Until Disney squeezed out George Lucas and started butchering the Star Wars saga even more than the prequel trilogy already did, Episodes I through III were the most maligned films in the franchise. However, as soon as J.J. Abrams came along to rehash A New Hope and undo most of the character development in the original trilogy with The Force Awakens (everyone went back to their old ways and the Empire returned, stronger than ever), the fans became divided on which trilogy was worse.
So, here are 5 Things The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy Did Better Than The Sequel Trilogy (And 5 Things The Sequels Are Doing Better).
10 Sequels did better: Dialogue
George Lucas is famously bad at writing dialogue. Just look at all the romantic scenes shared by Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones – there’s about as much passion and ingenuity in those scenes as there is in Date Movie. Star Wars fans still haven’t shaken the sound of Hayden Christensen’s dulcet tones discussing his hatred of sand.
The dialogue in the sequel trilogy has come a lot more naturally and smoothly. It’s nothing that’ll give David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin a run for their money, but it’s certainly a huge improvement on the dialogue in the prequel trilogy.
9 Prequels did better: Original stories
The sequel trilogy is less of a story and more of a Star Wars greatest hits album. All of the best moments from the original trilogy have just been rehashed and strung together in a loose narrative. An evil empire wants to dominate the galaxy. A band of rebels fights to stop them. A Skywalker has turned to the Dark Side and is controlled by a badly scarred puppet-master. A scavenger from a desert planet is realizing their dreams of intergalactic adventure and discovering their latent Force abilities. A rogue pilot is learning to respect authority. It’s the same story, just told far worse.
The prequels, on the other hand, had engaging and unique narratives we hadn’t seen before in the Star Wars saga: a Jedi’s forbidden love, the creation of a Clone Army, a politician who is secretly a Sith Lord slowly taking over the galaxy.
8 Sequels did better: Driving the plot with action
Movies that involve a lot of action – like, say, Star Wars movies – need to drive their plot with action. Otherwise, it becomes one of those terrible action films where the plot trots along with exposition for 10 minutes, then stands still for 10 minutes of action, then comes back with another 10 minutes of exposition, then stops again for another 10 minutes of action, and so on and so forth.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy has been doing a better job of using action sequences to advance the plot than the prequel trilogy, which had long dialogue scenes in locations such as libraries, ever did.
7 Prequels did better: Characters arcs
Where are the journeys of Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren heading in The Rise of Skywalker? It’s entirely unclear. Rey keeps teasing a Dark Side connection, Kylo Ren can’t decide what side of the fight he wants to be on despite leading one of them, Poe is as cool as a cat now as he was when the trilogy began, and Finn has been stuck at the same stage of his character development since half an hour into The Force Awakens.
The prequel trilogy, on the other hand, had clear-cut character arcs that George Lucas planned from the start, particularly Anakin Skywalker’s Corleone-like downfall from wayward Jedi Padawan to infamous Sith Lord Darth Vader.
6 Sequels did better: Killing off a major character
Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens can be compared to Qui-Gon Jinn’s death in The Phantom Menace – a major character killed off by the villain at the end of a trilogy’s first installment to spur on the true hero’s character development – and it’s arguably more effective.
As heartbreaking as Qui-Gon’s death is, Han’s is more heartbreaking. He’s just doing what any father would do, stepping out onto that bridge to give his long-lost son one last chance to give up his Dark Side tendencies and come back home to his family, and it gets him killed. It’s one of the few things J.J. Abrams didn’t screw up.
5 Prequels did better: Tying in to the overall saga
The prequel trilogy is essential to the overall Star Wars saga. It justifies its existence by telling a story that adds to the original trilogy. The sequels don’t do this – in fact, they detract from the original trilogy.
By having the Empire come back more powerful than ever and turning the Rebels into bumbling buffoons with no real plan, as well as breaking up Han and Leia and making Luke all bitter and angry and grizzled, the sequel trilogy has undone everything that made the original trilogy a thoroughly developed story. The sequel trilogy is hardly integral to the Skywalker saga – it’s actually better without it.
4 Sequels did better: Slick visuals
This one isn’t really fair, since CGI technology was much more advanced by the time the sequel trilogy rolled around and George Lucas not only used primitive CGI technology to make the prequels; he practically invented it.
But at the end of the day, in 100 years’ time, all that will be remembered is that some of the CGI in the prequel trilogy just doesn’t stack up to that of the sequel trilogy. The impact of each explosion in a sequel movie’s space battle feels much more tangible than in the prequels. The camera rocks with each blast and the visuals are more detailed.
3 Prequels did better: Overarching storylines
Both the prequel and original trilogies of the Star Wars saga feel like “trilogies” in the truest sense of the word – they’re three-part stories that need each part to make sense as a whole. The prequels are about how a young slave boy from Tatooine gets picked up by the Jedi and trained to be “the Chosen One” before falling to the Dark Side and becoming the most evil tyrant the galaxy has ever seen.
However, as it stands, there is really no overarching storyline in the sequel trilogy. It’s vaguely about the Resistance fighting the First Order, but there’s no forward momentum or discernible endgame.
2 Sequels did better: Diversity
Until the sequel trilogy came along, each Star Wars trilogy had just one major character of color and one major female character. The original trilogy had Lando Calrissian and Princess Leia; the prequel trilogy had Mace Windu and Padme Amidala. Today’s filmmakers finally understand the importance of representation, and so blockbuster casts tend to be much more diverse nowadays.
The Star Wars sequels have helped to contribute to that, with their three leads being female, black, and Latino, and a handful of other diverse cast members on top of that for good measure. This is more a product of today’s society than filmmaking know-how, but it’s still a point in the sequels’ favor.
1 Prequels did better: Understanding Star Wars
Unlike the Marvel universe, which has been shaped by literally hundreds of writers and artists over the years and is open to interpretation, Star Wars is and always has been whatever George Lucas says it is. The prequel trilogy took risks, developed the political arena of that galaxy far, far away, and built on the dichotomy between the Jedi and the Sith – whether you like those movies or not, they are true works of Star Wars media. And they introduced brand-new planets in every movie to avoid cheating the audience.
From Disney’s forced snowflake-friendly messages to Kathleen Kennedy’s focus on creating products and not movies to J.J. Abrams’ irritating mystery-box habit, the sequels just don’t get Star Wars. The new movies don’t even class as space operas – they’re even in the wrong genre!