|| You had one job. One.
The Prequels were the first truly, almost wholly blank slate that the Star Wars Universe had had since Return of the Jedi in 1983. The only constraint was that at the end of the Prequel Trilogy, Revenge of the Sith would lead into A New Hope and match the backstories, however ridiculous, that were established in The Empire Strikes Back and ROTJ. There were several significant points where the storylines had to line up, and while there may well be many more, the ones that stand out to me are:
- The Jedi are an ancient order remembered in legend
- The last vestiges of the Jedi were hunted down and exterminated by Darth Vader
- Darth Vader was a Jedi himself
- The Empire rose when the Jedi could no longer oppose them
- The Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice
- Obi-Wan and Yoda were the only Jedi who survived
- Darth Vader, né Anakin Skywalker, was Luke and Leia’s father
Several of these may well have already been covered in the myriad of Expanded Universe works, but since those were also wholly under Lucas’ control he wasn’t truly bound to them. So while more consistency with the EU would certainly be better, it wasn’t actually required. And let’s face it- the Prequels most definitely did break new ground, though all too often it was only by digging themselves into a hole. (Midi-chlorians anyone?)
So the stage was set, the goals were clear, and… Lucas gave us an unmitigated shitshow of disappointment. Prior to The Force Awakens coming out I rewatched the Prequels with friends and quickly found that they had not aged well. At all. This was the first time I had seen them since they were in theater and while I defended them at the time, I had never felt particularly compelled to go back and re-watch them. Indeed if TFA* hadn’t come out, I doubt I would have ever watched them again as over the years I had increasingly joined the ranks of fans mocking them, and came to think that their best descriptor really was “apocryphal.”
I have grown considerably since TPM came out, I have seen a lot more of life, and I have come to recognize and understand just how pervasive racism and sexism have is in our society. So I literally shudder at my apologies explaining that TPM can’t be racist because– I hate so very much that I thought this was clever– it takes place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Ergo, any sort of racism seen in the characters is really a mirror of your racial biases projected onto aliens- that just happened to perfectly match said stereotypes. That’s right, I had invoked the “you’re the real racist for pointing out my racism” screed without even knowing it was a thing.
But I am no longer that person, even though TPM is still that movie. Not only did I wince throughout while re-watching it, I found it utterly failed to even remotely balance its sins with an otherwise worthwhile movie. Indeed the Machete Order cuts its viewing completely as it doesn’t actually further SW’s storyline! The Jedi are not only far from extinct within a couple of generations of ANH, but they are also blithely unconcerned with such injustices as slavery! It wasn’t so much that they couldn’t do anything at the time, it’s that they wouldn’t do anything later either. And that they weren’t even remotely bothered by that. At the very least having Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan torn up inside about not being able to help would have added at least some moral depth.
My issue with all of these problems isn’t just that they all derive from lazy writing, it’s that it’s lazy writing on a multi-billion dollar franchise with carte blanche control over everything! To put this in perspective, Mark Gardner and I are in the process of writing a prequel to Brass Automaton and have already invested several hours of conversation to make sure that our writings will match up with the story thus far. Indeed, I recently wrote a chapter for this sequel, Brass Queen, that I was rather proud of. Mark really liked it too, but he realized that it irrevocably broke continuity. We talked about it at length and finally decided it had to be cut.
In other words, a pair of authors whose book is currently ranked at 6,220,358** on Amazon’s Best Seller list give more of a shit about their story and its continuity than Lucas did. It’s a disgrace, it’s embarrassing, it’s sad, and it’s ultimately an insult. But SW fans, as is their wont, stayed loyal nonetheless. Not only have they remained loyal, but they have created elaborate backstories and theories attempting to justify and explain the Prequel’s specific disconnects and general WTF’ery (Beyond even Jar-Jar to include one of the strongest women cinema had seen up to that point, Padme, dying after giving birth to twins because losing Anakin meant she had nothing to live for!) Much like Creationism though, they are all predicated on facts, motivations, and events that don’t otherwise exist in the source material.
A rather prevalent, and IMHO generous, take is that the Prequels are a compelling story poorly told. It optimistically posits that the Prequels at least tried to introduce the idea of hubris and moral ambiguity into the Jedi, helping explain why people would turn from the elite, stagnating religion to a more populous Empire and its promise of peace and order across the galaxy. While I agree that these are worthy, appropriate themes for the Prequels to explore, I cannot help but think that their possibilities exist in spite of Lucas’ writing, and not because of it.
So now what? However much more criticisms and/or frustrations I may have for them, the Prequels aren’t going anywhere. They are officially canon, they are the definitive telling of Anakin’s fall, the Jedi’s destruction, and of how Obi-Wan’s legacy is unmarred by success- perhaps explaining why he is such a hard looking 50 in ANH. I’ve found that the more I joke about pretending the Prequels don’t exist the more serious I become in literally ignoring them. Nothing will ever be able to take away the magic of the Original Trilogy, nor keep me from getting goosebumps every time I hear the opening score, so there’s no reason to start now.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t still feel sadness when thinking of the Prequels, as I most certainly do. There was so much potential in the Prequels, a rare opportunity to tell a eoic story in legendary terms that even fell short of mediocrity. While there is certainly a trap*** in dwelling too much on what could have been, there is also no denying how disappointing the Prequels were in light of having every last advantage possible. Instead of looking back then I’ve chosen to look forward to SW’s future; every new movie, book, and comic released takes the story line that much further from the Prequels, and Rogue One boldly showed how elegantly, and seemingly effortlessly, a prequel can tie into ANH. The future is bright indeed, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all that it has offered to date (cough Phasma cough). In a very meta sense, SW is now following its very own arc of redemption by countering the negativity of the Prequel’s vast failures with a positive, exciting future.
*I always laugh at this abbreviation since for almost the entirety of my time on the Internet it has stood for The Fucking Article
**If you hate this post and want revenge, you’ll buy so many copies of Brass Automaton it’ll remove at least three digits from that number and totally pwn me
***You read this in Admiral Akbar’s voice