If you are anything like me you probably grew up watching Star Wars. You watched them over and over. You played them out with your friends on the playground. You imagined every flashlight in your house as a lightsaber. You had countless toys of the characters.
Star Wars shaped your ideas of what a movie should be.
Well, maybe it wasn’t that intense but I know this. If you were a Star Wars fan you were so excited when they announced they were making prequel films about the origin of Darth Vader. I mean we were all so ready to see how this iconic villain came to be the terror that we knew he would become.
I also know that many of us Star Wars fans walked out of a screening of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and thought “Oh no…they ruined Star Wars!” Because of that film and the ones that followed, many fans like to pretend the prequel movies don’t exist.
The prequels have inspired weird numbered viewings where you watch the movies all out of order to preserve things like the Vader reveal. Some people have even re-edited the movies to remove things like Midichlorians and of course our most hated Lucasfilm invention…Jar Jar.
For many of us the prequel films are a stain on the beautiful tapestry of film we hold so dear.
But I actually like the Star Wars prequels.
Before you take up your torches and pitchforks hear me out! I do want to preface with this: as a person born in 1988 I grew up on Star Wars retroactively through my father. That means I only ever saw Star Wars at home and not in the theater. That also means I was still a child when Episode 1 came out.
So it’s important to know I LOVED these films upon release, then as I grew up I began to tolerate them/hate them like most of us, but at some point I came back around to enjoying them and here’s how I did it.
Remember the Past–But Don’t Deify It
A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi. These are all great films. But they are not perfect. (Well…Empire might be but the other two? No.)
They are groundbreaking, yes. They are incredibly fun, well-paced films (which is definitely something the prequels didn’t do well) but they are not without fault.
Mark Hamill is not a good actor in Empire. He is whiny, obnoxious, wide-eyed, and childish. Much like Anakin, I find myself rolling my eyes at half of the things he says. The difference is this though. By the the time the prequels rolled around we had accepted and even come to love this kid we meet in the first film and when Lucas tried to replicate that KIND of character we recoiled because we already had that whiny, obnoxious, wide-eyed kid.
This is actually where the Star wars series gets in the most trouble. There is a mold here that works and when you stray too far you lose people (looking at you, Galactic Senate Scenes) but I think you also run into some trouble when you stay too on the nose. Some people even complained that Episode 7 was simply a new-New Hope and use that as a reason to hate it.
My point is this: a lot of things the prequels do wrong is trying to call back to tropes from the originals and either not doing it well or refusing to acknowledge that the fan base loves the originals too much to see it simply rehashed with new shinier effects.
Acknowledge the Capitalism Of It All
In a post full of unpopular opinions I’m pretty sure you’ll hate this one the most. But it’s necessary. The Star Wars money making machine has always been about the merch.
With that in mind, you have to look at the prequels as an extension of that. Here was a huge franchise that was trying to bring in the fans, yes, but that was also trying to make new fans. But these fans–just like the days of old–needed to become consumers of the product.
There were Phantom Menace toys everywhere. I remember getting them from Pizza Hut at one point. More lightsabers and little plastic trinkets than you could shake a gaffi stick at!
Lucas knew that if he could bring in a new audience and sell the toys that the money would be there and he succeeded at that for sure. I know that infuriates many of you. “But the integrity of the films! It’s making a mockery of a great thing”
Look…Lucas always knew merchandising was the key. Remember Ewoks? Do you? Honestly? No way those weren’t about kids and toys. Accept that there’s a part of Star Wars that exists strictly to sell toys and you can at least have a reason for some of the things you don’t like. (Again…we hate you you Jar-Jar)
Let the Prequels (and other new Canon) Inform Your Original Viewings
This one is a little weird but hold on. My favorite film as a kid was Return of the Jedi. Don’t worry, I’ve seen the light now and we all know the best one is Empire! But one of my favorite parts of Jedi is the scene where Luke, Vader and the Emperor are all in the same place.
The Emperor is trying to convince Luke to join him just like we know he did to Anakin. Having a scene in the prequels where the Emperor succeeds with Anakin informs my viewing of Jedi. I see Vader looking back and forth and I see him realizing that he is seeing what happened to him from the outside. I see (somehow, because you can’t see his face) his confusion, anger, and frustration with the whole thing. I see him becoming disillusioned to the power of the Emperor by realizing that he has been played.
This extends further when you let some of the comics that they have written into your mind. In the more recent Vader comics we see Vader trying to get rid of the Emperor as early as A New Hope. When he offers Luke the position to help him get rid of the Emperor I never believed him until I realized that he genuinely wanted to kill Palpatine.
By Jedi I think he’s given up on that idea and just wants to recruit him. But watching Luke be played by the Emperor is too much. He sees too much of himself in what is happening and–aside from seeing the Emperor trying to replace him–he is enraged at the whole charade he has lived in.
Remember, Palpatine told him his children were dead, killed by Vader’s own hand. It’s just not true and while Vader has known that for a long time, watching his son defy the Emperor inspires bravery where he thought he was too run down to fight.
Maybe I’m reading too much into all that. You could make the argument that the prequels should have been less nuanced and given us better character development so we wouldn’t have to work so hard to make it beautiful. But here’s the deal…they didn’t, and in some ways Star Wars is what you allow it to be.
Come on…it’s more Star Wars
Okay, time to wrap this up. Most of you probably aren’t on board and maybe I’ll never convince you but here’s the ultimate argument I have. The prequels are just more Star Wars than you have without them.
I love that they add some depth to the originals. I love that we get to see the Empire in it’s infancy. But more than any of that I just love spending more time in that galaxy far, far away.
Are they perfect? No. Do I think George Lucas got greedy and full of himself? Yes. But did I get to spend a few more hours with a story that shaped my childhood? I did. Not only that, but if I let them, they actually make the originals deeper and more rich.
So maybe you can be like me. Embrace the fact that despite their flaws the prequels are valid entries in the Star Wars universe. Accept that maybe there was always a part about the films that was less about the films and more about the toys. That on some level the franchise was always built to be a marketing machine and that doesn’t take away from the goodness but it does tell you why certain decisions were made.
Become a Star Wars glutton…for better or worse it’s all a part of the same recipe and if you quit trying to make it be something it isn’t you just might realize it’s pretty good. Not amazing..but at least it tastes similar.