It’s no surprise that there are countless Star Wars fans in the world today, a fact made even more apparent as Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered records during its theatrical run.
I am one of those fans, and have been since I was a small child watching the original trilogy on VHS. Today I have decided to put that fandom to the test by taking on a mountain of a task- defending the Star Wars prequels.
You read that correctly. I intend to defend the Star Wars prequels – The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Now one thing you need to understand before I continue is that I am in no way a fan of the prequels. I found them to be disappointing and a missed opportunity. I have had countless conversations with friends (a healthy portion of those with my partner in crime David Rose) about what could have been done differently with the prequels, from ideal casting to story and character choices.
However, I am not in the camp that completely loathes the prequels, as some Star Wars fans are. And so, instead of focusing on the negatives of the prequel trilogy, as so many including myself have done, I would like to look at the positives that came from them. We can all agree that they are far from what we expected, full of odd story choices and inconsistencies with the original trilogy, not to mention acting, writing, and production missteps. So just take a second and gather up all of those negative thoughts you have about the films and put them in a box, then take that box and go bury it outside for the duration of this blog. It’s ok, I’ll wait.
Ready? Let’s get into it.
That face you make when you hear a prequel complaint for the thousandth time.
First off, the story of the prequels isn’t terrible. During the time the prequels were out, I read almost any Star Wars novel that was released and I had been for many years, from Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy to Michael A. Stackpole’s I, Jedi and everything in-between. When the official novelizations of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were released, I bought and read them immediately. The thing about novelizations are that they are typically written based on an early draft of the script, so there are bound to be minor discrepancies, and that makes it a bit confusing as to which is truly canon. But, the important thing is that I enjoyed those novels more than the movies. They were devoid of clunky acting and the overabundance of CGI found in the films. Just taking the story on its own, with some small tweaks, and the prequels aren’t that bad, which tells me that the fault lies more within the production of the films than the actual plots themselves.
One big thing these films undoubtedly do is provide some hearty backstory to not only the original trilogy, but one of the most pivotal characters in those films- Darth Vader. Yes, some of the writing and acting were very questionable, especially when it came to Vader’s original identity, Anakin Skywalker, but if you take away the specific dialogue and acting and simply look at the story and the plot points, Anakin’s fall from grace makes Darth Vader in the original trilogy that much more dynamic and his ultimate redemption even more meaningful. Prior to the prequels, we didn’t really know a whole lot of Vader’s story, but thanks to the prequels we see him as innocence corrupted by power and hate. He had a wife he loved, a friend he trusted, and in the process of his downward spiral, he lost both. Forget about the lame Anakin “Yipee” Podracer, or Anakin “I Hate Sand” FaceWhiner, and instead think of him as a kid that fell into incredible power who unwittingly succumbed to the manipulation of an evil mastermind.
Speaking of that evil mastermind, these films also give us the rise of the future emperor of the galaxy- Sheev Palpatine. In the original trilogy we knew even less about him than we did Vader, making him a rather one-dimensional villain. Basically, he was a man with absolute power who sought to maintain it but in the prequel-verse we learn he was just a politician that came across as a normal, likeable guy to most people and with hardly anybody being aware that he was really a powerful Lord of the Sith. Palpatine is a man that started a galaxy-wide war that lasted for years, costing countless lives, all in the quest for power and the extermination of the Jedi. In a story vaguely reminiscent of Julius Caesar, he used war to gain control of the senate under the guise of stability, becoming an emperor until his closest ally betrayed him. Et tu, Vader?
“Jedi are stupid jerks, am I right?”
Speaking of Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi is easily the best protagonist throughout the prequels. He is grounded, calm, reasonable, supportive, likeable, and a little unconventional at times. It also helps that Ewan McGregor displayed some hearty acting chops and worked well with the dialogue given to him. Additionally, seeing his relationship with Anakin and their ultimate falling-out adds more weight to their fateful meeting in A New Hope. And that’s really the best thing the prequels did for the original trilogy- add depth and history, showing us how characters ended up where they are and how the galaxy came under the rule of a robe-wearing prune.
Another wonderful thing the prequels provided was an improvement on the lightsaber duel. The original trilogy didn’t exactly have the most masterful choreography; it was filmed well but the movements were rather basic and static comparatively. The Phantom Menace provided us with the menacing (pun intended) Darth Maul wielding a double-bladed lightsaber, because why the hell not? And who did they cast as this horned Sith? Ray Park, a talented martial artist, which made it easy for them to choreograph an impressive, fast-paced, and fun-to-watch lightsaber battle. This style of fighting carried throughout the prequels, giving us a plethora of lightsaber usage, both in duels and against armies of droids, showing us just how wonderfully this weapon can be wielded. Included in these duels are two instances of Yoda battling a Sith lord, displaying an unexpectedly quick and acrobatic style of fighting that was pretty cool to see at the time.
However, even with all of that, arguably the best thing that came out of the prequels isn’t even in any of the films themselves. Thanks to the prequels, we received not one, but two fantastic animated series based around The Clone Wars. Whether it was the Genndy Tartakovsky series that came first, Star Wars: Clone Wars, or the later Star Wars: The Clone Wars, both have a lot going for them. Tartakovsky’s series utilized the sleek 2D animation style of another show he created, Samurai Jack, and consisted of a number of shorts that filled the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but whether or not it is considered canon is debatable.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars aired for five seasons, with a sixth completed as a Netflix exclusive.
On the other hand we have the second Clone Wars show, which utilized a 3D animation style, consisted of six seasons, and is undoubtedly part of the canon. This show primarily followed Anakin, his apprentice Ahsoka Tano, and Obi-Wan as it covered The Clone Wars. Even though this may appear as a kid’s show at first glance with the animation style and healthy dose of lame kid humor, this gives us some of the darkest and most emotionally impactful material within the prequel-verse. It even rights some of the wrongs from the prequels by giving us a more likeable Anakin who doesn’t come off as whiny and annoying. Even with the Jar Jar moments and weak humor, this series delved into some interesting and dark territory for a show like this, telling some great stories that I think any Star Wars fan can enjoy. In my opinion, this show is far superior to the prequels, however it couldn’t have existed without them.
Whether you hate them with the burning intensity of a thousand suns, or love them as much as the original trilogy, the fact remains that the prequels happened and there’s no undoing that. We have to accept that they are part of the story of Star Wars and provide a backstory for the original trilogy. So instead of spending time griping about what went wrong with the prequels, embrace the good that came from them, whether it be fun lightsaber duels, added depth to certain characters from the original trilogy, or the wonderful Clone Wars animated series. We all know they were flawed. That is undeniable. I am not trying to say they are great, I merely wish for more people to embrace the positives that came from them instead of constantly tearing them down.