Face-Off: Star Wars prequel trilogy vs. The Hobbit trilogy

Welcome back, thrill seekers! We took things easy with the last Face-Off, getting down and doing a funnyman battle of ANCHORMAN v. STEP BROTHERS, but that's because today we're getting into some serious nerd shizz. This week we're going all in for an epic battle, spanning six movies, billions of dollars in box office totals, and about 175 hours of viewing time. Oh yeah, it's the STAR WARS prequel trilogy vs. THE HOBBIT trilogy.

The STAR WARS prequels, entirely written and directed by STAR WARS creator George Lucas, will forever be seen as the low-point in the SW series, as far as die-hard fans are concerned. But please, you all own the Blu-rays and pop them in at least once a year because it's your marital duty, and this is what you signed up for as a fan of the franchise. In the other corner, wearing overalls that leave plenty of room for it's big, hairy feet to breathe is Peter Jackson's HOBBIT trilogy, which took one book and a ton of other Middle-earth details and stretched it out to one entire trilogy. They may not have raked in the Oscars like the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy did, but they sure did look shinier, no?

This battle of the prequels will surely go on for millennia, as die-hard fans from both sides of the ring fight for their champion, but we here at JoBlo are settling the score now. So, get out your lightsabers or other glowing blue swords that totally aren't lasers and let's charge the battlefield.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan
Natalie Portman as Padme
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Christopher Lee as Count Dooku
Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine
Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
with Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn
Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
Ray Park as Darth Maul
Jake Lloyd as Young Anakin
Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker
Joel Edgerton as Owen
and Frank Oz as Yoda
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Richard Armitage as Thorin
Luke Evans as Bard
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
Evangleline Lilly as Tauriel
Lee Pace as Thranduil
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug and Necromancer
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Manu Bennett as Azog
Ken Scott as Balin
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
William Kircher as Bifur
James Nesbitt as Bofur
Aidan Turner as Kili
Dean O'Gorman as Fili
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
John Callen as Oin
Peter Hambleton as Gloin
Jed Brophy as Nori
Mark Hadlow as Dori
Adam Brown as Ori
with Stephen Fry as Master of Laketown
Ian Holm as Older Bilbo
Elijah Wood as Frodo
and Christopher Lee as Saruman
A lot of people felt betrayed by Lucas for the prequel trilogy, as they believe he didn't much care about what made the OT so beloved. A number of reasons for wanting his head on a lightsaber include his favoring of heavy CGI, putting the focus of the story on unexciting political elements and a dopey love story, and his deciding to play with the lore of the series for the worse. Those are all warranted complaints, and in essence, what make the movies the mess they are. But, in fairness, if we look at some of the technical aspects of the trilogy, Lucas has his laudable moments. He has a good eye and he knows where to put the camera, especially during action scenes. There are some great shots to come out of the final Darth Maul battle in PHANTOM MENACE, the lightsaber battle against Dooku in CLONES and the battle between Obi and Anakin in SITH. There are a lot of dull moments, and Lucas has never been great with filming character moments in his STAR WARS movies, but when it comes to action he's crafted more than a handful of stellar scenes which make for some of the best straight-up-sci-fi spectacles. That makes up for some things, right? Right?!
Anyone other than Jackson handling Middle-earth seems like a crime at this point. Should any other movies or TV shows try to visit the world they will have a massive shadow to step out of. Even though Jackson experiments much more with CGI in The HOBBIT movies, he still knows when to take advantage of practical effects and environments like he did in LOTR. New Zealand is more wondrous than any fake, created environment, and Jackson never fails to show off the rolling hills, vast mountains, and seas of green. He makes the world of Middle-Earth so absorbing and breathtaking, and he did his best to deliver on adding to the world while making sure it's the place we know and love. And much like some of his other films he works great with ensemble casts, never forgetting to make them as important as the fantasy action. He doesn't get as much drama out of The HOBBIT movies as he did LOTR, and sometimes he favors CGI a little too much, but Jackson proves Middle-earth is still a place worth exploring, and one that's filled with endearing characters.
There are plenty of side characters in this series that would benefit from a movie of their own, like Obi-Wan, but the main story here revolves around Anakin and his descent into darkness, and how it came coupled with the rise of the Empire. We knew him as a tall, strong villain with a mysterious dark past to match his breathing problems in the OT, and we learn in the prequels he got this way after he turned to the dark side in the hopes it would save the woman he loved. There's a very solid, almost Shakespearean quality to that story, and would have been riveting had the first movie not been wasted, the love story been better developed and passionate, and the political angle not been about as exciting as watching C-SPAN in a hospital waiting room. Actually, if our U.S. senators and representatives talked about tax plans, but wore only space clothes, I would be totally into that.
The story follows hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he gets out of the comfort of his cozy Hobbit hole and ventures into the dangerous and exciting world of Middle-earth. As Bilbo teams up with a gathering of Dwarves to reclaim their home of Erebor, the story evolves into one about loss of innocence and trying to maintain our own moral compass and sense of good despite the world succumbing to darkness. There are a lot of other stories in there for the sake of expanding on the Middle-earth lore, and it's very stretched indeed, but the heart of the movie is always there and it honors the themes J.R.R. Tolkien established in his original story all those many years ago.
What more about STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE has not already been said by vengeful STAR WARS geeks who have spent the last 20 years plotting the death of Lucas? This is not a good film. It's not even an admirable effort. A NEW HOPE had the cool Stormtroopers, a budding mythology, massive Death Star and the most badass asthmatic ever, Darth Vader. What did we get here? Trade Federations? The bad guys being frogs that have become bipedal but still can't properly move their mouths properly when they speak? Sure, there are one or two terrific moments, like the Pod Racing scene and anything with Darth Maul, but even the final, climactic battle is mostly a drag thanks to the juvenile buffoonery of Jar Jar Binks and Anakin. Oh, and don't even get me started on f**king midichlorians! We've all come to terms with the fact that this is simply the shittily-constructed, boring, downright angering bridge needed to get to the next movies, but my god, at the very least you could have creepy creature underneath the bridge asking riddles. Speaking of which...
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY gets a lot of flack for the same reasons the first LOTR movie does: It's long, features a lot of walking, moves at a deliberate pace. and has A LOT of walking. These aren't ridiculous gripes, and the material is more stretched here than in the first trilogy. But Jackson is still able to make the world of Middle-Earth a fascinating place to visit, recapturing the wonder of the pristine New Zealand landscape and showcasing a larger scale of fantasy with talking trolls, rock monsters and quirky goblins. And, yes, some scenes may go on for too long with tons of dialogue, but the cast is top-notch, especially Freeman as Bilbo, who is probably the best representation of a Hobbit among any of the LOTR films. In short (pun intended), though this journey may seem long and winded at times, at least it's a sight to behold and filled with characters worth rooting for.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES is mildly better than PHANTOM, with Lucas taking a hint from the Episode I backlash. More action, less Jar Jar, and much better visuals on display, which in large part is thanks to embracing the full potential of then-new digital filming. But the story is still a slog, continuing to focus heavily on Senate dealings and minute political details. Then there's the intro of adult Anakin in a legendarily mocked and creepy performance by Christensen. Stiff and whiny, we can thank the likes of McGregor and Oz as Yoda to give the movie a bit of pep in the performance field. CLONES is a classic example of when cool actions scenes don't mean diddly when the performances are a mixed bag and the story is a snore.
Though it still has some of the problems of the first film, DESOLATION OF SMAUG is easily the best of the three, venturing deeper into the darker parts of Middle-earth, and showcasing some of the best scenes of the trilogy, like the barrel riding scene and anything with Legolas and Tauriel. Going into this movie the main thing audiences around the world cared about was seeing the monstrous dragon Smaug, who was given the proper tease at the end of the first film. Jackson and Co. did not disappoint, delivering what may be the most impressive dragon ever brought to film. Terrifying in looks, of course, but what gave him life was the immaculate work of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who delivered an absorbing and fiendish performance, using motion capture and vocal work to capture the essence of the dragon. You can see him getting into character in the special features on the Blu-ray, and the man totally immersed himself into the role, his physicality, and vocals entirely symbiotic to create something so awesomely villainous. The scene with Smaug and Bilbo just goes to show you that even if it's one human and one, massive CGI dragon the best kinds of scenes need only involve two interesting characters in a room together.
Whenever I watch REVENGE OF THE SITH I firmly believe that this was the movie Lucas was envisioning when he set out to make the prequel trilogy. Obi-Wan and Anakin clashing; the turning of Anakin to the dark side; the birth of Palpatine as we knew him from the OT; Clones turning bad, etc. There are still glaring errors (Christensen!), but overall, SITH is a sci-fi epic with tremendous visuals that capitalizes on the power of the series' mythology. John Williams' score here is the best of the three movies; the action isn't just visually appealing but intense and emotionally engaging and; it's hard not to shed a tear or feel a wave of warmth during the very last scene, when Owen is holding baby Luke, standing on the mound and looking to sky.
The hope with trilogies like this is that the third and final entry is the best one and that the series is punctuated with incredible, epic action and emotional resonance. BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES has the former in spades, spending a good half of its runtime showcasing the massive battle, which gets almost no time in the book. There're Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, a wizard, eagles and Beorn in bear form ripping apart some baddies. Jackson sure did pull out all the stops. There is a sweet feeling to be had from the conclusion as well, but it's nothing compared to the final scene in RETURN OF THE KING, with Sam holding his new family, having just said goodbye to Frodo, and shutting the door to his Hobbit hole (The feels are real!). Maybe this is because HOBBIT didn't have as many characters we were completely invested in, at least on the scale and intimacy as LOTR. Plus, the story contained to ARMIES is nothing but the battle and the prelude to the battle, which isn't always compelling. It's not terrible, but it's the weakest of the bunch, and it's not helped by the occasional wonky VFX shots. Why they couldn't just have the real Billy Connolly in the movie instead of that CGI rendering of Biker Gimli I'll never know.
  1. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin (SITH)
  2. Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan (PHANTOM)
  3. Yoda vs. Palpatine (SITH)
  4. Pod Racing (PHANTOM)
  5. Yoda vs. Dooku (CLONES)
  6. Executing Order 66 (SITH)
  7. Luke and Leia are Seperated (SITH)
  8. Colosseum Battle (CLONES)
  9. Obi-Wan vs. General Grievous (SITH)
  10. The Birth of Darth Vader ft. "NOOOOOO!!!" (SITH)
  1. Bilbo & Smaug (SMAUG)
  2. Riddles in the Dark (JOURNEY)
  3. The Battle of the Five Armies (FIVE ARMIES)
  4. Legolas & Tauriel vs. Orcs on the River/Barrel Riding (SMAUG)
  5. Dwarves Battle Smaug (SMAUG)
  6. Smaug Attacks Laketown (FIVE ARMIES)
  7. Galadriel, Saruman & Elrond vs. The Nine (FIVE ARMIES)
  8. Smaug Attacks Erebor (JOURNEY)
  9. The Spiders in Mirkwood (SMAUG)
  10. Trolls (JOURNEY)
The movies may be severely flawed, but John Williams' work on the prequel trilogy is as remarkable as ever, expanding on the STAR WARS cache of sounds with sweeping scope and starry-eyed wonder. The scores are at their most iconic during climactic battle sequences, like when Qui-Gon and Obi are fighting Darth Maul or when Obi is fighting Anakin, creating a massive orchestration that's epic and intense. John Willaims and STAR WARS are a perfect pairing, and the prequels are evidence that even if the movies are letting you down, Williams never does.
Howard Shore's work on the HOBBIT movies is fantastic, much like his work on LOTR. The music for the trilogy is quite reminiscent of the OT, but with added whimsy underlying all three movies to accompany the more playful, fantasy angle (most notably in UNEXPECTED JOURNEY). But other than that there's not much to differentiate it from his work on the previous films, which is by no means a slight, but in this battle, it loses to Williams work on STAR WARS.
By the time REVENGE OF THE SITH comes around the visual effects are immaculate and go beyond what anyone watching PHANTOM MENACE expected to see. But outside of the final entry, the visuals don't hold up as well across all three movies. PHANTOM still has great shots, particularly involving outer space wide shots. But anything up close, like Jar Jar (or anything with the Gungans) and some environments look horrible and woefully dated. They got better and hold up well come ATTACK OF THE CLONES, but these movies came out at a weird time when VFX were still making their way to where they're at now, with movies like JURASSIC PARK still being relatively young, and with digital filmmaking still in its younger years. The result is that effects can either look great or horrendous and indefensible. However, though Lucas gets crap for favoring then-modern VFX over the practical magic that made the OT timeless, there is room for praise on the production design and makeup front. The interior of ships are well-crafted, and tons of characters are cloaked in detailed, imaginative makeup that either matches or goes beyond what we saw in the OT.
Much like the STAR WARS prequels compared to the OT, The HOBBIT movies use vastly more CGI when compared to the LOTR movies. This is seen best in the big battle sequences and motion capture work, like with Gollum and Azog. Though those characters look great, the big scenes don't always work, mostly so in BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES when there is simply too much chaos and human characters meshed against CGI backdrops. The first two movies look the best, and though there is lots more digital work it's hard to tell when we're in places like Rivendell or during the flashback scenes during the battle ar Moria, as the practical looks and CGI renderings are seamlessly meshed. Then, of course, there's Smaug and the halls of Erebor, which are gargantuan and wondrous, with Smaug having a jaw-dropping level of detail. Jackson doesn't dimish the beauty of the original movies by coating them in CG, opting to let the natural beauty of the NZ landscape shine when available. Overall, I felt like I was a truly modern update of Middle-earth, with only the occasional moment looking out of place or wonky.
The story of Anakin and the birth of the Empire may seem interesting on paper, but the execution left something to be desired (and the prize for greatest understatement goes to...). However, Lucas undoubtedly created an amazing universe with the first STAR WARS, and we see the prequels delve into the lore of it in ways we probably won't see in the movies for some time. For instance, we are transported to a world where the Jedi are prosperous; we see numerous new locations, like Mustafar, Naboo and Kashyyyk, the home to everyone's favorite Wookie, Chewbacca and; there are much more franchise favorites like Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and who doesn't want more Yoda and Ben? If anything, the movies proved that we want to see more of this world and its characters and that the prequels aren't really doing the best of them justice.
The Middle-earth J.R.R. Tolkien created is far more vast and complex than what we saw in LOTR or was contained in the pages of "The Hobbit," the first major work in the author's saga. Over the decades so much more has been written about the world, and the HOBBIT movies take from that lore (especially the appendices of "Return of the King") and use the story to expand on Tolkien's world. No, the original story of "The Hobbit" is not worth three movies, but Jackson and the screenwriters used the material to flesh out the characters and their stories where they could, particularly with Thorin, Azog and Gandalf, whose adventure to Dol Guldur was not detailed in the original book at all. This may seem like an excuse to make the movies into a trilogy, and therefore earn more dough, but there's truly so much in the Middle-earth lore worth exploring that feels at home in the HOBBIT movies.
Oscars (Total):
    Five Oscar Nominations, Zero Wins
Golden Schmoes (Total):
    15 Nominations, 2 Wins
Praise Money (Total, Excluding Re-releases):
    $1.12 billion domestic ($2.48 billion global)
Oscars (Total):
    Seven Oscar Nominations, Zero Wins
Golden Schmoes (Total):
    6 Nominations, Zero Wins
Praise Money (Total):
    $816 million domestic ($2.93 billion global)

I believe that when he set out to make the prequels, George Lucas started with the best of intentions and what he thought was a great story. Sadly the execution was WAY off base. Gone was the plethora of memorable characters, and vanished into thin air was the entertaining, absorbing story. If anything they have become so infamous that all someone has to say is "the prequels" when they want something to be synonymous with suckage. The HOBBIT movies are also not nearly as good as the previous LOTR trilogy, but they are far more respectable than the STAR WARS prequels. There's much about them that recalls the best of Peter Jackson's previous Middle-earth outing, like gorgeous visuals, an epic scope, and a swath of terrific performances, particularly from Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen. As well, a large thanks must be given the timeless source material from J.R.R. Tolkien, along with the massive amount of history he injected into the world. There are so many stories left to tell in Middle-earth, but maybe don't always make them into a 10-hour long trilogy, okay?



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