Alex Kane lives in west-central Illinois, where he works as a freelancer, plays too many first-person shooters, and blogs about culture and technology in his spare time. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his fiction has appeared in Exigencies, Spark, Digital Science Fiction, Dark Expanse, and the YA anthology Futuredaze, among other places. His reviews and criticism have also been published in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Omni, and SF Signal. Follow him on Twitter @alexjkane.
‘New Star Wars documentary wants to change your mind about the prequels’
Alex Kane interviews director Bradley Weatherholt on myth, universe-building, and the John Adams of droids
There’s no topic of nerd conversation more heated, or more filled with tired exasperation, than the dead-horse matter of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. You don’t simply bring up The Phantom Menace someplace like a Worldcon party or your local comic shop. For some fans, Jar Jar is the true villain of the soon-to-be-seven-film saga. In his recent talk with Vanity Fair, director J. J. Abrams himself confessed he wanted to recreate the familiar image of the “krayt dragon” skeleton from Tatooine on the new Force Awakens locale of Jakku—but using Binks’s bones, this time around.
One can’t help but mourn the various losses to cinema: former child actor Jake Lloyd’s career, for one; not to mention the many films director George Lucas will surely never make, at this point, having sold his company and retired. And as far as the in-universe realm of Star Wars itself, the prequels seemed destined to take away all the things people loved so much about them. The list is a long one, but it certainly includes fan favorites like Darth Maul, Mace Windu, and Qui-Gon Jinn.
But the tragedy of the doomed Skywalker at the heart of Lucas’s brainchild—Darth Vader, to most—is built on the kinds of mythmaking principles that, for good or ill, have already given Star Wars fans, scholars, and detractors plenty to discuss, for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond.
For many, including the independent filmmakers behind the Ministry of Cinema and its forthcoming documentary The Prequels Strike Back, that story begins with a bit of botched diplomacy in orbit around Naboo. Director Bradley Weatherholt was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the film, which aims to shed new light on the prequels’ unsung merit using mythological theory.
Alex Kane: I recently read Chris Taylor’s Lucasfilm chronicle, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, and was struck by just how fiercely independent the young Lucas’s sensibilities as a director were, almost from the get-go. Do you consider George Lucas an influence on your own work?
Bradley Weatherholt: Absolutely. I’m one of millions who grew up on Indiana Jones and C-3PO. As I matured, what struck me most about him were the testimonies of the cast from the original trilogy. Alec Guinness repeatedly mentioned the honest nature he saw in Lucas. He seemed to have this very authentic way about him. That’s an incredibly inspirational idea, authenticity.
AK: Do you remember the first time you saw Star Wars? Was there a certain character or pop motif that drew your attention as a child?
BW: I don’t remember the first time I saw the original Star Wars. My introduction to the saga was with Menace. I saw it at a drive-in theater as a boy. I remember this not because it was a profound experience for me—I just remember thinking drive-ins were cool. Memories are strange like that.
My Star Wars fandom didn’t really begin till I got my hands on the DVDs. And then when I hit my mid-teens, the work of psychologist and Jung pupil Joseph Campbell, particularly his notion of the monomyth and its place in cinema, really solidified a critical interest in the saga and the rest of Lucas’s work.
AK: Obviously, some of the prequel trilogy’s value can be measured in terms of the technological leaps and bounds made in the art of moviemaking: digital photography, CGI animation, advances in MoCap, and so forth. But what is it about Lucas’s work that makes him such a truly great filmmaker?
BW: He’s the greatest universe-builder in cinematic history. Some filmmakers have done amazing work in realizing unique cinematic worlds, such as William Cameron Menzies or Fritz Lang, but nobody has comprehensively designed an entire universe like he did.
AK: Do you think the prequels, in some sense, represent the purest example of Lucas’s vision and capabilities? What do you make of the aesthetic contrasts between The Phantom Menace and the somewhat grimier world audiences fell so deeply in love with when they saw A New Hope?
BW: I’m not sure if one is purer than the other. I do think they represent different points in his life, though. I think it’s hard to overstate the importance of his becoming a father. I’m sure there are other things, but to me, this is the big life event that caused the pivot in style between the original and prequel trilogies. And as far as the look of the films, I personally prefer Blade Runner-esque grunge to pristine images, so visually, I think the original trilogy takes the aesthetic crown.
AK: In many ways, Taylor’s book on Lucas and the history of the Star Wars franchise felt like a much-needed antidote to the bitterness and cynicism of The People vs. George Lucas, another fine documentary in recent memory. While we might reasonably expect a certain amount of academic thinking, lest the prequels go undefended, do you think your movie will help bring back some of the fun for the less-enthusiastic fans?
BW: This is a huge goal. I’m constantly worried about tone. The objective for the film is to adopt a golden mean—a Goldilocks spot between apologetic and polemic, sarcastic and serious, critical and pandering. Above all, it needs to be fun to watch. It won’t make any points if it’s not enjoyable, especially if it’s trying to invite new ways of thinking for some of the absurdly combative fans who control most of the discussion.
AK: You’re financing the picture through an Indiegogo campaign. Besides another viewpoint on Star Wars fandom, what kinds of perks and rewards can folks expect in return for their pledge?
BW: We have a few surprises up our sleeves, perks-wise. Keep up-to-date with us so you don’t miss any chances at some neat little perks. I, for one, have a deep affinity toward koozies.
AK: One of the stretch goals, depending on how much funding Ministry of Cinema collects in the next seven weeks, is the possibility of a full-length feature version of the film. What might backers of the project expect from a longer, more in-depth look at the prequels? Is this something you feel would make The Prequels Strike Back into the film you hope it’ll be?
BW: Yes. Ultimately, the content requires a feature. There are so many stories involving the prequels. For the film to do what is intended, we’d need enough screen time to really produce a medley of narratives and theories surrounding the films.
AK: Tell us a bit about your producers, Kyle Brodeur and Matthew Fielder. Just how scruffy are those two nerfherders, anyway? Do the three of you all have pretty similar feelings about the prequels vis-à-vis the original trilogy, or do you occasionally argue like the cast of Fanboys?
BW: Kyle and Matthew can both herd a pretty mean nerf. Kyle and I have been working together for just about a decade, so we have a lot of chemistry going into films. Kyle is a builder, very project-oriented, and he’s perhaps the perfect embodiment of a team player. Matthew joined the team a few years back, and he’s revolutionized our process. He’s got this eye—it’s amazing. Very perceptive. We hold different opinions on the prequels, and really on a lot of films. Kyle is more entertainment-driven; Matthew focuses on the artistic experience. I go back and forth. It’s a really cool dynamic.
AK: Which supporting character from Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith, do you think, deserved more affection than he or she ultimately got from most fans?
BW: I love the strategic absence of Menace here, since a love of Darth Maul is pretty much the only thing everyone can agree on. I always thought Arfour [R4-P17] never got any love, despite trying his best. He’s the John Adams of droids.
AK: It can be hard to cut through the noise of the social media, what with all these incredible trailers for films like The Force Awakens taking the Internet by storm. What can likeminded fans do to support your project and its crowdfunding campaign? Is there anything you’d like them to know about your ambitions for the documentary that isn’t mentioned elsewhere online?
This answer is generic, but it’s true: Supporters help out tremendously when they share the campaign. It’s the single most important factor that’s allowed the project to be successful.
I think the big backers of the project are excited because there’s finally a film willing to present different arguments than the ones that have dominated the community for the last decade. But it’s not like the film is just that. The documentary will discuss many different perspectives on the prequels, and it isn’t necessarily meant to polarize those critical of them. If anything, it’s meant to broaden every fan’s perspective. This can be really cathartic, especially if you’ve given up on the prequel trilogy. Maybe this is a new hope.