Note: this blog post was originally an answer to somebody in an unofficial NaNoWriMo Facebook group who asked why people hated the Prequel Trilogy. It isn’t actually a review, but I’m putting it in that category anyway.
I think what it boils down to is that the dislike is either conditioned (like hatred of Nickelback by people who have never heard them) or inherent only in those who look at it from the wrong perspective.
I was nine when I saw The Phantom Menace. I loved it. I thought Jar-Jar was funny, I thought Jake Lloyd was a great actor, and I scoffed at the thought that Senator Palpatine and Emperor Palpatine were one and the same.
I was twelve when I saw Attack of the Clones. I loved it. I thought Padmé was hot. I thought Hayden Christensen was a great actor. (You can see a trend here.) I facepalmed when Jar Jar basically brought down the Republic singlehandedly, but I forgave him because he was a few fries short of a tool box.
I was fifteen when I saw Revenge of the Sith. It was dark, gritty and, frankly, traumatic. I was no longer star-struck by the actors I saw on the screen, but rather by the raw emotion when Anakin roared at Obi-Wan, “I hate you!” This was May 2005, only a couple of months after I had started my first novella in March, so I saw it through the eyes of a storyteller rather than those of a listener.
That brings me to my point. I never looked at Star Wars as cinema. I looked at it as a story, especially because I kicked off my writing hobby around the end of the prequel trilogy. I honestly think that people don’t give it a fair shake, and I have a number of reasons for my hypothesis.
First, they want nostalgia. Much of the hate comes from people who were young when the original Star Wars, A New Hope, was in theaters. It was a new and groundbreaking sword and planet space opera with lovable characters and a glorious setting. The Empire Strikes Back contained what I would argue to be the greatest plot twist of all time. And Return of the Jedi tied everything together in an epic conclusion (with Carrie Fisher in a metal bikini to boot).
The Phantom Menace leaned heavily upon its stunning visuals rather than an enthralling story. You have dazzling martial arts displays, beautiful locales, and action-packed space battles. But that feeling of nostalgia isn’t really there.
Second, some people argue that George Lucas wanted to squeeze every last drop of money out of his Star Wars empire, and that he could have done this without creating crappy prequel movies. Of course George Lucas wanted to make money hand over fist, which he has been over the years through licensed merchandise, the Expanded Universe, the Special Edition, and so on. But I see George as an artist who is constantly trying to improve his works. And he created the prequel trilogy to finish the story he started in the 1970s.
Third, Star Wars admittedly doesn’t make for the best cinema. Yes, you have better and better visuals as you progress through the prequel trilogy. But throughout the prequels, you have substandard casting for Anakin. You have the hackneyed romance between him and Padmé Amidala, especially as displayed in the Naboo scenes in Attack of the Clones (how not to do an on-screen romance). And to compound it, there is the ever-present menace of Jar Jar Binks, a character whom many people (not me) find insufferably annoying, be it his high-pitched pidgin (that comes down to taste), that his character is fundamentally racist (that’s a stretch), or that his naïveté knows no bounds (I can’t argue there).
Ultimately, I think most of the hate stems from the fact that many people think of it as two trilogies and constantly compare the two. The classic trilogy suffered in the area of visuals as compared to the prequels (notwithstanding that the classic trilogy has amazing visuals for its time). The prequel trilogy suffers in the area of story as compared to the classic trilogy. Where the classic trilogy was cohesive and exciting, with the aforementioned biggest plot twist in history, the prequels are shaky and predictable. But this is only because we knew exactly what was going to happen. People wanted new surprises, when there were no new surprises to be had.
For twenty years, we had all known that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were one and the same. We had known that a volcano had scarred him for life, forcing him to wear the suit. We had known that Padmé was going to die. We had known about the Clone Wars. We had known that Palpatine was going to become the Emperor. But people still wanted the same space opera that the classic trilogy was famous for being. That, they didn’t get. Instead of action and adventure, they got a plodding march through a quasi-literary fiction novel: an analysis of Anakin Skywalker’s descent into madness. Instead of ending high and light, the prequel trilogy ended dark with death and desolation, with fear, anger, hatred and suffering, with the rise of the Darth effing Vader. It’s no wonder people were disappointed. Unless they saw it coming, like I did.
If anybody is to give Star Wars a fair shake, they need to look at it as an insoluble whole, as a single story. They can’t compare the classic and prequel trilogies. Doing so can only lead to the Dark Side, where Star Wars is just another fandom. But Star Wars is much more than that. It is one of the most significant pieces of literature of the twentieth century.