Eagerly anticipated, derided upon release, and now re-evaluated in the years since, the story of the Star Wars prequel trilogy’s reception is a storied one, filled with as many twist and turns as any epic saga.
With the sequel trilogy now behind us as well, and the sharp divisions within the Star Wars fandom among fans who prefer one trilogy over the other, it is worth it to examine the individual facets of both trilogies and examine how one succeeds in areas the other fails. As such, let’s look at 10 things the Star Wars prequel trilogy does better than the sequel trilogy.
The true MVP of the Star Wars prequel trilogy isn’t Ewan McGregor, nor Ian McDiarmid, but composer John Williams. The lead composer for the score of every Star Wars trilogy, Williams’ work on the prequel trilogy stands a cut above the rest; more than anything else, it is his music that evokes emotion from the events onscreen.
He managed to deliver at least one truly transcendent theme with each entry of the trilogy; the exhilarating Duel Of The Fates the beautiful Across The Stars, and the tragic Battle Of The Heroes. Williams’ work on the Sequel trilogy isn’t bad, with Rey’s Theme being a particular highlight, but overall the sequel trilogy scores can’t compare to the best of his prequel compositions.
9 Narrative Coherence
From the moment the prequels began, we knew where the story would ultimately lead, and in broad strokes at least, the way it gets to that destination makes sense. The trilogy’s core story arcs (Palpatine’s machinations, the fall of the Jedi Order and Rise of the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader) are all followed through to their logical conclusions, which makes for a satisfying finale in Revenge Of The Sith.
In contrast, the sequel trilogy pulls a narrative 180 in its final chapter, undermining revelations in The Last Jedi about Rey’s parentage and abruptly bringing back Palpatine with no foreshadowing, resulting in a disjointed trilogy that doesn’t blend into a single story.
8 A Singular Vision
Pertaining to the previous point, the prequels are, for better or for worse, clearly the product of George Lucas’ vision; a filmmaker crafting blockbusters so singularly driven is nearly unthinkable in today’s producer/studio-driven creative environments. For that reason alone, the prequels are worth celebrating.
The sequel trilogy’s disjointedness stems from this lack of a unifying vision. Moreso than an overarching story not being planned out before the films were in development, JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson clearly had different artistic intentions when making their respective Star Wars movies; Abrams want to capture feelings of nostalgia which Johnson instead wanted to confront and deconstruct.
7 Expanded Material
Even if the films themselves remain divisive, half the fun of the Star Wars universe has always been the expanded universe material, and the prequel trilogy era delivered some truly great content on that front. Most obviously there is the Dave Filoni-helmed animated series The Clone Wars, which filled in the storytelling gaps of the prequel trilogy so well its existence is probably at least partly why the fans have kinder words for the prequels these days.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s earlier Clone Wars cartoon deserves equal celebration as it’s computer-animated successor, as do the various novels of the prequel era, Canon (Dark Disciple, Ahsoka, Master & Apprentice) or Legends (Shatterpoint, Darth Plagueis, and Matt Stover’s Revenge Of The Sith novelization). Compared to this, sequel trilogy EU content simply can’t compare.
6 New Worlds
The prequels succeeded in expanding the scope of the Star Wars universe, in no small part due to the high number of new worlds introduced and visited throughout the trilogy; the city-scape Republic capital of Coruscant, the idyllic pastures of Naboo, the desert hives of Geonosis, and the lava-drenched hell of Mustafar were all instantly iconic locales.
The sequel’s locales are unfortunately nowhere near as instantly memorable and often just emulations of the original trilogy; Jakku might as well have been Tatooine 2.0, the resistance bases on D’Qar and Ajan Kloss were essentially Yavin and Endor redone, respectively, and both Starkiller Base and Crait were spins on Hoth. Even the more unique locales, such as Canto Bight and Exegol, aren’t given enough time to shine relative to the prequel locales.
5 New Designs
One of the most memorable parts of Star Wars is the various machines, starships, vehicles, and droids, which populate the galaxy far, far, away. The prequel trilogy introduced new iconography on this front, in particular the the various Battle Droids employed by the Trade Federation. Even the Republic tech, such as Venator-Star Destroyers and Clone Trooper armor, came across more as logical predecessors to their Imperial counterparts in the original trilogy versus rehashing designs.
The sequel trilogy, on the other hand, simply reuses designs (X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers) from the original trilogy, for apparently there was a freeze in technological development during the thirty-year-gap between the original and sequel trilogies. In any case, the trade for nostalgia over imagination wasn’t necessarily a great one.
4 Secondary Villains
While it may have been Palpatine calling the ultimate shots throughout the prequels, the “Proto-Vaders” of the trilogy captured audience imaginations just as much as their master; the demonic Sith Apprentice Darth Maul, the regal ex-Jedi/Separatist Leader Count Dooku, and cyborg Jedi killer General Grievous. All blessed with immediately striking designs, the three all proved some of the most memorable characters in the trilogy; Christopher Lee in particular deserves praises, channeling his Hammer Horror roots to bring gravitas to not always stellar material whilst portraying the Count of Serenno.
The sequel trilogy’s secondary villains, on the other hand, left much less of an impression, aside from Domnhall Gleeson’s devilishly fun portrayal of petulant fascist General Hux, though the character’s arc in The Rise Of Skywalker did him a disservice.
3 Political Commentary
Star Wars has always been political; the original trilogy was born out of George Lucas’ frustration with the Vietnam War, and atmosphere of the Empire is clearly meant to evoke Nazi Germany. With the prequels, Lucas decided to tell the story of how democracies like the Republic die; not through military conquest, but through internal corruption of institutions brought about by greed and inertia. That we now see such events playing out in real time is certainly a reason why many have re-evaulated the prequels.
In contrast, the only true discernible political message of the sequels is “diverse groups must work together against greater evils.” Not a bad or unneeded message, but not exactly a biting one either, and this message was essentially already conveyed by the original trilogy.
2 Justification For Existence
The original trilogy of Star Wars always hinted at a backstory, the end of the Republic and the Rise of The Empire, the extinction of the Jedi Order, and Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side, that we would eventually see play out in the prequels. As such, the prequels pass the smell test for any continuation of a long-running franchise; they justify their existence, for they’re telling a story we want to see be told.
The sequels, on the other hand, don’t have as much of a motivating force beyond desires, sentimental and financial, for more Star Wars movies; while the Prequels bring the saga full circle, the sequels are an addendum that could be excised if you choose.
The Emperor, aka Darth Sidious, aka Sheev Palpatine; his surprise return in The Rise Of Skywalker sadly failed to live up to his portrayal in the prequels. Ian McDiarmid does much of the heavy lifting acting-wise throughout the trilogy, particularly in the scenes where Palpatine is corrupting Anakin, in which he always comes across as both amiable and sinister; likewise, getting to see him go full-tilt into super-villainy during the last half of Revenge Of The Sith was just a delight.
The prequels also displayed the scope of Palpatine’s vision by having him mastermind both sides of an intergalactic war, whereas in the sequels he comes off as a shoe-horned in final boss, and nothing more.
Eagerly anticipated and then truly despised upon release, is it finally time for the long-awaited prequel redemption arc to begin?