The Star Wars prequel trilogy is often remembered for its disastrous special effects, horrible writing, and the atrocity that was Jar Jar Binks. And yeah, it should be remembered for these things, but I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to the trilogy. Hiding beneath distractingly bad elements are some of the best political dramas out there. The prequels are all about painting a picture of a world of corruption and lies, and the best part about it is when it all comes crashing down in Revenge of the Sith.
As the Emperor’s plot unfolds, we can see how deep Palpatine has his roots in the Galactic Republic and how impossible it is that he will be unrooted before his evil plot unfolds. We find out that the Jedi are too blinded by pride to defend the realm they are sworn to protect. It’s genius, really. Thanks to the originals, we believe that the Jedi are good and confused as to why they aren’t around anymore. So when we are introduced to the Jedi’s corruption, greed, and selfishness, we are shocked as we are forced to watch the downfall of a once honorable organization with good intentions. And the Jedi’s greed isn’t obvious either. They don’t fight for money or glory, or evilly rub their hands together while smirking. Instead, we see their evil when they separate Force-sensitive children from their families. We see their evil when they refuse to change their ways for the better. We see their evil when they keep secrets for their benefit or when they’re wrapped up in an unnecessarily long and violent war.
What helps build the world of the prequels even more is the television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The Clone Wars reveals the war that occurs between the second and third film installments, and we see the consequences firsthand in greater, more devastating detail. In the series,x we get to visit Separatist sympathizers and discuss viewpoints with them, see how more worlds are affected by the war, and how a violent war turned children into soldiers too soon. Truly, every Star Wars fan should watch The Clone Wars, which make the prequels even better.
But, I digress. The prequels tell the origin story of one of the most iconic and feared villains in film history, while simultaneously telling the story of the collapse of a well-defined society and its moral and respected peacekeepers. When you look at the prequels through this lens, which many forget because they expect and want more of what the originals gave them, you can respect so much more. George Lucas was able to create two trilogies that are intricately connected but very different in genre. I implore you to watch the prequels without the expectation of more films like the original trilogy. You will be able to appreciate the story so much more.
The prequels add doubt and shine a negative yet societally realistic light on characters revered in the originals. In The Empire Strikes Back, we meet a wise yet a little crazy Yoda, who seems to know all there is to know about the Force. But when we meet him in the prequels, he is a bureaucrat who is too swept up in war and politics to face the looming threat right under his nose. It’s clear that he learned from who he was, and we can even see him start to undergo this transformation at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan as well is less blinded than Yoda, but still bound to the bureaucratic Jedi Order, far more so than Anakin. Obi-Wan’s story is tragic. He loses everything he loves all in one movie, and he is powerless to stop it. In theory, Obi-Wan represents the best the Jedi Order could be. He is honest and loyal to the Order and its ways, but he can disobey if he sees fit, though not as quickly or eagerly as Anakin. He is a balanced Jedi in power, yet privy to the downfall of an organization he dedicated his entire life to. All of his friends die, he has to fight his brother (who betrayed him), and he must live with the guilt of being a survivor. We could have never imagined such an in-depth backstory from the scenes of an elderly Obi-Wan in the originals. He is given so much more depth and emotion, and all of that characterization adds to the originals, too. It makes everything so much more emotional.
The prequels could be considered a fictional version of our society. We are all easily manipulated and ultimately somewhat powerless to stop events like the overthrow of our republic. We can listen and learn from the prequels and keep a stricter eye out. We can double and triple check who we are looking to for policing or moral guidance, and we can try our best not to be blinded by our own arrogance. One of my favorite lines from Revenge of the Sith (there are so many) is as Chancellor Palpatine is given emergency powers and the Senate crowd roars, Padmé, a Galactic Senator and total badass, says, “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause.” Societies can fall, and with the stories of the originals, they can even be reborn more just.
In conclusion, the prequels are home to horrors like Jar Jar Binks and poop jokes, but over the course of three movies they give us a relevant and engaging story of a society, its moral corruption, and its eventual downfall. So, please give the prequels a chance because they really are brilliant.
Featured Graphic by Liz Schwab/ Heights Editor