Episodes I, II, and III chronicle the successful rise to power of an evil genius.
Photo: Chewbacca in a trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)
As I descended into the fanboy ritual of watching every Star Wars movie before today’s release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I had the time to contemplate the Star Wars discussions that have dominated the news and my social media feeds for the past few days, and I came to the clearest realization—we, the viewers, are supposed to hate the Star Wars prequels.
With Star Wars dominating the headlines, people who didn’t enjoy the Star Wars prequels have had ample opportunity to shout about their dislike for the trilogy that provides a backstory for the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. But what they miss, both in their critical analysis of George Lucas’s early-2000s-CGI opus and their understanding of the important story told in those movies, is that the Star Wars prequels are the story of Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine’s (a/k/a Darth Sidious) rise to power. They are the story of the rise of evil.
The story of the prequels is one of ignorance. Ignorance of the Jedi to the evil standing in their midst. Ignorance of the Republic to its own decay. Ignorance of the Sith to the underlying power of hope.
We aren’t supposed to enjoy ourselves as we watch Palpatine manipulate beloved characters and the institutions of the Republic.
While most think of the prequels as the story of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, the movies are really the story of how Palpatine implemented a successful plan to take over the galaxy. Every scene is steeped in the confusion the future Emperor promotes. Every major decision is clouded by the Dark Side, and the effect almost makes the viewer want to scream at the characters who are blind to the evil incarnation standing right in front of them.
But where the prequels chronicle ignorance, evil, and decay, the original movies are a story of hope. The original movies are the story of Obi-Wan and Yoda attempting to correct the failures that allowed Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader to destroy the Jedi and oppress the galaxy.
In the original Star Wars movies, we watch resistance to evil through the vehicle of the ultimate underdog story. That’s certainly more appealing to an audience than watching the decay of a bloated ancient Republic accelerated by a cunning and evil politician.
This leaves us with questions: Which path will The Force Awakens take? Will it be a story of resistance or decay?
As the previews, which highlight the post-Rebellion “Resistance,” and the early reviews show, J.J. Abrams has chosen to return to the original trilogy’s message of hope through resistance. And for a revival of Star Wars, that’s the only option that could meet the expectations of a rabid fan base.
But that does not diminish the importance of Lucas’s prequel trilogy. While they may not have the high Rotten Tomatoes scores of the original films, the story of the original movies—hope through resistance—is meaningless without the decay and despair that underlies the prequel movies and the rise of the Dark Side.
Zac Bears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.