In the months leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens I was frequently asked how excited I was about the film. I always answered this question with hesitation, but not because I didn’t know my state of mind. I went from answering “cautiously optimistic” in the early days to “so eager to see this movie I can barely stand still” as opening night approached. No, I raised an eyebrow at the question because the person asking would often wait for my reply and then utter some version of, “I want to be excited, but you know what happened with the prequels.” I heard it again and again in various tones. I heard it so regularly it got to a point where I couldn’t keep my eye-rolling on the inside.
I like the prequels. I love certain scenes. Sure, I recognize they contain snippets of cringe-worthy dialogue, unlikable characters, and some sloppy execution. But overall, they contribute to the Star Wars universe in meaningful ways and provide a foundation for the original trilogy to build upon. They added context. They revealed a bigger galaxy, and by doing so made you consider the stakes and consequences of the Empire’s eventual control. They showed what happens when well-intentioned, good beings became so righteous that they lost sight of their true purpose, and they showed how a galaxy paid for their mistakes. The story of the prequels enriched the saga.
But people don’t seem interested in those points when they discuss them. When The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith come up in conversation, I wait for the uncreative cracks about Jar Jar Binks, the snark about midi-chlorians, and all the typical negativity people pour upon those three films. I should make a bingo card. If I’m feeling energetic enough, I’ll wait for the right moment and bring up the important concepts and themes the prequels explore (and sometimes fumble through). It becomes a courtroom; I’m a defense attorney, and the prequels are my client. A lot of the time, I don’t have it in me. People who bash the prequels with enthusiasm usually aren’t people who want to hear my rehearsed argument—even if I’m merely trying to point out the redeeming qualities of the movies and not trying to convert them.
We all have different opinions. I’m not here to bring people over to the prequel trilogy camp. I just want them to look at the bigger picture. I want to know they’ve thought about the films and aren’t parroting the sentiments that come up in so many articles about Episodes I-III. I’m happy and willing to dive into a deep discussion with anyone who goes past the superficial complaints because debating Star Wars is on the list of things I love to do, but it doesn’t usually get there.
The prequel trilogy has so much to offer. For me, it’s all about witnessing turning points. You can watch decisions, good and bad, lead to the fall of the Republic and the Jedi. Though there are clear watershed moments we can see as the audience and we know where the story ultimately goes, the prequels had an element of suspense. They introduced us to a seemingly mild-mannered Senator Palpatine and painted him as unbelievably skillful and patient manipulator. They gave us a more complete picture of the Jedi—surprisingly, a picture that wasn’t necessarily a favorable one. We watched the wise peacekeepers of the galaxy go to war, a fuck-up so monumental the repercussions are still affecting planets from Coruscant to the Outer Rim nearly half a century later. They revealed the history and evolution of Anakin Skywalker and the extreme impact a single being’s fear can have on the universe.
Little moments added color and spirit while radiating emotion. Qui-Gon Jinn dropping to his knees during the duel with Darth Maul. Palpatine telling Anakin about Darth Plagueis in the opera house. Jar Jar doing what he believed was right by supporting Palpatine. Obi-Wan screaming “You were the Chosen One” at Anakin, voice full of anger and despair. Yoda hobbling into the room to face Count Dooku before leaping into battle like an agile, youthful frog. I could go on.
I haven’t made a list of all the scenes in the prequels for the purpose of evaluation. I haven’t put them into excellent, mediocre, and terrible categories to see which column has the most tick marks. I don’t need to. The delicious dishes the films add to the table at the Star Wars feast are important to me; I don’t mind that some of them were undercooked or burnt.