Originally posted on matril’s LiveJournal page; I’ve edited the post down to the discussion about the prequels.
“Old Things Become New (Or Why The Prequels Make Everything Better)”
What I’m going to focus on here is what I love about the prequels: that they, in contrast, make watching the original trilogy even more enjoyable. I suppose here is where haters might suggest that their lesser quality makes the OT look so much better, but that’s not at all where I’m headed. I enjoy watching the prequels as a tragic tale in their own right, and I enjoy the original trilogy on its own. Putting them together, however, creates a richer, deeper, incredibly rewarding experience. Here’s why.
1. We see what was lost when the Empire took over. The galaxy of the OT is a harsh, constricted place in more ways than one. The aesthetics, the colors, the clothing and settings are stark, limited mostly to shades of black and white and brown. Everything is utilitarian, with only an occasional glimpse of beauty or color. Now I understand that this is something a lot of fans love about Star Wars, that it has a “lived-in” look, that there’s grit and dust and all that. But let’s just consider, honestly – is it somewhere you’d like to visit? Consider the settings – an unforgiving desert world, a planet of ice, a murky swamp, an armored space station whose only purpose is to deal out death. The only places that seem relatively hospitable are the jungles of Yavin IV and the forest moon of Endor, but those brief glimpses of lush green are in constant peril from the Empire’s incursions, representing the spark of life struggling to remain alight long enough for freedom to be regained.
But then we have the prequels. And they show us that the galaxy is gorgeous.
I don’t just want to visit Naboo. I want to live there. I mean, look at that. Imagine what the Empire’s work must have done to that beauty, especially considering it was the Emperor’s native planet and its peaceful ways were always vulnerable to attack. It makes the tragedy all the more tangible, knowing what was lost – and the drive for victory all the more meaningful, seeing what the Rebels are fighting to restore.
The same is true for the costumes, the architecture, the indicators of high culture. This was a mighty Republic at the peak of its power; prosperous, affording great luxuries to many of its citizens…and of course, dangerously decadent and complacent, which is how they managed to lose it all to the corruptive influence of a Sith Lord. If the galaxy looked the same before or after the Republic’s fall, then what’s the big deal about its fall? The contrast is deliberate and powerful.
2. Familiar tropes are turned upside-down. The prequels contain many parallels to the OT, but always with some surprising alteration. Anakin’s age in Episode I, for one thing. Since Luke as introduced on the verge of manhood, we probably assumed Anakin would be as well. Instead, he’s a wide-eyed, innocent child. In addition to setting the stage for Anakin’s future struggles – early separation from his mother, clashes with the Council’s long-established methods of training – it also helps us better appreciate Luke’s journey, and how his different position grants him the opportunity to make up for his father’s failures.
Another thing we learned in the OT was to associate the stormtrooper look with the bad guy’s endless hordes of evil henchmen. They’re basically faceless automatons. And how do they show up in the prequels? As clones, programmed from birth to serve the Republic. They’re fighting on the side of the good guys. When the Republic becomes the Empire, as far as the clones know they just keep doing what they’ve always done. But we will never look at them quite the same way again. They’re not merely a simplistic manifestation of the Empire’s power; they’re physical proof of the Emperor’s heartless evil, as he happily produces score upon scores of living beings who have no choice but to fight and die for him and him alone. He treats them like battle droids. We know better. Also, the little fact that they’re basically Boba Fett’s little brothers is a fun tidbit I never would have imagined.
3. Every meeting/reunion becomes so much more poignant. When Luke sees the hologram of Leia, and later meets her in person on the Death Star, we mostly assumed he was struck by her beauty. After ROTJ, maybe we considered that they had some kind of twin-vibe going on. But it’s after Episode III that these moments become most powerful. We’ve seen their birth. We’ve seen the brief moments they were together as babies, and then watched them get taken away to their respective adoptive homes. Twenty long years later, seeing the children of Padmé and Anakin reunite is so satisfying. Just knowing who the twins’ mother was, her passion and courage and kindness, gives their characters fresh significance, seeing how much of her lives on in both of them. And let’s not forget that Luke’s first glimpse of his long-lost sister happens in the exact same room where Anakin confessed his dark vengeful actions to Padmé. That dingy old garage becomes a place of destiny.
Vader and Obi-Wan’s reunion is heartrending. You get a tantalizing glimpse of their backstory if you just watch Episode IV, but how much more powerful to see their relationship grow, then deteriorate after Anakin’s fall, culminating in the tragedy on Mustafar – and then to watch them meet on the Death Star. Just imagine what must be going through their minds, how fraught that moment is. You know they won’t both walk away from this one either, but this time it’s Obi-Wan who willingly sacrifices himself.
And consider how much more tragic to see Alderaan destroyed when we know more about Leia’s adoptive parents, particularly Bail. We see clearly how a man such as that would raise a passionate freedom fighter like Leia, and we share her anguish so much more deeply as her home is lost forever.
Meanwhile, it’s pretty darn entertaining to see Yoda show up in Episode V if you’ve seen him as a wise, respected leader of the Council….sure, he’s testing Luke, but I’m pretty sure he’s gone a bit loopy after all that time alone on Dagobah. The contrast is a lot of fun.
4. New details offer clarity, and a number of surprises. When Obi-Wan and Yoda’s bodies vanish and they become ghosts, it’s easy to assume that’s just a Jedi thing. The prequels reveal just how rare it is – and we see Qui-Gon’s influence extends long past any explicit mention of him. Blue ghosts are even more miraculous than we might have thought.
When Yoda says Luke is “too old” to begin training, it sounds like he might just be searching for excuses. Then Episode I told us that Anakin, at age nine, was too old. No wonder Yoda was so resistant to teaching an adult! But Luke’s success tells us that the former Council’s methods weren’t necessarily infallible after all.
5. The contrast of Anakin’s fall with Luke’s triumph is such a thing of beauty. Though Anakin’s ultimate decision to join the Dark Side is one that, I hope, we cannot sympathize with, there is much in his preceding struggles that is highly sympathetic. He misses his mother, and deeply regrets that he was too late to save her from death. He longs for a life with Padmé and fights to reconcile that with his allegiance to duty. He fears losing her as well. He’s overwhelmed by the prospect of fatherhood. He feels under-appreciated and resents the Council’s distrust of him, turning instead to the pleasant flattery of Palpatine. None of this excuses his fall, but it makes us recognize how perilous it must be to walk the path of a powerful Jedi.
So Luke’s path is equally uncertain. Considering Anakin’s fall arose from a fear of losing the ones he loved, imagine how terrified Obi-Wan and Yoda must be when Luke is gripped by those same fears, flying recklessly off to Cloud City to try to rescue his friends. And failing spectacularly. Vader, we realize, laid the trap for him precisely because he knew how powerful the fear of loss could be. He knew it would draw Luke to him like nothing else could, because that’s what happened to him. His claim to Luke in ROTJ that Dark Side is “the only way to save your friends” makes a lot more sense when we see how Palpatine lured Anakin to the dark. And Luke’s refusal to give in to hate is glorious, shining a light so bright it casts away the shadow that has enveloped Anakin since his fall. Knowing the innocent child he used to be makes his return so much more poignant.
I’m sure there’s much, much more. I appreciate every detail more each time I watch the saga. At the end of it all, watching the prequels makes me even happier when I watch the originals afterwards.