Today’s one of those days where I think, wow, I’m old. I mean, I’m only 27 years old, but then I put it into perspective like this: today is the 17th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, as well as the 11th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. I was 10 when The Phantom Menace came out. In moviegoing years, that makes me ancient. (Full disclosure: I can literally feel the angry glares of my co-workers who watched the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters.)

The Phantom Menace is the first Star Wars movie I ever saw. The minute I saw it, I was hooked. The Jedi were awesome. Darth Maul was a fearsome villain. I didn’t know that Anakin Skywalker would become Darth Vader one day, so I saw a kid around my age who had a lot of potential as a future Jedi Knight. The Phantom Menace led me to the original trilogy, and I loved those films too. When Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (which celebrated its 14th anniversary earlier this week) and then Revenge of the Sith were released, I loved those movies too.

Something happened to me as I got older, though. I fell out of love with the prequel trilogy, and their flaws became very apparent to me. For most of my adult life, up until about two years ago, I had a pretty negative view on the entirety of the prequel era storyline. Like a number of Star Wars fans, I frankly resented the fact that I wasn’t able to like half of the saga. I wish I liked those movies—it’s not fun disliking half of something you love—but unfortunately I don’t.

When The Walt Disney Company announced in October 2012 that they had acquired Lucasfilm and that they would be producing a new film trilogy, beginning with Episode VII, something started to change. I started to look at the prequels in a new light, and the new era of Star Wars that Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm were ushering in began changing some of my opinions. Suddenly, I started to appreciate the prequels a little more.

Looking Forward, Not Back

There are a lot of fans of the prequel trilogy, to the point where I don’t like it when think-pieces and other articles like to generalize with this idea that most or even all Star Wars fans ‘hate’ the prequels. A few months ago, Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo even tweeted that the like/dislike ratio for prequel fans in the United States is about 50/50, with international markets favoring the prequels more. But for those of us who don’t like the prequels, one of the reasons fans sometimes saw us as being so bitter was because, for all we knew, these were the last Star Wars movies we would ever get. For better or for worse, they were the last major Star Wars stories to tap into the cultural zeitgeist, and for some of us that left a bad taste in our mouths.

The announcement of Episode VII gave us something new to look forward to. Although I was naturally worried about what the film would be like—would it live up to the massive hype, or fail to meet it like The Phantom Menace?—I found myself able to look ahead to new Star Wars stories rather than just focusing on the ones that came before. New films provide new opportunities, not to mention that a whole new generation of fans would be born from Episode VII and the rest of the new Star Wars trilogy. As we learned more about what Kennedy was doing at Lucasfilm and the team that she was assembling, including writer/director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, that hope began to burn a little brighter.

None of which is to say that you can never look back. There are arguably major flaws in the prequel trilogy—from the writing, to the directing, to the editing, to the cinematography, and more—that, in my opinion, provide a lesson in how not to make a movie. So I’ll never fault a critical prequel discussion, and I may even engage in them myself sometimes, but we’re at a point now where the emotion and resentment should be taken out of it. The Force Awakens was an incredible movie and we have at least five more movies on the horizon. We don’t have anything to resent anymore.

Plus, there’s also use in looking back at other stories we may previously ignored.

Giving ‘The Clone Wars’ A Chance

Considering I wasn’t a fan of the prequel trilogy, writing off the television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars seemed logical. George Lucas was the executive producer, and he had been fully in charge of the prequel trilogy. The show struck me, at a very superficial level, as being childish and unimportant, a way of filling in a story gap that didn’t need filling. The choice to introduce Ahsoka Tano, an apprentice of Anakin Skywalker who was never mentioned in Revenge of the Sith, seemed like a glaring continuity issue. Plus, at the time, I assumed that if something wasn’t in the movies then it wasn’t worth watching.

Shortly after the Disney acquisition, Lucasfilm announced that The Clone Wars was ending. That’s when I decided to give the show a chance. I figured that, now that it was over, I might as well at least give it a shot. Where’s the harm in watching a few episodes, right? The worst case scenario was that I wouldn’t like it and my opinions about the prequel era would remain intact, but it also had the potential to be something I’d enjoy and bring new life into my Star Wars fandom. That was especially true considering that my negative feelings towards the prequels were beginning to dissipate; with my newfound forward-thinking and optimism, taking a chance on something I’d otherwise written off seemed like a good idea.

It was absolutely a good idea. The Clone Wars has a great storyline, sharp writing, funny and likable characters, and more. It has everything that great Star Wars stories should. It introduces new characters like Ahsoka and Clone Captain Rex, bringing new depth into the Star Wars storyline as a result. It uses the better elements of the prequel trilogy to tell what is ultimately an important story. Through Ahsoka and the clones, we learn more about the fall of Anakin Skywalker, the end of the Jedi, and the death of the Republic. The Clone Wars, which I may never have watched if The Force Awakens hadn’t been announced, brought me to a place where I can say that, even though I still don’t like the prequel movies, I like the prequel era storyline. It made me appreciate the prequel films a little bit more, in spite of their faults. For the first time in my adult life, I was able to say I enjoyed the entire Star Wars saga.

I highly recommend the series to those who haven’t seen it, especially if you assumed, like I did, that it would be a childish series. Embrace the positivity and optimism, and you’ll see that The Clone Wars brings a lot of depth to the saga. Just like many other new stories are doing.

The Way Forward

Those other new stories are also ones I never would have gotten into without The Force Awakens being announced. There used to be an Expanded Universe of books, comics, games, and more, but that all became non-canon in 2014 to make way for the storyline in the new films. In their place, a whole new expanded canon was created, from several new novels to a number of Marvel comics and more. Like The Clone Wars, these stories have started expanding the saga and bringing new depth to stories, including the prequel trilogy. The recent comic mini-series Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin is a great example of that, taking an under-explored concept of the prequels (the friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi) and bringing new life to it in order to better tell the story of Anakin’s fall to the dark side.

All of this is because of The Force Awakens. I may never end up thinking the prequel movies themselves are good films, but the new films have helped me appreciate them. They’ve let me enjoy the era and say that I enjoy the entire Star Wars saga. Considering how much vitriol has been directed towards the prequels from some corners, I think the fact that the new trilogy can help turn people around is a big deal. I hope Star Wars continues to do that, and we can leave the negativity behind.

What’s your experience been like with the prequels? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so tweet me your story!

Brandon Rhea
Brandon Rhea is Manager of Content Production at FANDOM. He first saw Star Wars in 1999 and became an instant fan.