The more Star Wars stuff I’ve been consuming these past few weeks, the more I’ve found the Rise of Skywalker has left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s less that I’m angry with the movie itself, more that I’m just severely disappointed with how Disney dropped the ball and bundled the whole thing as a response to the utterly undeserved backlash to The Last Jedi.
Something I spoke about in more depth shortly after seeing the movie for the first time.
My feelings on the prequel trilogy have soured to such an extent that I’ve started looking back the prequel trilogy with much more fondness than this new trio of movies. Something I feel like I’m going to get lynched for for even thinking about. When in reality I feel like it’s a mixture of something like Stockholm Syndrome and childhood nostalgia.
Here’s the thing though: on the whole, I feel like Disney’s new reboot has provided us with enough positives that I don’t think “rebooting” the franchise was a mistake. The Mandalorian, Rogue One, the continuation of the Clone Wars. Pretty much everything outside of their main trilogy is good to great, while that main trilogy (the thing supposedly acting as the flagship for the entire franchise) is dragging the rest of it down.
Of course, none of the movies are perfect. And both the sequels and the prequels are a very flawed set of movies, both in their own ways. But conversely, there are also a ton of things in all of those movies to enjoy. And personally, on a weighted average, I feel like there are more things to praise about the prequels than there are about the sequel trilogy.
And just for total clarity, some portion of this article is me playing up devil’s advocate. As my feeling on these movies is swaying back and forth on a day by day basis. But let me get into the reasons that make me cook up this post in the first place in a particularly anti-sequel trilogy day:
Reason the First: The Finishing Line Menace
The Prequels, for all of their flaws, had a clear and concrete goal in mind from the moment they begun. Nearly everything that happened was focused on the purpose of creating Luke and Leia, then eventually turning Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. In so many important ways, that clear goal, focused within a three movie timespan forced the movies to stay on track and while thundering towards that goal.
Being a prequel can inherently hamstring a story, with the audience who have seen the previous movies in the series knowing full well where things are going to end up, it can potentially remove tension and drama from the events when the viewer knows A, B & C still need to happen. But in the case of the prequels, I feel like it worked in their advantage, stopping George Lucas from floating off and losing his focus.
Which is exactly what happened in the sequels in my opinion. The deeper we got into the sequel trilogy, the more it felt like there was no important story to tell here. I don’t know what the original plan was before all of fan backlash, but I am severely disappointed with how the sequels ended, essentially leaving off in the exact same spot Return of the Jedi did. At which point I need to question the point of telling this story in the first place.
If they had a concrete goal in mind to begin with, it didn’t show. And it seemed like the pure, unfettered freedom and financial backing ending up working to the series detriment.
Reason the Second: Memorable Characters Strikes Back
This point might seem a little unfair. The characters introduced into the series during the production of the prequels have had much longer to marinate in the fanbase. Thus we’ve seen them fleshed out and given their own stories in the form of novels, comic books, video games and television series. That being said, I still feel like the prequels introduced a much larger number of cool and interesting new characters than the sequels managed to in the amount of time.
I like the trio of Rey, Finn and Poe just fine, and I’ll put my hands up and say that Kylo Ren is one of my favourite characters of the entire franchise since the original trilogy. However, the sheer amount of characters to come from the prequels is hard to compare. And with so many of them being non-human, and having incredibly striking designs, it meant that even if many of them were background elements, people watching the movies say them, remembered them and their names.
So much so that they eventually got fleshed out and expanded upon down the road.
By comparison, how many new, memorable characters came out of the sequels outside of the characters I’ve already mentioned? BB-8, Maz Kanata, Phasma, anyone else? I struggle to think of any. It comes, in part, due to the fact that the sequels lean so much on the returning original cast, and then kill them off. There is nobody really still around outside of the main trio to carry any new stories forward.
Sure, who knows how this will change a decade from now when we’ve got a gritty live action series focusing on the Knights of Ren. But as right now, I’m far more attached to Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn and the many other Jedi we got to see more of in the expanded stories.
Reason the Third: Rise of an Original Thought
Despite the tone of this post, I think The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are very good, enjoyable movies. Don’t get me wrong. But even upon my initial viewing of Force Awakens, I complained about the fact that is was just a shamelessly obvious retelling of A New Hope. In fact, elements of the original trilogy are rife in sequels. Especially the first and third ones.
Sadly, the one in the middle that most tried to do something totally different is the one the fans decides to rally against.
The prequels, on the other hand, are three totally unique movies all doing their own thing, for better or for worse. For the most part, Episodes I-III are thrill rides, carried by their relentless action and dragged down by poor casting decisions and lacklustre script writing from Lucas himself.
Revenge of the Sith alone is nonstop and packed with action sequence after action sequence that makes it hard to take your eyes from the screen for the bombardment of the senses alone. Personally, I still thing the lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi Wan is one of the best sequences in the franchise. Mostly in part due to it being obvious how much blood and sweat the actors put into making that sequence as visceral as they did.
I don’t feel that strongly about anything from the Sequels, outside of the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. Which they still ruin by the end. In a movie which borrows so heavily from the events of Return of the Jedi that I feel like I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t just go and watch that instead.
For all the problems the prequels had, at least they were ambitious and original in their stories. It was simply execution that let them down.
In the end, both trilogies of movies are flawed, but each have their own set of redeeming aspects too. As individual pieces of cinema, separated from the massive franchise that spawned them, the sequels are better movies on the basis of technology and performance alone.
But when it comes to what they contributed to the franchise as a whole; something I’ve said again and again is the thing I constantly find myself using as a barometer for how I feel about anything Star Wars related, they feel utterly unnecessary. They simply don’t add anything of real consequence and end up leaving us in the same spot we were in at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Except more depressed at how crummy Luke, Leia and Han’s lives ended up being.
And while the prequels ended up in tragedy too, at least they opened up a wider galaxy in terms of characters, locations and lore to the franchise. I hope that Disney eventually salvage the sequels and give a continuation worth being excited for, but as of right now, outside of Kylo Ren I feel like there wasn’t really that much to shot about now the dust has settled.