Yoda using a light saber in any of the marketing. But man, I remember that film being really boring; they needed a lot more action in that film than they ended up having. It’s why I’ve always said Attack of The Clones is the most boring Star Wars film. The only reason we really remember it is because it actually has a brilliant climax. Now, Episode 3 does have a brilliant fight scene and they kind of mean more as a whole, and it’s a really hard call overall. But for all those ridiculous moments that happen in Star Wars, they at least feel like they mean a little more. The Hobbit films seem to have taken all the ridiculous stuff that Legolas did in The Lord of The Rings films and amplified them, to such an extent that I wasn’t taking a lot of it seriously. Point goes to Star Wars.
Category 3: The acting
The Hobbit wins. Look, this isn’t even a contest—The Hobbit has much better performances. Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo; I really thought that Benedict Cumberbatch does well as Smaug; Andy Serkis is at some of his best with his performance as Gollum this time around. And even some of the more minor performances are really up there. I really liked, for example, Sylvester McCoy’s performance as Radagast. And really, overall, The Hobbit films have much better performances as a whole. The Star Wars prequels have become notorious for some bad line delivery and some quite wonky performances. I don’t blame actors like Hayden Christensen completely—I have to agree with some recent defenders of his that he was just given some quite bad direction. And let’s face it, the writing is really bad in some scenes; no actor is going to be able to deliver a decent performance with some of these lines. The big standout from Star Wars prequels is Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan—he brings enough of his own flair to it but he definitely feels like he is playing a younger version of the character we have come to know. Point goes to The Hobbit.
Category 4: Writing and direction
Now, this is really a two-film category. Writing and direction have tied in so well together so I think they should have a category together. Let’s look at them. Well, when it comes to direction these are very different films. Directing duties were really difficult for The Hobbit because Peter Jackson was only meant to be a producer, with the director’s job meant to have gone to Guillermo del Toro, though from what I gather Warner Bros were not really on board with del Toro’s direction. And, from what we can gather, he was going to be even closer to the books than the film actually turned out to be, so Jackson was brought on board and you can genuinely tell throughout most of the film series that there’s a real reluctance to his involvement in the project. Jackson is obviously very passionate about Middle Earth and The Lord of The Rings mythology and stories; you can really tell through the direction he brought to The Lord of The Rings, but The Hobbit films don’t have the same level. The Star Wars prequels, on the other hand, were done by a very excited George Lucas. It was the only time, I believe, he completely directed all three films, and he was majorly overseeing the project. Now, the thing is that Lucas’s direction is a bit off in the first film to say the least but he would get better as the films went on. I actually think Revenge of The Sith is not only the best film of the prequel trilogy but it’s also kind of good in many ways.
That being said, you have a look at the writing. On an individual basis, I’d say The Hobbit films are better written movies: they have more interesting character motivations, they do a better job building up the setting of the world, and give some very interesting character dynamics. The way in which Star Wars does better in the writing is in the fact that it does something way better than what The Hobbit does: ties into the original trilogy. Look, you can tie The Hobbit into The Lord of The Rings trilogy—it is connected—but you’ve got to remember, that wasn’t how it was originally written. It wasn’t written to be the big start of these inciting events that would lead to the most major clash Middle Earth had ever known. The One Ring only became that later down the line. That’s the only moment that connects The Hobbit to The Lord of The Rings: the riddle battle with Gollum and Bilbo’s acquisition of the One Ring which, at this point, obviously he doesn’t know. However, the film so wants you to remember The Lord of The Rings that they put in tons of moments that are unnecessary; they want to keep reminding you of The Lord of The Rings every chance they get. But I have to refer back to Lindsey Ellis’s video on the subject of The Hobbit films which got me started on this paper overall: The events of the Star Wars prequels do tie to the events of the main Star Wars trilogy—they are directly linked, and the central conflict in the prequels does tie in to the central conflict of Star Wars. The central conflict of The Hobbit does not tie into the events of The Lord of The Rings, and as a result they had to bolt on so much to The Hobbit to get it to work.
But here’s the thing: I think as a whole, if you take them together, the prequels trilogy makes more writing and direction gas than The Hobbit films. The Hobbit films have glimmers of something that could have really worked, but with the Star Wars prequels you really have had to change a lot more to make them work. And that’s not to say that I don’t think there’s any good stuff in the Star Wars prequels—I think some of the scenes are well-written and I do get a sense that they could have easily been better if they had a few script re-writes, but they really went overboard with some of the jargon, particularly in the first film. And they introduced a bunch of elements to the Star Wars cannon that were not really required, like midi-chlorians. I don’t need a method of measurement of the Force! And I think George Lucas realised how badly he mishandled that considering the fact that they were never mentioned again after that point and the current Star Wars writers and directors have basically been trying to ignore it. But it’s like Pandora’s Box: once you’ve opened it, you can’t close it. Point goes to The Hobbit.
Category 5: The legacy
Well, it’s two a piece so now it’s down to how the legacy of these have gone. Well, obviously, neither of these killed off their franchises. The Lord of The Rings is still going very, very strong with more videogames on the way and, of course, the talks into the Amazon series are still ongoing. And when has there ever been a time when there haven’t been tons of Star Wars merch? So therefore, I’ve got to now look at the impact of both of these film series on their franchises. I won’t look into the global impact too much since, well, I wouldn’t do a very good job talking about how The Hobbit films kind of led to major labour violations in New Zealand. Again, watch Lindsey Ellis’s video for that one—she’ll do a way better job than I could ever do on that.
But let’s talk about the legacy on each of their individual franchises. Star Wars and Lord of The Rings were both really damaged by their prequel series; there wasn’t a lot of talk for the stories to go on. Let’s face it, how long did we go in Star Wars before we actually got anymore bridge-gap storylines? Yeah, there were a few comics here and there but nothing major, and it was more like side-stories; there wasn’t a major storyline to build them together. And they weren’t going back to the cinema anytime soon. In fact, before the sequel trilogy came out I think the biggest Star Wars project was The Force Unleashed. That one at least feels like Episode 3.5, and before it was removed from the continuity entirely (‘Thank you for that, Disney,’ he says sarcastically) it was a really great bridge-gap between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. It even tied into that stupid prophecy that was unnecessary in the first one. Now, how The Hobbit is going to affect future Lord of The Rings projects is yet to be seen—there hasn’t been another major Lord of The Rings project since The Hobbit trilogy wrapped up. The Amazon series is currently going through development issues and I don’t imagine they’re going to get much better given the current global situation. And if we go for another two more years we probably have as much of a gap between The Hobbit and that series compared to Disney buying Star Wars and doing the huge explosion of content.
But with the time to really rest and think through what people want from Star Wars going forwards, we’ve had tons of excellent stuff come out. We’ve had the excellent Star Wars Rebel series. I’ve not seen The Mandalorian but it’s great from what I’ve heard. We’ve had some great comics. But it hasn’t all been great. While personally I actually quite like Solo: A Star Wars Story—I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea—the videogames have been a real mixed bag where you’ve got Jedi: Fallen Order doing yet another brilliant bridge-gap game between the prequels and the original trilogy, but the sequel trilogy is the real talking point and that’s been a very mixed bag for a lot of people. Here’s where I’m interested in it: The sequel trilogy does feel like it’s curtailing to fans and they are so scared of upsetting people that they’re not willing to try much new with it. And whenever they were trying something new it didn’t really work out. Look at Episode 8 and how much got abandoned by the time Episode 9 came around; it was almost like that film was completely unimportant. There’s a great video Mitch Benn did entitled ‘Why I’m Proud To Be A Dr Who Fan Right Now’ which actually gives an interesting perspective on this.
So, I have to now look at the legacy of both of these films at the time and which one I think did more damage to their overall stock. And while I think neither of them were really hurt financially—they did alright with their merch—I have to look at how people felt about them, and I think people were much angrier with the Star Wars prequels, whereas with The Hobbit films I feel like people felt more depressed. And here’s the thing, I don’t think either of these trilogies made people retroactively think maybe the original movies weren’t so good in the first place. Instead, I get a sense that people were feeling similarly to myself going out of The Hobbit films thinking that The Lord of The Rings was much better than they thought; they recognised that those filmmakers had that sense of great direction to deliver this almost perfect original trilogy. I think most of us, myself included, really appreciated The Lord of The Rings a lot more post-Hobbit films because we’d now seen what Lord of The Rings films that weren’t that good kind of looked like.
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