I have gone through a fascinating journey with the Prequel Trilogy. Like probably a good 50-70% of the site and maybe Star Wars fandom in general, I grew up in the era of the prequels. They were not necessarily the movies that got me into Star Wars but they were the big talk of the town and like many kids from that era I grew up loving them. Then over time I went back to watch them and I found I hated them and now they live in this interesting area where I think they are simultaneously overrated and overhated.
At their core just looking at them from an idea standpoint? They had so much potential. I love the idea of giving Darth Vader’s sacrifice more weight by seeing the man he once was and how he was seduced to the Dark Side. Seeing the Clone Wars even for a moment was really cool as was seeing the prime of the Jedi and all these new interesting worlds that are being created through digital effects to show just how far technology has come and where it can go in the future. Where the prequels really falter is in their execution which is very clunky at best and overcomplicated and nonsensical at worst.
The worst of them are The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones which to me are pretty interchangeable in how badly they’re done because they suffer from so much bloat. At its core, it works to an extent, we see how in TPM the Jedi operate at their prime and how they’re resolving what appears to be a normal dispute in the galaxy. It then quickly goes to hell and keeps escalating until we get the big battle at the end which reveals the Sith have returned and we get the beginnings of Palpatine’s rise to power. AOTC continues the story and shows how Anakin’s corruption is starting to shape him, we get more hints that something more sinister is developing and we get the reveal of what will become the Empire and ROTS is the culmination of Palpatine’s plan and the death of Anakin Skywalker. But the movies go out of their way way to either be painfully slow and dull with scenes that waste time and dialogue that often just restates what they’re already doing which also is written and sounds like it’s being done by robots who want to understand the hu-mans or so overloaded with unfunny slapstick that it makes you wonder if Lucas forgot he was making an epic space opera. They also commit the big prequel sins by making unnecessary connections that just don’t need to be there just because some of these elements are in later movies. Now I’m not one of those people who says the prequels have to be able to be completely enjoyed in chronological order and thus should have no connections at all. They were designed for a world that knew Star Wars already so some connections should be expected but some of the ones they incorporate are so baffling. Anakin building C-3P0 is completely unnecessary to the story, the pod and him being shown in Watto’s shop do a lot to imply this kid is genuinely great with tech already, him being stated to have built Threepio gives us really no new information but also it draws a tenuous connection between two characters that did not have one before and did not need one. Just because you can add more information doesn’t necessarily mean that info is important nor does that mean you should do it. We don’t need that Chewbacca knows Yoda. Can I buy he’d meet a Jedi at least once in his life? I absolutely can and I don’t think it ruins the OT having Han not believe in the Force but to meet Yoda, the Jedi Grand Master? That’s a step too far.
I also really do not care for how it right away makes Anakin so important to this universe. Now the Chosen One angle I’m personally fine with. Various religions believe in various ideas and some of them include prophecies like this so I can buy that the Jedi actually would buy into this one. The problem is them leaning so hard into the idea that this is actually true with Anakin being born via virgin birth and even comments after the fact that state his sacrifice in ROTJ is fulfilling that destined prophecy. To me there is enough emotional weight just in the idea of a broken man who has been lied to and manipulated his whole life by the most evil being in the galaxy being motivated to redeem himself and lift himself out of the darkness because where everyone else said he was far too gone and after years of coming to accept this is just what his life is now, his son saw the good in him and even turned off his lightsaber in spite of how easily he could’ve killed him, like he recognized that he was making the same mistakes he once did and decided not to repeat them. Now though? Now the Skywalkers suddenly have too much importance to this whole galaxy. It’s no longer a case where we just so happened to spend a story focusing on this family, suddenly they are the most important family to ever live because the matriarch is almost Space Jesus and now Luke doesn’t just have a special history, he now has the most special history out of anyone. It takes his story about being just a regular farmboy who yearns for adventure that grows into becoming a noble hero who saves the galaxy and really strips it of ironically what made it special by trying to make it more special. Top that off with the reveal of the Midichlorians which just serve to overcomplicate what was an easy to understand mystical system that revolved around belief and accepting another point-of-view with the only things that limit you being how attuned you are to the Force naturally and your own mental blocks and it turns Star Wars I feel into just a standard fantasy tale or like a bad D&D game.
Really what the prequels needed to do was simplify. For instance, if they really needed a Fett in the movies? It would’ve been easier to just have Boba Fett as a grown adult and have him live through AOTC. You don’t need Dooku and Grievous, Maul should’ve been the main villain through all the films. Threepio? He either was a droid Anakin repaired or he’s just with the Republic since it would make sense for a translator droid to be present. They also really should’ve tightened up Anakin’s story, AOTC and TPM I feel you could combine to a degree with changes to make a better Episode I, ROTS can be altered to be Episode II as this is where we get some of Anakin’s brightest and darkest moments just maybe without the end of the Jedi and him becoming Vader and then III can just be all about his disillusionment and how he is on the cusp of becoming Vader. I know in some ways this would negate TCW and some of the EU content but that’s where the biggest issue of the PT rears its ugly head. It isn’t that the PT is just so massive that it required more content to flesh it out, it’s that these movies were made so overcomplicated and focused on so many of the wrong things that other storytellers had to refocus the story to make it coherent. TCW shouldn’t have had to be the series to make Anakin’s fall believable, it should’ve been a fun piece of side-content that fleshed out the universe for those who wanted that while the PT gives us the major beats. As it is though the PT is so bloated and lacking in central focus that honestly you’re better off reading a summary of what happened, watching the battles and then TCW and leaving it at that for your prequel era visit. And I know George had very specific intentions for these movies and I have no problem with that. It’s his story, he obviously should be allowed to do what he wants and I get why a lot of people really love the prequels. I’ve seen and read analyses by many that cover what makes the prequels great to them and they’ve certainly helped me to enjoy them more during rewatches and I think that’s great. But I can only appreciate so much before I notice the poor execution staring me in the face.