I know. The title of this article alone has made your blood boil.
Who in their right mind could defend those movies? The continuity errors? Jake Lloyd? The horrible chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen? Jar-Jar Binks?
Sure, the original trilogy did a lot of stuff wrong, but sometimes I think the fandom can be a bit hard on those films. Despite it all, there are some good things that make the prequel trilogy very important to the Star Wars saga. Stick with me here, okay?
Let’s start with something pretty easy. The original trilogy was limited by the technology of the time. So while lightsaber fights looked like this in A New Hope:
…newer technology allowed the prequels to offers us pretty awesome lightsaber fights like this one in Phantom Menace:
…and this one in Attack of the Clones where we even got to see Yoda kick a little bit of ass:
So plot, acting, and chemistry aside, the prequels were able to visually reach a level that the original trilogy never could because the technology simply wasn’t there yet. The prequel trilogy got to not only display crazier fight scenes, but the scenery and landscapes shown in the films were leaps and bounds beyond what we see in the original three (I’m not going to talk about the atrocity that is George Lucas’ “additions” to the original three–that’s a whole different can of worms). If nothing else, the prequel trilogy is just a lot more visually stunning than the original trilogy.
Of course, there is much more to a film than looking pretty, and the prequel trilogy had incredibly giant shoes to fill. Most of us had fallen in love with Star Wars as children, and we were coming into the prequel trilogy as teenagers or young adults. We were a bit more cynical, and though we were all excited for the prequels, our expectations were incredibly high. You could argue that Lucas’ attempts to make lightning strike twice with the exact same formula on an audience who had only grown more jaded and cynical since their first viewing of the original trilogy doomed the project from the start. I think if we had come to Star Wars for the first time as kids with Phantom Menace, we’d feel a bit more fondly towards the prequels.
Of course, that isn’t the only thing that makes the prequel trilogy tough to defend. One of the big problems with the prequels is the story behind the trilogy isn’t as action-packed as the original three. It’s incredibly important, but it isn’t necessarily heart-pounding, which turns fans off. Lucas spent a lot of time explaining Anakin’s back-story, his role as “the chosen one”, what it meant to be a Jedi, and a bit more of the journey a Padawan went through as they became a full-blown Jedi. To see that, we had to walk with Anakin as he trained to become a Jedi. For instance, while it wasn’t always particularly thrilling to watch him explain to Padme why he couldn’t marry, listen to lectures on metachlorians, watch Ani awkwardly “flirt” with Padme in a flower field or argue with Obi-Wan, Anakin’s journey as a Padawan is a key part his character development. It also explains how he becomes one of the best super villains ever in the original trilogy. So while learning Ani’s back-story wasn’t as thrilling as a light-saber fight or a dogfight between space ships, it greatly enriched our understanding of the characters.
Beyond exploring Ani’s back-story, Lucas also spent a great deal of time talking about politics in the empire. Straight up, politics is pretty boring–especially when you are expecting explosions, blasters, and light sabers. Padme, for instance, spends most of her time trying to defeat evil in the political realm rather than as a blaster-wielding rebel like Leia. That by no means is a knock on Padme–all of her work in the political sphere is spent trying to keep peace, avoid war, and stop a rebellion. Padme is also more than capable of wielding a blaster, and we see her literally fighting for survival in the trilogy. However, the “period of civil war” we see in the original trilogy hasn’t yet happened, and Padme was doing everything she could to find a nonviolent, democratic solution to the unrest. Leia, on the other hand, is smack in the middle of the Empire’s oppression, and after losing her entire home planet, the level of violence she feels justified using–and has to use–escalates pretty quickly. Sure, Leia’s efforts are more action-packed, but Padme’s lay an important legacy while showing us the tumultuous road that led to the events in Episodes IV, V, and VI.
Like I said, I am by no means trying to tell you the prequel trilogy is perfect. Jar-Jar Binks is incredibly annoying (that’s a scientific fact), there are issues of continuity when it comes to plot points in the original and prequel trilogies, and Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s chemistry did fall terribly flat. However, the prequels manage to lay a pretty solid foundation for the original trilogy. Love it or hate it, you can follow Padme and Anakin’s relationship from hopeful beginning to tragic end and totally understand the progression of the relationship (this fan theory on the cause of Padme’s death makes everything make a lot more sense as well). Anakin’s journey from young boy to Sith Lord also makes sense–and even if Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones weren’t your jam, you have to admit that Hayden Christensen did a pretty good job representing The Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith. The original trilogy had a tough job of laying plot foundation and back-story. It’s not as exciting, and it isn’t as fun as the story of rebellion, heroism, and sacrifice we see in the original trilogy, but it does help Star Wars fans get a better picture of the entire universe we love so much. So while A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi will always be my favorite of the original six, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith will always be a vital part of the Star Wars saga. They help paint a complete picture of the struggle between the Dark Side and the Light, the Jedi and the Sith, and the Galactic Empire and democracy. The fact that the Star Wars saga can span six movies alone–without mentioning the cartoons, the Expanded Universe, or the new films–shows that the saga is a rich one. Every piece of it is vital to making the dynamic, vast story that we all love from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Now, Lucas’ new digital additions to the original trilogy? Those are just horrible. No question.
What do you think of the prequel trilogy? Love it or hate it? Do you think it adds value to the Star Wars saga or detracts from it? Let me know in the comments!