The recent release of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+ has highlighted a recent rush of affection for the Star Wars prequels. Released from 1999 to 2005, the three films were often derided by fans for their overblown CGI, atrocious dialogue, rearrangement of canon, questionable acting, and frustratingly slow subplots. A recent fan edit of them aspired to meld the entire trilogy into a single watchable movie. And from the entirety of The Phantom Menace, only the “Duel of the Fates” lightsaber battle survived.
But, were they that bad? While critics will always have plenty to say about Jar Jar Binks and muddled editing, there are several forces behind the sudden surge in affection for this much-derided trilogy.
Obi-Wan Was Always The Highest Of Ground
This is a detail which is universally understood but not discussed enough: Ewan McGregor’s performance as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi is often cited as the sole enjoyable feature spanning the trilogy. He deftly depicted subtle changes in the character, first as an impatient young man, and, later, a swashbuckling Jedi Knight at the apex of his considerable prowess. By the end of Revenge of the Sith, McGregor’s interpretation was further layered to portray Anakin’s Master as a disheartened, grieving man.
Now that Obi-Wan Kenobi has arrived on Disney+ to explore his Tatooine exile, fans are reminded of the suaveness, confidence, and dynamism that shone through even the demands of acting against a green screen. No, the prequels were not entirely bad. In fact, their many flaws burnished McGregor’s full-blooded portrayal to an even more dramatic contrast.
The Special Edition
Longtime Star Wars fans were already in a somewhat wary mood when The Phantom Menace released in 1999. For two years, they’d fumed over the gut-punch of The Special Edition, which was marketed as the original trilogy as George Lucas had always envisioned it. It was a vision that was received poorly.
While some of these alterations cleaned up fading prints and dated special effects, others made little sense. Reactions ranged from minor annoyance to outright furor, especially regarding changes that affected character development. Why show Alderaan exploding differently? What was this ridiculous cartoon show in the middle of Jabba’s Place? Han shooting second?
So, mistrustful for the first time of the man who brought them the Star Wars universe in the first place, fans were eager for a salve. They were given, instead, midi-chlorians.
While the internet existed at the time of the prequels, social media and constant access certainly did not. There’s no understating the impact the rise of digital culture has had on fan communities. Star Wars was no different.
Those who championed the prequels knew exactly where to find one another, and they could engage with critics. By banding together and expressing an alternate point of view, those who grew up with these movies–or genuinely enjoyed them on their merits–now had an opportunity to speak out.
Fans Took Matters Into Their Own Hands
Though still underrated, The Phantom Menace wasn’t immediately booed within the fan base; the emotional charge of seeing a new Star Wars movie for the first time in a generation was significant. But once the John Williams theme faded along with the adrenaline boost, original trilogy fans began to discuss certain… misgivings about the film.
At this time, a rendition cut by Mike J. Nichols, The Phantom Edit, began to make its way around Hollywood. This version de-Jar Jar-ed the entire operation, cut 20 minutes from the run time, and deleted many other aspects of the film that angered the Star Wars community. It leaked to the hardcore fans, who cheered it. Realizing that a not-so-bad movie lurked beneath this upsetting mess led some to moderate their position.
The Kids Grew Up
For Generation Y and older, rejection of the trilogy was fast and brutal. Raised on the original Star Wars trilogy, older fans had little patience for over-reliance on CGI and new characters who could never hope to elbow into intense bonds with the foundational characters.
The faux PSA “Talking To Your Kids About Star Wars” went viral because it hilariously underlined conversations that fans in this age band probably had: How to raise the children in the context of these Special Edition changes and new films that they abhorred, but are inescapable within the franchise they loved?
But the children found the prequels all by themselves. And with no memories of laying on the floor moving a Han Solo action figure around an Ewok playset, they did not carry years of expectations into the prequels. They evaluated them through fresh eyes, just as their predecessors watched the OT.
The Kids Can Meme
No matter which platform they pop up on throughout social media, Star Wars fans of every possible age group can enjoy a good meme. Millennials, first the generation born into an all-digital existence, turned their tech powers to pumping out quality Star Wars memes. The template for most of them? Their beloved prequels.
So General Kenobi’s “Hello there” was no longer a fan-friendly callback to A New Hope, or even a debonair greeting to General Grievous– it was now a way of life. Obi-Wan’s command of the high ground was also much celebrated, as was Anakin’s disdain for sand.
It took a while, but the affection wheels started turning throughout the whole fan base. If these movies can spin off such flexible and enduring inside jokes, maybe they can serve some purpose after all.
No, not the second prequel, Attack of the Clones: The now-classic cartoon series that was set between that film and Revenge of the Sith. It spent a great deal of time fleshing out Anakin’s character, concentrating on his admirable qualities instead of his angst.
In Clone Wars, fans were shown Anakin as a Jedi Master. The extended reach of a television series allowed for the time necessary to watch his relationship with Padawan Ahsoka grow organically; viewers saw Anakin in a paternal role, and fan attitudes towards him became less disdainful.
Maybe Filoni Will Fix Them
A canon sweep or readjustment of the prequels is always possible. Star Trek did this, and comic books fling readers into alternate universes with impunity. Some fans think creative powerhouse Dave Filoni opened the door to tinkering with timelines.
Throughout Clone Wars and Rebels, he dove into several out-there arcs about the nature of the Force. One of these was Ezra Bridger’s discovery of “The World Between Worlds,” which enabled him to alter past events, and allows for the possibility that anything and everything can happen, or at least can be changed if it bombs with the audience.
Maybe We Can Act Like They Never Happened
With the increasingly rapid avalanche of new Star Wars material from Disney+, fans are forced to revise canon on an almost-weekly basis. The concept of a flexible canon took some time to develop; first there was no new material for many years, then Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm wiped out the entire Extended Universe. This planted the idea that what was done could be undone.
It wasn’t until the advent of Clone Wars and Rebels that Dave Filoni began pulling into canon any aspect from the Extended Universe he darn well pleased. This reoriented the fanbase’s understanding of what was off-limits and what wasn’t.
The Sequels Were Even Worse
Or, at least, they were more hated, which is quite the feat. After the disappointment of the prequels, many fans, wild over the possibilities presented by the return original cast, were ready for a clean slate. They’d survived the midi-chlorians; how could it be any worse?
The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker were so far from traditional fan expectations that “this actually made the prequels look good–good job” became a common refrain. Fans love Han Solo? He’s dead. Luke Skywalker was a childhood hero? Watch him passive-aggressively milk an alien. But, stand by for a standing ovation for Porgs at Celebration 2042.
Marvel’s Phase 4 Story Will Become Clearer Soon, Promises Kevin Feige
About The Author