Many fans of the original Star Wars trilogy have a really hard time accepting the prequels as part of the overall story. There’s many reasons why that is, and I hope to go into at least a couple of them. However, since there are so many aspects to discuss, I feel it is best to go in-depth into one criticism at a time and analyze whether each is a credible claim.
For now, I’d like to talk about the “tragic hero” theme of the prequels. To elaborate, in Episode II and III, the audience witnesses Anakin Skywalker going from being a Jedi Knight to becoming Darth Vader. After analyzing it, I have determined what the major flaw of this transition is: Anakin is not likeable.
Now, to explain why that is, I have to reference the very first Star Wars movie, now called Episode IV: A New Hope. While telling Luke about his father, Obi-Wan describes Anakin as a “…noble jedi…” who was “…seduced by the dark side…” The way Obi-Wan describes him, one gets the idea that Anakin was compassionate, loyal, and as Ben puts it “a good friend.” The problem with the prequels is that Anakin is portrayed as an angsty teenager. He acts as if Obi-Wan is holding him back or asking too much of him, yet most of the scenes with them together, Obi-Wan is giving him very gentle advice like “…use the force…” and “… think…” That can’t even be called tough love. It really makes Anakin look like a little kid who considers any criticism an attack towards him. Hell, even when Padme, in Episode II, refers to him as a “padawan,” he gets irritated, and that’s not even a criticism; that’s just a statement of fact.
If these prequel movies wanted to be consistent with the originals, they should have painted Anakin as someone who was actually noble. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that he can’t have flaws, but those flaws have to be countered with positive character traits. Think of Luke Skywalker from the originals. He may be impatient and stubborn at times, like when Yoda trains him in Empire Strikes Back, but he still has a good heart, high ambitions and a passion for adventure. Besides making him likable, this also makes Luke relatable. Anakin is just not like that.
Furthermore, the fact that Anakin is not likeable is what keeps his story from being tragic, and it’s also what keeps him from earning the title of the “tragic hero.” Now, to illustrate this next point I have to talk about Oedipus Rex. For those not familiar with the story, it’s the story of a man who ends up marrying his mother and killing his father, but he has no idea that they are his parents, nor that they were married. Long story short, he finds out the truth at the end of the story and gouges his own eyes out as a form of catharsis. To explain, what makes Oedipus’ story tragic is the fact that he never intends to kill his father or marry his mother. As a matter of fact, a prophecy says it will happen, and he leaves the town he grew up in to avoid any chances of killing his dad or marrying his mom. The problem is that he doesn’t know he was adopted and as a result ends up in the same city that his parents, the king and queen, lives in.
Besides the fact that he has no control over the fate that overcomes him, Oedipus is also endlessly dedicated to find the murderer of the former king, that murderer being himself. He has a strong belief in justice and cares deeply about his wife and his city, making him all the more admirable to the audience. Of course, what really wins them over is the ending, when he gouges his eyes out, taking responsibility despite the fact that it really wasn’t his fault. That’s what makes him a hero, and that’s what makes his fall tragic.
In contrast, Anakin doesn’t encompass any of these elements. His fall isn’t tragic, because his actions aren’t commendable. He slaughters an entire village of sand people, killing children, and this is before he turns to the dark side. Once he turns to the dark side, he continuous with his rampage by killing adolescent Jedi. There’s just no way to excuse that behavior and still give him the fallen “noble” Jedi title, especially when he doesn’t change much from point to the other. In this manner, Anakin’s already evil behavior keeps his story from being a tragic one.
So in conclusion, the ultimate flaw of Anakin Skywalker’s portrayal in the Star Wars prequels is that he’s not a likable character, and therefore his turn to the dark side lacks the tragedy that seems to be implied. I do realize that some people enjoy the prequels for things like lightsaber fights, but if the goal of the prequels was to show how the “noble” Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side, then the prequels clearly failed to accomplish that goal.