This is the inaugural post for a new series, What We Love About The Prequels. Inspired by the panel at Celebration V, this is your chance to tell the world what you love about Eps I-III!
To kick things off, here’s What I Love About The Prequels…
In No Particular Order…
1. They took what you thought you knew about the Star Wars myth and challenged them
There’s no better metaphor for the prequel trilogy than the opening shot of AOTC, where it seems as though Senator Amidala’s ship is flying straight but you realize it’s flying upside down, then it descends into a fog on Coruscant. The shot seems to say, “You think you know Star Wars? Just you wait and see!” What we thought was bad once had its origins in good, and what we once thought as impeccably heroic was flawed. It’s not an easy trick maintaining the truth of what’s good and what’s evil while recognizing the gray areas, but I thought the prequels pulled them off beautifully.
Moreover, the prequels got me to see certain characters in a totally new way. If you hopped into a time machine and found me in say, 1980, and told my 10-year-old self that I would have a mad fangirl crush on “Darth Vader” and I would find him sympathetic and endearing, I would have thought you were nuts. Especially if you had told me you traveled in a time machine from 2011.
2. Lucas could still pull a fastball even though We All Know How It Ends
Prior to TPM’s release, I’ve heard/read wags complaining that there couldn’t possibly be anything interesting in this trilogy, because we know Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Ah, but we didn’t know the hows and whys, and those were the fulcrum of Eps I-III. Among those hows and whys were some genuine surprises. Who knew the Geonosians designed the Death Star? Who figured the clones would originate as allies of the Jedi? Or that Vader’s downfall would be love?
3. The Jedi and The Sith
The prequels offered a look at the Jedi at the height of their power and at the precipice of losing everything. The Sith were at the ascendancy of their own power as the Dark Side grew stronger and the Jedi grew weaker. The lightsaber fight scenes were at their most dynamic in this part of the saga, and for good reason. It makes you realize how much had been lost in a time when the Sith had become complacent ruling the galaxy and when the only Jedi left were out-of-practice masters and a hastily-trained 20-something boy. Sure, Old Ben could still take care of a drunken bar patron and Luke did pretty well for a guy on a crash course, but think of how High Midichlorian Count Jr. would have done had he been trained from birth?
4. Anakin and Padmé
The love story is one of the most consequential relationships in the saga. Not only is it the primary catalyst for Anakin’s fall, the whole Republic and Jedi Order go with it. It costs Padmé her life. And yet, without it, there’s no Luke or Leia. No one to save the galaxy from the Empire or Darth Vader from himself. The poignancy of it all has touched millions of fans. And who can’t resist a couple of pretty people snogging each other at the most scenic locations on the most romantic planet in the GFFA? Not me!
While we’re at it, I appreciate how Anakin became humanized as not really a monster at heart, but a good person with a troubled life. It’s not just teenage emo stuff, it’s an unflinching examination of how someone with even the best of intentions could go so horribly wrong. I recently made the point elsewhere that there’s a tendency in popular culture to either romanticize evil or spackle over it. Lucas does neither with Anakin. Even after all that he does, there’s a vulnerability at his core. I guess it’s because Anakin’s evil comes from something human and very understandable. Who wouldn’t want to save a loved one from death? Who wouldn’t go postal, to use a ‘90s term, on a tribe of murderers?
5. Palpatine, You Magnificent Bastard
The ultimate villain you love to hate and hate to love, Palpatine is as evil as it gets. Yet you can’t help but admire how good he is at what he does. Palpatine prefers to use his cunning over raw displays of power, utilizing the latter only when absolutely necessary. He’s a master manipulator, effortlessly steering the other characters where he wants them to be on his chess board. When Luke tells Palpatine his overconfidence is his weakness in ROTJ, the prequels help you understand why. You would be overconfident too had you been able to play the Senate, the Jedi Order, the Chosen One, his former queen, Count Dooku, the Trade Federation, etc. the way he did.
6. Clones Rock
Once upon a time, the guys in white armor weren’t just red shirts absorbing blaster bolts issued by the good guys. They once bad mo-fos who fought bravely in battle and when the time came, practically decimated the Jedi Order. Allies one minute, lethal enemies the next. And they’re the genetic replicants of Jango Fett. How cool is that?
7. Fabulous New Characters And Planets
The prequels introduced several more characters to the Star Wars pantheon, characters who quickly developed their own following. I can’t imagine it now without General Grievous, Qui-Gon Jinn, Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Mace Windu, Dooku, Shmi, Padme, or Jar Jar. Or, for that matter, characters who weren’t necessarily new but we got to see more of or in their younger incarnations, like Bail Organa.
Thanks to more money and even better special effects, we got more planets to visit: Naboo, Mustafar, Kashyyyk, Coruscant, Kamino, Utapau, and Geonosis.
The more I watch these movies, the more I appreciate Ewan McGregor’s take on Obi-Wan. It’s not easy to step into the shoes of a highly venerated actor and play a very famous role, and yet make it your own. But he pulled it off. A few years ago, I watched ROTS and ANH back-to-back, and I could completely buy that Alec Guinness was once the guy who fought Darth Maul. It’s amazing to me how well they match up, even though they are played by different people decades apart.
Even though I am an Anakin fangirl who still hasn’t forgotten that Obi-Wan 1) left Anakin to die a horrible death and 2) later tried to manipulate Luke into being a patricidal assassin, the prequels do get you to empathize with him. After all, it wasn’t his fault Anakin got dumped in his lap just moments after becoming a knight.
9. Imaginative Design
It appears that in showing the waning glory days of the Republic, Lucas wanted to give these movies an opulence Eps IV-VI didn’t have. The set design, whether physical or via computer graphics, was phenomenal. It’s still astonishing and criminal to me that Trisha Biggar never earned even a nomination for her amazing costume design.
10. John Williams
While Williams did not have the opportunity, for whatever reason, to come up with as many original tracks as he did for Eps IV-VI, what he did create was just as memorable and amazing. The prequels gave us “Duel of the Fates, “Across The Stars,” “Battle of the Heroes,” etc..
11. Lucas having the guts to make the movies his way
You have to respect someone who insists on putting his own stamp on his work, and not just trying to appeal to either studio big cheeses or the internet movie nerd peanut gallery. So what if they find it too childish, too corny, too this or that, and not “cool” enough? Lucas instinctively understood that Star Wars’s primary—and best—audience are kids, and kids don’t mind Jar Jar at all.
Yet, Lucas did not shy away from uncomfortable themes and ideas either. He understood kids can handle those things through the prism of myth, fairy tales, and folk tales.
12. Lucas staying true to the original roots of his saga
Since I’m old enough to have experienced the saga from the beginning, it was fun to see tidbits from older script drafts, the ANH novelization, concept art, etc. end up in the prequels. Character names like Valorum and Mace Windu were finally used. Boba Fett was originally supposed to have been a rogue stormtrooper; his connection became genetic with the prequels. We got Anakin/Vader’s fight with Obi-Wan in a volcanic location and Vader’s injuries from burns. That stuff had been talked about as far back as 1977-78. Lucas’s first ANH script had young boys flying around in “devil flyers.” That became Anakin flying around in a podracer and in a starfighter in TPM. One of Lucas’s earliest ideas was to make Leia 12-14 years old; her age was eventually bumped up but Lucas returned to that idea with a 14-year-old Queen Amidala.
13. The Clone Wars wouldn’t exist without them
Without the prequels, we’d never have known Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, Asajj Ventress, or Cad Bane. And we wouldn’t have a great show to watch every Friday night!
14. They made the first set of Star Wars films even better
By giving an already familiar story a fresh take and greater context, the prequels made their predecessors that much more intriguing and poignant.
15. Well, it’s Star Wars!
If it has John Williams’ score, ILM’s effects, lightsaber duels, action, adventure, romance, and moments that surpass the usual in “popcorn movies,” it’s Star Wars, no matter when it was made.
Want to share what you love about the prequels? Send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will post it right here! My only requirements are 1) no profanity/vulgarities and 2) no but-monkeys (“I think the prequels are great, BUT…”). I don’t care what you don’t like about them. Tell us what you DO like about them. I reserve the right to edit for spelling, grammar, and clarity. Your response can be as long or as short as you like.