Before you read much further, you ought to know: I still love the Star Wars prequels. I still love The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith. But I think I finally get why they're so easy to hate.
And no, it's not what you think.
So let me explain. I also love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I love Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man's Chest, At World's End. But I don't love On Stranger Tides. And so there's where we reach my point. On Stranger Tides is the Star Wars prequels of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. As in, I don't really understand why its exists. And the thing is, there's soon going to be another one, Dead Men Tell No Tales. And I suppose the book's still open on that one. But still. The original three tell such a complete story. The next two don't seem...relevant. That's what I mean.
Dead Man's Chest is actually hugely relevant to this analogy. It's the second of the Pirates movies, and like The Empire Strikes Back (the second of the original Star Wars trilogy), it expands on everything that made the first one good, while doing it so well and in such a way that it makes both easier to love and gives the first further justification by making the experience deeper than it previously seemed to have any right to be.
And like Return of the Jedi (for some fans, anyway; this is the third film in the original Star Wars trilogy, of course), At World's End finishes out the story, but doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor(s).
On Stranger Tides focuses almost exclusively on Jack Sparrow, the breakout character of the original Pirates trilogy, just as the Star Wars prequels focuses almost exclusively on Darth Vader (specifically, his origin story). To my mind, I don't see the point, if Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann aren't there somewhere, too. Star Wars fans rightly kind of began to view the original trilogy to focus at least as much on Han Solo as any other element, Harrison Ford going on to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and all.
So the Star Wars prequels, more or less, whatever their creative merit, probably seemed downright incomprehensible to fans of the original trilogy. That's what I'm saying. Incomprehensible, inexplicable, everything they...really didn't want to see. That's it, really, they rejected these things because they seemed pointless, offensiveness in any number of ways because they didn't conform to what fans loved so much about the originals.
That's On Stranger Tides for me. Dead Man's Chest, I loved it so much when I first saw it, became one of my all-time favorite movies, period, in and out of the Pirates movies. I care about the Pirates movies today because of it. But I'll never have that relationship with On Stranger Tides.
I really, really don't get that one. I just don't see the point. Clearly much of it was developed to ape as much of the originals as possible, but because it lacked the specific cast that made them so memorable, the specific story, and replaced them with plug-ins that meant...less, I just can't understand the point of taking it seriously.
So that's what I assume Star Wars fans think about the prequels. Feel free to disagree, but that's my theory.