From USA Today:
“I have a confession to make: I don’t hate the Star Wars prequels. In fact, I love them. […]
But while I’ve never felt the need to hide the fact that I am a Star Wars fan in general, I have always felt self-conscious about my love for George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy, which revisited the beloved franchise to tell the story of how young Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. I constantly qualified my affection by reminding friends that I was young when I first saw the films, that I liked the original trilogy better, and that I still preferred practical effects to CGI. And while all of those things are true, they do not make me like The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith any less. What made me like them less, at least for a time, was everyone else. […]
There are plenty of elements in the prequels that are worthy of celebration, and indeed, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are very solid entries in the franchise as a whole. Yet we scorn all three movies because they are different. Or, more accurately, we scorn them because they’re not exactly what we wanted. […]
Different isn’t always good, but it isn’t always bad, either. The visuals in the prequels might contrast sharply from the original trilogy (think the sleek Naboo ships and the claustrophobic cityscape of Coruscant as compared to the roughness of the Millennium Falcon and the mostly untouched wilderness on Hoth and Endor), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t exciting. And in fact the slow evolution of the visuals, for example, the design of the ships, as the Republic evolves into the Empire, is one of the details the films executed the most gracefully. […]
In the prequels, the lightsaber battles are sleeker affairs with better choreography and more athleticism. The duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of Sith is as operatic as the music that backs it up, while the same two characters mostly shuffle around each other in A New Hope until Vader takes a final, deadly swing. Of course, the New Hope battle is exciting and emotionally resonant without dramatic choreography, but there’s plenty of value to be found in the Sith spectacle as well.
There’s also no denying that the technology behind the prequels brought sequences to life that wouldn’t have been possible in the ’70s and ’80s. Jar Jar may have looked (and sounded) fake, but that lightsaber battle between Yoda and Count Dooku? It’s a breathtaking scene that was only achievable through CGI. In fact, the entire third act of Clones, from the arena fight to the first Clone War battle to Anakin and Padme’s secret wedding, is the greatest contribution the prequels make to the Star Wars canon, as thrilling to watch as anything in Return of the Jedi.
And while the plot points of Phantom may have drifted too far into the obscure (using the words “taxation of trade routes” in the title scroll is always a mistake), the darker political themes in Clones and Sith are bold and intriguing, exploring the way fascism can creep into society.
“What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists?” Padme asks Anakin in Sith. Later, she is proven right when the Republic falls, as she notes, to “thunderous applause” as Jedi are slaughtered across the galaxy by their comrades, and her husband murders dozens of children.
It’s an exceedingly dark place to go, and a far cry from the dancing teddy bear Ewoks celebrating the end of the Empire at the close of Jedi. In the original trilogy, the light side gets to win. In the prequels, it has to lose. Maybe it’s a harder story to stomach, but we shouldn’t dismiss it just for being told. […]
But perhaps if you haven’t watched them in a few years, or if you’ve only heard about how bad they are, maybe you can give the Star Wars prequels another chance. Yes, you’ll have to sit through the painful use of the words “Meesa” and “Yousa” from a walking amphibian, but you’ll also see the adventure, the fantasy and the wonder that made a whole new generation believe in the Force. And isn’t that the point of seeing Star Wars, anyway?”