The prequels were hugely successful and judging by review aggregate websites were well enough received. The idea that the general public hate them is a total myth. Revenge of the Sith was one of the highest grossing films of that decade. It wouldn't have been if everybody hated the previous 2 movies.
Well yeah, because A) it was still SW, and B) everyone wanted to see Anakin finally become Vader.
Hell, I couldn't stand them and I still
saw each one 3 times in the theater (and later bought them on DVD). That's how strong a grip the franchise has on people.