I've always been frustrated by the vehement hate that people lay upon Star Wars Episodes I-III, sometimes called the prequels. People have deeply polarizing opinions about those three movies that I've never heard expressed about the original trilogy, Episodes IV-VI. As someone who enjoys all six (and now seven, with The Force Awakens) episodes, as well as the saga as a whole, I think that's a little unfair.
Of course, everyone can have an opinion about a movie. We each enjoy (or don't enjoy) things a little differently. I have plenty of unpopular opinions about some stories; why should I be surprised that I have a different opinion on the Star Wars prequels? Regardless, I recently watched Episodes I, II, and III, and I found myself distinctly struck by some deep lessons in the arc.
One of the things that I think it's important to recognize is that, while the original trilogy, Episodes IV-VI, is an adventure story – a save-the-galaxy romp – the prequel trilogy is a tragedy and a cautionary tale. They are very classically Shakespearian, with the original three being a comedy and the newer three being a tragedy. Thus, Episodes I, II, and III are necessarily dramatic, sad, and a convergence of bad choices. As a cautionary tale, I think they have a lot of lessons to tell us.
Anakin and Padme's Relationship:
Since seeing Star Wars for the first time several years ago, I've been fascinated by the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Part of that has involved numerous calculations about their respective ages (Anakin is nine and Padme is fourteen in The Phantom Menace, which is what I eventually figured must be the case; interestingly, did you know that Natalie Portman was only sixteen at the time?) Their relationship also has one of the most beautiful themes in the entire saga – the tragic Across the Stars.
I've always considered their relationship tragic, of course; how could you not? This time around, though, I noticed a lot of things applicable to real-life relationships.
In The Phantom Menace, it is clear that Anakin has a lot of fear inside of him. He's a happy, but conflicted, little boy. Ten years later, in Attack of the Clones, that fear shows its dangerous manifestations. It's joined, however, by arrogance and jealousy. Padme sees the latter two when Anakin complains of being held back by Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi Council. Those outbursts are her first warning signs of Anakin's immaturity, and, at first, she does heed them. Later, when Anakin's fear leads him to his mother's battered body and his anger leads him to massacre an entire encampment of Tusken Raiders, Padme is confronted with a dangerous side of the young Jedi. You can see it in her face when he tells her what he did; she's scared.
Despite the definite warning signs, though, Padme gives into her feelings. She lets her emotions rule her, and that leads into a relationship of lies and, ultimately, deep tragedy and loss. She and Anakin both ignore their better judgment. They know their relationship would destroy them; they have a very serious discussion about that fact. Yet, ultimately, they set aside all their logic in favor of emotion.
Emotion is a good thing. God gave it to us. But it's not meant to rule our decisions. An emotional decision is a dangerous thing, especially in a romantic relationship. Padme and Anakin's relationship really drove home to me the importance of heeding warning signs.
Star Wars is, of course, the story of the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. The prequel trilogy, though, only covers the rise and fall. And it is a painful fall, driven by fear, jealousy, and anger. As mentioned above, Anakin's fear is evident from the beginning, in The Phantom Menace. In leaving his mother to become a Jedi, he becomes very fearful of losing her. That fear haunts him all his life, leading to nightmares (and probably Force premonitions) that he can't let go of. It also leads him to his first act of real hatred: slaying the Tusken Raiders. From there, the arc continues to go down. He gains a new source of fear when he marries Padme and she becomes pregnant. His nightmares return and he becomes obsessed with saving her.
Anakin struggles with jealousy, especially during Attack of the Clones, that he can't seem to let go of. He convinces himself that the Jedi Council doesn't trust him, opening himself up to distrusting them. Palpatine, of course, feeds on all of that – playing on Anakin's fear of losing Padme and increasing his distrust of the Jedi. He uses Anakin's guilt over killing the Sand People, over his execution of Count Dooku, and, later, over his betrayal of the Jedi.
Clearly, Anakin is not coldly driven through his acts as Darth Vader. He lets himself be driven to it by fear and trapped into it by guilt. Yet you can see the emotion – his outburst of "What have I done?!" after he interrupts Mace Windu dealing justice to Palpatine, his silent tears on Mustafar after killing first the Jedi Younglings and then the Separatist leaders. It's as if he convinces himself with each further step that he's gone too far. And, in doing so, he seals his own fate. It's tragic, deeply so.
Yet, in his tragedy, there are several things to note:
2) Anakin put his trust in someone outside the Jedi Order (Palpatine) whom he should not have trusted. The Jedi existed independently of the Senate, and Anakin created a conflict of interest by placing himself in that position. It then rent a division between him and the Jedi Council, leading to mistrust all around and driving Anakin further into Palpatine's clutches.
3) Anakin lived a life of lies, secretly wedding Padme and never telling even Obi-Wan about it. This secret life led to Anakin turning even farther away from the Jedi who could have helped him.
4) Anakin listened to his emotions, not his judgment, leading to ultimate destruction.
So, there you have it. I think the prequel trilogy has a lot to teach us if we'll pay attention. It's a tragedy, yes, but, in the vein of Shakespeare, it's a tragedy full of warnings about choices. I, for one, find it extremely interesting for that reason, among others.
What do ya'll think of Episodes I, II, and III? Do these lessons strike a chord with you? What kind of lessons do you learn from this cautionary tale? Let me know in the comments!