Insisting that fans should love everything a series does, of course, is ridiculous, and, when put into practice, a reminder that “fan” derives from “fanatic.” But that kind of fanboy dogma has been reversed so hard that it’s now tricky to say anything positive about the prequels without sounding like either one of those fanatics without a critical eye, or an apologist willfully turning that eye blind. It will become trickier still if The Force Awakens is as good as everyone hopes it will be; there’s a tendency, in both fandom and criticism, to see highly anticipated sequels or revivals as correctives, to finally fix what bothered “everyone” about the last sequel or revival. But movies are, again, not a binary: J.J. Abrams can make a fresh, revitalized Star Wars (maybe even with good dialogue!) without invalidating the serial-style craft and CG painting of the prequel trilogy, just as the heavy use of computer animation in the prequels doesn’t destroy the more tactile moments in the original trilogy. Yoda can be a perfectly crafted and fascinatingly lifelike puppet performance in The Empire Strikes Back, and he can leap into a kickass whirling-dervish lightsaber duel during the extended climax of Attack Of The Clones. (In another instance of watching the movies being more fun than turning backlash into a meme, this moment drew cheers the first time I saw the movie, back in 2002. Unless my theater was a total anomaly, the prevailing sentiment was not “ugh, CG!”)
Those first Star Wars movies feel personal to a lot of viewers, but that feeling comes from the memories associated with them more than the movies themselves. At their core, they’re big, crowd-pleasing space operas with a vast, inventive playground of planets, aliens, and spaceships. The fact that they inspired a toy-manufacturing boom doesn’t feel entirely mercenary because those toys were a natural outgrowth of a series with half-glimpsed, single-scene characters bustling around all of that hero’s-journey power-of-myth stuff. I don’t watch Star Wars movies for the music of human speech; I watch them to marvel at crazy water-planets, laugh at R2-D2’s antics, and wonder what Captain Typho does in his downtime. That’s what I love about the prequels: Their imagination is vast, yet interactive; beautiful, yet recognizably human.
And without the prequels, we wouldn’t have gotten the Clone Wars series or Rebels.