Hey, did you hear Hayden Christensen attended Star Wars Celebration in Orlando lart month. Yeah, I know, eye roll, right? Well, did you also hear his autograph pre-sale sold out in the fastest time EVER for a Celebration attendee?? And for $130 a pop at that. But yeah, EVERYONE hates the prequels, right? Wrong, and the quicker we all realize this the more we will all enjoy Star Wars.
There’s mounting evidence that not only the general movie-going audience but die-hard Star Wars fans do not in fact hate the prequel trilogy. Hayden’s appearance at Celebration and the reaction he received is but one example of our fandom opening up and rethinking their opinions of the oft-dismissed films in our beloved franchise. Oh, did you hear the very strong rumblings that the third standalone Star Wars story is going to focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi? Oh, and the part about Ewan McGregor coming back to play him? Yeah, that’s glaring example number two. Did you happen to see the design work in Rogue One? How about the prequel callbacks in that film? Yeah, I could go on and on, but quite frankly the notion that Disney is embarrassed by the existence of the prequel trilogy and are doing their darndest to try and bury them is far from the truth. Very far, it seems. I’m willing to go even one step further and say that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi will have a number of prequel callbacks – from design to (what I’m saying are probable) character appearances (yes, I’m referring to Obi-Wan and Anakin specifically, but I wouldn’t limit it to just them….), because he gets the truth that while flawed, the prequels trilogy is not only not bad, but pretty damn good. Why do I say that? Because he’s a fan, and he gets it. If you are going to tell a sweeping three film trilogy revolving around the Skywalker family (and yes, head of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy has very bluntly stated that the ‘saga’ films will always revolved around the galaxy’s most dysfunctional family) you are going to have to not only acknowledge the prequels’ existence, but work the mythology of them into the story you’re weaving, else it will fall flat. We all love The Force Awakens and are indebted to Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, and JJ Abrams for crafting a fun-yet-familiar film to reenergize the Star Wars fan base. However, the point I’m trying to prove here is that we as a culture have been pre-programmed to think the Star Wars prequels as a whole are total shit, and it’s not true. I believe we’ve all listened to middle-aged, butt hurt Star Wars ‘fans’ bemoan the films, the actors, and their creator so much we simply accept it as fact. It’s almost an urban myth at this point, and I think it’s time to call a spade a spade. Now, I’m gonna get longwinded, stay with me…
Let’s go back to May of 1999. Anticipation was at an all-time high for the first new Star Wars film in 16 years – Episode I, The Phantom Menace. With an amazing cast, George Lucas in the driver’s seat, and massive advancements in digital special effects how could the origin story of Darth Vader miss, right?? I still remember being at the very first Star Wars Celebration in Denver, Colorado, the first week of May that same year. We stood in super long lines in the pouring, cold rain for hours and there was not a negative vibe to be seen anywhere. Why? Because Star Wars was back and we knew, just knew The Phantom Menace would be the film we had been waiting our entire lives for. It was a very romantic time for Star Wars fandom, honestly. Very pure, full of excitement and optimism.
Fast forward a few weeks to the release of the film. As it turned out, it wasn’t as sure of a thing as we all thought. George Lucas, having not written or directed in a long time, was very rusty. Like very. The story seemed to veer from the swashbuckling Star Wars we grew up with into something about trade disputes and prophecies. And then there was Jar Jar Binks. The backlash from these things was overwhelming to me, honestly. Although I have to admit to being disappointed in The Phantom Menace, I hardly thought it to be the worst film ever, as many of my self-proclaimed Star Wars-loving friends had decreed it to be. To me, there were some very redeeming qualities in it. I liked the story, although even I will admit the execution and editing of the film left a lot to be desired, and subsequently detracted from how ambitious the story actually was. Liam Neeson was amazing as Qui-Gon Jinn, the Jedi Master who finds young Anakin Skywalker and sets him on his path to destiny. The design and special effects were next-level, and hold up today for the most part (better than many of the original trilogy’s effects held up after almost twenty years I might add..). Ian McDiarmid was awesome stepping back into the robes to and playing the dual-role of Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious (the actor actually reprised his role from Return of the Jedi, talk about great luck). And last but certainly not least. the lightsaber duel at the end of the film between Qui-Gon and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sith Lord Darth Maul was mind-blowing. It is still the best lightsaber duel in all of Star Wars, at least in my opinion. But alas, to twenty-and-thirty-something fanboys, critics, and wanna be critics the world over none of these qualities mattered. They turned on their beloved Star Wars quicker than I even thought possible, and much of that ire still holds true today. As we progressed through the final two movies of the prequel trilogy the films got better, much better in fact, but the perceived specter of The Phantom Menace hung over the films like the shroud of the Hundred Year Darkness…
The second film, Attack of the Clones, introduced us to an Anakin Skywalker in his late teens, under the tutelage of one Obi-Wan Kenobi (played masterfully in all three films by Ewan McGregor, so much so even the aforementioned fanboys can’t even hate on that). Anakin was being played by Hayden Christensen, an unknown actor with a James Dean-like quality. Again, the hype built, the fans were excited. Then when AotC was released, the tradition of fanboys and critics hating it continued. This time the criticism focused on Lucas’ clunky romantic dialog and the stiff performances of Hayden and Natalie Portman, who was playing Padme Amidala, Anakin’s love interest and the heroine of the prequel trilogy. I like Attack of the Clones, and still very much enjoy watching it to this day. The design was amazing, and some of the action sequences were next-level.
Then we get to Revenge of the Sith, the film we really had been waiting for our whole lives. The film in which Anakin Skywalker falls to the dark side, becoming Darth Vader. The film in which he and Obi-Wan have their duel on the lava planet we had heard to much about. The film in which Palpatine becomes the Emperor. And the film in which Luke and Leia – Anakin’s children – are born. And guess what? This film was awesome. Like really, really awesome. Still is. From the opening sequence (still one of the most breathtaking in all of Star Wars and certainly in the running for the best opening sequence out of all eight films so far) to the final duel between master and apprentice on the lava world of Mustafar, Revenge of the Sith delivered in spades. Hayden Christensen was good in this film too, selling us on Anakin’s dark and brooding side, all the while showcasing his struggle between right, wrong, and love. Ian McDiarmid was the man as well, delivering fully on all the promise of the sick and twisted Sith Lord turned Emperor of the galaxy, Darth Sidious / Palpatine. As was the case throughout the prequels, the design was gorgeous. Every single environment that the design team and ILM created for Revenge of the Sith was perfect, really adding to the overall enjoyment and immersion into the film and the world George had created for the prequel trilogy as a whole. Ewan McGregor once again was amazing, and honestly deserves much more recognition for his performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi in general if you ask me. But guess what? It STILL wasn’t enough to please the fanboys and critics….
As I mentioned above, I’ve thought a lot about this conundrum over the years (too much probably..) and I’ve simply come to the conclusion that people love to hate. One of the problems with Star Wars and fandom in general is the first generation of SW fans, the ones that saw the originals in the theaters, took way too much ownership over the films. There was absolutely no way the prequels would’ve or could’ve delivered on what we had hoped to get from them. And the crux of the hatred directed at these films is firmly rooted in this fact, in my opinion.
But something is changing, and that something is that the haters are getting older and much more silent, and the generation that grew up with the prequels being their introduction into Star Wars (at least in the sense that they were the first films in the saga they actually saw in the theaters) are now in their twenties and early-thirties. Another contributing factor to the hate of the prequels dissipating is the fact that most of the most prominent fan sites and YouTubers grew up with the prequels being their first in-theater introduction to Star Wars. I think this is a HUGE factor in the tide of public opinion beginning to turn in favor of a more positive opinion of the prequels in general.
In closing, do I think the Star Wars prequel trilogy is perfect? No, far from it. Many complaints are valid. Lucas’ direction, writing, and execution is far from ideal – especially in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. But the fact of the matter is that the prequels are very good films, and I stand by that. How we as a fan community give a pass to the special editions and bag on the prequels continually never ceases to amaze me, however, I’m glad to say that I can feel the tide turning. I recommend you sit back and give the films a fresh run through when you get a second, I think with fresh eyes you might be surprised by what you see.