Eps IV-VI delivered some surprises for those who saw the films as they were released. When the prequels were in production, some naysayers wondered how a set of films with a predetermined ending was going to have anything surprising. But the prequels certainly delivered some curveballs of their own.
10. The connection between the Fetts and the clone-eventually-storm troopers. Forget recent retconning a moment and think back to a time when Lucas originally conceived of Boba Fett as a Stormtrooper gone rogue. There was certainly an intention to connect Boba Fett’s roots with that of the Empire’s men in white. But this background info wasn’t at the forefront of my thinking when I first saw AOTC. Of course it would make sense to clone a ruthless killer into an army of them eventually meant to take out the Jedi Order.
9. Chewbacca the Clone Wars veteran. I’m not surprised per se that Lucas finagled a way to sneak in crowd favorite Chewbacca, but it was surprising to me he was an active part of the Clone Wars and that he and Yoda had met.
8. Padmé The Original Cougar. This is a little thing but in Hollywood, usually the man is the cradle-robber (see Han Solo). It’s almost unheard of for the female love interest to be older than the guy.
7. Anakin wasn’t the first Jedi to go bad. I had thought prior to the prequels that no Jedi had ever really turned evil (Tales of the Jedi comics notwithstanding) until Anakin became Vader; Count Dooku proved me wrong.
6. Artoo knows everything. Poor Threepio got his memory wiped at the end of ROTS or at least was about to, but apparently they let Artoo be since he can’t talk and spill the beans. Who knows how many times Artoo was beeping and booping “Hey, Luke, that guy is your father” or “Dear God, that’s your sister!”
5. The not-so-perfect Jedi Order. Obi-Wan/Ben Kenobi sure had his rose-colored glasses on when he regaled Luke with the past glories of the Jedi Order. Well, we didn’t exactly know that until the prequels came out. The Dark Side had clouded the vision of the Jedi, plus several centuries’ worth of peace, respect from the galaxy’s citizens, and no real threats to the order kind of made them complacent and stuck in their ways. Yoda kvetched about arrogance among the Jedi. Their entanglement in the Clone Wars chipped away at their values and left them completely vulnerable to attack from their “troops.” The Sith took over the galaxy right out from under their noses. They completely mishandled Anakin. Need I go on?
4. The brutality of Order 66. We all knew the fall of the Jedi would factor in here somewhere but when the time came, ROTS didn’t hold back. Not only are beloved cult characters killed off onscreen, even children are not spared.
3. Anakin’s mystical origins. I don’t know what I expected from Anakin’s background but his “virgin” birth and his destiny as the Chosen One meant to bring balance to the Force surprised me. The OT gives no indication that Anakin was particularly special beyond his abilities as a pilot and as a warrior. One could say (retroactively) that Yoda and Obi-Wan had given up on the prophecy or they didn’t want to puff up Luke’s ego in a way that would make him dangerous to train. But this revelation not only raises the stakes for what Anakin meant and for his salvation later on, it establishes the Skywalker lineage as distinctive and important. Bonus points: it’s matrilineal. Who knew a humble slave woman would be the matriarch of this clan of awesome?
2. Troopers were once good guys. I admit, this was a pretty shocking thing to see in AOTC. I was so used to associating guys in white armor with the villains, it was surreal to see them fighting alongside Yoda.
1. Darth Vader turned to the Dark Side for love. Ever since it was known Vader was a fallen Jedi, observers of the saga had wondered what exactly turned him from just another Jedi to the galaxy’s second most evil guy. Fear, a craving for power, and anger sure did factor into it but what generated those emotions? As it turned out, it wasn’t a crazy ambition to be king of the galaxy, a desire for money and a big mansion full of bikini-clad groupies, or anything banal like that. It was for a human and entirely understandable reason: to save his beloved Padme from death. I never would have predicted anything like that in 1977.