Engaging the fans
It's midnight on May 25th, 1977. The line for the movie theater is stretching around the block and the people in line are chattering with excitement and anticipation. The sign above the ticket booth is bright white with black letters reading "Star Wars" . People don't know what to expect as they shuffle into the theater rooms and sit down, sharing their popcorn with the friends and family that might have come to enjoy the movie with them. As trailers and studio logos come and go, the lights dim, and the iconic introductory blue text appears onscreen and then fades away. Scrolling, yellow text replaces it, briefing the audience of new space adventurers on what kind of turmoil the galaxy is in.
A large, sandy-colored planet appears on the screen. Suddenly, a narrow and small white spaceship zooms through the scene, being chased and shot at by a huge and menacing triangular battleship. The audience lets out audible amazement as the screen flashes with laser fire. They know that they're in for the adventure of their life.
At least, that's how I imagine the premiere of Star Wars. I wouldn't know exactly because I wasn't there, but as a lifelong fan, I would do anything to be able to see the beginning of an era onscreen. Similarly, and just as unfortunate, I wasn't there to watch the prequels in theaters, being too young to watch the first two in theaters and not even knowing about the release of the third movie.
As much hate as the prequels get, I love them. They were my gateway into the Star Wars universe. I remember watching Episode 1 when I was seven on DVD while wrapped up in a blanket around my shoulders and swinging my toy lightsaber around that I got for my birthday, pretending to be Obi-Wan Kenobi.
To a lot of Star Wars fans, the prequels are something they want to forget and erase from history. These are fans that watched Star Wars on the opening weekend when they were 12, or fans that had just gotten off work and went to the midnight showing. They live and breathe Star Wars, and those two hours spent in the movie theater changed their lives. As reddit user /u/zoidbert said about the opening scene of A New Hope:
"For a 10 year old, life began with that scene."
As much as some fans would hope for the prequels' disappearance from history, the prequels played a very important role within the Star Wars franchise: they allowed for a new generation of fans to be introduced to the series. Just how ten year old kids were taken to see A New Hope and had their lives changed forever, A Phantom Menace allowed for the same thing to happen for the younger generation. The prequel trilogy allowed for an opportunity to experience a new era within the Star Wars franchise.
The same thing will happen with the newest Star Wars movie. There will be people who didn't like it because it committed some kind of sin against the expected Star Wars checklist, but more importantly, a new generation of fans will be brought to movie theaters by those who already experienced the previous two releases of trilogies, and it will be a life changing experience for them. Instead of being taken to the release of the next new movie, they'll just want to go themselves.
Introduction of new ideas
If it weren't for the prequels, I would have never been introduced to the Star Wars universe, and if I ever was, my love for the franchise would not have been the same. Seeing the Jedi mowing down waves of battle droids made me admire them. They seemed invincible, but by the end of The Phantom Menace, I learned that they weren't, and that was such an important lesson that carried on with the rest of the movies.
The second movie, The Clone Wars, was even more captivating as the clone troopers were introduced. Even today, I think they're one of the coolest things in the franchise. Along with Revenge of the Sith, these two movies showcased more of the strength of the Jedi, but more importantly, it showed that the Jedi were not capable of always achieving what needed to be done in order to save the galaxy. The Jedi were very much mortal, and Order 66 succeeded in emphasizing this idea.
The idea of Jedi mortality in the prequels contrasted harshly with how the Jedi presented themselves in the original trilogy. Luke Skywalker seemed completely untouchable in A New Hope, being able to take down a gigantic battlestation despite coming from humble beginnings. Even Obi-Wan, who had been struck down in the Death Star, wasn't completely gone. He was still around as a force ghost! Although The Empire Strikes Back shows that Luke really is just a kid and not nearly ready enough to face Darth Vader, in The Return of the Jedi, he comes back and triumphantly destroys the Emperor with the help of his father. In the end, the good guys won, just as expected.
However, in the prequel trilogy, the good guys lost. They were completely destroyed and the Jedi role as protectors was usurped by the Sith who became the absolute rulers of the galaxy. This idea is refreshing to me as it seems that "good" or "right" wins a lot of the time, and although it was only temporary, it was really eye-opening to see Jedi, beings in tune with the all-powerful Force, being gunned down by clone troopers.
The prequels not only allowed for a new generation of fans to experience a huge moment in Star Wars history when they were not able to experience the first trilogy's release, but they also presented an important contrast to the original three movies. I'm sure that I'm not alone when I say that I genuinely enjoyed the prequels and I am glad that they were my first step into the Star Wars movies because they did exactly what they needed to do: create a stepping stone and an introduction into George Lucas' original project.
Plus, if the prequels hadn't been created and fans hadn't cried out for a remake or release of "better" movies, then Episode VII might not have been made (or the beloved Clone Wars cartoon), and thanks to that, I will finally be able to fully engross myself in the cinematic Star Wars experience, as it was meant to be experienced.