A Certain Point of View on the Star Wars Prequels – Part II

“Even in high school I was very interested in history – why people do the things they do. As a kid I spent a lot of time trying to relate the past to the present.” – George Lucas

First, a holdover from Part I: The Star Wars Prequels don’t stand alone like the Originals, mainly because they’re only the beginning. The Star Wars story is only fully resolved in its second half. Like Lucas says, it’s the way the past relates to the present that’s so fascinating in this saga.

Well, “from a certain point of view.”

Now, on to Part II.

A common complaint about the Prequel Trilogy is that its characters are relatively poor, lacking definition, development, and purpose. I disagree, so I’m going to spend this post responding to this criticism of the series — and through it, digging into parts of the story as a whole.


Half dark, half light. Funny how that works out…

I actually like that we see Anakin Skywalker as a kid first. TPM has an obviously child-centric tone; it’s jubilant and wacky in a way that none of the others are, despite the “phantom menace” that lurks in the shadows. It reminds me of the way Up combined grown-up issues (loss and regret) with childish whimsy (dogs that talk in silly voices). This is Star Wars in its period of innocence, and young Anakin fits nicely.

There’s also Anakin himself, who’s not quite the innocent cherub some make him out to be. He’s brash and cocky, despite his noble intentions. He already has the seeds of both good and evil inside him. Looking at two key lines:

1.) “Mom, you say that the biggest problem in this universe is nobody helps each other.” The real tragedy of Anakin’s character is this right here. Right outta the gate, all he wants to do is help people, but he never quite manages to. Watto prevents his freeing his mother. The Jedi prevent his saving her life. He is enlisted to protect Padme, but never the one who comes to her aid. Palpatine later wins Anakin over by providing him with something the Jedi never did: A way to help the people he loves.

2.) “I don’t want things to change.” Throughout the saga, Anakin convinces himself that if he can only become powerful enough, he can bend the whole world to his will. This tears him apart in AOTC and precipitates his fall to the Dark Side in ROTS. And it’s what he finally lets go of in ROTJ. Remember?

Luke: “But you’ll die.”

Vader: “Nothing… can stop that now.”

Mind you, Vader only comes to terms with mortality after he’s finally able to save someone: Luke.


Kenobi appears to be a pretty level-headed guy, but he rarely notices his own hypocrisy. For instance, the rhetorical trap set in his assertion, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Or chastising Anakin for impulsiveness after he himself went leaping through a window. Obi-Wan’s heart is true, but he’s handicapped by self-righteousness. This creates a rift between him and Anakin, the supposed Chosen One of the Jedi Order who is constantly treated as an annoyance.

An aside: Lucas has a brutally concise storytelling sensibility. Much has been made of how little time Obi-Wan and Anakin spend in scenes of warm friendship. I, too, would love more of their “good ole days” than the opening of ROTS, but is it needed? There are a few moments of context, the point is made, and Lucas is moving forward. “Always on the move.” Not what fans want most, maybe, but a defensible approach.

Anyway, Obi-Wan’s teaching is methodical — to a fault. No matter how impressive Anakin’s innate abilities may be, Obi-Wan constantly rebukes him. “Use the Force. Think.” Or, “Come to your senses!” Bitch bitch bitch. No wonder Anakin’s so frustrated and moody in that movie (“He’s holding me back!”). You’ll notice that, after Obi-Wan sees the consequences of this method, his advice for Luke sounds much different. “… this time let go your conscious self, and act on instinct.” A bit of the old pompousness remains, though, as Obi-Wan still doesn’t have enough faith in the Skywalkers to believe that Luke could save his father.


Boring? To me, Qui-Gon’s crucial: He’s the apparently-elusive main character of TPM and he’s the last “true” Jedi (in the Prequels). Throughout TPM, it is Qui-Gon alone who acts as an agent of compassion and understanding to the “pathetic life forms” he and Obi-Wan pick up. He and Shmi are the only two people who have faith in young Anakin, encouraging him to use his powers/skills to help others. In this way he (briefly) takes his place in Anakin’s life as a surrogate father figure.

Qui-Gon may be the only Jedi in the Prequels who can truly care for non-Jedi. His premature death is all the more devastating because it leaves Anakin in the hands of the prideful, ignorant remainder of the Order. An order that doesn’t even care if he misses his mother. (Also, look at Obi-Wan’s early by-the-book advice compared to this bit from Qui-Gon: “Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.”)

Jar Jar

He’s supposed to be annoying. His name is built from the word “jar,” as in “jarring.” Star Wars has always had an element of absurdity, and Jar Jar is its extreme (mainly in the childlike TPM). You can learn a lot about the characters, Jedi or not, by how they deal with Jar Jar — most of them simply don’t treat him as anything other than a fool.

And he’s markedly not a fool, at least not completely. He goes from being a complete coward to someone willing to fight, maybe die, for his friends. His earnestness and kindness lead directly to the union of the Gungans and Naboo. He suffers consequences for his almost total lack of self-control, but eventually it comes through in a big way. It’s no coincidence that the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Coruscant offers no help to Padme, but the unrestrained honesty of Jar Jar does.

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  1. Yes! THIS!!!

    A thousand times THIS!

    Everyone seems to get their panties in a twist over the prequel’s. I liked the story. I liked finding out how everything got F’d up. I liked little Anakin, he acted like a little boy. Doesn’t anyone remember what a whiney Fcuk Luke was? I loved Padme and Anakin’s relationship because relationships like this happen, to good girls, smart women. Been there, done that, and now have a KICK ASS T-Shirt. Are these as good as the Original? Is anything as good as the movie you watched when you were 9 and your entire being exploded from the Bodacious and Awesomeness? (to borrow a phrase). Can’t wait to hear more!

  2. ok No NO NO I admit a lot of what the core of the story is valid and actually quite good but it is never told in any coherent fashion that makes any sense.

    I under stand TPM is supposed to be childish as it is the introduction of a young and innocent kid who will bring about the downfall of the galaxy. However the kid sucks and the story is muddled with flashy effects that just confound the narrative. C3PO being built by Anakin is a WTF moment really the whole introduction of the droids in the prequels makes no sense. Its like whoever though putting them into the prequels never bothered to watch the originals.

    Overall the three prequels while having a solid core story fail to deliver it in any way that makes sense. Having to accept obvious flaws as a given do not a good movie make. Also your whole premise of the three prequels not having to stand alone like the originals because they are prequels is absurd! really your saying that I have to accept the suckiness of the movie because they arent supposed to make sense without watching the whole series!! Thats the biggest load of BS ever if anything the three prequels should stand out on their own it should be like reading the Hobbit which is an epic onto itself and then following it up with the LOTR.

    Finally I just feel sad for people that had the TPM be their first SW experience because the bar was set so low and they never new any better. Next you’ll be defending movies like Bloodrayne saying that even though the movies sucks balls in all aspects people should still watch it because at its core it has a great story

    For Shame!

  3. This was an improvement over part one; there was an actual structured flow and you seemed to be buildinng toward something rather than rambling. I could give or take some of your points, as I still think a lot of what you’re assigning deeper meaning to was Lucas just throwing out new characters for the purpose of licensing and child-baiting, but this was at least readable. I’ll stick around for part 3, but I hope you get to the real issue of the prequals, which is the wooden acting and pointless incosistencies.

  4. Ok, so kudos for making your argument for the prequels.

    Buuuuut…. your argument is invalid. To say that the three whole films of the prequels are only able to be viewed with reference to the OT is inherently fallacious.

    If I can’t watch a film without having to see three others to be able to forgive the many failures in storytelling, acting and simple detail that occur in the prequels then that isn’t really a good film.

    Assume an alien came to Earth and watched the Star Wars films in order (as the numbers given at the beginning of the films, Phantom Menace first). They are going to firstly ask, who are these guys with the light-sword thingys? Why are they destroying the robots? Whats the point of this?

    The problem is that this continues. Without knowing that the boy called Anakin is future Vader, why do they choose him. Podracing isn’t actually that impressive in a world of giant spaceships, and wizards that can move things with their mind. Why choose him? (midichlorians are bullsh*t, do not count, and actively contradict everything the OT says about the Force). What’s the deal with the robot he builds, everything we saw in the OT shows 3PO class droids as being a standard template droid throughout the galaxy. Why did this random boy make one identical to the manufactured version?

    Why is Maul having a double lightsaber such an OMG moment? Why does that guy named Palpatine always wear black and look creepy? He’s got to be the villain. Why does that wierd boy get taken into a war and left alone in a military starfighter and blows up a ship with an extremely lucky shot? What’s the purpose of that?

    All these things are totally inexplicable without knowing the OT based on the films we are given. This is why they (particularly TPM) were bad films. They give us nothing we didn’t already know, and adds in more questions that muddy the episodes to come.

    My personal problem with the whole prequel trilogy was Anakin. He just isn’t given enough time to develop from a young, somewhat troubled, boy into a battle hardened warrior willing to turn to the Dark Side to control his entire universe to see if he can save the people he loves. There is almost no overlap between him being good Jedi and Evil Sith. There is no reason for him to pledge his undying allegiance to Palpatine beyond the small scene with Mace and his love of Padme. We see nothing of the war in the films, and we don’t see him tread the line before his fall to the Dark Side. I know it’s a kid’s film (technically), but Vader throttled people with his mind and nobody complained there, so why couldn’t we see more of his cruelty and controlling tendancies.

    Ok, rant 2 over

  5. I like reading these articles and look forward to the rest of them. I like the prequel movies. I love the original trilogy. I love the whole series including the animated clone wars series with the blocky characters. I’m glad someone is writing an opinion piece on the series that isn’t just another rant about how much they hated it. keep it up

  6. A defensible approach? NO.

    Telling someone that 2 people are friends is simply bad storytelling and writing. Good writing is SHOWING us that those 2 people are friends without telling us.

    I do agree though that Obi Wan is a hypocrit, but all the Jedis are complete morons in the prequels for a simple fact:

    The Jedis are at the height of their power, and the sith are nowhere to be seen.

    Then comes a boy with a prophecy that he will bring BALANCE to the force. There’s only one solution from the given initial situation: That the balance will shift towards the Dark Side.

    Jedi Council SHOULD have seen that. Or, even better, do away with all the prophecy shit, make Obi Wan want to train Anakin for the simple fact that he needs to do penance for not saving his Master (Y U NO USE FORCE SPEED?!) and it was Qui-Gons last wish to see the boy trained in the ways of the jedi.

  7. @Johnny D

    I’ve seen a lot of them (all of TPM, and diminishing amounts of the next two). Without going into it too far, I think they’re a load of hot garbage. Intermittently amusing, and occasionally insightful, but mostly just nitpicky to an extreme and far too willing to portray events and people out of context to make a point.

    Given that so many people use them as authoritative essays on these movies, I did briefly consult them to identify points that need my attention more than others (particularly for this essay), but that’s about where their usefulness for me has ended.

    To prevent my having to revist ground better trod elsewhere, my counter-question for you would be: Have you read Jim Raynor’s rebuttal to Plinkett’s TPM review?

  8. I will give you until the next installment, but so far you haven’t said one thing that demonstrates that these are good MOVIES. You have defended the story, but the writing is horrid (I am interested to see how you can defend it in your next installment) and the acting terrible. Even if the story is good (which I still don’t think, but I can respect your opinion), the movies themselves are an awful implementation of that story.

  9. I fully admit that not only did I not like the prequels, I find the original three bad as well. I don’t think it is far to leave a comment without being honest about that.

    I am going to take exception to the claim that the three minor villains make up an archetype of Darth Vadar. I am judging these characters only from the films. I don’t follow the books or the TV shows…or video games…toys…and whatever else Lucas has whored out.

    Darth Maul kills one person. Yes a main character…but his body count is pathetically small compared to Darth Vadar who is such a bad mother that the admiral of the fleet has to tell him not to chock to death the officer that farted during the briefing. Compare Vadar’s entrance in the first film, where shit is totally pear shaped…and everything stops…cause Vadar is there. Its like he shows up…and people just stop f-ing around. Then to further establish his “DO NOT F- WITH” persona, he kills a dude just for not answer his questions. Like I said before, I am not a Star Wars or Lucas fan…but that opening and the establishment of the Vadar character was brilliant. Nothing close to that is achieved with Maul…who is at best, a lame set piece.

    Dooku…I could see where Lucas was trying to go with him, but without a good script to establish him as a smooth operator, literally showing how much more dangerous his mind was than Maul’s physical abilities, it was doomed to failure. Also, correct me if I am wrong…but does Vadar actually ever trick anyone in the first three films? Vadar was never the “Hannibal Lector” character, whose mind is his most dangerous weapon.

    Grevious…good god that character is a mess. They basically established that robots die quick and easy. If the film maker can’t be bothered to flesh out a character, why the hell should I care if he succeeds in his goals or not? They basically took one of the countless background throw away objects, gave him a raspy voice, and expected the audience to be invested in him. At no point did it look like Greiveous had a chance at anything.

    I see what you are trying to argue…and I guess the benefit of a doubt would suggest that Lucas was trying to do the same, but its a half ass, terrible attempt.

    Kasper- I have to take issue with people that just say the acting was horrid. That is easily to be taken as if there were the “right” actors, this film could be salvaged. Lucas has a LOT of talent on that screen. No one could work that dialogue or the directing into a decent performance.

  10. Thanks for this post. You’ve taken the words out of my mouth and even made several points I’ve never even thought of as a prequel appreciator. I particularly enjoyed your comparison to having the three secondary villains foreshadow Vader.

    I’ll be looking out for the next installment!

  11. This actually does bring up some interesting ideas, but I think the author is trying too hard to find meaning where there is none. The movies are just bad, plain and simple. We can try to analyze and interpret aspects of them in a way that forces them to work, in fact some parts of them interpreted the right way make them downright brilliant films, except that in the end these interpretations are a choice, an excuse for the films’ faults rather than an actual result of their intended design.
    Also ,most of the more interesting interpretations, ones that would actually make the films work, have been directly contradicted by Lucas, inferring that there really is nothing to be interpreted, that it’s all just there on screen. And regardless, even if you can find ways of interpreting what you see in the films that makes them better, it still doesn’t excuse what you’re actually seeing on the screen.

  12. I agree with you on most points. Fine.
    (btw I don’t quite understand why some here expect you to “prove” that they are “good” movies. Some people don’t seem to realize that the perception of a “good” movie is entirely subjective. Otherwise nobody would make a “bad” movie).

    The Prequels are what makes the Star Wars Saga special to me. The Original Trilogy is wonderful, but it’s just a classical “Hero’s Journy” like Lord Of The Rings, Spider-Man and all the other blockbuster movies and nothing unique or innotive (by today’s standards).

    And I honestly think the Prequel’s storyline is one of the most
    relevant for everyone. Democracy turning into a dictatorship because the Republic fails inside. A good person turning bad because he is just not understood (a) and therefore can’t overcome his shortcomings (b). Great.

    Concerning Anakin.
    Lucas was never happy with Vader being called “cool”. You really see this in the Prequels.

  13. First, let me congratulate you for standing up and making such great articles about these equally great and underrated movies.

    Second, who the hell though Qui-Gon was boring? In my opinion, he was the most charismatic and likeable character in the prequel trilogy (not to say the whole saga).

  14. I liked TPM, but then again I was a child when I saw it, without really understanding the universe. But I still really like Maul, and think he embodied the malice of the sith perfectly. He just needed more development.

  15. Unfortunately, too much logic here for the haters to follow. I always laugh when I hear that the prequels don’t have any story line. Right, the movies about the origins of one of the most powerful sith lords, the rise of Darth Sideous, his corruption in the Senate and the Jedi council, as well as his complete overthrow of the Republic, have no story…

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