During the climax of Revenge of the Sith, the third Star Wars prequel film, an angst-ridden Anakin Skywalker snarls at his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi: "You underestimate my power!" (Obi-Wan proceeds to sever three of Anakin's limbs, burn off all his skin, and leave him for dead. Anakin later becomes the cyborg villain Darth Vader, dark enforcer of the Galactic Empire.)
To hear the critics tell it, people disliked this origin story. The three prequels—The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005)—were largely written off as disappointments.
If you saw these movies in the theater as a kid, you might have felt differently. While the expert consensus dwelt obsessively on the admittedly clumsy dialogue and certain CGI excesses, who can deny the sheer coolness of Yoda—tiny, green, hobbling Yoda—mowing down clone soldiers with a lightsaber? Pretty awesome, it was.
The idea that the prequel trilogy's focus on trade disputes, Senate intrigue, and the subtle manipulations of cloaked tyrants is somehow boring never made much sense. And the prequels bear a lot of thematic weight: The galaxywide battles against Separatist droid armies have obvious parallels to the unending war on terror, and the corruption of liberal institutions via "emergency powers" remains all too resonant.
Yes, the prequels fail to portray a plausible interplanetary society. Compared with rival franchises like Star Trek, Dune, and Battlestar Galactica, very little effort is invested in explaining the technology that allows for light-speed travel and planet-sized battle stations. But that was also true of the original films, which asked audiences to accept all sorts of underbaked ideas and space-faring inconsistencies. (Han Solo, an interstellar smuggler, isn't even aware that a parsec is a unit of distance rather than time.)
Sorry, but the millennial generation has had enough anti-prequel propaganda. Criticize their films' flaws if you must, but don't underestimate their power.