They're No Longer The Final Word
But that’s one generation, and as much as a thirty-something fan whose first cinema experience was Return of the Jedi may get a chuckle from Palpatine (or Sheev, as the prequel fandom dictates) declaring himself the Senate or noticing the reverse ascending narratives of Clones and Empire, that’s not enough for them to suddenly forgive George Lucas.
Prequel hate is strong for Generation X, no two ways about it. It was born of disappointment with Episode I and slowly developed into something more incensed as bad dialogue, heavy CGI and a generally distanced tone piled up in the later entries. There was a sense that in being so cack-handed, the three films had "ruined" Star Wars and - while it’s a trite and hyperbolic phrase to trot out - their childhood.
But then along came Disney to "fix" it. The new era of Star Wars films is two very important things – plainly, it's good, with massive critical and commercial praise that directly creates excitement for the future, and it feels like Star Wars. People burned by the prequels’ politics now have films they always wanted – so far a rollicking reunion and gritty direct prequel – which oddly has the side effect of nullifying some of the prequel hate. In retrospect, so much of the backlash was to do with representation and the fact that Lil' Ani was the definitive young Darth Vader, and that James Earl Jones screaming "Noooo" was the series' final cinematic word; it wasn't that the films were just viewed as bad, it's that they were a bad end. Now there's new, good Star Wars that no longer stands, so there’s less need for resentment.
Prequel hate would have worn down naturally eventually as most people realized that in the grand scheme of things Jar Jar Binks doesn’t really matter – People vs. Lucas was preaching that conclusion in 2010 – but the Disney era accelerated that. And the moment you get Episodes I-III on a basic non-plussed level, then you’re open to the millennial hype and, more importantly, reevaluation.
Have We Reevaluated The Prequels?
What really solidified prequel hate and allowed it to grow was a rise in explorative media and the prominence of that analysis over the movies themselves. Much of this gravitates around the Mr. Plinkett reviews from Red Letter Media, feature-length takedowns of each of the three films that cover their failures from filmmaking basics to Star Wars lore. They’re so prolific that after their releases in the late-2000s the vocabulary used by prequel haters when taking down the movies shifted to be by-and-large regurgitations of their points; because they were so in-depth, they were taken as writ (conversely, comparably poor prequels like The Hobbit are often given a free pass for lacking such monolithic assessments). And they certainly are impressive pieces of film criticism. The problem was that their points were often taken as proof positive of failure – without actually reevaluating the films themselves.
Star Wars fans often actively ignore the prequels. Many simply just don’t watch them, while entire viewing orders have been constructed to place them at less objectionable parts of a marathon or completely cut out certain films (usually The Phantom Menace) altogether. That's fine - no point spending the better part of seven hours doing something you don't enjoy - but it means that while the prequels are hated, they’re done so based on memory and without really applying subsequent ideas to the film.
Part of the impact of Disney’s acquisition was that is that it made rewatching the full series feel like a necessity - previously it had been viewed dead so the push to revisit wasn't there. With new movies, though, people went back to films they hadn’t seen in possibly over a decade with fresh eyes and were able to measure them against the pop culture deities and devils they’d become. This is part of how Return of the Jedi became viewed as a lesser member of the Original Trilogy, and likewise allowed a pause on full, spiteful distaste of Episodes I-III (best seen in the shift from The Phantom Menace to Attack of the Clones being viewed as “the worst”).
Of course, this was wider film culture; many fans of both generations had already been helped along in their acceptance of the prequels by the existence of The Clone Wars animated series. The 2008 feature film may have been a cinematic clunker, stitched together from a storyline originally intended for the first season of the show, but as it went on it became some of the best Star Wars stories out there. Running for six seasons (give or take), the show took the prequel era and truly explored all its aspects - from the high-command of the puppet-mastered war to solo missions for background Jedi - finding weight and beauty in Lucas' hastily sketched ideas. Above all, it gave us the War, the Jedi and the Kenobi-Skywalker friendship the 1977 film had teased and Episodes II and III been so light on. Those aspects - especially the mature, responsible, conflicted Anakin - were so well done in reference to the main text that the effect bled over into the movies the show bridged.
Between that and the rewatch, many now see the prequels as the complete pictures they are, not the besmirchment they'd become; at the very least accepting the good in them, the conflict. Although that’s nothing on what the new era 0f Star Wars actively did for the bastard trilogy.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019