This article is not a debate about the quality or enjoyment of the Star Wars prequels. I’ve made my philosophy about movies clear before. Instead, I watch them for what they are even as I recognize their flaws. I will focus on one some of those flaws in this post, but that does not mean I’m here to deride or debate Episodes I – III.
I’ve been watching “The Clone Wars” animated series for a while now, getting in an episode where I can. Overall it was enjoyable and, while it was sort of cliché to start, it became really enjoyable about the 4th season. Story arcs became longer and more complex and the characters really began to develop. Finishing up one multi-episode plot, I became focused on how well it related to the fall of Anakin in “Revenge of the Sith”. That made me take a step back and look at those episodes (and the entire series so far) in relation to the prequels. I realized that “The Clone Wars” not only filled in plot holes but also compensated for problems with characters during Episode III.
In particular, the fall of Anakin just felt so fast and unrealistic. The plot made sense, given his abandonment issues and previous losses, but it was not that believable. To see him build up trust in Palpatine that fast, easily turn on the Jedi he’d lived with, and then resort to Sith-like tactics and behaviors… none of it sat well with me.
Now, many people blame Hayden Christensen for his acting. I won’t disagree that his portrayal did no justice to the character and its story arc. I will note that I’m not sure I blame the actor, so much as the director, given that he’s not that bad in other films. (Especially seeing as Natalie Portman is a fantastic actress, and she was just as bad.) So, we might also blame Lucas’ poor skill at directing scenes and stories involving drama.
Still, I believe the daunting task of portraying such a complex fall may have been too much for a single movie. If you watch the originals, the character development is cliché: rural boy becomes superhero, rugged loner reveals his heart of gold, fallen villain redeems himself, etc. Trying to show the rise of an ex-slave who turns into the Übermensch, suffering from abandonment and loss issues, all while keeping a secret relationship in the midst of a war… that’s more like an Alan Moore series than classic space opera tropes. I theorize that such a complex issue is better served in a TV series than in a 2-3 hour film.
Thus why I feel “The Clone Wars” helps answer so many questions and fleshes out character development and relationships. By the end of Season 4, you begin to see Anakin giving into his passion and rage. You see the Jedi Council start using more unethical tactics and push Anakin away (out of concern for his behavior), which makes him lose trust and faith in them. You also see how Palpatine uses these opportunities to slowly build a relationship with Anakin, laying the groundwork for what is to come. In fact, knowing that Palpatine set up those opportunities, and watching his behavior during the “plots” on his life, you really begin to appreciate just how devious, intelligent, and Machiavellian the Chancellor/Emperor is.
In addition to the Anakin story, you really begin to appreciate other characters that were barely touched. Count Dooku is no longer a weird-named replacement for Darth Maul; he’s a force to be reckoned with, on par with Darth Vader, and everyone’s fear (and hate) for him makes so much more sense. Similarly, General Grievous also takes on a larger role, becoming the danger and weapon he should have been rather than some asthmatic guy stupidly spinning his lightsbers while Obi-Wan cuts each hand off. More Padme (and even Jar-Jar) provides insight into the changes of the Senate that made Palpatine’s rise so much easier, not to mention laying the groundwork for the Rebellion that was in deleted scenes from Episode III.
People may dislike the prequels and point out all sorts of questions and plot holes. Yet the Clone Wars does a great job at answering so many of these concerns and making developments in “Revenge of the Sith” understandable. Looking at the movies, I’m not sure the complexities of these arcs and characters could have accurately been done in a single movie, even if given a different writer and director. Such a story required many tales told over a long period of time to accurately explain all the manipulations, relationships, and character changes. Thus, I praise “The Clone Wars” for making the prequels (particularly Episode III) so much better and allowing me to appreciate Lucas’ creations and story.