There is plenty to dislike about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, including but not limited to Jar Jar Binks, podracing, stilted dialogue, and the sort of creepy relationship between Anakin and Padme. However, on this May the Fourth I’d like to throw some love toward the oft-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. While these films are inferior to the original Star Wars trilogy and even the newer films, they do contain value and enjoyment that should not go unrecognized.
- Palpatine’s manipulations:
- One of the best parts of the prequel trilogy is witnessing how Palpatine became the all-powerful Emperor we first met in Return of the Jedi. His transition from senator of Naboo to Supreme Chancellor of the Republic to Emperor of the Galactic Empire is impressive, but what’s most fascinating is how he manipulated the galaxy in order to make his ambitions a reality. For example, the Naboo-Trade Federation conflict which is basically the plot of The Phantom Menace is entirely engineered by Palpatine in order to become Supreme Chancellor. Many pan The Phantom Menace and there are valid reasons to do so. The narrative seems too tied down by specifics of trade routes and trade law. But that’s sort of the point. When sent to negotiate with the Trade Federation, Qui-Gon Jinn remarks that “I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this trade dispute.” The conflict is supposed to be complicated in confusing and even tedious ways as that’s part of Palpatine’s plan, tricking the galaxy into focusing on these details and falling prey to his schemes while failing to see the bigger picture. Qui-Gon senses this idea but not the specifics.
- If you re-watch The Phantom Menace seeking to understand every facet of Palpatine’s plan surrounding the Naboo-Trade Federation conflict and how it’ll allow him to become Supreme Chancellor, the movie becomes infinitely more intriguing and complex. Not only does Palpatine manipulate both sides of the conflict but he also has to readjust his plan several times due to unexpected resilience and success from Queen Padme Amidala, her allies, and their retaliation against the Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo. This does not negate the less favorable aspects of the movie such as podracing and Jar Jar Binks. Yet, watching The Phantom Menace through the lens of understanding every step of Palpatine’s manipulations does make the movie better than you realized. The same holds true for Attack of the Clones. Engineering the Naboo-Trade Federation conflict catapulted Palpatine into the position of Supreme Chancellor. In Attack of the Clones he engineers the Clone Wars and manipulates the Jedi Order, Republic, and the Separatists. Such manipulations provide payoff and consequences for the major events in the prequel trilogy’s best film Revenge of the Sith such as Order 66, the emergence of the Galactic Empire ruled by Palpatine as an all-powerful Emperor, and the rise of Darth Vader.
- Fresh elements that enhance the rest of the Star Wars universe:
- Despite the faults of the prequel trilogy, one can’t deny the imagination and freshness it brought to the Star Wars universe. These films showcase the Jedi Order at the height of their power, a critical piece of the Star Wars universe that no longer exists by the time of the original trilogy and the newer films. Seeing numerous Jedi running around with lightsabers and engaging in epic lightsaber battles is awesome to behold. Beyond lightsabers, calmer scenes like Yoda teaching the younglings in Attack of the Clones provide unique insight into the philosophies of the Jedi Order and how they were put into action. The same holds true for Jedi council meetings and conversations between individual Jedi. Scenes such as these help us better understand Obi-Wan and Yoda and their interactions with Luke in the original trilogy.
- In addition, the prequel trilogy introduces planets like Coruscant, Kamino, and Mustafar, all beautiful to behold and unlike any Star Wars planets we’ve seen before or since. All play a critical role not only in the prequel films but in other pieces of the Star Wars universe. For example, one of the most exciting connections in Rogue One is seeing Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar, a thrilling connection only made possible by the events of the prequel trilogy.
- As creepy as the Anakin-Padme relationship is at times, it is a fresh and actually very literary approach to romance in the Star Wars universe and serves as a key foundation of Anakin becoming Darth Vader. Check out this blog post to better understand the thinking behind the Anakin-Padme relationship and why it actually works better than you thought: http://www.thegeekblock.com/455/
- The lightsaber duel and final meeting between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope is already incredible but the prequel trilogy provides further insight and understanding that makes the scene even more powerful (largely thanks to Ewan McGregor’s incredible performance as a younger Obi-Wan). This is yet another disappointment of The Phantom Menace that it barely provides any development between Obi-Wan and Anakin. The development of their relationship only occurs in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
- The prequel trilogy explains many of the original trilogy’s unanswered questions including but not limited to how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, how the Galactic Empire formed and Emperor Palpatine came to power, the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi before Anakin became Darth Vader, how the Jedi Order went from prominent galaxy-wide guardians of peace and justice to only Obi-Wan and Yoda in exile, the story behind the mother of Luke and Leia (Padme) and her relationship with Anakin. Part of the problem is that most of the answers don’t come until Revenge of the Sith, easily the most exciting and emotional of the prequel trilogy films. Fascinating as Palpatine’s manipulations are, it’s still a bit much of a slow-burn development in the prequel trilogy’s first two films. Yet you need the events of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and every step of Palpatine’s manipulations in order for the consequences and answers in Revenge of the Sith to make sense.
Ultimately what prevents the prequel trilogy from standing alongside the original trilogy or even the newer Star Wars films is that they fail to capture the motif of the unordinary individual becoming extraordinary. The journey of unlikely heroes is critical to the heart of Star Wars. The original trilogy gave us a whiny farmboy who became a Jedi Knight integral to defeating the Empire and bringing balance to the Force, and a self-centered smuggler who became a general and hero of the Rebellion. The Force Awakens gave us a lonely scavenger and desperate ex-Stormtrooper who dared to stand against the First Order. Rogue One gave us a reprogrammed Imperial droid with a sarcastic sense of humor and a blind man clinging to belief in the Force despite the overwhelming oppression throughout the galaxy and near-extinction of the Jedi. Both individuals, along with several others, sacrificed themselves and everything they had to get the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. Such journeys from unordinary to extraordinary resonate with audiences, most of whom leave mostly unordinary lives.
In the prequel trilogy the main characters are already extraordinary when we meet them. Obi-Wan is already an accomplished, wise, and powerful Jedi. Padme already rules a planet through a nature both fierce and graceful. Even as a young boy Anakin is already extraordinary through his unparalleled connection with the Force, already making him a masterful pilot and mechanic.
The chemistry-fueled humor is also lacking in the prequel trilogy. Despite heavy drama, the original trilogy and newer films contain humor that feels very human and is driven by the incredible chemistry between the characters. The Phantom Menace doesn’t really have any of this as the humor revolves around the annoying Jar Jar Binks. Attack of the Clones just really doesn’t have any humor, the worst part being that watching Yoda duel Count Dooku is probably the most humorous part of the movie. Revenge of the Sith finally provides the chemistry-fueled humor with the dynamics between Anakin and Obi-Wan during the Battle of Coruscant, helping to start the best of the prequel trilogy on a high note.
I definitely like the original trilogy and the newer films more than the prequel trilogy. However, I truly believe that the prequel trilogy does contain a lot of value, enjoyment, and serves a critical role in Star Wars canon.
May the fourth be with you. Always.
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