I’ve decided to watch everything in the Star Wars Universe in chronological order, which means started with the much maligned prequels. I remember watching each one only once and mostly forgetting about them in negativity surrounding them.
But, I don’t think that reputation is fair having rewatched them. Yes, there are some odd bits, some continuity tensions and a few outright sighs. Nonetheless, there’s a great story with some points to think about it.
It’s easy to see everything through the prism of of binary, partisan politics: the Republic vs. the Separatists. But this is often missing the point. There was a power-hungry evil worse than either faction pulling the strings. So distracted by petty struggles, the real evil went on unnoticed until it was too late. The true powerbrokers in society understand how to play the masses off of each other while going unnoticed.
Even in an epic that’s a battle of good versus evil, there’s a tremendous amount of complexity. Many of those on the ostensible side of good, the Republic, would go on to join the Empire. While outwardly “evil”, plenty of those who supported the the Trade Federation and Separatists simply wanted more local rule.
This means that yesterday’s heroes often turn into tomorrow’s villains. Many of those who are convinced they are on the side of the right end up having supported the wrong side in hindsight.
Our educational system has an almost cartoonish historiography of evil. Nazis are born as some sort of primordial evil and the choice between good and evil is always clear cut. The real, of course, is a bit more complex.
The fall of Anakin captures this complexity and true banality of evil. People look at the end result of Darth Vader, and expect Anakin to have chosen this primordial evil in a pure form from the outset. Instead, Anakin fell to the dark side through a mix of vanity, pettiness and good intentions such as wanting to protect Padmé. We want a narrative of serial killers having been born diabolical, torturing animals as toddlers and leaving a lifelong trail of suffering. Seeing a character arc like Anakin’s — someone turning truly evil over the most mundane of things is unsettling.
Nearly everyone ushered in the end of democracy in the Republic while believing they were supporting democracy. Some craved security and order, others crude profit and the rest pure power.
And for all the nay sayers, I think they’ve forgotten just how many cheesy one-liners and awkward moments the original trilogy had. One of the things that convinced me the most that the prequels actually aren’t the bad is talking to younger people. For them, these three films are Star Wars.