Disney Star Wars Discussion Must Be Aware Of The Prequels
The Disney Star Wars era is becoming more and more peculiar. Each movie has, at least on an aesthetic level, successfully captured some form of what Star Wars is, yet each new release has nevertheless proven divisive based on how it fits the beholder's view of what the franchise is: there are equal numbers of reviews comparing Solo to Rogue One as the best and worst of the new era with complete conviction. The confusion - and, indeed, why making the movies has proven so complicated, with more directors hired and fired than have seen a film to completion - comes from Star Wars being so hard to fundamentally define.
What this usually means is that, if you're going to mount a case for or against some new Star Wars, it needs to be contextualized against what's came before. This only ever hurt the prequels given that the three movies before them were classics, and likewise can be swiftly used to dismiss the sequels - there's no way the lines will be as quotable or the music as hummable after months compared to decades. However, for the new era, if you're going to criticise a sequel or anthology film, your argument must at least take consideration of the prequels.
This is where going negative on the movies becomes difficult: ignorance is forgiving in its own way; but to mount a proper case against what Disney is doing with the franchise in any form requires admitting how things were viewed a little of ten years ago under George Lucas.
What The Star Wars Prequels Did That The Sequels Don't
Disney Star Wars is, on a technical level, much more competent than Lucas' work on the prequels. The production design, the practical sets, the CGI, the sound-mixing et al are a step above, while the new characters have (mostly) resonated in a manner far beyond previous additions. Of course, there are still pervasive criticisms, chiefly that the films are too familiar and repetitive or too flippant and veer far from expectations. Above all, though, the key issues stem from the story's reliance on the past; The Force Awakens' plot mirrors A New Hope and, while The Last Jedi upended theories, it still concluded by returning to an original trilogy-esque status quo (to the point the characters flip to calling the Resistance "Rebels" halfway through). Add in a general lack of forward-planning, and for all the deft thematic exploration, there's a distinct absence of narrative purpose.
In contrast, the prequels were fresh and had a clear vision. Above all, they were different: Anakin's fall does in many ways mirror Luke's rise but it's more than just contrast; and the world was backward engineered, but in a way that felt detached and alien, highlighting a different ruling era. For all the filmmaking hiccups, the Star Wars prequels are very much the product of a singular auteur. In an environment where popular culture is riddled with studio-compromised films - from Justice League to Solo - that speaks parsecs.
It's not about which is better, it's that the two trilogies get different things right and it's through comparison that this can be truly grasped; because the qualities that have divided the fanbase on the sequels aren't simple craft, they force everybody to assess what exactly was "wrong" with the prequels and challenge those long-held views. As a recent controversial movie taught, if Star Wars fandom is to have a rational take on the present, it must consider the past.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019