In Defense of the Star Wars Prequels
(Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen the star wars movies, and you intend to, this article contains spoilers.)
Ever since George Lucas relinquished control of the Star Wars franchise, I’ve noticed a number of fans re-assessing both him as a creator, and the movies that caused the rift. Granted, the divide started with the special editions of the original trilogy, but I’ll designate that as a separate debate. But I wanted to note that the special editions hold a special place in my heart, simply because they allowed me to see the original trilogy on the big screen (I grew up in the 90s). I feel this is important to mention because Episode 1 was released in 1999, when I was 14 years old. Being more of a kid, and less of an angsty teen, I enjoyed the movie. So much that I returned the VHS copy twice because it had little blips that meant my copy wasn’t perfect (I had to have a perfect copy).
I think my favorite scene was probably the lightsaber battle between Qui-gon, Obi-wan, and Darth Maul. Particularly when Obi-wan has to step up and battle the sith on his own. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite lightsaber battles and it set off a long lasting love for Obi-wan as a character and Ewan McGregor as an actor. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Obi-wan from the original trilogy, but in those movies he was firmly rooted in the mentor role. Seeing him younger not only brought him closer to my own age (at the time) but it also reframed him as an exceptional side character. For all intents and purposes, Anakin and Luke are the main characters of the Star Wars movies, which means all Obi-wan ever was, was a supporting role. I’m not sure why, but seeing the extraordinary things he does, while not being the main character, has made him more endearing to me. Similar to Wedge from the original trilogy, who had the distinction of not dying in any of the space battles, despite not being Luke or Han.
My second favorite scene from Episode 1 was the pod race sequence. Not only was it a high adrenaline moment, but the special effects rose above the capabilities of the original trilogy. As a comparison, many of the ship explosions in episodes 4-6 were just that, explosions. The pod race really introduced us to ships that came apart at the seams. Pieces flew off, parts burnt out, and hunks of metal were sent spinning with the impossible momentum of these machines. They felt very real despite being total fabrications. And, in light of George Lucas admitting he is more of a visual storyteller than a writer, sequences like this make more sense and, I feel, deserve more appreciation.
If I had any issues with episode 1, at the time, I’ve since forgotten them. I was too young to recognize any racial stereotypes with Jar Jar or adequately judge the acting ability of Jake Lloyd. Interestingly enough, when watching the movie now, the thing that bothers me most is why Naboo would elect a 14-year-old queen (since later movies seemed to imply it wasn’t by birthright). But younger me would soon discover, as I got older, that the collective will of the fans would change everything.
Attack of the Clones arrived in 2002, when I was 17. By then, the episode 1 hate was in full swing and I was old enough to know about it. So I joined the mass of hopefuls going into episode 2 with a sense of optimism that it would be ‘better’. Never mind that I liked the first one, I still felt as if this one had to make up for it in some fashion. But, interestingly enough, Attack of the Clones is my least favorite of the prequel trilogy. I liked that Obi-wan got his trademark beard, and Anakin was old enough to be a jedi now, but a lot of episode 2 felt like exposition for a different movie, which it was. It served as a set up for episode 3 as well as two different clone wars television series. It had to explain how the clone wars started, where the clones came from, who would be fighting in the war, and why Anakin and Padme fell in love. The latter of which was probably the weakest part of the movie. This epic love story that birthed Luke and Leia felt like a hokey high school play. I almost feel like a one-night-stand would have been a better explanation than the awkward secret marriage they ended up with. That, and Jango Fett went out like a punk. To be fair, so did Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi, but come on, they’re mandalorians!
With all the things episode 2 had to do, it lost the contained arc format that we got from A New Hope and the Phantom Menace, instead opting for something similar to the Empire Strikes Back. And, while Empire is often touted as the best in the series, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite growing up. Had you asked me then, I probably would have said Return of the Jedi because of memorable moments like the Rancor battle and the Sarlacc pit. Plus I had an unusual fascination with Luke’s green lightsaber (it’s cooler because it’s green).
So, while I was disappointed by episode 2, I don’t think it had the kind of negative impact on me that episode 1 had on fans of the original trilogy. And I was one of the people who actually enjoyed the battle between Yoda and Count Dooku. It finally explained how older, seemingly decrepit, Jedi masters could still kick ass. This would set the stage for how Darth Sidious could be as formidable as he is, despite also being older.
Finally, Episode 3 was released in 2005, when I was 20. As with before, I entered the theater with the hope that this one would be better than the last two, letting fan opinion sway me more than my own. What followed is what I would describe as my new favorite Star Wars movie.
Now, Revenge of the Sith has its own issues. Padme’s sendoff is the first thing that comes to mind. There are so many better ways they could have ended the story of Luke and Leia’s mother, but instead they went with ‘she just gave up’. That’s oversimplifying it, but for a character that is supposedly as strong as her, to lose the will to live doesn’t make any sense. Sure her husband turned evil, but shouldn’t her motherly instincts be kicking in? Shouldn’t she want to live so she can protect them? And, of course, Darth Vader’s now infamous “Noooo!” was another low point.
But anyway, the great moments outweigh the bad. Standouts for me include the opera scene between Palpatine and Anakin, because of the not-so-subtle manipulation and Ian McDiarmid’s performance. The lightsaber battle between Anakin and Obi-wan (again my favorite side character shines). Darth Vader’s first breath, and the final shot on Tatooine that ties together the two trilogies. Part of the reason episode 3 works for me is because it serves as the climax for the entire Star Wars series. It depicts the creation of its most memorable villain, births the hero son that will save him, ends the clone wars and establishes the galactic empire. It finalizes the entire foundation upon which the original trilogy was built, which was no small task, and it does so while still delivering the visual flair the series is known for.
But, beyond that, it also represents the climax of George Lucas’s career. An older director circling back around to where he began. Unless something crazy happens, George Lucas will never make another Star Wars movie. And, while some might celebrate that fact, no fan can deny its significance. Considering the fictional and non-fictional weight placed on the shoulders of episode 3, it’s a miracle it didn’t collapse in on itself.
The reason that I decided to revisit the prequels is because I recently watched the Clone Wars television series, which originally aired on Cartoon Network. Say what you will about a 30-year-old man watching a kid’s show on Netflix, the show was an instant nostalgia trip. But, not for the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, rather it was for Anakin and Obi-wan. In case it wasn’t obvious, the prequels grew up with me. They followed me during those crucial stages of life that shape us into who we will become. Just like children of the 70s who grew up with the original trilogy. Now I’m an adult and a writer, trying to make my own stories that will have the same impact on others that Star Wars had on me. Older fans may disagree, but George Lucas inspired a whole new generation. He did for us, what he did for you, even if you didn’t always agree with it. Are the prequels perfect? Of course not; neither are the originals. But I, for one, am sick of the prequel hate. For the longest time, when someone asked me what my favorite movie was, I would say Star Wars. When they asked which one, I would say that I couldn’t choose. But that wasn’t entirely true. Fans demand you say Empire Strikes Back. But for me, my favorite will always be Revenge of the Sith. And I thank George Lucas for sharing those stories with us.