The title is a lie. There’s many things wrong with the prequels, but solely from a directorial perspective. Otherwise, they’re remarkable film undertakings and speak to the passion George Lucas had for this franchise. Try looking up the novelizations of the movies, which are comprised only of Lucas’ plot, and see how highly-rated they are. Indeed, many on the internet seem to not get that a film can be directed poorly, but still tell a brilliant and nuanced story, and that’s what this post exists for: the brilliance of the Prequels. Because I shall be talking about the films’ own merits, I will ignore Expanded Universe information. Let us start.
The Jedi Code
There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force.
In the original trilogy, how did Luke save the galaxy? It was not through eschewing trying to kill his father as Obi-Wan and Yoda wanted (more on this later), but through loving his father. Because Luke loved Vader, he was able to reignite the man inside the machine, and helped Vader fulfill his destiny of bringing balance to the force. Luke went against the Jedi teachings from the prequels in order to win the day, so obviously there’s some disconnect, right? Exactly right. George Lucas wrote the prequel trilogy years after he wrote the original, so he knew what he was doing: he knew that the Jedi Code was written to be wrong. This is show in Anakin’s dialogue in Episode 2:
Attachment is forbidden. Possessions is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love is central to a Jedi’s life. You might say we are encouraged to love.
Anakin’s beliefs clash with the Jedi Code, but align with Luke’s. It isn’t the Jedi Code that ends up saving the galaxy, but Luke’s with his compassion.
Now let’s look at things from Yoda’s perspective. In Episode 2, he himself breaks the Jedi Code by choosing to save Anakin and Obi-Wan, rather than apprehend Dooku. If he wasn’t attached, he would’ve let them die to serve the greater good. Yoda in Episode 5, however, tells Luke to let his friends die so he can complete his training, and that’s for the greater good. Yoda realized that in breaking the Jedi Code, he allowed the Clone Wars to start, and that eventually led to the destruction of the Jedi, so with Luke he was trying to return to the Jedi Code.
The point of the way the Jedi act in Episodes 1-3 is to show that it is wrong. You’re not supposed to suppress your emotions, but embrace them. This is different from the Sith, however, you let their emotions control them and their actions. This was not a distinction the Jedi were able to understand, and is ultimately why they got wiped out.
The Jedi, Republic and Anakin
It’s very dangerous putting them together. I don’t think the boy can handle it. I don’t trust him. – Mace Windu
Sometimes I wonder what’s happening to the Jedi Order. I think this war is destroying the principles of the Republic. – Anakin
These two quotes are integral to the Prequel Trilogy. First of all, in Episode 1 there is quite a bit of political intrigue going on, with the Trade Federation using loopholes and backdoor dealings to invade Naboo, and the good guys trying to get the Republic to act. Now technically, the Trade Federation was doing nothing wrong, since these loopholes existed, so if the Republic acted it would be in the wrong, so it couldn’t do anything.
A huge theme of the prequels is the Republic is failing, in no small part due to Sidious. The Republic is ineffectual and is stated to be corrupting from the inside. This is just like the Jedi Order, which had become more focused on wars and dealing with the Sith, than being the order of peace-keeping space monks they’re supposed to be. This is why Anakin takes issue with the Jedi and the Republic. The Jedi are focusing too much on war, while the Republic’s bureaucracy and self-interest keeps them from ending that war. This is why the Jedi don’t trust him either. They can sense his doubt and are troubled by him mingling with the politician that keeps holding power, Palpatine.
Further, Anakin is made witness to the leader of the Jedi, Mace Windu, going against the Jedi code in murdering Palpatine without due process. Anakin stood there and pleaded with him not to become a murderer, but Windu was going to go through with it. It is at that point that Anakin’s disenchantment with the Jedi becomes hate. Immediately after, Palpatine provides him with a way to peace: kill the Jedi and the Separatists. In one night he could end what had been going on for 4 years.
Obi-Wan: “I have failed you, Anakin. I have failed you.”
Anakin: “I should’ve known the Jedi were plotting to take over!”
Obi-Wan: “Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”
Anakin: “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!”
It’s pretty understandable why Anakin would view things this way. All the Jedi have done is distrust him, betray their principles, tell him that everything he believed in was wrong and then they had the audacity to send someone to kill him on Mustafar after he ended the Clone Wars almost single-handedly.
Obi-Wan himself can see why Anakin was now standing opposite him with his lightsaber ready. Obi-Wan failed Anakin by never taking his side and following the Council’s orders, which is something Qui-Gon would’ve never done (see: all the points in Episode 1 where Qui-Gon disobeys orders to do what he thinks is right).
The galaxy as the main character
In the Original Trilogy, Han, Leia and Luke are the main characters. We mostly see the galaxy through their eyes, and we never learn about things without them being involved or without the rider of how these things affect them. In the Prequel Trilogy, most of the time is devoted to world-building and there’s long stretches where Anakin has nothing to do with the plot in each movie.
Why would Lucas make this choice instead of the character-driven narratives of the original trilogy? Well think about it. Back then he was severely limited by budget, but now he can create wide, sprawling worlds, ships and aliens. He could tell a story massive in scale, and that’s what he took advantage of. He created something that he couldn’t in the originals, focusing on how the galaxy became the barren and depressing place we got in the OT.
This isn’t even an over-analysis of what isn’t there. Episodes 1 and 2 spend a great deal of time establishing the galaxy and the rules by which it operates, which is something we never got in the Originals, which instead focused on the three mains. Episode 3 then focused on destroying everything Episodes 1 and 2 helped establish because the galaxy needed to get to what we saw in Episode 4. It follows a very clear 3 act structure: In Episode 1, we’re introduced to the galaxy as it normally is, in Episode 2 we see the galaxy begin to unwind as the Clone Wars begin and in Episode 3 we see the galaxy come undone.
This is something I see many overlook when it’s always been a glaring theme to me after I saw the original trilogy.
More and more, we see in film that of the “destined hero.” That is, someone who is predetermined to do something by fate. It’s a shortcut to get characters to where you want them to be instead of natural development, and if you see things as cynically as I do, is a cheap and fast way for studios to put out stories and make money. You might think that this is what George Lucas did with the prophecy of the chosen one, but look at what happens: in Revenge of the Sith Anakin does the exact opposite of what the Prophecy said.
Remember all that talk about being in the now and not being so focused on the future that you let the now pass you? That’s what the Jedi are guilty of. They believe so fully in this Chosen One prophecy that they push Anakin to the destiny they have chosen for him, ignoring all of Anakin’s very apparent issues. What’s most funny about this is the Jedi’s vision of the future is clouded by the dark side, so they’re quite literally blindly following a prophecy. This leads them to their downfall.
Now you might say “But Anakin did fulfill the prophecy in Episode 6.” Yes, you are right. However, think about what leads to this: Luke deviating from the path Obi-Wan and Yoda set for him. Luke choosing to break the Jedi Code and do things his own way. The operative word in all of this is choice. Much like you choose to go to the dark side, or choose to use the natural force, so too do you choose to follow the paths before you. Anakin would’ve never fulfilled the prophecy had Luke not chosen to defy his masters, and the prophecy would’ve been a falsehood.
The whole point of the prophecy is prophecies and predestination are bullshit.
In this section, I will debunk typical internet nonsense complaints, again, without using any Expanded Universe knowledge. In essence, all of these complaints are addressed in the movies themselves.
Darth Maul looks scarier than Vader, but doesn’t have his presence because we know nothing about him.
Yes, that’s the point. Darth Maul is nothing more than a physical challenge for the heroes, while Sidious is the mental one, hiding in the shadows. Contrary to popular belief, Star Wars isn’t sci-fi and skews far closer to being fantasy. Anyone that knows fantasy, knows that one of its oldest tropes is that of the evil wizard and his dragon. The dragon’s sole purpose is to be intimidating and be a physical force for the hero to overcome, and then the wizard is a more cerebral enemy. It’s been done to death.
Maul is just Sidious’ dragon. He exists solely to be a formidable foe for our main characters, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. It is only by Maul slaying Qui-Gon that Obi-Wan can come into his own as a man and Jedi by overcoming him. We see this happen “later” when Obi-Wan himself is slain so Luke can come into his own. Maul fulfills his role in the story and we don’t need to know any more about him than what we’re given.
Vader is as much an obstacle as Maul, but the narrative actually places importance on Vader with him having history with Obi-Wan and Luke. Maul, on the other hand, is never treated as anything more than Sidious’ attack dog, and when he dies Sidious doesn’t even consider it a loss, quickly replacing him with Dooku. We’re not meant to empathize or sympathize with Maul, and never meant to see things from his perspective, much like we didn’t with Palpatine in the original movies. Maul’s there to kill a character and give legitimacy to the Sith, and he accomplishes that task. Not every character needs to be complicated or well-fleshed out, especially when they exist only to be killed.
Why didn’t the Jedi arrest the obviously evil Sidious?
This one is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Why doesn’t the president have the police arrest anyone that criticizes him? If the Jedi grossly overstepped their position by eschewing diplomacy and proper channels and just arrested Palpatine with no evidence, then public opinion turns on them and Order 66 goes off with 100% public approval.
Finally, let’s be honest here. A lot of people look shady, so does that mean the police is justified to shoot random people?
Why didn’t the Jedi use the force to see that Palpatine was evil all along?
In Episode 2, Yoda says, “The Dark Side clouds everything. Impossible to see, the future is.” They know a Sith is around, they know the dark side is around, but they have no way of telling where it is or from whom it is emanating. Later in the movie, Mace says “We should inform the senate that our ability to use the force has diminished.” It is only after Anakin flat out tells them that the Sith Lord is Palpatine that they’re able to feel the dark side coming from him. That’s when they knew for sure. In essence, their primary means of tracking a Sith Lord was cut off from them.
The Jedi Order is afraid of Anakin, even though they keep talking about how fear leads to the dark side.
Well, yeah. This goes back to what I said previously. One of the big story elements of the prequels is how the Jedi Order and the Republic are failing. The Jedi, through having their vision clouded by the dark side of the force, as well as being manipulated into a war with the Separatists, while knowing a Sith Lord is loose has every right to be cautious when the Chosen One is behaving as erratically as Anakin does.
While they are justified in their caution, they’re guilty of not focusing on the now, which was something Qui-Gon insisted Obi-Wan do: focus on the now. The Jedi Order was too concerned with a future that they could not see because of the shroud of the dark side, and that led to their demise.
Wait, Padme was Queen and now she’s just a senator taking orders?!
Yes. It’s established that for the Naboo, the position of Queen is pretty much what we call the “president”. You’re elected by vote, serve a maximum of two terms and then you step down. All of this is revealed by dialogue in Episode 2.
Padme and Anakin’s love story is stupid! Nobody talks or acts like that!
Well, for this one it may be me reading too deep into things, but I think this is intentional. Anakin was taught to repress his feelings and that emotions are evil. Padme was just 14 when she was elected queen of Naboo and given burdens no child her age should have to bear. Both of them, because of their sheltered and tightly-controlled lives have no idea what love is, or can be expected to be “normal”.
Hayden Christensen is not a bad actor, even back in those days, so it had to be a directorial choice for him to always be hesitant in his delivery. Anakin is not a well-adjusted character, and he has to be careful of what he says because the Jedi are constantly judging him. Padme, meanwhile, is a senator that has to be proper and shun her feelings, even though she was attracted to Anakin. Naboo really was their retreat from the people controlling them, or rather, “a place where there was nothing but their love”.
Is their relationship believable? Yeah, but not for normal people, because they aren’t. Anakin thinks “I hate sand, it’s rough and coarse,” is a good pick-up line! That kid is really out of touch!
While we’re on the subject of dialogue, the only characters we see talking and delivering the bad lines we associate with Lucas are… politicians and Jedi. The underworld scum we see in Episodes 1, and 2 talk like normal people (stereotypical accents notwithstanding). Grievous in Episode 3 had no bad dialogue, nor did Dooku in his appearances, and he’d abandoned the Jedi. This leads me to believe that this was just how one spoke formally in this era of the galaxy. We’d deride someone’s dialect from the 18th century, even though they’re talking normally (to them).
Why did Obi-Wan leap after the droid in Episode 2 instead of the impulsive Anakin?
Anakin was occupied having just killed the poisonous creatures about to kill Padme. Obi-Wan leaped into action because one of his master’s last lessons to him was “Be in the now,” and in the now that thing was about to escape.
Basically, anything Obi-Wan does in the prequel trilogy that seems antithetical to the typical Jedi can be explained by Qui-Gon being a radical dude. Obi-Wan inherited some of his master’s views, but is more tactful than Qui-Gon was, which is why he got onto the council while Qui-Gon didn’t.
Anakin is a whiny bitch in the prequels!
Just Episode 2, really. In Episode 1 he’s an annoyingly perfect kid, and in Episode 3 he’s a deeply troubled adult.
Anakin murdered all those Tuskan Raiders! Women and children too!
Yeah, so? Did you even hear how they’re described by Owen? “They’re vicious, mindless monsters.” Further, he goes on to say the Tuskans killed a bunch of the people that went out in search of Anakin’s mother. He has every right to exact revenge on them for their actions, especially after he finds his mother battered and bruised and then she dies in his arms. Keep in mind that Anakin is not meant to be portrayed as heroic here either, even though he’s in the right. It’s portrayed as a poor decision and him getting closer to the dark side.
Nothing wrong with it in that regard. Padme doesn’t abandon him because this clearly is tearing him up on the inside and she isn’t heartless enough to abandon him when he’s at his emotional breaking point.
Why would the Jedi send Anakin to protect Padme and how did they not sense that he loves her?
First of all, they used Anakin because he’s a Jedi and has actually history with her, so they should get along. Next, go back to their vision being clouded and their ability to use the force impaired.
Why is technology so advanced in the prequels when compared to the originals?
Simple. The Prequel Era was a time of peace and the Republic. The Original Trilogy’s era is a time of great strife because of the Empire. Also bear in mind that most of the Prequels’ set pieces were ornate temples and affluent senate buildings, whereas most of the OT’s settings were dingy rebel bases and dirty, seedy bars.
Why did the Jedi hide Luke in plain sight on Anakin’s home planet?
Let’s think about this one for a moment. Anakin’s two most painful memories are the death of his mother and the death of Padme. Why would he go to Tatooine (which is out of the purview of the Empire and is controlled by the Hutts) which is one of the sources of his pain?
How could a 9 year old boy build 3PO?
The Force is strong in him. Much like the force can guide you in shooting womp rats, it can guide you in creating a machine.
How could Leia remember her mother when she died in childbirth?
Well, newborns imprint on their mother’s faces. Now keep that fact in mind and remember that Leia is also the daughter of Force Jesus.
Why doesn’t Uncle Owen recognize 3PO?
Simple. The protocol droid he knew had exposed wires, and dented armor. The protocol droid he saw in Episode 4 had a gold body. The most important thing to take away from this is C3PO is a droid, meaning something mass-produced.
In Episode 3, why does Anakin jeopardize the mission just to save some clones in the space battle?!
Because that’s who Anakin is. If someone is in danger, even if “just a clone” he’ll save that person. That’s the compassion in him and not the mechanical thinking you would expect from a Jedi.
Those Jedi Mace brought to kill Palpatine must really suck!
No, they don’t. They’re all council-members, meaning they’re the best the Order had to offer at the time. They fell as quickly as they did because Darth Sidious is just that good. Is a lion weak because a hunter snipes it in the head? No. Sidious is just that good.
How did the Clones kill the Jedi so easily?!
If you watched the Order 66 scene, you’ll see that most Jedi have their backs turned to the clones while they lead. This is because the Jedi trust the clones since they’ve bled and fought by their side for four years. The clones take them completely by surprise, and this is why they died.
Why would Obi-Wan bring Padme to Mustafar?
This question actually makes me kind of sad. The movie makes it clear she’s headed there of her own volition and that Obi-Wan sneaked on to her ship knowing she would.
The fights look too choreographed!
Well, other than this being true of every fight in every movie ever, this is actually a complaint that shouldn’t apply to Star Wars. When two force-sensitive people fight, they’re both being guided by the force. The person that wins is the person stronger in the force, or has more mastery in the force. If the two force users are close to parity, then the ensuing fight will be a fast-paced tug of war to see who can eke out an advantage, and the only way to get that advantage is by using more and more advanced moves.
Now from a writing perspective, if the lightsaber duels weren’t so fantastic in nature, any random schmuck could pick up a lightsaber and be as good as a Jedi, and that just cheapens the whole thing. No random guy picking up a lightsaber will ever be able to do the things Anakin and Obi-Wan did in their duel in Episode 3, and that’s the point. As portrayed in Episodes 5-6, any reasonably-skilled fencer with a saber would be good enough to beat Vader and Luke.