George Lucas' love of rebels should have made the prequels work ... why didn't it?
One thing never changes about George Lucas: He hates power structures. Call it the Empire, the First Order or the Jedi Council, and he grows to loathe it. The portrayal of the Jedi was one of the oddest criticisms of the prequels I remember when first wading into the Internet in my early teens.
Of course Lucas hated the Jedi Council. They were the head honchos! The big guns! The power! They were the man, man! Unlike the vast majority of his generation, Lucas never stooped to a knee for Ronald Reagan, and was never going to do it for Yoda, Mace Windu, nor anyone else. The Jedi's power blinded them the same way the Sith's power blinded them — that was the point Lucas wanted to make, even if he never possessed the directorial chops to pull it off.
And that's too bad. Lucas had some meaty stuff in the prequels from a thematic standpoint. Anakin Skywalker embodies Jesus Christ in a lot of ways. "The Chosen One" sent to cleanse the world of evil, but never treated like a Human the way he deserved. So, he turns on those who seek to use him as an object, in turn becoming the evil he sought to destroy.
Unfortunately, the writing "I hate sand," directing "I HATE SAND" and acting "I. HATE. SAND." never lives up to the thematic elements lying underneath. Lucas has always been an idea guy. It's worth remembering the strongest film in the series, "Empire Strikes Back," wasn't directed by Lucas. With that said, we don't get any of these characters, nor do we get this story without him. It seems in our haste to bury Lucas the director, we forget how much the man behind the camera contributed to the themes that make "Star Wars" what it is.
Rebellion is one of the central themes of the entire series. Striking against a great foe with never ending suspicion is what makes Luke Skywalker a hero in the end, right? Sure, he enters the picture as a milquetoast farm boy, but by "Return of the Jedi" he has already disobeyed the supposedly all-wise Yoda (multiple times!) for the better, and carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. The point Lucas makes is the one he has always made: Those with power are not always those with wisdom.
Even in "The Phantom Menace," undoubtedly the weakest of the prequels, it's easy to see who Lucas' favorite character is: Qui-Gon Jinn. Liam Neeson does the best he can with the material, and probably puts in the best performance of the prequels while auditioning for R'as al Ghul as the defiant Jedi Master. Jinn listens to the council, is respectful, but doesn't mind telling Yoda where to shove it when he's wrong.
The wrong conclusion to draw from this series is that Jinn sent Anakin down the wrong path. You can blame Lucas for not laying his themes out clearly enough, but with a bit of digging it becomes obvious that in the debate of nature vs. nurture Lucas is comfortable blaming the system. That's something I'll always respect about him, even if he's better off having someone else get that vision from page to screen.