I was nine when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. I had only seen the original three movies a small handful of times, and at that age I was only just beginning to evolve in to the geek I am today. All I knew back in 1999 was that it was a huge thing, and all the toys, books, and video games popping up in every store window proved that point.
My grandma took my cousin and I to see it one night and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was really cool after hearing about Jedi so much in the first three to actually see a whole bunch of them at the same time! Not that the Jedi council did anything except sit in a circle and talk, but still. They were Jedi! I thought Jar Jar Binks was hilarious (I’m going to receive death threats for saying that, I can feel it in the Force already) and Darth Maul with his double-bladed lightsaber was the most epic thing I had ever seen in my life. Shows how much of a movie buff my younger self was.
Pre-pubescent naivety as it was, I could not put two and two together that Darth Sidious and the Emperor were one and the same, and that Senator Palpatine, who I cheered when I found out he had won the election for Supreme Chancellor, was the Dark Lord of the Sith in political disguise. I could relate in so many ways to little Anakin Skywalker, because he was just a kid who wanted to escape a hot, boring life and be something really awesome and badass. I might even have still been in denial that this was the same genius boy who many years later would be encased in black armor admitting to Luke that he was his father. In fact, not realizing somehow that Episode I took place BEFORE those movies I thought that Anakin was Luke’s son. I had other priorities than paying attention to old movies, it seems.
Fast forward almost twenty years later and I don’t understand why people hate Episode I and it’s two sequels. The disgust in the Star Wars fandom for the prequel trilogy is almost as bad as the public reaction to Donald Trump on a daily basis. And yet the same fandom, which I recently cut myself off of for that reason, is in agreement that the Disney sequels are much, much better. I certainly don’t want to be a part of a fandom that has it all twisted around, but that’s another post entirely.
What exactly is wrong with I, II, and III? Jar Jar Binks is almost the first thing that mindless Star Wars geeks bring up when talking crap about the prequels. Like I said, I liked Jar Jar. He was a great source of comic relief, which is what serious movies of any genre need. C-3PO in the original trilogy was the provider of the humor back then, and since 3PO appeared only in a slight cameo in Episode I it was natural for Jar Jar to fill that role. As the droid had a much more prominent part in II and III, Jar Jar took a step back in the films. If anything, Jar Jar Binks should be considered a literary success story. To go from a bumbling, barely literate doofus in one movie to a wizened, mature leader of the galactic stage in the next is major character development, there. Not counting Vader’s fall, no other character in the Star Wars universe showed so much improvement.
Thematically speaking, the prequels were much greater than the originals. The main focus of the original trilogy was good vs evil. Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker. Tiny rebellion vs evil Empire. As all this was happening it was being peppered with classic sci fi tropes and cliches that George Lucas loved so much. In the prequels this was extended to a grand scale. The good vs evil theme was kept, extending to the Jedi Order as a whole against their hidden ancient enemies, the Sith. The Republic itself was fighting to keep itself together in the midst of a horrifying Civil War, and Anakin was busy trying to balance his fast-growing powers against devout Jedi beliefs and the various temptations around him. Episode III brought about it all to a climax, adding elements of brother vs brother, duty over desire, strength vs wisdom, and faith over desire. It is powerful storytelling, the likes of which has never been achieved in any other series of movies before or since. It is sad that most people refuse to see it.
Whatever people’s views on the Star Wars prequel trilogy might be, it still remains that they were again groundbreaking motion pictures, achieving the same type of impact and immortality as the three that came before. I, for one, will always consider them to be a major part of my childhood, being chiefly responsible for my dive into science fiction fandom helping me fall in love with storytelling and the realm of speculative fiction. And I know I’m not the only one…