I know, I know. Midichlorians! Hayden Christensen! Jar Jar Binks! Oh my!
The Star Wars prequel trilogy is much maligned by fans, casual filmgoers, and virtually anyone who knows even a little bit about Star Wars. There’s even a critically acclaimed documentary, The People vs. George Lucas, that showcases Star Wars fans’ antipathy for the saga’s creator — mostly due to their reception of the prequel films. Many hardcore Star Wars fans grew up with the original trilogy — going to the theaters to see Star Wars before it became Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was like a spiritual awakening. And so, when they finally watched the prequel films, they felt personally betrayed and enraged that it was not at all like the Star Wars of their adolescence.
The Star Wars of my adolescence are The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. At the ages of nine, 12, and 15, respectively, I grew up with Star Wars — just as George Lucas intended. The prequel trilogy’s chief demographic are children and teens. They’re not aimed at adult, universe-knowledgable fans. If only adult fans could awaken their inner child, they would be able to enjoy the prequels for what they are — kids’ movies.
It is disingenuous to say that my adolescent experience with Star Wars is lesser than the ’70s-’80s adolescent experience with Star Wars. As it is also disingenuous to say that those growing up with The Clone Wars series are having not lesser, not-as-good-as-my experience with Star Wars. Frankly, it’s bullshit.
The Phantom Menace is a children’s movie. If you accept this, then it’s not that bad. It a children’s movie for precocious, erudite kids that inexplicably enjoy political intrigue as well as flashy costumes. If you accept this, then it’s fantastic! (Guess who was one of those kids?) Queen Amidala is a teenager and an elected queen of a planet — if she’s not a positive female role model in sci-fi, I don’t know who is. Darth Maul is a mysterious, menacing (natch) villain with a double-bladed lightsaber. Darth Maul’s fight with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi is the acrobatic lightsaber duel of a geek’s dreams — especially set to John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates.” As for the midichlorian debacle, I don’t mind the scientific explanation for the Force. It doesn’t really explain all that much about the Force — the Force remains a mysterious, well, force. As for Jar Jar Binks, you’ll see no excuse for him from me. I may have found him mildly amusing when I was nine, but now I loathe the sight and sound of his grating, downright racist face and tongue.
Attack of the Clones is a teen romance film. Anakin Skywalker, now a grown young man, falls in love with the future mother of his children, Padme Amidala. As a twelve-year-old boy-crazy nerd, Attack of the Clones was the most perfect movie I had ever seen. You mean a sci-fi movie with monsters and droids can also be an ethereal love story? Sign me up! Trisha Biggar’s costumes are even more spectacular. Hayden Christensen’s brooding gaze distracts (me at least) from his less than stellar performance. And hot damn, we get to see Yoda fight Dracula!
Revenge of the Sith is an objectively solid action film that everyone needs to re-watch. Yes, the dialogue in Revenge of the Sith is lacking — “Anakin! You’re breaking my heart!” — but the narrative and action sequences are solid. Space battle in the opening sequence? Check. Spaceship romp with robot battles? Check. Multiple Jedi boss fights? Triple check.
The most significant part of Revenge of the Sith for me is the heartbreaking reveal that Darth Vader isn’t so important after all. Lauded as the Chosen One in Episode I and II and feared as the Sith Lord enforcer Darth Vader in Episodes IV, V, and VI, Anakin Skywalker is but a pawn in the Emperor’s master plan. He’s a talented, complicated, whiny man, who crumbles under the pressures of being a Jedi, a son, a husband, and a father. The deconstruction of such an elusive figure is fascinating and ambitious. Perhaps the mystery surrounding assumed bad ass Darth Vader is more interesting to other fans than the explanation. But it’s not like the hints of Darth Vader’s dependency on the Emperor and his fall from grace aren’t evident in the original trilogy. Darth Vader doesn’t command the respect of the Imperial forces until after he force chokes a bunch of them. From the Chosen One to an Emperor/Governor Tarkin crony, Darth Vader’s story is made all the more dramatic and tragic with the inclusion of Episodes I, II, and III.
We think Darth Vader is a bad ass because he looks and acts like one. In reality, he’s the shell of a man, who has failed his trial by fire. It is only later that he is redeemed by the triumphs of his son and daughter. It’s in the reveal of Darth Vader’s failures that we can truly appreciate the weight of Luke and Leia’s successes.
Obviously, I have a lot of feelings about Star Wars — it’s part of being a fan. My main point is that one fan’s feelings on the fandom they love should be just as valid as another fan’s differing opinions. Are Episode I through III the greatest films of all time or even the greatest Star Wars films of all time? No, but I love each one in their own way.
The Star Wars saga is far from over. Perhaps in the context of the upcoming trilogy, all nine films will be accepted as a magnum opus that started from George Lucas’ mind and finished in the hearts of geeks throughout the galaxy. Regardless, Star Wars fans will continue to rage and argue for the rest of eternity — and that’s okay.