I was born in 1997, making the original trilogy of Star Wars films "slightly" before my time. I was still only 2 years old when Episode I: Phantom Menace was released, but my parents realized that with it being the start of a new trilogy, and noticing that I was already developing "fan girl" tendencies towards other franchises (Batman/Batgirl and Superman/Supergirl were my favorites), my passion for The Star Wars Universe was inevitable. However, being the exemplary DNA donors that they are, they made sure that my first Star Wars experience was with the original trilogy, starting with A New Hope when I was 5 years old. Of course I loved everything about it, especially Princess Leia- even that young I was begging for a female role model who didn't have an evil step mother and wasn't rescued by a prince. Once I moved past my inevitable like of Leia, I was surprised to find that my favorite character was in fact the villain, Darth Vader. Actually, it wasn't that surprising, seeing as I was tucked in at night beside a Harley Quinn doll.
Vader scared me, but in a good way. I always felt engaged and on the edge of my seat watching his scenes, even at 5 years old. About a year later, I noticed Star Wars action figures in the store of characters that I didn't recognize, including one labeled "Obi Wan Kanobi", which I thought must be a mistake because the Obi Wan I knew was an old hermit, not a handsome young man with a beard. To the Obi imposter's right was the plastic figure of a woman in a white spandex outfit carrying a gun. Naturally I panicked, thinking that it was another bizarre iteration of Leia. I had thrown a fit a year earlier, you see, because when I ripped off the wrapping paper on Christmas morning expecting to find the Leia action figure I had asked for, I was surprised and horrified to find that it was Leia in her Jabba Slave Bikini.
Evidently that was the only one they were selling, and my little tomboy brain was offended that she would be cheapened to that extent. Another story for another time. Anyway, I tugged on my mom and asked who those people were. "They're from the new movies." She replied. NEW MOVIES?!? YOU MEAN THERE'S MORE?!?
I immediately went home to begin my double-feature with my trusty younger brother by my side (Revenge of The Sith had yet to be released). So you see, although I watched the original trilogy first, the prequels and all their promotion left a unique impression on my childhood because I felt as if I were somehow involved with it.
As a kid not much younger than Anakin in Episode I, his heroism was inspiring. Although I obviously wasn't "force sensitive", the idea that the actions of a child could have such a profound effect on the world around them incited a level of self-esteem that helped navigate me through the tribulations of growing up. My brother and I laughed at Jar Jar Binks, R2 and C-3P0, cried when Anakin left his mother and returned too late to save her, and were utterly disarmed by Padme's beauty, intelligence, and bravery.
Episode II: Attack of The Clones was, in my 6 year old mind, the greatest thing ever put on film. It had it all: action, space travel, romance, and both an internal and external battle between good and evil. I blushed when Anakin and Padme kissed before being brought out into the arena, and blushed a deeper shade when Padme freed herself from where she was chained before the battle commenced. The filmmakers allowed her to hold her own in a man's world, and I loved them (and her) for it.
Episode III was bitter sweet. It started off on such a lighthearted note, and I wasn't quite old enough to understand the full depth of Anakin's impending demise, although I did get a sick satisfaction watching him choose Darth Sidious over Mace Windu (the most baddass of all Jedi) because I was thrilled to see it tie back in to the original trilogy, and knowing Vader's backstory made my affection for him seem more substantial for some reason. Yeah, I was a weird kid.
Recently, I went back and rewatched all of the films (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3) in preparation for The Force Awakens. This time, I was able to form a fully realized and less biased opinion about the prequels that I held so dear and...I STILL LOVE THEM (especially Attack of The Clones).
I know, it seems to be a rather unpopular opinion, and yes, there are A LOT of things to dislike about them, but that dosen't mean that you can write them off entirely. Some of my childhood opinions still hold true, I just can see the bigger picture now.
So here it is.
The Lightsaber Battles Were Awesome
The prequel's lightsaber battles were superior to the original trilogy. This isn't an opinion, it's a fact. Whether it be Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon Gin and Obi Wan, Yoda vs. Count Dooku, Yoda vs. Darth Sidious, Obi Wan vs. General Grievous, or Obi Wan vs. Anakin, they were expertly choreographed feats of athleticism.
Jake Lloyd Was Not a Good Actor, But Young Anakin Was a Great Character.
Yes, I realize there aren't many elite child actors, but they do exist (watch Let Me In), and seeing as how Star Wars is a hugely popular franchise, there's no excuse for sub par performances. So I chose to ignore his inflections and simply listened to the words he was saying. Episode I's story is still fascinating. Yes, it's a little more complicated than the relatively simplistic "Hero call to action" nature of A New Hope, being that much of the movie focused on the political landscape of that galaxy far far away, and much of that dialogue was without a doubt an allusion to real-world politics. It's for that reason that I prefer many of the aspects of the world Lucas created in the prequels. They were able to get more into the specifics of the universe in which Star Wars was set, especially the social and political intricacies.
I cannot think of an actor who could have brought more to Obi Wan than Ewan McGregor did. Liam Neeson only appeared in one movie as Qui-Gon Gin, and his death still elicits an emotional response in me. As a kid, I hated it, but I now realize that Qui-Gon's death accelerated Obi Wan's character development and became his hero call to action that provided the motivation to become Anakin's mentor and eventually Luke's.
Natalie Portman was in a unique situation in that her character, Padme, had never been seen onscreen before, so she could make of it what she wanted without having to be compared to another portrayal. However, as a result of playing the only woman in a position of power, she inevitably drew comparisons to Princess Leia. Being that Padme is Leia and Luke's mother, the audience needed to understand the lineage of the beloved character's from the original trilogy, so in that regard, although her likeness had never been physically portrayed before, her influence existed within her children.
Anakin was a similar animal for Hayden Christiansen to tackle because even though the audience was familiar with Darth Vader, they had only briefly glimpsed Anakin. Although Christiansen (just like Lloyd) isn't an especially talented actor, he portrayed Anakin's emotions accurately enough to create a convincing backstory for the infamous Darth Vader.
I love prequel films or stories because, as the audience, everything is like an inside joke. Every action of every character has a consequence, and you know exactly what the outcome will be to each decision.
For example, Padme was/is probably my favorite character in all of The Star Wars Universe. She was an incredibly strong female character- a monarch and politician that wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty and a fierce advocate for her people. She was instrumental to the victory in Attack of The Clones and provided Anakin with the love he needed to stay sane (momentarily) after his mother died. However, it was his affection and empathy for her that was ultimately his undoing, or rather, the undoing of the entire Jedi order. His actions in the last scenes of Revenge of The Sith were a fascinating psychological character study. Him choking her was the first truly evil thing that he did (in his own eyes), from that point forward he was committed to the dark side and was only able to be brought back momentarily in Return of The Jedi by his son, Luke, who no doubt reminded him of Padme for the unwavering good that he possessed. Anakin's journey is the personification of the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility", and the double-edged nature of said power. He wanted so badly to do good for the people that he loved that he ended up losing sight of his moral constructs and ultimately betraying those same people he was trying to protect.
I just wish Padme had been force sensitive so that she could provide guidance to her children, especially to Leia who seemed to inherit all the best traits of her mother and father but never got to experience Vader/Anakin's redemption.
All of the beautiful and unique character traits that Lucas worked so hard to develop for Padme in Episode I and II basically became null and void in Episode III. They were so focused on Anakin's development that they neglected Padme to the point to where she was simply Anakin's support staff rather than the strong individual and contributor that she once was. Her main purpose in Episode III was to fuel Vader's becoming. I just think that keeping to her I and II traits could have made Anakin's final scene even more emotional, for both he and the audience. "The heroes and villians of scify/fantasy are all too often built on the backs of broken women"
The Bottom Line
No, I don't think that the prequels were flawless, I would be delusional if I did. I just think that they don't deserve the vast majority of the hate they get. The purpose of any prequel is simply to fill in plot holes, explain character motivations, and generally enrich the original story. The Star Wars prequels certainly achieved that, making the entire series stronger as the cohesive tale of a powerful lineage within a fantastical galaxy.