Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy was vilified when it was originally released, being a far cry from the quality of Jackson’s previous The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The films still performed very well at the box office, but fans have never embraced The Hobbit films – that is, until now. Much like the Star Wars prequels (Episodes I, II, II), The Hobbit is beginning to undergo a process of re-evaluation as some fans are beginning to say “Well, actually, The Hobbit isn’t that bad,” and the catalyst has been the release of Amazon’s Rings of Power.
Given that Tolkien’s work has an absolutely huge fandom, it is possible that it will follow a similar trend that the Stars Wars fanbase is on. To understand the treatment that The Hobbit is receiving, it is helpful to know what happened to the Star Wars prequels.
How The Star Wars Prequels Got Their Groove Back
When the Star Wars prequels began their journey to reappreciation, two main factors were at play:
- The kids who grew up watching the prequels became adults and began to reflect fondly on the films of their childhood.
- The Star Wars sequels (Episodes VII, VIII, IX) had upset fans upon their release, once again causing people to think fondly of what came before.
From “the prequels stole my childhood” to “at least the prequels were about something,” it was clear that a new enemy had appeared, and it wasn’t very good either.
The backlash to the Star Wars sequels focused primarily on a lack of direction from the series as it jumped from goal to goal. Episode VII: The Force Awakens was essentially a soft reboot of Episode IV: A New Hope to regain fan confidence and support in the franchise after the severe backlash of the prequels. People complained that it was the same film as the original, but found plenty to enjoy regardless, so things were going well. Once Episode VIII: The Last Jedi released, the goal was to take the franchise to new places. It left a divided fanbase. Some people liked the film, some people called it the worst thing since the prequels thanks to significant changes in the themes and characters that fans called a “betrayal” of what Star Wars was supposed to be (see changes to Luke Skywalker, and the general theme, “let the past die. Kill it, if you have to”). Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker only rubbed salt in the wound as Lucasfilm, the studio behind the films, didn’t commit to the trajectory set by the previous entry and backtracked to make a messy, inconsistent, and ultimately unsatisfying ending to the trilogy that didn’t know what it wanted to be in the first place.
When the prequels released, there was nothing redeeming about them to many fans – see the video below. Now, people praise Star Wars original creator, George Lucas’, central idea to the whole prequel trilogy – the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of the Empire. The trilogy had a clear goal.
That’s just part of the reason for the revival of the prequels (another is the significantly large meme community – we’ll get there), but the fundamental reason is nostalgia. Fans who were children at the time of release grew up not knowing or caring about the hate the films received, they just enjoyed more Star Wars. Those kids are now adults who jump for joy when Anakin says he doesn’t like sand (some even going so far as to explain and justify the line), or cry when Order 66 is called.
This positivity isn’t because the films were secretly masterpieces all along, instead it’s people focusing on what was done well and making light of what was done poorly. The prequel’s, shall we say, unique writing has provided memes galore and this renewed interest has left fans who were adults when the prequels were released scratching their heads. The Star Wars fandom is large and varied.
The reappreciation effect isn’t just present in the Star Wars films. Do a quick YouTube search on almost any generally disliked film from the 2000s and you can find someone arguing that it “wasn’t that bad, actually.” It’s partly due to general nostalgia movements that tend to occur every 10-20 years, the 70s did it with the 50s (Happy Days, Grease), the 90s did it with the 70s (That 70s Show, Dazed and Confused), and so on. We are currently going through a 2000s nostalgia movement. The Hobbit films aren’t quite there yet (coming out in 2012, 2013, and 2014), but they are on the cusp of a revival, and it’s been sped along by a poor reaction of sections of the Lord of the Rings fandom to Amazon’s The Rings of Power.
The Hobbit Revival?
Amongst fans, it has become fairly common knowledge that the Hobbit trilogy was marred by a troubled production. It was created by studio mandate with Guillermo del Toro set to direct just two films, but at the final hour, Peter Jackson, was brought on to make three films. Jackson was underprepared and the film suffered as a result of a rushed and messy production. This is as succinct as the issue can be made but there are fantastic videos and documentaries about the production if you want a far more detailed explanation.
The Hobbit films were not as critically maligned as the Star Wars prequels. It could be argued that had they had not followed the critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy, they might even be considered fine blockbusters. Alas, we cannot know that. What we do know is that The Hobbit films were considered God awful by a large group of fans and it has stayed that way until recently.
It may be too early to say that the Hobbit is receiving a nostalgic moment just yet, but the seeds have been sown. Rings of Power, a television series set in the same universe as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, has been met with both acclaim and hate in what has turned out to be a very divisive show. Some blame the quality of the show itself, some blame more nefarious reasons such as the backlash to diverse casting. Whatever the case, The Hobbit, all of a sudden, isn’t so bad in comparison to some fans. Much like when the Star Wars sequels came out.
A few commenters (on the above meme) have stated that as long as you either skip or “turn your brain off” for specific sections of the films, they are actually good. This kind of thinking has created a four-hour fan-edited version dubbed the “Maple cut.” Fans have said that this cut reveals that there is a good Hobbit film within the trilogy, and it was the studio’s meddling that caused problems. Not only are there fan edits, but there are also apologists claiming the films are as good as they could be given the strained context of its production.
Does this mean it will be getting the prequels treatment? Not quite, but it isn’t unlikely either. There are a significant number of fans who enjoy Rings of Power and who unequivocally believe it is far superior to The Hobbit. Many other fans simply don’t like either. The fanbase is large and varied with hardcore Tolkien scholars, casual fans of the films, and book fans, all with diverse opinions on The Hobbit and Rings of Power.
Interestingly, many criticisms hurled at Rings of Power can also be hurled at The Hobbit. Being true to the lore of Tolkien’s original works is something both struggle with (even Jackson’s Lord of the Rings struggled with this at times, but that isn’t a conversation the internet wants to have right now). The Rings of Power is a very loose adaptation of Tolkien’s work given that Tolkien wrote little about the Second Age, the time period in which the series is set. Similarly, The Hobbit is a very short children’s book stretched out to three films with many additions in place in order to fill the runtime: Legolas appears, a plethora of new characters such as Tauriel and Azog, events present which didn’t occur within the book, and the list goes on. It is hypocritical to dislike the Rings of Power for these reasons if you enjoy The Hobbit films despite these reasons (you can dislike RoP for other reasons). So why is The Hobbit “better.” Time and nostalgia.
One element may render this argument pointless. The Star Wars prequels were bad in a very unique way that one struggles to put into words, you just have to see them. They are weird. Some creative decisions are mind-boggling, but as a result, they are interesting. If there is one thing you can say about the prequels, is that they are interesting to talk about. The Hobbit? It’s competently made to the point of blandness and if it weren’t set in Tolkien’s world, it wouldn’t be discussed much at all.
Are there interesting things to discuss about The Hobbit? Yes and no. The Hobbit doesn’t have anything that is amazingly weird like strange/awkward line deliveries of the Star Wars prequels. The Hobbit films are competently made Hollywood products. They aren’t particularly good Hollywood films, but they are competently made so much so that a great deal of its criticisms you could apply to any average to bad Hollywood blockbuster (too much CGI, unnecessary additional romances, additional subplots etc.). What is interesting about it is how it was made by the same people who created the Lord of the Rings trilogy but failed.
These films will inevitably be re-evaluated, but they won’t get the prequels treatment because they aren’t strange enough to make memes. It might be strange to say that, but it was the community discussing the prequels that created a nostalgic re-evaluation. Memes were just one aspect of this, but it allowed people to enjoy the prequels despite the flaws, and even turn those flaws into something to enjoy. No longer are Star Wars fans rolling their eyes during a poorly written conversation, they are smiling at its corniness. The Star Wars prequels have unique dialogue that is almost begging to be turned into a meme. The Hobbit films don’t really have that. Of course, there are memes within the Lord of the Rings franchise, but they hardly compare in number and influence of the Star Wars prequel memes.
The Hobbit films will continue to be discussed and will always have its fans and detractors, the fanbase is too big not to. Whether they can be semi-ironically enjoyed like the prequels is another matter and one that doesn’t seem likely, but they will always be enjoyed by sections of the fandom. There will be sections of The Hobbit fandom who grew up with the films and will enjoy them as they age – many of those children who did will now be in their 20s or late teens so it makes sense that a wave of nostalgia would occur now or soon.
Rings of Power, despite its contentious nature, will likely undergo a similar process when the next “worst thing” in the franchise comes out. We love nostalgia and the benefit that a lot of these big franchises have is time. People won’t forget about these films/series due to the big franchise they are attached to. According to Star Wars fans, there hasn’t been a good Star Wars movie since the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V, VI), and yet all the films, regardless of their quality, appear in conversation. The same can be said of Middle-earth.
Even legends need a modern touch.
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