If you came here for laughs, for memes, for humorous anecdotes, you came to the wrong place, pal. Star Wars is serious business for me. Recently, after all the news that came from the D23 expo, the team at 2930 Creative started talking about my absolutely favorite franchise, and things got serious. No more Mister Nice Josh. This is my thoughts on Star Wars, the prequels, the original trilogy, and the future of the franchise.
I am going to date myself: I remember vividly the hype leading up to The Phantom Menace. After decades, Star Wars had returned to the silver screen. Star Wars was one of the first movie series that I got into. It’s also the franchise that made me love reading (and then, later, creative writing). After my dad showed me the original trilogy, I wanted more Star Wars, and began reading the extended universe (now known as Star Wars Legends).
When I left the theater after watching Episode 1, I was excited. I loved the podracing, the new space ships like the Naboo fighter, and, of course, the epic lightsaber duel at the end of the movie. The action sequences seemed so incredibly cool at the time. After all, you compare literally any of the lightsaber duels in the original trilogy to the lightsaber fights in the prequels, and you’ll see a huge difference. Obi-wan vs Darth Vader in Episode 4 compared to their final confrontation in Episode 3 is a night and day difference. If nothing else, the prequels brought with them a new focus on the abilities of the Jedi. In the original trilogy, the Jedi were simply monks that could move things. The most dramatic example of using the Force was lifting the X-wing out of the swamp and Emperor Palpatine’s Force lightning. In the prequels, you got a much more robust idea of what a Force user could do.
However, this also makes sense in terms of the fictional history of the Star Wars universe. Since there aren’t that many Jedi left after episode 3, we have a far smaller sample size of Force users. The original movies do a terrible job of making Darth Vader an imposing force (pun intended). He kills more of his own officers than he does Rebels, and he shows no sign of being the Sith lord he is supposed to be. It wasn’t until the end of Rogue One (which is now on Netflix and you should definitely go watch) that we got that incredible display of how terrifying Darth Vader was.
All that being said, the original trilogy is undoubtedly better. While I do think that the prequels get far more hate and are not appreciated enough for how they changed the direction of the franchise, they lack the depth that the original trilogy had and that the sequel trilogy hints at. Characters in the prequels, outside of Ewan McGregor’s fantastic Obi-Wan and occasionally Natalie Portman’s Padme, feel flat and hollow compared to the naïve farm boy, the unforgettable smuggler and rogue, and the alluring princess and Rebel leader. Some of that is because of the acting. While Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher did not always deliver the most memorable acting performances, they made those characters feel alive. Hayden Christensen, while not as bad as some people make him out to be, shined in moments of action but floundered in scenes that required subtlety. Star Wars has always had cheesy/bad dialogue, but coupled with stiff acting, it makes the exposition seem clunky.
Of course, some of the prequels’ problems are simply because of story decisions. George Lucas is not a friend of Star Wars, despite creating the universe. Reportedly, the original trilogy were almost ruined by him, and it took some serious editing to give us the cultural milestones that exist today. Mr. Lucas’ problem is a need to over-explain everything in the prequels. How does the Force work? In the original trilogy, the Force was a nebulous idea but the audience knew it worked because we saw it. It wasn’t just some hokey religion, like Han claimed, but a way of life that manifested in the real world in mystical ways. In the prequels, the Force was beaten over the head with overexplanation. Suddenly, the Force became something you could measure, like a power level out of Dragon Ball Z. There’s a reason why we will never hear the word midi-chlorian again: that’s not what made the Force appealing in the first place. As soon as you strip away the mysticism, you get a super hero movie, and Star Wars, while undoubtedly science fiction fantasy, is first and foremost a family drama about the Skywalker family.
Finally, one of the most glaring things with the prequels is their overuse of CGI. Whereas the practical effects of the original trilogy hold up fairly well even today, the CGI of episodes 1-3 date the films and already make them look cartoonish. While there are some incredible designs, they are overshadowed by the fact that the bright colored CGI not only ages poorly but makes large portions of the prequels look like a Disney ride, which is ironic since the Disney-backed Force Awakens returns to the realism and practical effects that made the original trilogy so amazing and timeless. If I wanted to watch a video game, I would put on Twitch.tv. If I want to watch Star Wars, I’ll put on the original trilogy.
In conclusion, the prequels did not ruin the franchise and did shape the future in positive ways. Say what you will about the story, acting, and unnecessary diversions of the prequels, but they did bring us some incredible space scenes that were only matched by Rogue One’s epic space battle. In that respect, we have to thank the prequels for the great lightsaber duels to come and epic space battles that will surely be highlights of the sequels. That being said, the stiff acting, poor choices in storytelling, and amusement park style of the prequels are definite deterrents when considering their greatness. Nothing can touch the iconic cast of the originals.
Star Wars, at the end of the day, is ultimately a space opera revolving around the Skywalker family, not some Playstation 2-era video game romp through battle droids and the canyons of Tatooine in a saccharine spectrum of lasers. You can appreciate how the prequels influenced what’s to come, but it would be detrimental to the health of the franchise to continue the trajectory that the prequels began. Thankfully, it would appear after watching The Force Awakens, that the future of the franchise is in good hands and has returned to what made the original trilogies so great.
Josh Duke is a huge Star Wars nerd and has read nearly every single Star Wars book ever published.