It's become commonplace to say that the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy did not live up to the potential encouraged by its three precursors in the original trilogy. However, for all of those naysayers out there who are most likely sighing at the imminent 3D release of "The Phantom Menace," consider the following when you evaluate whether or not the newer films were a success.
Senator/Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Truly one of the high points of this new trilogy is the fleshing out of the back story of this most enigmatic yet fascinating character from the original films. It is a pleasure to watch the seemingly benign and gentle Senator Palpatine slowly cement his hold on power in the Republic and, by extension, on the young and impressionable Anakin Skywalker.
By the time he becomes the deformed, scarred Emperor ready to unveil his true self, we have come to understand a little more of his character and what drives him, as well as how he came into control of the Republic.
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Though the prequels have been bashed for the admittedly less-than-stellar quality of the acting of Hayden Christensen, the same cannot be said of McGregor, who brings a refreshing amount of depth and spirit to his character. He shows us how the young Jedi grows and matures as he struggles with his love of and frustration with the young Anakin.
To top it off, Kenobi engages in one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful challenges with his former protege-turned-enemy after he discovers that Anakin has turned to the Dark Side. McGregor's performance is truly nuanced and powerful, a factor that helps redeem the entire trilogy.
Though this might seem something of a banal benefit, it is nevertheless important to recognize the significant contributions these three films make to the overall universe created by Lucas and his numerous collaborators. Whether you like the films, love them, or hate them, you have to admit that they shed a great deal of light on the back stories of some of cinema's most beloved characters. Just as importantly, they help us understand the incredible complexity of Darth Vader, himself one of the most iconic and celebrated villains in the history of film.
There is a lot to appreciate (if not entirely love) in the newer installments of the "Star Wars" franchise. So, if you haven't already seen "The Phantom Menace" in theaters, take this renewed opportunity to do so and immerse yourself in the world of that galaxy far, far away.
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