As a huge fan of the Star Wars prequels, I'm always interested in figuring out exactly why the prequels don't work for most people. People complain about them, but I am always skeptical about what they say. I'm always thinking that what people say they don't like about it are not the real reasons they didn't like them. Perhaps there is something wrong with the films that you can't express, and when asked you just say what you can describe.
But enough of that. I was talking to Montica last night and we did a kind of side by side comparison of Episodes I and IV in terms of Anakin and Luke's story, which are enormously similar. Both started in crappy positions on Tatooine, both got identified by their talent and taken away to be trained as jedi. So what's the problem?
I think we hit on it. Anakin is just not likable in Episode I. Even though he's a slave, which is supposed to be worse than being a farmer with loving guardians, Anakin seems to have it pretty good. We know he's a slave, but you couldn't tell that without hearing the lines. He doesn't even seem particularly frustrated with his position. We don't see him abused, we don't see him really even wanting very badly to leave. Compare this to Luke, who keeps going on about how he thinks he'll never get off the planet. People relate to that because we know what it feels like to be stuck.
Anakin was just too young, too. Wouldn't it have been better if he were thirteen? And the acting had been better? Since Episode I was supposed to be Anakin's story, we really lose out by not liking and rooting for him.
I've also heard a few times that the prequels are missing a Han Solo-type character. I agree, and I think there was a missed opportunity with Qui-Gon Jinn. He's kind of a rebel, but this only comes out very subtly in a few lines like when Obi-Wan tells him he'd be on the Jedi Council if he played by the rules more. He takes Anakin on when he's clearly too old-- Wouldn't it have been a better film if he were a real rabble-rousing pain in the council's neck, but they had to keep him around because he was so great?
I think Jar-Jar annoyed people, but they would have been much more forgiving if the main characters had been more likable. In other words, I don't think the movie would have made people happy without Jar-Jar. He's just something concrete and annoying that people can point to.
In case people are wondering why on earth I like prequels so much, it's basically becaue they flesh out what I consider to be an interesting world with a fascinating plot. I think the characters are mediocre and the acting laughable in places, but in general I feel, for me, that the good far outweighs the bad. I just watched Episode IV: A New Hope yesterday, and frankly I feel it's thin on world creation compared to the other films in the series. I also like Michael Crichton's books, so you can see how important character isn't to me.