On the Way to Episode VII: Revenge of the Sith

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Read the others in this series:
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones

Most critiques of the prequels begin with two pillars: it fails at being a Star Wars movie and it fails at telling a compelling narrative about the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker.

I agree with the first one. Besides maybe the podracing scene and a few of the better battle scenes, the prequels come well short of the fun and adventure of their predecessors. They also did not deliver iconic new characters in the way the originals did. Their were some interesting newcomers like Jango Fett, General Grevious, the clone troopers, and Qui-Gon, but Padme, Anakin and even Obi-Wan failed to get into our hearts like Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca did. 

But I disagree with the second one. I don't think George Lucas failed to give us a compelling narrative. Revenge of the Sith is a dark, gritty movie, which does good job of showing us how and way Anakin betrayed the Jedi Order in order to save Padme. 

The second criticism should be this: the prequels failed to tell a compelling love story between Padme and Anakin.

I've heard people say it's unrealistic that Padme even likes Anakin. Why would she love someone who slaughtered a village of sand people? Why would she love someone so filled with anger? But that isn't unrealistic. Many of us fall in love with people we shouldn't, give our hearts to those who are self-destructive. That is completely realistic.

The problem is, we never saw her fall in love. We get a picnic scene and some weird moments in front of a fireplace in Attack of the Clones. But no one I've ever talked with believes the love story. And if you don't believe the love story, then the whole plot it's built on top of crumbles.

The dark scenes in Revenge of the Sith are compelling to me. Anakins desperation after killing Mace Windu. Anakin feeling betrayed by Padme when Obi-Wan appears. Obi-Wan's anguish when he's nearly killed Anakin and feels like he's killed his brother. Some of these scenes work, maybe not in an Academy-aware-winning way, but sufficiently enough.

You can boil down all of it to this: the prequels just aren't as good as the originals in any way. They are constructed poorly, scripted poorly, and the acting is so uneven that some scenes feel forced or incomplete. And Lucas' obsession with CGI leaves the movies feeling dated, in some ways even more dated than the originals. 

I like the prequels, and I love that the excellent Clone Wars cartoon came from them. I find Qui-Gon and a young Obi-Wan to be some of my favorite Star Wars characters. But I don't love the prequels like I love the originals. Some of this is because I was an adult when they came out, some of it is because of the moviemaking, and some of it is because I've heard so many tear them down it's impossible to watch them without hearing the Incomparable podcast or RedLetterMedia ringing in my ears.

But I don't love the prequels, and that's why they failed.