Alot could honestly be written about the Star Wars prequels - I could honestly write about it all day. I want to limit how I expand this essay and have the second and last installment only cover one element - the special effects.
My friend Larry, who laid waste to "Jorge" (what he calls George Lucas) in his blog, said that the "overuse" of CGI was a serious problem in these films. There is a whole sequence in Attack of the Clones where Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) travels to Kamino, a mostly ocean planet where the native species has been enlisted to create a clone army for the Republic. It's interesting, though honestly this whole storyline would have made more sense to have started in Episode I instead.
The sequence itself where Obi-Wan talks to the clone breeders and views the clones being bred is just exceedingly unreal, a problem for nearly all modern science fiction. Everything is CGI - not just the aliens. The floor, the ceiling, things that would have been made from set pieces in the filming of the original trilogy. Is it less expensive to use CGI than to build a set? I can understand making Yoda or the background on Coruscant CGI but Lucas really pushes it in scenes like this. The whole thing looks like a video game and Obi-Wan, as a real human being, just looks totally out of place.
Meanwhile, one of the most emotionally powerful sequences of the entire trilogy occurs when Anakin takes Padme with him to Tatooine as he senses his mother is in serious danger.
There is a minimum of CGI, the amount you would expect in a film like this, but most of that sequence occurs on the spot in Tunisia. There is almost nothing wrong with that entire sequence - it connects Anakin with his son Luke's uncle and aunt, shows pretty bluntly the beginning of Anakin's descent toward the dark side and actually shows Anakin in the exact same environment (the set built for Luke's home in Tunisia for A New Hope was actually untouched after twenty years) that we see his son growing up in in A New Hope.
The contrast between Ewan McGregor's acting (as Obi-Wan) in the Kamino sequence and Hayden Christensen (as Anakin) in the Tattooine sequence shows perfectly that George Lucas had a fairly stellar array of actors but made the acting process very difficult for many of them. It's in a real environment with a very real, emotional plot line and actors to interact with that Hayden Christensen shines as Anakin.
An overuse of CGI may work in a cartoon like the Clone Wars series that came out when these films were done but the overuse of CGI in actual film (at least at this point in the technology) can really make these films seem cartoonish and unreal.
Despite all of that, the prequels and the spin off television series that came from them are a big part of the Star Wars canon. Some great scenes come out of them and they did enhance the overall Star Wars saga. Lucas was one of the first people to really make a modern science fiction saga with contemporary technology - his prequel trilogy definitely illustrates what can go well and what can go wrong with this technology. As I said in my last post, the J.J. Abrams sequel films are definitely worth looking forward to - there is so much to explore in the universe that George Lucas created.