Star Wars Prequel Appreciation

This post is a reworking and re-evaluation of a similar blog I did (that no longer exists) on another site some 15 months ago. It’s a measured response to criticisms and remarks I’ve heard constantly over the years, so much so that I’ve decided whenever I’m asked again, I’ll just hand off a link to this post instead of trying to start from scratch every single time.

Since 1999, fans of Star Wars have been divided over what we’ve been seeing on screen.  Many assume George changed things to suit a lesser story.  Some have assumed Star Wars lost its way.  I’ve heard these things and so many others, and that’s what this post is about.  I’ve paid attention to George Lucas over the years.  I’ve separated what he had to say from what the Lucasfilm engine has said.  And most importantly, I’ve learned by listening to Dave Filoni, the man who got to sit at the feet of the master and learned how to make Star Wars.  I’ve scoured the resources from Joseph Campbell.  I’ve reassessed constantly based on new information.  And above all, I checked my expectations at the door every time so that what I encountered was not what I assumed would be there.  It’s like the cave on Dagobah. What’s in there is only what you take with you.  Fans took their love and expectations, and growing up telling their own stories was a far more powerful thing than anything George Lucas could have given them.  Love and rage are two sides of a similar coin.  That there’s no apathy there demonstrates the love in play.  But the Dark Side clouds everything, and I resolved to listen to the masters.

I know how that sounds.  It sounds pretentious, standoffish.  It sounds like I’m calling people out for being stupid.

I’ll never call fans stupid. Willfully ignorant at times, perhaps, and certainly passionate in the extreme, but never stupid. They’ve proven otherwise en masse.  A far more disturbing idea to me is one that I keep seeing bounced around on the internet, that nobody hates Star Wars more than a Star Wars fan.  I’m sick to death of the repeated memes that people cling to in an effort to be too cool for the room.  The very notion that this idea is somehow relevant is what drives me to write a blog like this, because I want to help people to understand, to help them to see what I see in the hopes that it’ll heal some of the rifts.

To that end, what I am saying here is that we didn’t pay close enough attention.  We.  I had to learn these lessons too, and that’s what this whole write-up is about. You can look at something a thousand times, then that thousand and first viewing comes around, and something shifts in your perception just enough to make you see things completely differently.  The difference between me and most people I’ve ever discussed this with (which is hardly a representative cross-section of fans) is that I chose to put my trust in the man who gave me these stories and in the team he assembled to realize them.  They’re his stories.  That means that what we as fans assume to be true might very well be wrong, and it’s up to us to learn from the master as he intends.  That’s never easy to hear, especially over something we think we know so well.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”  — Yoda

So, let’s start this by looking at the original trilogy and its focus.  What do we have?  This is, as the original teaser trailer tells us, the tale of a boy, a girl, and a galaxy.  Who are the boy and the girl?  They are the children of the Force, the would-be saviors of a galaxy under oppression.  We don’t know it when we meet them, but they are twins, born of a forbidden union between a politician who was far too idealistic to be effective and a Jedi knight whose power and place in the galaxy was foretold in prophecy.  That’s a lot to digest.  Everything that’s set into motion in the prequels has to propel that original story forward somehow, either by pushing it into play, or by illuminating something we didn’t know before.  My argument is that the prequels did exactly that by shifting our focus. The original trilogy is also called “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker.” The 6-film saga and The Clone Wars comprise a larger tale, “The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.” Neither interpretation is wrong, for they are both true… from a certain point of view.

The first thing to understand, then, is that the tone of the two trilogies are going to be different in nearly every way by necessity.  In the original trilogy, we follow a group of Rebels in their quest to take down the Empire.  It’s a character drama with a small, concise cast.  The prequels are there to inform a far wider scope so as to show us the full ramifications.  More characters, more planets, more drama, bigger stakes, and ultimately the fall of the galaxy under the shadow of evil.  By its very mission statement, it has to start hopeful and light, have that light crushed, and end on a downer.  That’s a psychological head-trip that most people claim they want to day and really can’t handle.  More than that, because it’s a bigger story with a wider focus, we lose a lot of the necessary character drama that will connect us to that drama.  That’s a storytelling faux paus if we count these prequels as merely standalone films (which they are not and were never meant to be), but by expanding the lore of that era through The Clone Wars, I believe a great many of those perceived problems are ironed out, just as we were given greater understanding within that series.

The second thing to understand, which most people overlook, is that if you look at the saga as a whole story, then the prequels are only the first half the story they’re telling.  They are, by definition, going to be the setup.  There is payoff in the extreme, but in the long game they’re playing, that means that exposition must happen.  The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones carry a lot of heavy lifting, and that’s the reason people revile them.  Again, they are not meant to stand alone.  Where the original trilogy was character and emotion, these movies expend a lot of time setting pieces up and explaining what they are.  It’s world building, but it’s not the most exciting thing to watch in the minds of some people. It’s the sort of thing that would work better in an epic novel. If you look at The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has that same kind of world building, and Peter Jackson left most of it out for just that reason. The difference here, of course, is that George Lucas didn’t have that luxury. His media is film, and nobody told this story for him to adapt. It’s his, and the notebook he’s used from the beginning was in play all the way through to the end.  That shift in world building necessity is part of why fans feel betrayed by these films especially.  It takes cutting off the emotional circuitry for a time to see these movies for what they do offer, and I think that in spite of the missteps, the world building is solid. Think of it as the Star Wars version of The Silmarillion. Not every fan will enjoy it or even understand it, but those who do can will appreciate a far wider scope because the world building uses shorthand for historical momentums and mythological themes.  We’ve taken for granted what’s in these movies as though it was always there.  We’ve argued that it doesn’t make sense.  This is the emotional response of a fandom living through nostalgia and having grown up on the originals to the point where they exist on pedestals.

So with that in mind, and in the understanding that this “layers of canon” nonsense was exactly that – nonsense – let’s examine the material from the perspectives of the films, the TV series, and the man who gave us both, the man who said from the beginnings the books and other media weren’t his story.

The Chosen One

“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force.  You believe it’s this… boy?” — Mace Windu

This is the fundamental through-line for the entire saga as it stands today.  We, as a society, typically reject the idea of the Chosen One, so much so that many fans will misread this story and pin the title of Chosen One on Luke.  We see the failure that is Anakin Skywalker, and we’re glad he failed because… well, Darth Vader is cool.  He’s the greatest screen villain since the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939, and he’s held on to that title for another 40 years and counting for a reason.  He is, and has been since the beginning, the face of Star Wars.

star wars darth vader entrance

When we were introduced to Lord Vader in 1977, we had no idea who he was.  Was he a man?  A machine?  A cyborg?  Something else entirely?  We had no clue.  He was a mystery, which made him that much more dangerous.  Nothing attracts us quite like a dangerous mystery.  It’s why guys are attracted to the bad girls, and why the ladies love the bad boys. It’s a stereotype, but stereotypes are forged from nuggets of truth.  It’s human nature, regardless of how loudly we protest, and regardless of how many examples to the contrary we can point out. When we got that glimpse of the back of Vader’s unhelmeted head, fans oooh’d and aaah’d. Then when he was finally unmasked, we were disappointed because the mystery – and the menace – was no longer there.

For myself, I’ve only ever seen two other unmaskings in the history of cinema that were done effectively from both a storytelling and audience satisfaction point of view.  The first was Lon Chaney, Jr., in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera, and the other was the peek at the man behind the curtain in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.  In the first, the reveal was even more terrifying than the idea, as it was designed to be, and in the second, it humanized the Wizard so that Dorothy and her friends could receive the help they needed.  In the first, the mystery confirmed the pure horror, ramping up the tension another notch, and in the second it revealed a friend where the audience had no expectation or care either way.  In Return of the Jedi, it served to humanize Darth Vader on some level, to allow the audience to sympathize with Luke Skywalker as the monster gave way to what remained of the feeble old man.  It was, and remains to my mind, truly effective in the narrative, but for some reason the general population (or the cross-section of them that I encounter) just refuses to embrace it.  And I get it.  I was nine years old when the mask came off, and that told me the thrill ride was finally over.  As sad as that is, I’ve returned to that story so many times I’ve lost count, and will continue to do so because it’s extremely satisfying.  But for most people, I think, it’s because we weren’t taught to care about Anakin Skywalker, whereas we all bought Darth Vader merchandise.  It’s, of course, the intention of the entire prequel era, The Clone Wars included, to bring about that further understanding and appreciation of the man behind the monster.

As I say, the general audience disapproved at the time, and they held on to that.  This disapproval is the same root cause that people used to level at the prequel era as a whole, the somewhat faulty idea that demystifying something somehow diminishes it, and that sentiment had been building since 1983.  In the 16 years between Jedi and Menace, fan expectations grew wildly out of proportion to what could be expected because they didn’t look to actually see what they should have expected. They made up their own versions, which are always more satisfying on a personal level. That’s why fan fiction is so ubiquitous, because people can write to play up to whatever need they think they have, whether it makes sense to the original story or not. But the fact is, it’s not the story, so expectations are ramped up, and then they fall accordingly.  Similarly, Anakin’s expectations were ramped up in the course of the prequel trilogy, and when his reality failed to meet his expectation… well, look where it got him.

So let’s learn from Anakin’s example and try to see this for what it is instead of what we think it “should” be.

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When we meet Anakin at the age of 9, he is a slave.  He is impossibly angelic given his station in life and the hell he lives in.  But he believes in the possibility of hope.  He has not been crushed by his conditions.  Why is that? I might simply argue that it’s because he doesn’t know any other possibility.  Perception defines reality, and at this point his perception of such possibility is extremely limited.  Or is it?

Another story point to consider… he asks Qui-Gon Jinn if he is a Jedi knight, after having seen his lightsaber.  At their height, the Jedi had around 10,000 knights protecting thousands of overpopulated worlds across a galaxy.  To put this into proper perspective, that’s probably one or two Jedi per planet, across the whole of a galaxy.  Then take into account they kept a low profile until the Clone Wars.  They were largely myth and legend, even to those worlds where they were frequently visiting.  Why?  Because they’re quiet.  They were peacekeepers, negotiators.  They would deal with heads of state or with dangerous threats.  Either way, they were out of the limelight.  And yet, Anakin has heard of them, out in the Outer Rim, in Hutt-controlled space.  How?  There’s no logical reason given, except…

His mother Shmi tells Qui-Gon Jinn that Anakin has no father.  He was conceived… unnaturally?  No.  He was conceived in the Force.  Many fans have put forth the notion that the “father” was Palpatine, but according to George, it was the Force itself in response to the Sith uprising. Essentially the time was right to put that pawn into play as a kind of an antibody to a disease that had spiraled out of control. Author James Luceno took this idea to expansion in his novel Darth Plagueis, which is also not canon, but it’s interesting to consider.

It’s the Force that gives Anakin his abilities, and it’s the Force that gives Anakin his hope.  It’s also the Force that will give him his nightmares, but that’s too early in the story.  Qui-Gon knows of the prophecy, and because he has faith, he draws that connection.  But because he sees what is rather than what he wants to be, as we all must, he must first test his theory.

This is where we’re introduced to the controversial midichlorians. These aren’t needed, the fans cry. Obi-Wan didn’t need to tell any of this to Luke. This is just George demystifying things again! Yes and no. Fact is, midichlorians are in that aforementioned notebook, in a reference that dates back to the first film.  For George, they’ve always been there.  For us, perception defines reality.  It’s just that Obi-Wan truly had no need to tell Luke about them because he was pushing the lad out the door towards his future, not giving a scientific dissertation. Notice that Anakin isn’t told about it either.  Qui-Gon simply takes a blood test and lies to Anakin about why he did it so as to avoid the larger explanation that a kid wouldn’t understand anyway.

So what’s this all about then?  The Jedi Order has stood for “a thousand generations.”  That’s roughly 25,000 years, a generation being defined here and commonly throughout Star Wars lore as about 25 years.  It’s beyond foolish to assume that an order that relies on so much technology hasn’t used that tech to learn more about the Force. As the Dalai Lama says, “If science proves Buddhism is wrong, then Buddhism must adapt.” The same applies here.  And you know what the Jedi learned?  That midichlorians are not the Force.  Rather, think of the Force as radio waves, the transmissions emanated from all living things.  The midichlorians are the antenna and radio that picks up and translates those waves into communication the Jedi can understand.  Ergo, the more midichlorians one has, the more direct and powerful the communication with the Force has the potential to be.  Having more doesn’t equate to capability, only to potential. Untrained potential is dangerous, and Qui-Gon knows that the boy must be taught, regardless of whether or not the prophecy is true.  He can play the long game and observe, ultimately seeing if his instincts are right.

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Qui-Gon, being the rogue Jedi that he is, has shirked dogma at every turn and has taught his apprentice of the concept of the Living Force, which is a concept that the Jedi Council of this era doesn’t teach, and we’re left to question if indeed they ever have.  But we, the audience, have heard it before.  This is what Yoda and Obi-Wan taught Luke in the original trilogy.  So we have a disconnect.  How did we get from there to here?

To understand that, we must understand the balance of the Force.  Why is there a Chosen One needed at all if there are only two Sith lords and a plethora of Jedi knights?  Because there is imbalance, and that imbalance has nothing to do with numbers or perceptions of good and evil.  What does this mean?

The Jedi have become corrupt to their own teachings. It’s so slow that they are only beginning to become aware of this point. Their abilities are growing weaker as the Dark Side rises in counterpoint.  They are part of the problem now.  Their rigidness caused from both their dogma and their political entanglements have led to this era where the Dark Side clouds everything. Even Yoda cannot see the future as clearly as he once did.  This is part of why Qui-Gon stays away for extended periods of time, his intuition and studies telling him this is fundamentally wrong somehow, with his path being where he is one with the Force through the varieties of people he encounters throughout the galaxy.  This is why the Force led him to Anakin.  Qui-Gon is the one Jedi who got it.

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By the time of the Return of the Jedi, there are two Sith – Vader and his Emperor, and there are two Jedi – Luke and Yoda.  Yoda dies, and it is revealed that Leia is his sister.  The potential balance.  Is this the balance of the Force?  Many assumed so, but as I say, the balance has nothing to do with numbers or perception of power.  According to George Lucas, the balance means the elimination of the impurities in the Force. If the Force is life, then the impurity is death and any mockery of that life.  The Dark Side itself is the imbalance, by nature of it wanting to unnaturally extend life and feeding its power base through hatred, manipulation, and genocide.  When Luke appeals to Anakin on Death Star II, Luke is the catalyst that drives Anakin to dispose of the Emperor, frying his life support system in the process. Thus it is by Anakin’s hand that balance returns to the Force.  The last Jedi standing after that is trained in the basic ideas of the Force as Qui-Gon taught it, without the dogma, without the system, because Yoda and Obi-Wan were taught by Qui-Gon from the Beyond during their exile while Luke was growing up.

For the Force, it was a win-win situation. How could it be otherwise if all life flows from the Force? Had Qui-Gon Jinn lived, Anakin would have grown powerful in those teachings and the Chosen One prophecy would have unfolded exactly as the Jedi expected. But prophecy will not be denied, and neither will the Force. As the intention was sidetracked, the Chosen One’s path was reconfigured to allow evil to corrupt itself from the inside out, like a bad tooth. Vader would become the cancer that that would eventually end the reign of terror. It’s a lot like The Shadow in regard, for those who read the old pulps. He’s the ultimate evil working for the forces of good. The difference is that Vader was not in control of that destiny, and he saw only one set of strings. So did his master. The Dark Side clouded this too. Overconfidence was their weakness, and it became their undoing.

 

Forbidden Romance

I think we can all agree the romance element was a little lacking here.  It’s not George’s forte.  And I’ve heard a number of you say it was creepy.  It was.  It was supposed to be.  It was, by its very nature, supposed to be unhealthy and ultimately doomed.  Why did it happen?  How did it happen?  The answer, my friends, is once again… the will of the Force.  And I don’t mean it to sound like a crutch.  I’m serious about this at all turns. That’s how Lucas presented it in his story, and that’s how we must see it to fully understand it on the mythological scale.

Why was Padme there to meet Anakin on Tatooine?  Because the Force intervened to ensure they’d have to land there.  She got to see firsthand the idea of people in the galaxy suffering outside the dominion of the Republic.  She got to see the Jedi rise to the challenge of protecting her world.  And she got to see the Republic’s politics crumble, and with it, her faith weakened. Where did her faith turn?  To her ideals, and to the Jedi who protected them.  But Anakin was forbidden fruit to her, just as she was to him.  What’s more irresistible to a good girl than a bad boy who will do anything for her, needs protection from himself, and is willing to go to hell and back for his mother?  Of course she fell for him.  What’s more irresistible to a bad boy than a girl who reminds him of the strength and dignity of his mother, just when he loses that mother to something vile?  You don’t forget your first love, and she was imprinted on him through the Force as much as those nightmares were that drove him to darker deeds.  Of course he fell for her.

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So they each toss caution to the wind just as the galaxy’s wheel turns for the worse, and they get married in secret as the Clone Wars open.  The turbulence and separation they experience in their married life is a direct reflection of the same on the larger scale of a galaxy in civil war.  This means they will not spend most of their time together for the next three years, absence making the heart grow fonder while the galaxy crumbles around them.  The brief interludes they share must be done so quickly and on the sly, amping up the forbidden excitement.  By the time Grievous is destroyed, they’re practically bursting.  And those interludes have produced a pregnancy.  This means for Padme that the galaxy’s stabilization is more important than ever, and for Anakin it means the exact same.  Only their methods differ, which they’ve not had much opportunity to discuss.  The realities of the war have whittled their optimism.  She is now his mother figure as much as she is a lover, and he is her protector as much as he needs protecting.

Attachment… this is what Yoda warned Anakin about.  The idea is that we will lose that which we cling to most tightly.  As Leia told Tarkin on the Death Star, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”  It works on the personal level too.  In fearing to lose Padme as he did his mother, Anakin grows overprotective and even suspicious of her.  Love turns to hate so quickly when he thinks that after betraying himself and his fellow Jedi to save her life that she might have been cheating on him with Obi-Wan.  This wasn’t true, of course, but the Dark Side clouds everything, and his emotional instability leaves him grasping at any justification he can find to be right.

Anakin’s attachments are the strings that snap and send him spiraling towards the Dark Side. He wouldn’t let go of his mother, and he slaughtered her killers. He wouldn’t let go of his padawan, Ahsoka, and the ramifications of that are still being explored (no spoilers!). And he wouldn’t let go of Padme, thus pushing him into the arms of the Dark Side in a futile attempt to extend her life. The more he pushed, the more the Dark Side embraced him and cut him off from everything that would sustain him.

 

“You Were My Brother, Anakin.”

More attachment.  Anakin lost Qui-Gon Jinn, his savior, his liberator.  Obi-Wan became his surrogate father.  As all growing kids do, he tested his boundaries frequently, and in doing so proved himself far more powerful than even his master.  With his later victories in the Clone Wars combined with the constant reminders of his status as war hero and Chosen One, Anakin’s overconfidence grew to epic and unmanageable proportions.

To Obi-Wan, Anakin was a brother and ultimately a comrade-in-arms, not a son.  His belief and practice of the non-attachment tenants of his order wouldn’t allow him to be there for Anakin in the way he should have been.  He didn’t recognize the signs of the fall.  He was distracted by his own missions during the war, and by ramifications of his own attachments that gave him more sympathy towards what little he did see in Anakin’s path. He also believed the words of his master, that Anakin is the Chosen One. He believed this to the core of his being, such was his faith in Qui-Gon and the proof of his own eyes. He saw Anakin do the impossible, even for a Jedi, in the Clone Wars. That Anakin would betray them all was unthinkable to him.

But to Anakin, the Jedi systematically betrayed him or didn’t believe in him in the first place. Obi-Wan kept his distance, so Anakin turned to the one man who would listen to him, the Supreme Chancellor.  Palpatine befriended him and made Anakin rely on him until it was too late.  When Anakin knelt to become Darth Vader, he knew then he was duped.  Say what you will about Hayden’s vocal delivery, his facial performance is beyond impressive.  You can see the fear, the hate, and the reluctant acceptance of his new slave chains all in his eyes, even without the yellow.  That’s why on Mustafar he was already plotting the death of his new master, because he understood what being a slave meant, and he had no one else he could turn to.  The Dark Side wouldn’t allow him to listen to Obi-Wan’s reasoning in the end, and that put him into the physical slavery of the life support armor as well.

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People have complained that Darth Vader being revealed as an emo kid is wrong and devalues the character on so many levels.  Again, I disagree and point to George Lucas’ inspiration: history.  A young, mediocre watercolor painter fought for his country as soldier in World War I, was injured, and was sent to recover.  He was a mama’s boy for all intents, looking to serve his country and fight for the glory of his people.  While he was recovering, Germany surrendered. He lost hope, he lost faith.  He watched his people starve and suffer indignities.  And through the will of hate, he harnessed his charisma after falling in with the wrong people.  He channeled his will into a force of evil and devastation, the ramifications of which we’re still suffering today.  That man was Adolf Hitler, and he was living a delusion of vengeance whispered into him by his ministers of propaganda.  Dance, puppet, dance.  Like Vader, he was the most powerful puppet of his age, and the legend of the monster would far overshadow the reality of the man.  Beware the emo kid.

 

The Fall of the Jedi

As I pointed out, the Jedi were largely rumor or myth to most people… until the Clone Wars.  For three years, the Jedi were heavily promoted on holovids as the heroes of the galaxy.  News feeds declared them the saviors of Republic civilization and values.  People were shown how powerful they were, given firsthand footage of their extraordinary power. Sandwiched between two essentially disposable and faceless armies, brandishing lightsabers and supernatural powers, and being seemingly the only ones out there protecting the values of the average citizen, the Jedi were military rock stars.  And then one day, the Chancellor says they are traitors to everyone, that he himself was attacked by them with the intent of a takeover.  They are picked off by a mysterious order given that nearly every clone trooper obeys without question, and without mercy.  The Jedi reputation falls just as quickly.

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How was it set into motion?

At the time of The Phantom Menace, we are given a collapse in trade and the brewings of a civil war.  Not exactly high-powered stuff to anyone watching a movie, but to an armchair historian like myself, this is the most powerful warning imaginable.  This is how such things unfold in real life.  This is how Rome’s Republic fell and gave way to Empire, in the thunderous applause of Julius Caesar and by his avenger and successor Augustus Caesar.  During this time, as a result of what such trends would cause to pass, Jedi Master Syfo-Dias defied the Order and secretly placed an order for a clone army at the behest of his fellow Jedi Master, Dooku.  These two Jedi, like Qui-Gon Jinn, saw the imminent collapse due to the disconnect between Jedi teachings and Jedi dogma.  Dooku, being Jinn’s teacher, was devastated by the loss of Jinn, and he lost hope in the Republic and in the Jedi.  He left the Order in disgust, returning to his homeworld to reclaim his rightful nobility as a count and to use his influence to warn others of what he had seen coming.  Using his political influence and experience, he became an icon to rally around for millions of Separatists across the galaxy.

Darth Sidious approached him and played on all of his fears, and as we know, fear is the path to the Dark Side.  When Dooku agreed to join him, that’s when he approached his friend Syfo-Dias to place that order of clones.  Syfo-Dias did so because he understood Dooku was in a position to see what was coming.  Then Dooku, as the newly-minted Sith Lord Darth Tyrannus, killed his former friend, taking the secret of the clones with him.  The pieces were now in place to control the conflict that was coming on both fronts.  The idea would be to take the Jedi from their position of peace and negotiation and plop them into the midst of every battlefield horror that would whittle away at their resolve and their credibility as saviors.  Who were they facing? Droids.  Who fought beside them?  Clones.  Two expendable armies, and nobody would care until the fight showed up in their own backyard.  The ideologies would play out on vids, and the average person would do absolutely nothing. The war didn’t affect them so long as they had their bread and circuses.  Thus the Clone Wars took away hope, the saviors who would bestow it, and freedom as the people understood it.

 

“She’s Lost the Will to Live.”

Padme suffered a great deal of physical torment between pregnancy, space travel, emotional trauma, being Force choked, and finally giving birth, all under the added emotional stress of having her heart torn asunder as her husband snapped and the galaxy she understood imploded upon itself.  As some have pointed out, motherhood — especially for one as protective as Padme — should have kept her alive.  Then is it out of bounds to suspect the reason she died is because the Force claimed her?  In doing so, the seeds of the future were planted with her children.  One would grow up in search of his Father’s legacy, needed to eventually defeat him.  The other would grow up in fulfillment of her mother’s destiny, needed to eventually restore it.  It seems evil to think the Force might snuff out a life like that, but is Padme truly gone?  Or is she merely returned to the source that created her specifically for the purpose she fulfilled?

A medical droid wouldn’t understand any of that.

 

Protecting the Future

Leia was given memories of her mother.  The Force needed that legacy to live on.  Alderaan paid a heavy price to give Leia even further motivation to see her mission to the end.  She helped to organize that Rebellion as much as her surrogate father did, and through him she learned leadership, discipline, and covert operations as much as she did political savvy.  When escaping the Death Star, who comforted Luke after the death of Obi-Wan even though she had only recently watched her entire homeworld explode?  This is a woman born of the power of the Force, forged through a short lifetime of learning to harness that strength.

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Meanwhile, Luke grew up secluded, on the one world you’d think somebody would find him.  Again, I point out Tatooine is in Hutt-controlled territory, away from everything, and it’s the one planet Vader would not return to without a certain knowledge of what to look for. Had Obi-Wan used the Force to shield Luke, that would have been like sending a signal flare. Likewise, had Obi-Wan given Luke the answers he craved, Luke would have gone off half-cocked into the fray to find his father.  The boy would be known before he could be trained, resulting in either his turn or his death.  By lying to him, Obi-Wan protected Luke’s belief in his father as a hero, saved his life, and secured the future of the galaxy.

Padme was killed, and Vader knew it.  The search for an unborn child (he didn’t know she bore one, let alone twins) would have been pointless, and this meant that he spent the next years brooding in the Dark Side that clouds everything, seeing only his will to destroy his master.  He’s learning to play the long game that Palpatine’s victory over the Jedi has taught him.  Anything else is a distraction, except for the hunt for the remaining Jedi he’s been tasked with.  And given that we know how important those children are, it can be explained that the Force protected their identities until they were in position to do what they needed to do.

Had Anakin not been left in the condition he was at Mustafar, Palpatine would have put him on a pedestal as the hero of the Clone Wars, he who saved the galaxy and stopped the traitorous Jedi.  As it was, however, he could not use Vader in the public eye now.  And that served him. Tarkin was always his more public face, while Vader was accustomed to leading troops into battle from the front, doing precision strikes where the Emperor needed him most.  Vader would be a shadow who would then be in a position to finally encounter the Rebels on the front lines who were, unknown to him at the time, his children.

 

“Who’s the More Foolish – the Fool, or the Fool Who Follows Him?”

Obi-Wan’s words of wisdom to Han Solo would have a dreadful echo in the prequels. The fool is an ancient archetype that denotes a purity and childlike innocence. Even through exile, war, and a rise to prominence as a galactic senator, the role of the fool in the saga is none other than Jar Jar Binks. On the surface, Binks is bumbling and incompetent. Fact is, he’s also brave beyond measure and does what he thinks is right, even if he doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand fully what’s going on around him. That’s a trait of quality that the darker forces of the galaxy used against him, ultimately resulting in emergency powers being granted to the one man who should not have them. Binks understood good and evil, but he did not recognize the face of evil under the mask of good. It’s easy to point fingers, but few in the senate chamber recognized it for what it was, and thus the Empire was born in a desire for safety and security over the desire for freedom.

“Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” — Benjamin Franklin

We see the setup for how this will unfold in The Phantom Menace. At every turn, Jar Jar is a good soul, but he’s ultimately driven by the simple instinct to save his own neck and only recognizes immediate threats. He panics. If you stop and think about it, there’s a little bit of Jar Jar in all of us. I’m sure I just lost a lot of friends by saying that, but you know… the truth speaks for itself. Everyone’s guilty of this from time to time. Jar Jar is simply this state of being writ large.

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As to his character on-screen, I will say this much. He was mishandled in that first film. If you watch The Clone Wars, you can see an evolution of how writers learned to make him work. The standard and time-honored comedy duo of funny guy and straight man is what was lacking in the films. Jar Jar was bounced off of everyone in the attempt to get him to work, and it was a spectacular failure by every measurable idea. When played off a single character in any given episode of the TV series, Jar Jar rose to new levels, if you were willing to give him another chance. Many people see him as a racist stereotype. People give this one up. He’s a frog from another galaxy. You see what you want to see here. There are plenty of minority representations in Star Wars, and the life and work of George Lucas as a humanitarian and educator speaks for itself. You have no leg to stand on here. It’s a non-argument. Any offense you perceive, much like the cave on Dagobah, reflects what’s in you already. That’s the nature of great art. It holds up a mirror to our expectations and our society. I would argue that if Binks offends you, it’s because society has taught you to be offended. In recognizing that, you can come to peace with so much.

On the other hand, if you’re only offended by his base humor, well, I would point back to the original trilogy. There is base humor all over the place if you know where to look. Plenty of aliens burp and fart, and even the mighty Chewbacca thinks with his stomach and gets the group into trouble.

Jar Jar’s archetype is replaced in the original trilogy. Where we have the fool and a place for him in the prequels, the galaxy turns cynical. Notice there is no one like Jar Jar in the original trilogy. Notice also, there is no place for a cynic like Han Solo in the prequels. Han is the anti-Jar Jar. He is smart, witty, savvy, competent, and has to begrudgingly do the right thing. That he’s just cool also helps, but in terms of theme, these are the points of balance and counterbalance when it comes to reading the state of the galaxy. Binks grows less whimsical and more serious; Solo grows less cynical and more hopeful.

 

“Don’t Call Me a Mindless Philosopher, You Overweight Blob of Grease.”

Throughout the saga, there is one character who sees everything and acts in purest intentions at all turns, matching those intentions with heart: R2-D2. More than just the Swiss army knife of the galaxy, R2 proves himself in the line of duty at every turn, pushes the reluctant into place, correctly identifies his enemies at every turn, and helps the central hero in the Skywalker line at all points, no matter who fills that role. In the first two prequels, it was Padme in her quest to maintain the liberties of the people. In The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith, it was Anakin as he fought off the mechanized armies of oppression. And in the original trilogy, it begins with Leia securing the Death Star plans, and ultimately finding Luke, who will insist the droid is along for the ride against the battle station. R2 is there to witness Luke’s training on Dagobah and to help free the group on Bespin. When Luke has to go it alone, R2 is at Leia’s side, seeing her mission to fruition.

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He is the one character that has seen it all, has done it all, and has come through it all as the touchstone with the audience.  As George Lucas himself has stated, R2 is the real narrator of this saga. This, I think, is another point against The Phantom Menace, for we are a considerable distance into the film before we’re introduced to the little droid. Without that anchor, we are subconsciously disconnected because our tether isn’t there.

 

In Conclusion

I think at this point I’ve answered every serious question and criticism I’ve come across regarding the prequel trilogy. I’m willing to entertain others to the extent that they are serious enough to have some bearing on the conversation at hand.  Aside from that, this post has probably gone on long enough.  It’s my hope that for those who have read this, it will have shed new light and new appreciation for this important chapter in Star Wars history.  Thank you for keeping an open mind.

2 thoughts on “Star Wars Prequel Appreciation

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