It would be an understatement to say that I don’t like the prequel trilogy films. I certainly wish I did. Despite what it may seem like when it comes to “haters,” it actually sucks disliking half of your favorite film franchise. Personal tastes are personal tastes, though, and there’s only so much we can do about that. And in my mind, the prequel trilogy films, for better or for worse (you can guess where I stand), fundamentally altered the saga. What the Jedi were like stands in stark contrast to how they were presented in the original trilogy, for example, and characters were totally different from what we knew about them in the original films.
But MakingStarWars isn’t about negativity, so don’t mistake what I just said for this being an article about prequel bashing. Quite the opposite, in fact. I may be starting from a place of negativity (though I’d personally call it disappointment), but that reflects my prequel journey in my adult life. I loved the prequels when I was a kid (I was 10 years old when The Phantom Menace was released, and it was the first Star Wars movie I ever saw), but I fell out of love with them as I got older and their flaws became more apparent to me. For most of my adult life, up until about a year ago, I had a very sour opinion on the entire prequel era.
Then something happened: I decided to watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
My Journey to The Clone Wars
For years, I wrote The Clone Wars off without ever having actually watched it. I assumed it was childish, dumb, unimportant, and too much like the prequels for me to enjoy. To top it all off, they gave Anakin a Padawan, someone who was never mentioned in Episode III. So much for continuity, right?
Boy, was I wrong. The Clone Wars is a great series. Part of me wishes that I had watched it sooner, but I think I watched it at the right time, after its cancellation (but before the release of The Lost Missions). Two key elements came together for that to happen. One, I thought that, since it was over, it was worth at least trying it out. Second, and this is the most important part, the sting of disliking the prequels was gone. Whatever negative feelings I had towards the prequel trilogy were starting to dissipate in favor of optimism for the sequel trilogy. The past was the past, and we were beginning to see a bright future ahead of us. So instead of going into the series fully thinking it was going to be a childish continuation of films that I don’t like, I went into it with cautious optimism.
What I found, in the mind of this prequel detractor, was a show that fixed two of the things that I mentioned earlier: the Jedi and characters. Specifically, though there are many, it fixed the character of Yoda.
Yoda, Great Warrior or Mystic Sage?
Yoda is one of the best characters in Star Wars. I think we can all agree on that. His introduction in The Empire Strikes Back teaches us a lesson about preconceived notions. This tiny little creature, so easily written off by Luke, is actually a great Jedi Master. Luke, a strong human, can’t lift an X-wing out of the water, but Yoda does it with ease. We see his power and we learn his philosophies, ones that have come to define Star Wars and what it means to be a Jedi.
Flash forward to Episode II. That wise Jedi Master who said that wars don’t make one great is now saying “around the survivors, a perimeter create.” The Jedi Master who said that his ally is the Force is now hopping around and bouncing off walls with a lightsaber. Throughout the entire prequel trilogy, the Jedi Master who talked about being connected to nature, and how the Force flows through everything, is sitting atop an ivory tower on an ecumenopolis.
These are things that George Lucas actually changed his mind on. He once told Lawrence Kasdan (writer of The Empire Strikes Back and co-writer of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens) that Yoda was a teacher, not a fighter like the Jedi Knights. Lucas drew a distinction between the two, a distinction that he ultimately did away. Jedi Knight and Jedi Master were no longer specific paths in life, but ranks within an institution. Now, Yoda at one point was a Jedi Knight, and, as we know, he was trained to use a lightsaber. And use it he did, which was part of a characterization that was different from the one in the original films.
All of that would have been fine with me had there been actual character development to go along with it. After all, Yoda doesn’t have to be the same exact character in the entire saga. Variety and character development are good. Instead, we go from prequel Yoda to Empire Yoda like a light switch. In the films alone, we never see Yoda learn any lessons that would justify why he acts differently in the original films than he does in the prequels. Of course, we can surmise why Yoda changes as a character, and we can assume it’s because of his experiences during the war, but we don’t see him go on that character journey. We don’t see what he learns and how he learns it.
That is, of course, until The Clone Wars came along. The Yoda arc in The Lost Missions is very important in that we see Yoda come to terms with the fact that the Jedi are fighting a pointless war and that they are destined to lose the war, but that eventually they will win the future. He learns lessons from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, and he learns that he has tunnel vision in trying to find Darth Sidious, his ultimate goal. We know that Yoda will continue to learn from Qui-Gon after Episode III, so putting that together, and using the lessons that Yoda learns in the show, it gave us that bridge between the prequels and the originals that was sorely needed for the character. I would still like to see more of a bridge and see a story about Yoda learning from Qui-Gon, but what we have so far is a big step in the right direction.
The Search for Darth Sidious
Yoda’s tunnel vision regarding Darth Sidious is an important point as well, one that ties into his decision to go into exile in Episode III. I should forewarn you that I am making some interpretations here, but I think they’re fair ones based on the context of the prequel storyline.
You may recall the scene in Episode II where Count Dooku tempts Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prison cell on Geonosis, asking Obi-Wan to join him, and even using Qui-Gon’s memory to try and sway Obi-Wan. One of the key lines in that scene was when Dooku said, “What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of the Dark Lord of the Sith?” Obi-Wan denies it, saying that the Jedi would have sensed it, but Dooku tells him that the dark side is clouding the vision of the Order and that hundreds of senators are falling under the Dark Lord’s influence.
It’s a cool line in and of itself, but in the context of just Episode II and Episode III, it doesn’t really make any sense. It was never clear to me why Dooku was trying to play Obi-Wan in that prison scene. What was the point of telling Obi-Wan that? In the films, Dooku didn’t show any desire to outplay Sidious and take his place as Dark Lord, so wouldn’t it have been better not to say anything about Darth Sidious and just let the Jedi fall into the trap without a warning?
So then it dawned on me: it’s the tunnel vision. The Jedi are so focused on finding Darth Sidious that they miss the bigger picture of how the war is destroying everything they claim to stand for. And they fight the Clone Wars because the Sith, represented by Dooku, are on the Separatist side.
The Geonosian prison scene is where the Jedi learn about Darth Sidious, the master that led Mace Windu to ask “Which was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?” in Episode I. That line is why the Jedi fight the Clone Wars the way they do. The Battle of Geonosis was going to happen anyway, but there was no reason for the Jedi to suit up and become generals for the entire war. They do so because they think they are fighting for the fate of the galaxy against the Sith. We see that particularly come to a head in Yoda’s arc in The Lost Missions, where all he is concerned with is finding Darth Sidious. Even on Dagobah, a planet pure in the Force where the spirit of his long-dead friend is talking to him, a feat that the Jedi didn’t even think was possible, what does Yoda ask? He asks Qui-Gon if he knows who Darth Sidious is.
That drive to find the Dark Lord leads the Jedi Council to continue using the clone army, even after they learn that it was created by Dooku for sinister purposes. It’s why they continue fighting the war even after realizing that they are caught in the web of the Sith. And most importantly, it’s what leads Mace Windu and the three other Jedi Masters to the Chancellor’s office in Episode III – giving Sidious the perfect public justification to destroy the Jedi as traitors and declare himself, the poor, scarred victim of a Jedi rebellion, as the Emperor. It means that Dooku’s line is key to the fall of the Jedi, and The Clone Wars really drives that home in ways that the films never really touched on.
So beyond being someone obsessed with finding Darth Sidious, how does Yoda play into that in Episode III? He does so by confronting the Emperor. It’s the culmination of the Jedi Order’s arc in The Clone Wars and Yoda’s own arc in The Lost Missions. He finally gets the chance to destroy Darth Sidious, and what happens? Yoda loses. His prophecy from “Sacrifice” is proven true: by fighting the war, the Jedi have already lost. So instead of fighting, he goes into exile and trains the one Jedi who saves the galaxy not through warfare, but through compassion.
Now we know why Yoda believes that wars don’t make someone great. Without The Clone Wars, we can assume it’s because he saw the Jedi lose the war and have the Sith nearly destroy them. With the show, though, it adds in guilt. It adds in personal experiences. Wars don’t make someone great because fighting a war means you’ve already failed at peace. Because fighting a war, where you’re simply interested in self-preservation, means you lose sight of things that are truly important in life. Yoda failed in so many ways, but Luke Skywalker, who Yoda trains on a planet that represents the relationship between the Cosmic Force and the Living Force that Yoda learns of in The Lost Missions, gives him the chance to help make things right.
All of this, of course, deals with interpretation. Everything I said is true, but some of it is also depends on your point of view (see what I did there?). I can easily see someone who likes the prequels saying they never needed The Clone Wars to tell them some of these things, and that’s totally fair. You can interpret much of this into the prequel films, but, in my opinion, if you have to interpret it into the films then the execution of the films is flawed. So for me, The Clone Wars is necessary. We see the stories that flesh these concepts out.
The Clone Wars is an incredible show that takes the better elements of the prequels, infuses it with the great spirit of Star Wars that we all love, and tells a really important story that adds a great deal of depth and value to the saga. For me, it saves the prequel era. Because of The Clone Wars and the talented team who worked it for nearly ten years, I can now say that I like the entire Star Wars saga. Maybe not all the movies, but I like both eras now. As someone who has always said I wished I could enjoy the prequels, that’s a pretty big deal for me, and one I’m very grateful for.
That’s why I like the show so much. That’s why I recommend it to other people who didn’t like the prequel trilogy. The prequels have been discussed a lot lately because we’re headed into a new film series, but the time for negativity has passed – on both sides. For the detractors like me, here’s a great show that fixes a lot of what we see as the flaws of the prequels. For the prequel fans, you may not get detractors to like these three films, but they can like the prequel era now. Everyone should be able to watch The Clone Wars and put the prequel debate behind them as we all look forward to the new films.
How awesome is that?