Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Last Jedi
The Force Awakens marked a big return for the Star Wars franchise after most general audiences had dismissed the galaxy far, far away following the derided prequels. Even though opinions have softened over the years as many have begun to reevaluate George Lucas’ most Star Wars trilogy, there was still apprehension after it was announced that would be getting a new Star Wars movie every year. Audiences only really got behind The Force Awakens in a big way after marketing picked up and it became abundantly clear that the movie was emphasizing a return to the aesthetic and feel of the original trilogy.
While The Force Awakens had a number of slight nods and influences from the prequels, those not as well versed in the lore may have missed them. Of course, given the general lack of popularity (at least compared to the original trilogy), and the lack of focus in The Force Awakens, many people figured Lucasfilm was poised to abandon the prequels in live-action, instead focusing on aspects of the franchise that audiences find more agreeable, but The Last Jedi says otherwise.
A major message of The Last Jedi is to let the past die, but that doesn’t mean the movie abandons what came before. In fact, the movie serves up a story that doesn’t only provide a proper end to Luke Skywalker and redefine the galactic power balance once again, but it also digs way back to much earlier themes, providing a proper resolution to the prequel trilogy.
Page 1 (this page): What Were the Star Wars Prequels About?
What Were the Star Wars Prequels About?
Due to the largely negative reception of the prequels, the narrative surrounding them has almost eclipsed the movies themselves, with jokes about Jar Jar Binks, midi-chlorians, or Anakin’s distaste for sand becoming more widely known than the actual events of the films themselves. As time separates many from their initial impressions of the prequels and many have begun re-evaluating due to the release of more Star Wars movies coming out, opinions have begun to soften, if not turn positive in some cases. The Clone Wars animated series is also a major impact here, not only providing the kind of Star Wars stories people wanted from the prequels all along, but also providing additional story details to flesh out exactly what the movies were going for.
The prequels are often painted as a simple origins story for Darth Vader or backstory for how the Empire came to be, but both of those descriptions miss the majority of what the story of the prequels was trying to do. Sure, the story of Darth Vader’s origin is the central plot device, but it’s not simply about how Vader came to be, it’s about how fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. In Anakin’s case, it was fear of loss. Fear of losing his mother. Fear of losing Padme. Fear of losing his unborn child. In his quest to find a solution, the only person to offer answers is Darth Sidious, posing as a benevolent government official in Sheev Palpatine.
In the same way that he’s manipulating Anakin, Palpatine is also using fear to manipulate the rest of the galaxy into granting him ever more authority. He allows corporate interests to infiltrate the Republic Senate, breeding distrust between the well connected political class of the core systems and the more industrial class of the outer rim. Major trade routes are taxed more heavily as a way of influencing corporations like the Trade Federation, resulting in a trade dispute that escalates to armed conflict at the end of The Phantom Menace. While this initial dispute is resolved, it is the start of a divide pitting government vs industry, with the more industrial systems coming together to form the Confederacy of Independent Systems.
Palpatine fans the fears of armed conflict with the aid of his apprentice, Count Dooku, who’s become a figurehead for the Confederacy. The Republic begins to engage in a fierce debate over the Military Creation Act, a decision that would no doubt throw the galaxy into all-out war. After the Confederacy’s own massive battle droid foundry is discovered on Geonosis, Palpatine is able to get the authority to finally create an army (conveniently, the clones are already prepared).
While the rest of the galaxy is cozying up to Palpatine, the Jedi Order had grown lazy and arrogant. They were supposed to be politically unaffiliated peacekeepers, but the center of their order was located on Coruscant, and they worked so closely with Chancellor Palpatine and the Republic Senate that they might have well have become their own government branch, with the Jedi taking the role of Generals to lead the Republic armies in the Clone Wars.
In addition, the Jedi had become preoccupied with the prophecy of the Chosen One, a mythical being that would supposedly bring balance to the Force. Whether or not the Chosen One was ultimately Anakin (Star Wars fans may always debate this), the prophecy was a stumbling block for the Jedi. Instead of looking to themselves to go out and bring balance to the Force, they were projecting this responsibility onto the shoulders of the prophetic Chosen One.
Pointing to the Jedi’s failure of principle, Palpatine slowly erodes Anakin’s faith in the order. Eventually, the Jedi allow Palpatine to maneuver the Jedi into a position where they’re forced to attempt to remove him from power, a move that only proves to Anakin that his suspicions about them were right. Palpatine may be a Sith, but he’s the only one that had been honest with him and the only one offering him a way to possibly save Padme.
Needless to say, Anakin falls, the Jedi fall, and the Republic falls, all leading to the rise of Emperor Palpatine and his new apprentice, Vader, at the head of the Galactic Empire.
Ironically enough, the failure of the Jedi isn’t resolved in the events of the original trilogy. While Luke is victorious and redeems Vader, Yoda and Obi-Wan, the last remaining members of the Jedi Order, are still waiting for the Chosen One to save the Jedi. Obi-Wan thinks it’s Luke, but Yoda thinks Leia is the future. Regardless, both encourage Luke to kill Vader, and that only be defeating him in battle can the Jedi be victorious. Obi-Wan and Yoda have undoubtedly grown wise in their old years, but this shows a surprising inability of them to grasp the full nature of the Jedi’s failure. While Yoda does grasp that “wars not make one great,” and warns Luke not to underestimate the powers of the Emperor as he did when they fought in the Republic Senate chambers, but he still thinks that violence, not compassion, is the ultimate solution.
Luke might win the day, but the Jedi Order still lacks redemption, and the events between trilogies don’t improve the situation much, with Luke repeating the mistakes of the Jedi before him. Fortunately, The Last Jedi resolves all of this, concluding Luke’s story, bringing redemption to the Jedi Order, and ultimately concluding the story started in the prequel trilogy.
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