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Star Wars’ Sequel Trilogy Changed How We Talk About the Prequels

The conversation surrounding George Lucas' prequels has completely changed over the past 10 years.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Lucasfilm
Celebrating the Prequels

When Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, it was almost universally rejected by longtime Star Wars fans. The two films that immediately followed it, 2002's Attack of the Clones and 2005's Revenge of the Sith, weren't received much better. For many years, in fact, the prequels were viewed by most Star Wars fans as three unfortunate mistakes in the franchise's history.

That started to change as those who grew up with the prequels got older and began to make their voices known. However, the general consensus surrounding the oft-derided films didn't actually transform until Lucasfilm's Disney era kicked off with Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens in 2015. The resulting Sequel Trilogy proved to be so divisive that it has almost single-handedly changed the way many Star Wars fans view George Lucas' prequel efforts.

In 1999, George Lucas tried to redefine what Star Wars was and — even more importantly — could be.

20th Century Fox

For much of the 2000s and 2010s, a lot of the same criticisms were frequently thrown at the Prequel Trilogy. Hardcore fans seemed to universally hate the glossy, polished look of the films, the stiff acting and writing featured throughout them, their overreliance on CGI, and their disregard for the kind of grit and shabbiness that made the first three Star Wars movies feel so lived-in and immersive. Not all of those criticisms have gone away. Even the prequels' biggest defenders are quick to admit that — aside from a few key exceptions — the movies' lead performances leave a lot to be desired.

It was for these reasons that Star Wars fans were excited to see the franchise return to its original aesthetic and practical roots in the franchise’s Disney-produced Sequel Trilogy. When The Force Awakens was released in late 2015, though, a number of viewers were left disappointed by how blatantly it recycled the narrative beats of 1977's A New Hope. Those complaints only grew louder when The Rise of Skywalker hit theaters in 2019 and fans saw just how incapable J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm seemed to be of moving past characters and formulas that had been established 40 years prior. The Rise of Skywalker, in particular, didn't seem nearly as interested in doing right by its characters as it did in trafficking in cheap nostalgia.

By showing fans what it looked like if Star Wars really did just continue giving them more of the same, Lucasfilm inadvertently made it easier to appreciate what George Lucas attempted with the Prequel Trilogy. After creating the most beloved film franchise of all time, he tried to change what viewers thought Star Wars could be. He didn't do that entirely successfully, but he also didn't completely fail. The Prequel Trilogy has become so ingrained in fans' minds that the characters, worlds, and designs featured throughout them are now considered just as much a part of the same franchise as those introduced in the Original Trilogy. Lucas did broaden viewers' perception of his expansive fictional universe. One could argue he did it a little too abrasively, but there's no question that his prequels ultimately did more to grow the Star Wars franchise than Disney's sequels.

There are more moments of striking beauty scattered throughout Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace than its reputation suggests.

20th Century Fox

Star Wars' Sequel Trilogy relied so heavily on empty, nostalgia-based cash-ins and references that fans talk about the three films themselves more negatively now than they do the prequels. It's been five years since The Rise of Skywalker was released, but that's still a genuinely shocking development. In the end, it seems that even Star Wars fans would rather have the franchise try to do something new than not. One quest is, at the very least, far more admirable than the other.

Twenty-five years after The Phantom Menace was released, it's looking more and more like Disney's disastrous Sequel Trilogy is the best thing that could have happened to the prequels.

This article is part of the “Celebrating the Prequels” series, a two-weeklong series of articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy leading up to the 25th anniversary of The Phantom Menace.

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