James McQuarrie

A collection of random links and thoughts curated by James McQuarrie

Star wars – In defence of the shininess of Episodes I, II and III

With the arrival of the trailer for Star Wars The Force Awakens (Episode VII in the Star Wars universe) much has been made of JJ Abrams return to the classic Star Wars look: a worn galaxy, where parts are rare, machines are used and abused, and things aren’t all that shiny.

In George Lucas’ original trilogy the Worlds we saw were worn and dirty too. Luke’s Uncle’s farm machinery was caked with desert dust. The Rebel ships were beaten. The Millennium Flacon was clearly a long way from the Corellian Engineering Corporation shipyard where it was built. The Rebel Hoth base was almost inhospitable and very much cobbled together. The list goes on.

In the prequel trilogy (Episodes I, II and III) Lucas depicted a much cleaner, shinier galaxy. One where ships were chrome and polished. Where there were garden cities with beautiful architecture and open spaces, or vast planet-spanning cities with comfortable rooms, great libraries and grand halls.

Many have criticised this change in visual design, and I can see why. The overly saturated CGI sets and locations of the prequels didn’t quite fit with the Star Wars visual language that we all know and love.

But it does, I’d argue, fit with the story.

Think about it. Episodes IV, V and VI – our benchmark for the Star Wars style – were set in a time when the Empire was dominant and the Rebel Alliance was fighting a guerrilla war with them. It was a time after the Clone Wars which left the whole Galaxy in a state of ruin. There was an oppressive force ruling almost every World with an Iron Fist, stripping supplies and leaving locals with little. Ever notice how the Stormtroopers and Imperial ships / bases were very clean and polished (at least before the fighting started)?

In Episodes I, II and III things were different. There had been years of stability in the Galaxy. Worlds were trading and working together and were prosperous. Sure there was a dark undercurrent working behind the scenes to change that, but things on the whole were good.

So of course things were nice and new and shiny. Of course there were grand cities full of clean, well maintained, beautiful buildings. Of course things looked different.

The question now is: with Episode VII being set 30 years after Episode VI, will the whole Galaxy still be so beaten up? The trailer seems to suggest that the answer is yes, or at least yes for some parts of the Galaxy. Again, if true, this makes sense: 30 years after years of Galaxy wide fighting, Worlds would still be rebuilding. Some faster than others. I’d guess that in the full film we’ll see some Worlds that have been rebuilt and are shiny and polished and prosperous, while others will still be struggling to get back on their feet and rebuild.