Six Star Wars “Hot Takes”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, from A New Hope to Obi-Wan Kenobi and beyond.

A little while ago I gave six of my “hot takes” on the Star Trek franchise, so this time it’s Star Wars’ turn to receive some controversial opinions! These are all opinions on the Star Wars franchise that, at least based on my limited engagement with the broader fan community, are either unpopular or will prove to be divisive.

This is supposed to be a bit of thought-provoking fun, so more than ever I ask you to keep in mind that all of these opinions are subjective, not objective! I’m not trying to claim that my perspectives on these broad and complex topics are in any way factual or unquestionable; I’m simply offering up my singular take on these points for the purposes of entertainment. I’ll try to explain why I feel the way I do – but I already know that many folks can and will disagree. And that’s okay! The Star Wars fan community is big enough for respectful and civil disagreement about all manner of subjects.

With all of that out of the way, this is your last chance to jump ship if you aren’t interested in some potentially controversial Star Wars opinions!

“Hot Take” #1:
The sequel trilogy having problems hasn’t magically redeemed the prequel trilogy or made it any more enjoyable.

Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.

One of the strangest arguments, in my view, that has been put forward in recent years by critics of the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that the prequels look so much better by comparison. Although I find Revenge of the Sith to be an okay film, I’ve never been wild about the first two parts of the prequel trilogy in particular, and the fact that The Rise of Skywalker and, to a lesser extent, The Force Awakens have issues doesn’t change any of that.

The prequels had a planned story from the start, and George Lucas knew which characters he wanted to include, what roles he wanted to give them, and what their arcs would look like from beginning to end. There were changes and edits along the way, but the broad strokes of the story had been planned in advance. This is something that the sequel trilogy lacked, with different writers and directors being given free rein to tell whatever stories they wanted – something widely considered to be a mistake. But just because the producers of the sequel trilogy screwed this up, that doesn’t mean that the uninspiring, overexplained backstory that comprised much of the prequels is any better as a result. It was a planned story, sure, but an unnecessary, bloated, and occasionally just plain boring one that did a lot to detract from the intimidating nature of Darth Vader in particular.

Padmé and Anakin in Attack of the Clones.

Though it’s difficult – and perhaps even a little unfair – to try to summarise the main issue with an entire trio of films in just a few words, I’d say that the sequels went wrong by trying to be too much of a copy of the original films, and then by trying to course-correct following the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi. But the prequels went wrong by telling a story that was ultimately unnecessary; we didn’t need three films chronicling the minutia of Anakin Skywalker’s rise and fall to know that he was an evil villain who could be redeemed by the residual love that he had for his son.

And in many ways, the prequels undermined the story that the original trilogy had told. The inclusion of things like a nine-year-old Anakin being the builder of C-3PO was just plain dumb, and smaller things like Yoda not being the Jedi who trained Obi-Wan, as he would later claim to Luke, ended up contradicting points in the original films. Some of these are arguably nitpicks, but in a story that was weak and muddled, smaller points like these become much more noticeable and begin to pile up.

A Republic battle cruiser in Revenge of the Sith.

At the end of the day, many of the prequels’ biggest defenders are folks who grew up watching them as kids. For many people in their teens and twenties, these films were their first point of contact with the Star Wars franchise. And there’s nothing wrong with loving the prequel trilogy – there are points from all three films that I enjoyed, and I even put together a list of some of my favourites for Star Wars Day a couple of years ago.

But just because the sequel trilogy had issues with its production and its narrative, that doesn’t mean that the prequels are somehow made better in hindsight. For me, the prequels remain a disappointment, and although I was scathing in my review of The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it in 2020, for me it’s still a toss-up as to whether it’s marginally better or worse than The Phantom Menace.

“Hot Take” #2:
Star Wars needs to end its overreliance on the same handful of legacy characters.

Darth Vader loomed very large indeed over the Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

Since it premiered all the way back in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has focused on a tiny number of characters, only a few of whom have been explored in any detail. Prequels, sequels, spin-offs, and even supposedly-unrelated projects have all brought back into play the same handful of characters again and again, and sooner rather than later I’d like to see that stop.

The Star Wars galaxy is, in my view, one of the finest fictional settings ever created. It has both a breadth and a depth that other settings could only dream of: dozens of factions, hundreds of alien races, thousands of inhabited planets, and tens of thousands of years’ worth of galactic history – all of which could be explored in a way that would be absolutely riveting. But so far, writers and creatives have been limited to one tiny corner of this potentially vast sandbox, forced to re-use the same characters, revisit the same planets, and stay within the confines of the same relatively short sixty-year span of galactic history centred around the rise and fall of the Empire.

Boba Fett reappeared in The Mandalorian Season 2.

One of the reasons I love the video game Knights of the Old Republic so much is because it stepped away from much of what was familiar about Star Wars. There were some recognisable planets, and of course we spent time with the Republic and the Jedi, but beyond that the story took place thousands of years prior to the events of the films and introduced an entirely new cast of characters. There were definite inspirations from the original and prequel trilogies, but Knights of the Old Republic was separate from them.

That’s what I’d like to see Star Wars do more of. Instead of telling us another story about Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, tell us something else. Introduce us to a new Jedi, a new Sith, or better yet, new Light and Dark Side factions. Or abandon the Force altogether for once and show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with space magic live! That’s what I hoped that a series like The Mandalorian might do.

Luke Skywalker in The Book of Boba Fett.

George Lucas once spoke of symmetry in Star Wars, saying that its stories should “rhyme.” But there’s a huge difference between rhyming and being a carbon copy of what came before, or between rhyming and diving ever deeper into less and less important chapters of backstory. Unfortunately, because Star Wars has never broken away from its previously-established characters, doing so now is something that must feel like a risk to the suits at Lucasfilm and Disney – and if there’s one thing that makes corporations uncomfortable, it’s risk.

However, as I’ve recently argued, Star Wars can’t just coast forever on nostalgia for its original films and the only real story it’s ever told. Sooner rather than later those characters and settings will be exhausted, spent of all storytelling potential. Then the only remaining choice will be to either try something genuinely new and different… or to bring the entire franchise to an end.

“Hot Take” #3:
The Last Jedi will be highly-regarded in fifteen or twenty years’ time.

Luke Skywalker heads out to meet the forces of the First Order.

I unapologetically love The Last Jedi – it’s the highlight of the sequel trilogy for me by far. But I recognise that it was divisive in the fan community, and that some narrative decisions seem to have been made to be deliberately challenging to the expectations its audience had. For me, those points succeeded – and just like Star Wars fans eventually came to accept patent nonsense like “from a certain point of view,” or the arbitrary and unexplained decision to make Luke and Leia into brother and sister at the last moment, in time I think many of The Last Jedi’s story beats will just become accepted part of Star Wars lore.

Moreover, as fans who are kids today grow up and look back on the sequels, we’ll probably see a reappraisal of those films within the wider discourse of the fan community. Just as the prequels are supported today by fans in their teens and twenties, in fifteen or twenty years’ time I think we’ll see a similar movement in support of the sequels from fans for whom those films were their first contact with the Star Wars franchise.

Ben Solo’s turn to the Dark Side was shocking and unexpected.

In particular, the merits of The Last Jedi will come to be reappraised. The film wasn’t perfect, but it got a lot of things right, and after The Force Awakens had played it very safe by basically copying large parts of the plot of A New Hope, The Last Jedi really tried hard to take Star Wars to completely different narrative and thematic places.

Unfortunately many of its successes were overridden by The Rise of Skywalker – which itself will gradually become accepted as part of the wider lore of Star Wars, too – but that doesn’t mean that the film can’t be enjoyed on its own merits. Decisions like Rey’s parents being “no one” of consequence or Kylo Ren fully embracing his inner Dark Side to claim the mantle of Supreme Leader are – at least in my opinion – storylines that had massive appeal and huge potential. I’m sure that they’ll be looked upon much more kindly in the years ahead.

The Holdo Manoeuvre.

If the Star Wars franchise continues its current trend of doubling-down on cheap nostalgia plays and samey, almost repetitive storylines, then The Last Jedi’s attempts to shake things up will come to be seen in a new light. Star Wars is in real danger of becoming stale – if every story focuses on the same few characters, or characters who are so similar as to fill functionally the same role, then the franchise will feel like it’s lost a step and stopped innovating.

It may take a while for attitudes to shift, and there will of course be some fans for whom The Last Jedi will always remain one of the worst parts of the Star Wars franchise. But I really do believe that in a few years’ time the film will find more defenders than detractors, and will come to be an accepted and even celebrated part of Star Wars’ cinematic canon. Hopefully there’ll still be a Star Wars at that point, with new films and shows being created!

“Hot Take” #4:
So-called “Jedi Robes” were originally just typical desert attire and not something ceremonial or unique to the Jedi Order.

“Old Ben” Kenobi with Luke and R2D2 in A New Hope.

One thing that’s always bugged me, even as far back as Return of the Jedi, is how so-called “Jedi Robes” are basically just the typical outfit one would expect to wear in a desert environment like Tatooine. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s outfit in the original film was never intended to be some kind of ceremonial marker of the ancient Jedi Order, but rather a costume inspired by desert cultures around the world.

Look at typical outfits worn in North Africa and on the Arabian peninsula as examples. The typical thobe (thawb) and bisht that are worn by men in those regions was part of the inspiration for the outfit, along with outfits worn by Bedouin and nomadic peoples. These outfits are designed to be worn in hot desert conditions, and that’s exactly what we see in “Old Ben” Kenobi’s costume when he encounters Luke Skywalker.

This mistake was first made with Anakin’s ghost in Return of the Jedi.

Luke is actually dressed very similarly to Kenobi at that point. The outfit he wears is similar to what Kenobi was wearing under his cloak – a kind of loose-fitting belted tunic. Again, this is something pretty standard in desert regions and makes sense for a planet like Tatooine. There’s nothing about either of their outfits that screams “religious order,” and it’s always struck me as odd – and more than a little arbitrary – that Kenobi’s desert cloak ended up being the basis for the ceremonial robes worn by everyone in the Jedi Order.

In-universe, it doesn’t even make sense for “Old Ben” to be cutting about Tatooine in his Jedi robes – if indeed that’s what they’re supposed to be. He’s in hiding on that world, and as we saw in the opening act of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, changing out of his robes into civilian attire would help him blend in. Putting his robes on to go exploring would draw unnecessary and unwanted attention to him at a time when he’s still one of the Empire’s most-wanted Jedi survivors.

Members of the Jedi Council in their robes in Attack of the Clones.

It would’ve been nice to see more diversity in the outfits worn by Jedi Knights and Masters, particularly during the prequel era. We could have seen a whole new range of costumes introduced, including elaborate ceremonial attire if there was a need for that. But simply copying what “Old Ben” wore on Tatooine and slapping it on every Jedi character has never made sense.

While I accept that this is now an established part of the lore of Star Wars and isn’t going to change, it’s something that’s always bugged me!

“Hot Take” #5:
Star Wars doesn’t need the Jedi and the Force to tell fun stories.

Rey and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.

When The Mandalorian was announced a couple of years ago I felt that it had a truly exciting premise. Following “the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic” sounded absolutely fascinating, and would have been a huge departure from anything we’d seen the franchise do before.

But within two episodes the Force came back into play, and by the end of the second season we’d been reintroduced to Luke Skywalker himself. I still find The Mandalorian to be disappointing as a result; it didn’t live up to expectations and very quickly fell back to retread the same ground as other Star Wars projects.

Finn wielding a lightsaber in The Force Awakens.

The Book of Boba Fett likewise brought the Force and Luke Skywalker into its story, and again there was a missed opportunity to show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t Force-users live. I’m hopeful that one day a Star Wars project will be bold enough to leave the Force behind entirely – and perhaps it’ll finally happen in Andor, Rogue Squadron, or one of the upcoming films or television shows!

As I said above, the Star Wars galaxy is massive and densely-populated – and the vast, vast majority of the population doesn’t use the Force or rely on it in any way. Characters like Han Solo didn’t even believe that the Force existed at first – and that attitude could well be prevalent across much of the population. Showing us characters like that could take all manner of different forms, and I’d be really interested to see some completely different projects set in the Star Wars universe.

A New Republic pilot in The Mandalorian.

Just as a couple of examples, we could see a kind of noir-inspired crime drama set in the underworld of a planet like Coruscant. Or we could see an ER-esque medical drama that follows the exploits of doctors and nurses at a hospital. There’s more to Star Wars than just Jedi Knights, Sith Lords, and the Force, and while we all love a good lightsaber duel… Star Wars can be more than that, if there’s someone bold enough in creative control to make those decisions.

So far, every Star Wars project has included the Force or Force-wielders to a greater or lesser degree. I’d like to see a film or TV show that completely sets the Force aside. Not only would it expand our knowledge of the Star Wars galaxy away from those familiar elements, but it would be thematically and narratively different by default. And telling new and different stories is something that the Star Wars franchise needs to start doing!

“Hot Take” #6:
The prequel trilogy told a story that was ultimately unnecessary.

Young Anakin in The Phantom Menace.

This isn’t saying “the prequels were bad” and commenting on things like the quality of the writing or specific narrative choices. Instead, what I’m saying is that the story of the prequel trilogy didn’t actually add anything of consequence to the Star Wars saga. Everything we knew about characters like Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and of course Darth Vader had already been explained in the original films.

At best, the prequels were padded backstory. They showed us the Clone Wars firsthand, instead of the conflict being left as a rather ambiguous part of the saga’s lore that was referenced but unexplained. They explicitly showed us things like the original duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan that had been referenced, and confirmed that Obi-Wan had been responsible for causing Darth Vader’s life-limiting injuries. But nothing that they brought to the table was necessary or couldn’t be inferred from the original films.

Palpatine seizes power in Revenge of the Sith.

By the time it had been decided to make Darth Vader Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, his pathway toward redemption was possible. He was an evil villain, but he had enough residual goodness and light inside him thanks to the love he had for his son that it was possible for him to betray the Emperor. We didn’t need three films charting Anakin’s rise and fall to tell us that.

Nor did we need to see Obi-Wan Kenobi training Anakin to inform their conflict. Darth Vader told us all we needed to know in a single line when they were reunited aboard the Death Star. Even Palpatine’s scheming and the way he played both sides in the Clone Wars didn’t really do much to explain his role in The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi – and certainly wasn’t necessary to understand his position or role in either story.

The “birth” of Darth Vader.

There are things to celebrate about the prequels, don’t get me wrong. And there’s nothing inherently wrong or problematic about stepping back in time to look at characters in their younger days or to go into more detail about some of the events that preceded what we’d seen in the original films. But the Star Wars prequel trilogy padded out that story without really adding to it anything of substance.

The simple fact is that we knew all we needed to know at the time of the original films for those stories to be exciting and engrossing. I never felt that I was missing any crucial context to understand Luke, Leia, Han, Palpatine, or Vader, and while the prequels certainly expanded the story of Star Wars – and in many ways set the stage for its ongoing success – I feel that the reason the story never really resonated with me is because it never seemed like it was one that needed to be told.

So that’s it!

Han Solo.

I hope we’re still friends after all of that! Just remember that these are simply the opinions of one person, presented here for a bit of fun and perhaps to be thought-provoking.

Despite criticisms of some individual films and stories, I consider myself a fan of Star Wars. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I first sat down to watch the original trilogy at the insistence of a friend in the early 1990s, and I’ve supported Star Wars at the cinema, on television, and in the gaming realm ever since. There’s a lot to love – even if I have some controversial “hot takes” on the franchise sometimes!

Just this year I’ve enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Andor and Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will have to offer, too. So I hope this was a bit of fun as we look ahead to some of those upcoming Star Wars projects.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films, games, and television shows discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Obi-Wan Kenobi series: hopes, fears, and expectations

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Boba Fett, and recent films such as The Rise of Skywalker.

I’ve made no secret through my commentary here on the website that I’m not thrilled by many of the decisions and announcements that have come out of Disney and Lucasfilm lately. The Star Wars franchise as a whole feels stuck; bogged down by nostalgia and led by a team whose creativity is being stifled by a corporate board that is unwilling or unable to move on from successes that are now decades in the past. The divisiveness of the sequel trilogy will eventually abate, but for now the Star Wars franchise is intent on looking backwards.

This is why we have projects like Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first place. The very concept of the series is backwards-looking, and all it really offers, at a fundamental level, are more of the same nostalgia plays that tripped up projects like Solo: A Star Wars Story. As I said last time I took a look at the upcoming series – which is now less than a month away – if I were in charge over at Disney and Lucasfilm, a project like this would’ve never been greenlit!

Obi-Wan in a teaser for the upcoming series.

That isn’t all there is to say, of course. Another recent Star Wars project that I had relatively low expectations for was The Book of Boba Fett. Arbitrarily bringing back from the dead a relatively minor character and dedicating an entire spin-off project to him felt like it should’ve been the epitome of everything I’ve come to dislike about modern Star Wars. But as you’ll know if you read my review of the first season, I actually had a good time with The Book of Boba Fett. It was far from perfect, but it hid its imperfections in a story that was, for the most part anyway, just plain fun.

So as I look ahead to Obi-Wan Kenobi, there are reasons for optimism. Ewan McGregor’s performance as the titular Jedi Knight was one of the prequel trilogy’s highlights, and he did well to bring to life a younger version of the character we’d originally met in 1977. Though I’ve never been wild about the prequels – the first two parts in particular – McGregor inhabited the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi and showed us, at least in part through Kenobi’s eyes, the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, as well as the hubris that led to the demise of the Jedi Order itself.

Hello there!

My biggest concern when it comes to Obi-Wan Kenobi is how it will find a story to tell that fits into the existing saga of Star Wars. The series has to be very carefully-crafted to be able to slot neatly into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike The Book of Boba Fett, which could’ve gone in all kinds of different directions as an epilogue to Boba’s story, Obi-Wan Kenobi has to show us a chapter of the Jedi Master’s life that falls in between the parts we already know. It has the very difficult task of being interesting, exciting, and dramatic without overwriting anything we already know, nor robbing any of the other stories of their impact.

Between what we saw in the prequels and the original films, we know the story of Obi-Wan’s life. I’d argue that we’ve seen the most interesting parts already: how he rose from being a padawan apprentice to a master in his own right, the role he played in the Clone Wars, and how the Empire rose around him. We’ve seen him take on Luke Skywalker as his apprentice, and then sacrifice his life in a duel with Darth Vader. What can Obi-Wan Kenobi add to this story that we don’t already know or can’t infer from the parts we’ve already seen? How can it give its protagonist an arc that takes him from where we left him at the end of Revenge of the Sith to where we picked up his story in A New Hope? And how can it make that story something worth watching without feeling either incredibly tacked-on or like a bolt from the blue?

“Old Ben” Kenobi in A New Hope.

Those are just some of the narrative challenges that the new series faces, and they’re by no means small ones! Obi-Wan Kenobi has to thread the needle; it can’t stray too far from what we already know, but it also has to find a way to chart its own path despite that limitation. I guess another of my worries is that the story the new series ultimately tries to tell will ignore some or all of those points and blaze a trail that will take Obi-Wan on an adventure that undermines his arc in either the prequels, original films, or both.

For the show’s writers, it must be sorely tempting to pit Obi-Wan and Darth Vader against one another – but doing so would utterly ruin one of the most powerful sequences in A New Hope. As much fun as it might be for the writers and creative team to stage another duel between the former master and apprentice, these classic characters need to be treated more carefully than that. Star Wars is already in a strange place thanks to things like Palpatine’s survival after Return of the Jedi; to throw Obi-Wan and Vader into a conflict against one another a decade before A New Hope would take away one of the few significant moments that remain unaltered from the original trilogy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi mustn’t undermine the meeting between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope.

In their rush to recapture the magic of Star Wars, the franchise’s current executives and producers have actually erased a good deal of what made the original films as meaningful as they were. The story of Anakin’s redemption and return to the light in Return of the Jedi, for example, is hideously twisted and undermined by the subsequent revelations that Palpatine was able to survive, live for another thirty years, start a new Sith Empire, and even corrupt Anakin’s own grandson. Obi-Wan Kenobi simply can’t repeat this kind of mistake. If it does, Star Wars will have very little left.

Part of what made the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader aboard the Death Star so powerful is that it was their first meeting in many years. Even when watching the original film years before the prequels came out, it was obvious that the hate Vader had for Obi-Wan had been building for a long time. Add into the mix the backstory that the prequels gave us and the moment takes on a different and even greater significance. For Vader, this was his opportunity to get revenge on the man who left him badly injured and dependent on his hated suit. It became one of the most powerful sequences in the film – and in the entire saga.

The iconic lightsaber duel.

A few months ago I took a look at a similar project over in the Star Trek franchise: Ceti Alpha V is a proposed miniseries that would revisit iconic villain Khan. Having already seen the two most interesting parts of Khan’s story – his awakening in the 23rd Century and his battle against Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, I argued that such a project is ultimately not necessary. What would we learn about Khan from that miniseries that hasn’t already been explored either by Space Seed or The Wrath of Khan? It’s almost certainly the least-interesting part of his story, one that would not only be kind of a waste of time, but if given too much leeway, one that could undermine one of the high points of the entire Star Trek franchise.

And it’s hard not to look at Obi-Wan Kenobi with a similar degree of scepticism. Since we clearly aren’t just going to watch Obi-Wan sit around in his desert hut for six episodes, the question of what exactly he’s going to do comes to the fore. What makes this chapter of his life worthy of a six-episode miniseries, and how will it balance the need to be exciting and entertaining with the constraints of a very definite beginning and end point?

An Imperial Inquisitor seen in the teaser.

All that being said, Disney+ has a pretty good track record with its original productions. Obi-Wan Kenobi will likely have a per-episode budget that fans of other franchises could only dream of, so on the technical side of things we can almost certainly look forward to a polished production that looks great and makes creative use of CGI and other visual effects. Recent Star Wars projects have brought back more of the puppets and practical effects that defined the franchise’s look in its original incarnation, and that’s something I’ve enjoyed seeing. And in terms of special effects, things like the de-ageing and digital character creation that we’ve seen employed in The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian are nothing short of technological marvels.

Famed composer John Williams is returning to the Star Wars franchise yet again to compose the show’s theme, which is another neat inclusion. Just like The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi will make use of an AR wall (similar to the one used in recent Star Trek productions), which should also look fantastic. In addition to Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen is reprising his role as Darth Vader, and the inclusion of actors like Rupert Friend rounds out what seems to be an excellent cast. Director Deborah Chow has a good track record, too, with directing credits in series as diverse as Turn: Washington’s Spies, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Man in the High Castle. She also directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, so she’s not a newcomer to the franchise.

A company of Stormtroopers in the teaser.

All of those things give me hope! There’s potential in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and there’s no denying that Disney and Lucasfilm have put together a great team, backed them up with a significant budget, and given the project a shot at success. For me, the biggest potential pitfall remains the premise of the series itself, and the limited storytelling directions it could reasonably take.

I’m trying to rein in both my scepticism and excitement on different sides of the project, and I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying I’m cautiously optimistic. The success of The Book of Boba Fett earlier in the year, which was similarly a series I had reservations about, has perhaps led me to feel a little more hopeful than I otherwise might about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s prospects.

One final note: it’s worth saying that Obi-Wan Kenobi exists, like several other recent and upcoming sci-fi and fantasy projects, largely because fans were asking for it. Fans who grew up with the prequel trilogy, viewing those films as “their” Star Wars, have generally reacted very positively to news about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I’m happy for them that Disney and Lucasfilm have been listening. I hope they get the series they’ve been looking for – and with any luck it’ll be something that I can enjoy too!

Obi-Wan Kenobi is scheduled to premiere on Disney+ on the 27th of May 2022. The Star Wars franchise – including Obi-Wan Kenobi and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten things that the Star Wars prequels got right

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). In addition, spoilers are present for the sequel trilogy, including The Rise of Skywalker, and for Knights of the Old Republic.

Happy Star Wars Day! In celebration of today’s event, I thought we could take a look back at the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Though this isn’t my favourite part of the franchise by any means, today is a day for positivity within the Star Wars fandom, and despite my overall feelings, the prequels did get some things right. It’s easy to criticise and complain, but no film is 100% awful. Not even The Rise of Skywalker.

I became a Star Wars fan in the early ’90s, having watched the original trilogy at the prompting of a friend. It was thus a very exciting time when the prequel trilogy was announced, and even though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the first two films in particular, Revenge of the Sith managed to churn out an adequate end to the trilogy and set up the original films.

Trekking with Dennis talking positively about the Star Wars prequels?!
“A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one!”

For a decade after the prequels concluded, Star Wars was said to be complete. Six films, and that’s it. Of course we now have sequels and spin-offs, with many more in the works, and it looks like the Star Wars franchise will continue to roll on and bring in money for parent company Disney. Though no major plans are afoot to revisit the prequel era right now, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series will bring back at least two prominent characters from the trilogy and serve as a continuation of sorts.

As always, this list is just my personal opinion. The prequel trilogy is going through somewhat of a renaissance in the minds of some Star Wars fans – particularly those who grew up with the films. If you adore the prequels, that’s okay. We all have preferences; things we like and dislike, even within a single fandom. There’s no need for discussions about Star Wars to descend into arguments!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into my list of things the prequels got right.

Number 1: Showing the Jedi Order at full strength.

Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn meeting with the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

At the time The Phantom Menace premiered, Star Wars’ cinematic canon had only ever shown five Force users – only one of whom could reasonably be said to still be “a Jedi” when he appeared on screen. Though Luke Skywalker appeared to take on the mantle of Jedi Master by the end of Return of the Jedi, we were still curious to see how the Order appeared in its original form.

All three films spent a decent amount of time with the Jedi Order, showing the organisation if not at its peak then certainly in far better shape than we’d ever seen it before. The Jedi maintained a huge temple as their headquarters and base of operations, and hundreds of Jedi Knights and Jedi Masters were seen on screen, taking on various roles across the three films.

Young Jedi train while Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi observe.

Prior to this, all we really had to go on was hearsay. Ben Kenobi and Yoda had told Luke Skywalker a little about the former Jedi Order across the original films, but there’s a big difference between hearing a character explain something and actually seeing it firsthand. The legend of the Jedi Order made it to screen in a big way, and told us a lot about the history of the Star Wars galaxy as well.

We also got to know several key members of the Jedi Order in this era, and see the Jedi take on leadership roles to try to bring about peace and stave off the separatists. We arguably learned more about the minutiae of the Jedi in the prequel trilogy than in the originals, sequels, and spin-offs combined, and while it wasn’t all perfect – the Jedi robes being just one example of that – the prequels undeniably expanded the lore of Star Wars in this regard.

Number 2: Starship designs.

A Republic starship during the Battle over Coruscant.

Many of the starship designs used during the prequel trilogy were cleverly designed with the original trilogy in mind. It’s not an easy task to take an existing design and try to work backwards from it, creating a new design that’s supposed to look like a realistic predecessor to something that was supposedly built later. But the prequel trilogy does a creditable job in this regard, especially insofar as starships are concerned.

There were two issues that the prequels faced: on the production side, technology had changed a lot regarding how special effects were made, meaning some of the original films’ starships looked very much “of their time.” And secondly, the Imperial ships seen in the original trilogy were designed to look villainous and menacing as the Empire was the antagonist faction in those films. Thus the designers had to create something that looked like a reasonable precursor to the Empire without looking too “evil” and also without looking like it came straight from the 1970s!

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi starfighter has elements of both X-Wings and TIE Fighters in its design.

This is a design challenge unlike many others in cinema, and the prequels got it largely right. The Republic’s ships, both large capital ships and smaller starfighters, retained enough design elements from the original trilogy to look like plausible ancestors of things like TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers, but the brighter colours and softened edges made them look at least a little friendlier.

In any fantasy film, things like design and aesthetic world-building are easy to overlook, but they’re absolutely essential to the sense of immersion that viewers need. The best films work hard to ensure their designs are iconic, and while perhaps very few things in the prequels are as iconic as designs from the original trilogy, the designs blend together well. Nothing was outright copied, and nothing was overwritten.

Number 3: The musical score.

The prequel trilogy had a great soundtrack.

John Williams, who had composed and conducted the music for the original trilogy, returned to Star Wars for the prequels, and his music has to be considered one of the high points of all three films by anyone’s standards. Pieces like Duel of the Fates have become iconic and emblematic of the whole franchise, and it’s impossible to imagine Star Wars without Williams’ compositions.

Considering the budget and creative freedom George Lucas had when making the prequels, he could’ve chosen to approach any composer to create the film’s score. He didn’t have to go back to John Williams if he felt he wanted someone else, but he did. And the films are undeniably better for the inclusion of Williams’ compositions.

Number 4: Palpatine’s scheming.

The story of Palpatine’s rise was interesting.

Though I have argued that seeing the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker was ultimately unnecessary to explain anything from the original films, one thing that absolutely was interesting was seeing how Palpatine schemed and manipulated events to allow himself to rise to the position of Supreme Chancellor – and ultimately Emperor.

I’m having a hard time, in light of The Rise of Skywalker, truly appreciating this aspect of the prequels, because Palpatine’s clumsy insertion into that film has done a heck of a lot to detract from his characterisation. But if we set that aside as best we can for a moment, one of the prequel trilogy’s themes – and best-executed narrative elements – was Palpatine’s rise. Though he was treated as a secondary character when compared to the likes of Anakin and Obi-Wan, I would suggest that his story was actually handled better than almost everyone else’s.

Palpatine meeting with Count Dooku, the separatist leader. He played both sides during the Clone Wars, having planned everything to allow a smooth rise to power.

Say what you will about George Lucas and his storytelling, but when it came to Palpatine in the prequels, there was a meticulous and detailed plan from day one – and it actually made sense. Taking inspiration from the rise of Julius Caesar, who transformed Rome from a Republic into a dictatorial Empire, Palpatine’s scheme was cleverly written, with just enough shown on screen to leave an air of mystery – that the character knew more than he was letting on.

Considering that the prequels overall, and The Phantom Menace in particular, had a kid-friendly tone and plenty of action going on, this kind of political manipulation is a very adult theme, and in other films or series, the juxtaposition of politicking and scheming with space wizards and magic would have fallen completely flat. It succeeded here, in part due to being set up well and planned from the beginning, and in part thanks to Ian McDiarmid’s stellar performance.

Number 5: The Knights of the Old Republic games.

Promo art for Knights of the Old Republic II.

This one is a bit of a cheat since the games were not related to the films, but they were released around the same time (2003-04) and made use of a number of aesthetic elements and settings that had been established in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I’ve said before on a number of occasions that the Knights of the Old Republic games aren’t just among my favourite video games, they’re two of the best stories ever told in the Star Wars universe.

Though distinct from the prequels, it’s hard to imagine either game being made were it not for the renewed interest in Star Wars that the prequel films generated. The use of things like Jedi robes and a Jedi Council were borrowed from the prequel trilogy as well, and Knights of the Old Republic leaned into the notion of the Jedi Order remaining a constant part of the galaxy, barely changing over millennia. This was a big part of the mythos of Star Wars at the time – the idea that the Republic had existed for thousands of years until the Empire overtook it.

The Knights of the Old Republic games were fantastic.

The big twist in the first Knights of the Old Republic was one of the few moments where I was genuinely blown away by a storyline in a video game, and I remember sitting there with the control pad in my hands just in shock! It was a fantastically-executed narrative point, and while it isn’t really taken from the prequels, it mirrors in some respects the idea of Anakin Skywalker being a Jedi, then falling to the dark side, before ultimately being redeemed – which was, of course, a major theme in the prequel trilogy.

A third Knights of the Old Republic title was rumoured to be in production earlier in the year, so perhaps we’ll finally get a sequel! Even if that isn’t the case, or turns out to be unconnected to the original duology, they’re two of the best games I’ve ever played.

Number 6: Better lightsaber fights.

Obi-Wan Kenobi duelling Count Dooku.

The original trilogy had a couple of solid lightsaber duels, both between Luke and Darth Vader. But the prequel trilogy in general has more exciting lightsaber combat. Not only the duels between Sith and Jedi, but also seeing Jedi in combat against non-Jedi opponents was generally done better – in my subjective opinion, at least – in the prequel films.

In terms of specific lightsaber duels, I’d point to the fight between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan against Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, and Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda duelling Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones as two of the better ones put to screen in the franchise.

The moment Darth Maul ignited his lightsaber’s second blade was jaw-dropping for many fans in 1999!

The prequels changed the way we imagine lightsaber combat, expanding the idea of duelling to encompass different styles and “forms” of wielding the weapon. This has been picked up in video games, films, and television shows produced in the wake of the prequel trilogy, and has gone on to be a defining part of the way lightsaber combat looks on screen.

We also got to see different designs of lightsaber hilt, and a new purple colour for Mace Windu. All of these things made a difference to the way the franchise as a whole handles its signature weapon, and a good deal of what we know about lightsabers and lightsaber duelling comes from the prequel trilogy.

Number 7: Solid acting performances.

Natalie Portman as Padmé and Hayden Christensen as Anakin in Attack of the Clones.

One area of criticism of the prequel films that I fundamentally do not agree with is that the acting performances were somehow stilted or poor quality. Practically every actor involved did the best with the material they had, and some of the harshest criticism levelled at people like Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) or Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) should really be aimed at George Lucas for his writing and direction.

Not only would I say that much of the criticism of the acting is unfair and overly harsh on the performers, but there are some genuinely outstanding performances in the prequel films. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine, as we noted above, is stellar, but I’d also point to Ewan McGregor’s stint as Obi-Wan Kenobi, in particular the incredibly pained emotional moments he shares with Anakin on Mustafar.

Number 8: A planned story.

The prequel films had a narrative that was planned from day one.

This is one which has come into sharper focus given the complete lack of overall direction afforded to the sequel trilogy. As I’ve said before, the sequel trilogy having its own narrative issues does not magically make the prequels any better, but it is worth acknowledging that the prequels had a planned story from the beginning.

Not only that, but the prequel trilogy does a creditable job of executing that story in an understandable manner. There aren’t many moments where viewers are left thinking “who’s that character?” or “what’s going on?” The narrative runs as smoothly as possible from point to point, and main characters like Anakin, Palpatine, and Obi-Wan had their arcs pre-planned.

The prequel trilogy had a story planned from the ground up to reach this moment.

Partly, it has to be said, this is because the films are prequels – they have a definite end point that they absolutely must reach. But there were many different ways to tell the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine’s ascent to the Imperial throne, and so on. There is no denying that Lucas and others planned the story, knew where they wanted it to go, and put that to screen about as well as possible.

Whatever you may think of the story itself, this is the way filmmaking – and any storytelling, come to that – is supposed to work. If you’re going to create a trilogy of films with a view to focusing on the adventures of a few characters, planning out where the narrative and character arcs are going to go is essential.

Number 9: Tense and exciting action sequences.

There were some well-executed moments of action in the prequel trilogy.

Though not every action set piece worked perfectly, the Star Wars prequels do have several exciting and tense sequences. The starship crash-landing early in Revenge of the Sith is a great example of a sequence that didn’t drag on too long and kept the excitement going practically the whole time.

Parts of the Battle of Geonosis in Attack of the Clones – though a CGI mess at points – managed to be stirring and exciting too, with the last-minute arrival of a Jedi “Strike Team” to save Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé achieving at least some of the feelings it was going for. Star Wars can do battles and action very well, and the prequels have some sequences that demonstrate that.

Number 10: Reinvigorated Star Wars for a new generation of fans.

A lot of kids who saw the prequels are big Star Wars fans today – and big defenders of those films!

I’m not surprised to see many Star Wars fans in their teens and twenties defending the prequels with such vigour. These films are theirs – perhaps the first Star Wars films they ever saw, and they’re films which, for many younger fans, started a lifelong love of a galaxy far, far away. Without the prequel trilogy, it’s likely Star Wars would be nowhere near as big as it is today. It would be a well-remembered trilogy of films from the late ’70s with a bunch of spin-off fan-fiction.

The prequels proved that there was more to Star Wars than just the original films, even though they relied heavily on those films in large part. From a business point of view, all three films were massively profitable, with the films themselves and, crucially, their merchandise bringing in literally billions of dollars. The Walt Disney Company would never have been interested in Star Wars and Lucasfilm had the prequels not demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Star Wars franchise could be more than its original trilogy.

Moments of humour, comical characters, and fun designs in the prequels all appealed to kids.

Whatever you may think of the films Disney has made over the last few years, there’s more to come from Star Wars. I personally loved Rogue One, and I’m interested to see what some of the upcoming television series have to offer. Without the prequels, we’d never have seen Rogue One, the sequel trilogy, or The Mandalorian – or at least, they’d have taken a very different form.

Any successful franchise builds on the accomplishments of its earlier iterations, and we can see attempts for Star Wars to do so too. Those attempts aren’t always successful, but the legacy of the prequel trilogy is that Star Wars still exists and is expanding to become bigger than anyone expected it could be twenty years ago. The success of current and future projects is, to a greater or lesser extent, built on what the prequel trilogy achieved. Though I may not be wild about these three films on their own merits, the prequels’ biggest achievement may be in rejuvenating Star Wars for a new generation of fans, pushing the franchise forward.

So that’s it.

I wanted to try something positive for Star Wars to mark today, and I thought revisiting the prequel trilogy would be a good place to start.

Anakin Skywalker – a.k.a. Darth Vader.

Star Wars is in a strange place right now, in some ways. The sequel trilogy has wrapped up, but it ended in a pretty ambiguous way, and we’re still not sure exactly what will happen to the galaxy after the “final” defeat of Palpatine. Disney has shifted its focus back to the original trilogy era with most of its upcoming projects, and depending on the success of shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi, perhaps a more serious attempt will be made soon to revisit the prequel era. Time will tell!

Regardless, having watched The Phantom Menace a few days ago I thought I’d also go back and re-watch Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith to complete the set, and that led to this article in celebration of Star Wars day. It’s possible that Disney (or other companies affiliated with Star Wars, like EA) might use today to make announcements of upcoming projects, so if there’s significant news I hope you’ll check back as I daresay I’ll try to break it down.

Now, where’s my review of The Mandalorian Season 2? It’s been six months… better get cracking on that!

The Star Wars franchise – including The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm. The prequel trilogy can be streamed now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise – including recent projects such as The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. There are also minor spoilers for the Star Trek franchise too.

Let’s step through the looking-glass, across the divide between universes, into a strange new world. This world is very much like our own, but with one major difference: Star Trek behaved like Star Wars. The Original Series ran from 1966 to 1969, just as it did in our reality, but then… things started to change.

Join me on a weird and wonderful journey through what Star Trek might have been… if it had acted like Star Wars. Don’t worry, I promise we’ll make it home safe and sound.

Are you ready to go through the looking-glass?

We begin our journey in the 1970s. Star Trek is being rebroadcast in syndication, and its fanbase is growing. Some of these fans begin to organise and ask for more Star Trek on their screens, and the company that owns Star Trek in this alternate reality – let’s call them CiacomVBS – thinks long and hard about what to do. They have a popular series on their hands… what should they do with it?

Eventually the people in charge of Star Trek hit upon a brilliant idea: a Star Trek prequel, looking at Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other familiar characters in their Starfleet Academy days and before their five-year mission. The main roles were re-cast, and the first new Star Trek project in almost twenty years was finally greenlit in 1988. Called the “Kelvin films” for the involvement of a starship called the USS Kelvin, this prequel trilogy was popular with some Trekkies, but wildly disliked by others. When the third film finished its theatrical run, CiacomVBS decided to shelve Star Trek and proclaimed that the franchise was complete.

Fans were split on Star Trek by this point. Some proclaimed that The Original Series was the only good part, whereas other (primarily younger) fans were thrilled with the Kelvin films. As time passed, Star Trek appeared to be complete. Its stars moved on to other projects, or faded into obscurity. But the fanbase remained, and with the passage of time those younger fans grew up, leading to a minor resurgence in the popularity of the Kelvin films.

In the 1990s, a massive media empire called the Dalt Wisney Company approached CiacomVBS about a buyout. When the multi-billion dollar deal went through, Wisney announced a plan to bring Star Trek back – this time for a sequel. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered a few years later, and starred a younger cast of characters – alongside the return of The Original Series’ crew. Their first adventure was to find Captain Kirk, who had gone missing.

Kirk eventually agreed to train the new crew of Starfleet officers, along with help from Spock, Dr McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. The returning characters took up a lot of the new show’s screen time, leaving many Trekkies to say that the new crew were undeveloped and underused. To make matters worse, a lack of overall direction by the Dalt Wisney Company meant that each of the three seasons of The Next Generation was helmed by a totally different team of writers. The consequence of this was a jarring change in tone between each of the three seasons.

The Next Generation’s third and final season was its worst by far, with a confused mess of a story that seemed to be trying to overwrite much of what happened in Season 2 – including the backstory of Captain Picard, the major character introduced in Season 1. By far its most egregious fault, though, was bringing back Khan as a villain – Khan had been killed off decades earlier, and his return was called “the worst kind of deus ex machina” by critics.

There were also two “standalone” projects produced during this time. The first saw a team of renegade Starfleet officers go on a secret mission to steal the plans to the Klingon D7 battle cruiser, and ended with them transmitting the plans to Kirk aboard the Enterprise. The second was titled Chekov: A Star Trek Story, and it told the tale of the young Pavel Chekov before he joined Starfleet.

Despite the lacklustre response to The Next Generation and Chekov, Wisney had invested a lot of money into Star Trek, and putting their expensive acquisition on hiatus was not possible. They announced another spin-off: Deep Space Nine. This promised to finally take a look at the Star Trek galaxy away from Captain Kirk and Starfleet for the first time, being set on a space station in a new region that had never been seen before.

Fans seemed to respond well to Deep Space Nine at first, but its short runtime, bland main character, and overreliance on the aesthetic of The Original Series were all points of criticism of the show. By Season 2 it seemed to be doing better and was beginning to stand on its own two feet – but for some inexplicable reason Season 2 of Deep Space Nine brought back the character of Sulu – who had been killed off in The Next Generation. Fans were confused as to how he had survived being eaten by an alien monster, but this was never addressed.

The Season 2 finale was perhaps the most egregious example of Wisney forcing fan-service into Deep Space Nine, though. As Sisko and his crew were cornered, staring down a seemingly-unstoppable villain, the shuttlecraft Galileo was spotted approaching DS9. The shuttle door opened, and there, in all his glory, stood Captain Kirk. Kirk dispatched the villain’s henchmen with ease, and gave Sisko – and the show’s stunned audience – a nod and a wink.

In the aftermath of Deep Space Nine Season 2, the Dalt Wisney Company put together a presentation where they announced what’s coming next for Star Trek – and to no one’s surprise, it was more of the same. Nostalgia, throwbacks, and not much else.

The actor who played Scotty in the Kelvin series was given his own spin-off. Next was Star Trek: Nurse Chapel, which promised a look at the franchise’s second-most famous medical officer. Then there was The Harry Mudd Show, looking at lovable rogue Harry Mudd, and Star Trek: Balok, which promised a deep dive into the backstory of the character fans first met in The Corbomite Maneuver. There was a miniseries looking at Kor, the Klingon captain, and finally there was Star Trek: That Guy Who Flew The Shuttle In That One Episode – which was immediately given a three-season order. Some fans were thrilled with these offerings… but a lone voice spoke out.

On a website called Dennising with Trek, an independent critic wrote that it was time for Star Trek to move on. The Original Series had become a weight around the neck of the franchise, holding it back and stopping it from properly moving on to new adventures. The Star Trek galaxy offered such an interesting and exciting setting, they wrote, that it was positively criminal to only look at such a tiny sliver of it over and over and over again. Star Trek can be better than this.

Apparently this website is incredibly popular in the alternate reality.

So that, my friends, is where we end our journey through this strange mirror universe. We step back across the divide, and find ourselves firmly back in our own reality. I promised I’d get you home safe and sound!

What was the point of our little interdimensional sojurn? As I’ve said many times already, Star Wars is stuck. It has never been able to move beyond its original trilogy, and it’s gotten to a point where those films are now holding it back from making any meaningful progress.

You might look at some of the Star Trek projects that exist in the alternate reality we visited and say that they sound like fun – but they represent an incredibly narrow vision of what Star Trek could be. If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars, with a total and unshakable reliance on The Original Series and its characters, we’d never have got to see some absolutely incredible characters and stories. We’d have missed out on Picard’s transformation into Locutus of Borg in The Best of Both Worlds, or on Sisko’s painful decision in In The Pale Moonlight. We’d never have met Captain Janeway and her crew at all, nor Captain Archer and his.

Avery Brooks put in one of his best performances as Sisko in the Season 6 episode In The Pale Moonlight.

There is a place for prequels, for looking back, and for nostalgia. The very reason franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars were revived is because the companies behind them see nostalgia as a way to attract audiences. But in my opinion – my subjective opinion – Star Wars goes too far and overplays the nostalgia card. The Star Wars galaxy is a sandbox of almost infinite proportions, with not only trillions of inhabitants, countless alien races, and millions of planets to explore, but also tens of thousands of years of history. We could look at events and characters that are entirely disconnected from Luke, Han, and Leia – but Star Wars has never even tried to do that.

The Mandalorian brought back Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker in what was pure fan-service. Fans lapped it up, and I’m happy for the people who enjoyed the way that story went. But for my money I think Star Wars can do better. I think it can be broader and deeper, and can step away from relying on those old characters. Star Wars is a fantastic franchise, and its setting is so vast and interesting that it doesn’t need the crutch of those old characters… but for some reason Disney can’t see it.

Luke Skywalker returned in The Mandalorian.

Star Trek moved away from its original incarnation decades ago, and in the years since we’ve had a heck of a lot of exciting, memorable shows and films that have become iconic parts of the franchise in their own right. And that innovation and willingness to try new things continues today, with Star Trek recently branching out into animated comedy and with a kids’ show on the horizon. Star Wars could do that too.

Star Trek realised a long time ago that the galaxy Gene Roddenberry and others had created was crying out to be explored. New characters and new ships came along and have had some incredible adventures. Star Wars hasn’t been brave enough to try anything genuinely different yet. I hope one day that will change.

Some names, titles, and properties above have been used in a satirical manner for the sake of parody and criticism. The Star Wars franchise and all related properties are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company and LucasFilm. The Star Trek franchise and all related properties are the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars needs to move on

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including casting information for The Mandalorian Season 2,The Rise of Skywalker, and other recent projects.

One of my favourite parts of the Star Wars franchise isn’t a film, it’s the two Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003-04. While I generally found the Expanded Universe – now re-branded as Star Wars Legends and no longer in production – to be unenjoyable, Knights of the Old Republic was an exception. It took a setting and a story that was thousands of years distant from the Original Trilogy, and while it’s certainly true that some elements were derivative, especially in the first game, as a whole it was something different that took Star Wars fans to different places and a different era. It expanded on the overall lore of Star Wars without overwriting anything, and it was a great look at the Star Wars galaxy away from Luke, Anakin, and Palpatine.

When it was announced in 2012 that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm I was excited. Ever since 1999, when Star Wars expanded to be more than just a trilogy of films, the vague prospect of a sequel to Return of the Jedi had been appealing to me. Learning what came next for Luke, Han, Leia, and others was something I was interested in, as I also was interested to learn what came next for the galaxy as a whole following the Emperor’s death. It’s easy to forget, but Return of the Jedi didn’t end with a full-scale victory for the Rebel Alliance. The Death Star was gone and the Emperor was dead, but practically the whole galaxy was still under Imperial control. I was fascinated to see how the Rebels turned victory in a battle into victory in the overall war.

The destruction of the Second Death Star. The sequel trilogy was supposed to tell us what became of the galaxy after this moment.

The Expanded Universe attempted to tell this story, but it was a convoluted, poor-quality tale hampered by having different writers with different ideas – seemingly Lucasfilm’s policy when it came to the Expanded Universe was that anyone could write anything. Many of these stories came across as fan-fiction, pitting a seemingly invincible Luke, Han, and Leia against all manner of obstacles. Over the years, the Expanded Universe grew to such an extent that it was convoluted and incredibly offputting for newcomers – several hundred books, several hundred more comics and graphic novels, over a hundred video and board games, two kids’ television shows, and myriad others, all of which required roadmaps, suggested reading lists, and of course a number of encyclopaedias and reference works to keep up with it all. All of this meant that the Expanded Universe was impossible to get to grips with without making it a full-time commitment. I was pleased when it was announced that Disney would be overwriting it.

By wiping the slate clean, not only would Disney not be constrained by some of the Expanded Universe’s poor storytelling, but the canon of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi could be restarted, hopefully in a more concise way that would be easier to follow. That seemed to succeed at first, but now – a mere six years on from the cancellation of the old Expanded Universe – Star Wars is once again pretty convoluted with books, games, comics, and even a theme park attraction all officially canon. While I don’t want to spend too much time making a comparison with Star Trek, in that case the issue of canon has always been incredibly simple: television episodes and films are canon, everything else is not.

With so many books, comics, games, and other media, the old Expanded Universe was convoluted and offputting.

But we’re drifting off-topic. The Expanded Universe being dumped was a good thing, because I hoped what would replace it would be superior. And for the most part that’s been the case, though The Rise of Skywalker certainly dragged the overall story of the sequels down a long way.

Star Wars has a truly interesting setting: there’s a whole galaxy with countless worlds, trillions of inhabitants, and thousands of different species. But for the most part, the franchise has spent decades focusing on an absolutely minuscule fraction of this vast, potentially interesting setting it’s created.

The Expanded Universe spent a lot of time with Luke, Han, and Leia, as well as later with characters like Anakin, and by far the majority of its stories are set between The Phantom Menace and the couple of decades after Return of the Jedi. Where Knights of the Old Republic succeeded was in taking its audience away from that overtrodden ground and showing us a glimpse of the Star Wars galaxy without those familiar characters.

Knights of the Old Republic II was a great game that told a story far removed from Star Wars’ original trilogy.

The prequels dedicated three films to overexplaining the background of Darth Vader – a story I’d absolutely argue was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to improve or inform the Original Trilogy in any substantial way. That was part of why I found those films so disappointing. While the third entry, Revenge of the Sith, was better than the first two, all three films didn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the table. As I sat down to watch The Force Awakens a decade later, I hoped that we’d start to see something different.

The five films made since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 have been a disappointment in that regard. We’ve had The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, which essentially remade A New Hope and Return of the Jedi only worse, Solo: A Star Wars Story which made the same mistake of unnecessarily overexplaining Han Solo that the prequels did with Darth Vader, and Rogue One, which was a great standalone story but was a prequel feeding straight into the plot of A New Hope. The Last Jedi tried to take things in a different direction, but was still a story primarily about Luke – and is now effectively non-canon after being overwritten by its sequel.

The Last Jedi was the most recent Star Wars film to even try to do something differently – but was still constrained by being a sequel using familiar characters.

I know I said I wouldn’t make too many comparisons with Star Trek, but there’s one that’s too important not to mention. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. And aside from a cameo appearance, that show basically did its own thing and didn’t worry about The Original Series. The Star Trek franchise thus established that it could be so much more than its original incarnation. Star Wars has never done that – in its cinematic canon it hasn’t even tried, despite existing for over forty years. Where Star Trek consists of three time periods, an alternate reality, and nine distinct sets of main characters, Star Wars has been unable to move beyond the story of its original trilogy. The prequels lent backstory to the originals. The sequels and spin-offs expanded that same story. Even The Mandalorian brought in themes, concepts, and characters that weren’t as far-removed from the original films as they should’ve been – a decision compounded by the silly decision to bring in Boba Fett in Season 2.

Star Was could be so much more than it is. But at every opportunity, decisions have been taken to narrow its focus and dive deeper into unimportant parts of its only actual story; after more than forty years, the Star Wars franchise has still only told one real story. The decision to shoehorn Palpatine into The Rise of Skywalker makes this infinitely worse, as apparently he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from behind the scenes for the entire saga of films. As I wrote once, this transforms the Skywalker Saga into what is really the “Palpatine Saga”, as he’s the only character who seems to act of his own volition. But this isn’t supposed to be (another) critique of that incredibly poor narrative decision!

The deus ex machina of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker… and really the entire sequel trilogy.

The decision to bring Palpatine back is indicative of a franchise that has no new ideas. It was categorically not “always the plan” to bring him back in the sequels, or this would have been established in The Force Awakens. Instead, Palpatine became a deus ex machina because Star Wars as a whole has been unable to move out of the shadow of its first three films. Those films could have laid the groundwork for an expanded franchise – as The Original Series did for Star Trek – but instead they’ve almost become a ball and chain; a weight around the neck of the franchise, keeping it locked in place and unable to move on.

It shouldn’t be because of a lack of ideas. The Star Wars galaxy is a massive sandbox for any writer or director to play in, with almost unlimited potential to tell genuinely new and interesting stories. Instead it’s a lack of vision and a lack of boldness on the part of a large corporation; Disney wants to play the nostalgia card over and over again, and because Star Wars had never previously tried to escape its Original Trilogy, doing so now seems – from a corporate point of view – too big of a risk. How else does one explain the decision to allow The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite The Last Jedi? Corporate-mandated cowardice, retreating to nostalgia and safe, comfortable ground. Trying something even slightly different requires a boldness that simply isn’t present in most boardrooms.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom unwilling to take risks or do things differently.

Two-thirds of the sequel trilogy re-told the original trilogy. The prequels were glorified backstory, and the two spin-off films were also prequels to the originals. Star Wars has only ever made three original films – everything else either overexplained that story or tried to re-tell it. The Star Wars “saga” is thus nothing more than one story. One main character – Palpatine – controls and manipulates it, and only a handful of characters get any significant screen time and development.

I wrote recently that the overall story of Star Wars has been dragged full-circle, with the questions fans had about the state of the galaxy and the Jedi Order after Return of the Jedi simply not being answered in any meaningful way. The galaxy is once again in a position where Palpatine is dead, there’s one remaining young Jedi, an autocratic state controls much of the galaxy but has suffered a major defeat, and the survivors will have to finish the war and try to rebuild. That’s where both Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left things. Far from answering the questions posed by the original films, the sequels just asked the same questions again with a different coat of paint.

By re-telling the same story – albeit in a worse way – the sequel trilogy as a whole has entirely failed to accomplish anything.

The end of the sequel trilogy left the Star Wars galaxy in exactly the same state it was in almost forty years ago.

The announcement of The Mandalorian came with what I thought was an exciting premise: the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic. Wow! Finally, something genuinely different in Star Wars. It didn’t last, of course, as the second episode of the show brought the Force back into things. While in some respects The Mandalorian tried to be different, in too many ways it was samey. The aesthetic, the reuse of elements from the original trilogy like Boba Fett’s armour, the Jawas and their Sandcrawler, and of course the return of the Force made what was already a boring show with episodes that were too short even less interesting. I found the whole experience a disappointment.

The two upcoming Disney+ shows – based around Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor – look set to repeat the same mistakes. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi was definitely one of the prequels’ better elements, but do we need yet another prequel? In-universe, Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine after the rise of the Empire. Anything he does in the show would either be constrained by taking place within a few miles of his desert hut or else feel awfully tacked-on. And the Cassian Andor show is a prequel to a prequel. Rogue One was a great film, but does it need its own prequel show?

Cassian Andor was a great character in his sole appearance. Not sure he needs a prequel series of his own, though.

Can’t the investment being made in these properties be reallocated to something genuinely different? There’s so much potential in the Star Wars galaxy, yet Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on showing us the same tiny sliver over and over and over again. When people talk of franchise fatigue and the feeling that Disney is milking Star Wars dry it’s because of this! When every Star Wars project feels samey and repetitive, it’s much easier to get burnt out on the franchise.

There are some exceptions – I recently played through Jedi: Fallen Order, and despite that game using a familiar time period, it was a mostly-original story with only one returning character from the films playing a role. It was different enough to feel like a half-step away from what had come before.

Jedi: Fallen Order told a decent standalone Star Wars story.

For the franchise to survive long-term and remain viable, it needs to step away from the original trilogy for the first time. New films and shows, whenever they may come, should look at wholly new characters in a setting and even time period that’s distinct from what came before. There also needs to be a plan – the rudderless sequel trilogy can’t be repeated. Any new project needs to have someone at the helm to guide its story. Questions need to be asked at the beginning about where the characters are going and what the endgame of the story is, so that the franchise doesn’t just keep making the same mistakes.

Not every recent Star Trek project has been to everyone’s taste. But since the 2005 cancellation of Enterprise – and in some respects even before then – Star Trek hasn’t been afraid to try completely new things. Action films, a serialised drama show, and now an animated comedy have all joined the lineup. Some of these have brought in new fans, and at the very least, no one in 2020 can accuse Star Trek of being stale. Star Wars, in contrast, has absolutely become stale. The one story it’s been telling for forty years has finally ended, so now is the moment for Star Wars to properly move on.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films and other media mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash, Knights of the Old Republic II screenshot courtesy of the press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Happy (day after) Star Wars Day!

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for various Star Wars films, games, and other media.

Over the last few months, I’ve taken a few shots at the Star Wars franchise. Much of this was motivated by my intense dislike of The Rise of Skywalker, which is second only to The Phantom Menace in terms of how I’d rank the worst entries in the series. But it’s Star Wars Day today (well, it’s actually the day after… oops) so I thought it would be a great time to take a look at some of the franchise’s high points from my perspective. This will be a personal take on Star Wars, looking at my own history with the franchise and the things I’ve most enjoyed, and I’ll set aside most of the controversies and dislikes so we can just focus on the good stuff!

Yep… should’ve posted this yesterday.

So let’s start at the beginning. In the mid-1970s, a man called George Lucas… oh wait, that’s too far back. Let’s start at my beginning as a Star Wars fan. By the early ’90s I was a big Trekkie. Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the air, and I’d fallen in love with the world the series created, which spurred an interest in both science fiction in general and outer space in particular. I was dimly aware of the Star Wars franchise’s existence, but I’d never seen the trilogy of films. One of my schoolfriends at the time was a huge Star Wars fan, though, and for his birthday one year he received the three films on VHS. He invited me over and we watched all three over a weekend. The division that existed between Star Trek and Star Wars fans was prominent, however, and I remember thinking that “my” fandom of Star Trek was superior, even as I sat down to watch the films for the first time.

I don’t want to say that I was completely blown away by Star Wars the first time I saw it. It was exciting, sure, but at the time I was still comparing it in my head to Star Trek, and Star Wars’ action-heavy story compared to the often peaceful exploration seen in Star Trek, as well as Star Wars’ fantasy elements like the Force compared to Star Trek’s supposedly “real future” were drawbacks. This was really just tribalism, though, and I can recognise looking back that, with part of my young identity being tied to being a “Trekkie”, I was less keen on Star Wars than I should’ve been!

Subsequent viewings of the trilogy in the months and years after definitely improved my opinion of the franchise, and I began to collect a small number of Star Wars toys, books, and model kits (I was a big model-builder in my youth). My friend and I grew up in a small community, and him and his dad were the only two Star Wars fans I knew at that point. I borrowed those video tapes and re-watched them more times than I can remember, finding something new to appreciate with almost every viewing.

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia became the archetypal heroes for me going forward. Their steadfast loyalty to their cause – even when it seemed like everything was going wrong in The Empire Strikes Back – was inspirational, and I’ve never forgotten that aspect of the films.

It was in the mid-90s that I got to play some Star Wars video games for the first time. On the SNES, which was the first home console I owned, I got the Super Star Wars trilogy of games – 2D action-platformers which were made for that console. They were difficult (and still are, if you’re tempted to track down copies today) but great fun nevertheless. After upgrading to a Nintendo 64 in 1998 I picked up a further two Star Wars games: Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron, both of which are absolutely fantastic, if somewhat dated by today’s standards. By this point in the late ’90s, helped in no small part by the video games I’d played as I was a big gamer at the time, I had definitely become a Star Wars fan – just in time for the prequel trilogy to kick off with The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released on the SNES in 1993.

While I wasn’t impressed by The Phantom Menace itself, it did generate a lot of buzz around the franchise, as well as churn out a couple of surprisingly good games. I first played the Nintendo 64 version of Star Wars Episode I: Racer, which I enjoyed. That title is still celebrated by fans of both Star Wars and the racing genre today as being good fun, and despite the podracing sequence in the film not being my favourite, the game surprised me by being great fun, especially with friends. The second title I greatly enjoyed that shared The Phantom Menace’s setting was Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles, which I picked up on the Dreamcast. This action-fighting title was another great one to play with friends, and both of these games went some way to redeeming The Phantom Menace and helping me get over the disappointment I felt at the film itself.

Up next in the prequel trilogy came Attack of the Clones, which, despite what many people at the time and since have said, was scarcely any better than The Phantom Menace had been three years earlier. Once again, however, the aftermath of the film led to three great games – which I’d still hold up as being among my all-time favourites. First was 2003’s Knights of the Old Republic, which I picked up on the original Xbox. The Dreamcast had died by this point, and with no new games on the horizon I traded it in for an Xbox. The second game was the original Battlefront, which was absolutely amazing, especially with another player. And finally, there was Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.

The two Knights of the Old Republic games must be my favourite entries in the Star Wars franchise – far exceeding several of the films in terms of creating an exciting and engaging story. These two titles are basically the only part of Star Wars’ former Expanded Universe that I’d consider worth reviving – the story of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile are outstanding, and showed off what story-driven, cinematic role-playing games of the time were capable of. Fully voice-acted with a great art style and genuine player choice that affected the way the games unfolded, they stand up even today as being better than many of the current generation’s offerings. The twist in the first game that the player was Darth Revan was stunning – at least on a par with the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back. At that moment I put down the control pad and just sat for a moment in awe.

2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remains one of my favourite video games to this day.

Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 and was the high-water mark of the prequel trilogy. While it was still an imperfect film, and as I’ve previously written I feel that we didn’t need to see Anakin Skywalker’s fall play out in such detail, because the original trilogy told us everything we needed to know, it was an alright film nevertheless. I might even be convinced to say it was a good film.

I read in an article or review some time ago (it may even have been in 2005 when the film was released) that Revenge of the Sith could – and perhaps should – have been the whole trilogy; that there was enough material in the final part to spin out into three parts, and that it was the only part of the story worth telling. I’m not sure I agree on that last part, because as I said I don’t necessarily feel that anything in the prequels was a “necessary” story, but on the first part I agree. Revenge of the Sith thus laid the groundwork for the original films, and the prequel trilogy was complete.

After picking up Battlefront II in 2005, which was far better than the original game and another great title to play with friends, the only other games I picked up were 2007’s Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Empire at War, a Star Wars strategy game for PC that I couldn’t coax my ageing machine to run correctly at the time! Lego Star Wars was amazing though, and incredibly funny. It’s a great title to play on the couch with a friend, and it has a great sense of humour. A new Lego Star Wars game is coming out in the near future, and I’m sure I’ll give that one a try too!

Lego Star Wars is a ton of fun.

The Star Wars series seemed complete after the prequels were released. I even bought a DVD box-set called something like “the complete saga”, so it seemed for years that Star Wars was done and dusted: two amazing films, two okay films, and two crap ones, with a bunch of video games and toys to go along with them. So when rumours began swirling in 2012 that Disney was planning to purchase Lucasfilm, and with it the rights to Star Wars… suffice to say it piqued my interest!

JJ Abrams had led 2009’s Star Trek reboot, and Star Trek Into Darkness was due to be released. While Star Trek was different in many respects to what had come before, and I knew several Trekkie friends at the time who refused to watch it (some still haven’t, as far as I know), I felt that Abrams had done what he set out to. The franchise had been rebooted, and the film had succeeded in bringing new people to Star Trek for the first time in a long time – something that was necessary if we were ever to see anything more. So there was great optimism on my part that he could do something similar for Star Wars, optimism which peaked after Star Trek Into Darkness came out and was much better than the first film. George Lucas had been given too much free rein with the prequels, in my opinion, thanks to his legendary status as the franchise’s creator. With someone tried and tested at the helm in JJ Abrams, and with a big studio behind him to keep things in line, the sequel trilogy was lining up to be amazing.

The Force Awakens is the last Star Wars film I was able to see at the cinema. Despite being in pain and finding the experience difficult, I did manage to get there despite my worsening health – I couldn’t see myself waiting another six months! I’d do something similar for Star Trek Beyond in 2016, but after that I finally had to call it quits on going to the cinema in person, sadly. But to get back on topic, The Force Awakens was amazing. After the disappointment of the prequels a decade earlier, JJ Abrams put together a film which re-told Star Wars’ greatest hits for a new generation of fans. I was in love with Finn, Rey, and Poe – they felt different to the characters we’d seen before, but similar in some ways too. And Kylo Ren was an amazing villain, not despite his somewhat whiny and childish behaviour, but because of it. On display with Kylo was an aspect of the dark side we’d never really seen – Vader and especially Palpatine were so composed, and that was intimidating. But Kylo was conflicted and his emotions were right at the surface. Adam Driver played the role perfectly.

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.

2016 brought us Rogue One, which I didn’t get to see until a little later. I would go on to name it as my favourite film of the 2010s when I wrote a list back in December, and with good reason. For the first time, Star Wars stepped away from the Skywalkers and largely left the Force alone. While I’d argue the scenes with Darth Vader were unnecessary and perhaps a little too much fan-service, the rest of the film was astonishingly good. Sticking with a single story – the race to capture the Death Star plans before the station could be unleashed – basically the whole cast are killed by the end, which was a major change in direction for a Star Wars title.

Jyn Erso is such a well-written protagonist, as is Cassian Andor – who will be the lead in a new series coming to Disney+ in the future. Jyn’s arc, from the jaded, apathetic criminal to the inspiring leader of a suicidal mission was beautiful to witness, and the death of each of the film’s heroes was tragic, with all of them given their own moment of heroism. Rogue One is a great reminder that every war leaves behind scores of dead heroes, and that the amazing deeds of the survivors are never the only stories worth remembering. The sacrifice of the crew of Rogue One paved the way for Luke being able to destroy the Death Star – setting up the fall of the Empire.

A Star Destroyer hangs over Jedha City in Rogue One.

I know that The Last Jedi was controversial, and that controversy didn’t feel great heading into 2018. Many Star Wars fans had come to detest the franchise, and some would even start making money cashing in that hate for advertising revenue on social media platforms like YouTube. I had low expectations for The Last Jedi as a result of all the controversy, and again this was a film I didn’t get to see until months after its release. I knew the outline of the story heading in, and because so many people had been so vocal and genuinely angry about the way the film played out I lowered my expectations – and came out pleasantly surprised.

What I admire most in The Last Jedi is the way the story explains what happened to Luke. This single storyline shows how anyone – even someone we want to put on a pedestal as a hero – can fall into depression. Mental health is incredibly complicated, as anyone who deals with it or cares for someone dealing with it can attest. Luke made a mistake – again, something which can happen to anyone – and as a result of his one mistake he fell into a deep depression that left him “waiting to die” on Ahch-To. To me this was a powerful message, one that I related to. To anyone who says “but my hero could never ever become depressed!”, I will always say that mental health can affect even those we think should be the strongest, and that mistakes, flaws, and failures are all part of being human. Anyone who can’t understand that has been very lucky in life to never have to deal with mental health or see a loved one go through it, and perhaps that’s why they had a hard time with the concept.

The characterisation of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi may have been controversial, but it resonated with me.

The Last Jedi also threw a curveball in how Rey’s lineage unfolded. By saying she had no connection to Star Wars’ “great families”, the film showed how heroes truly can come from anywhere. Any of the young girls watching the film could be as great and powerful as Rey – again, that was a powerful message, one which finally steered the franchise away from the concept of inherited power, chosen ones, and destiny.

In 2018, I picked up the most recent Star Wars game I’ve played – the much-maligned Battlefront II. I got the title on sale at a deep discount, and as someone who isn’t much of a multiplayer gamer, I just played through the campaign. I enjoyed my time with the single-player story, and felt that for the discounted price, Battlefront II was worth it. However, the controversy surrounding the game’s incredibly poor in-game monetisation is legitimate, even if Electronic Arts has since restructured some aspects of that.

I also had the opportunity to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story in late 2018, and I found it to be an enjoyable heist-crime film with some Star Wars trappings. It doesn’t fundamentally “ruin” Han Solo’s character, but nor does it really add much to his story. I saw the Mandalorian in November/December last year – it was actually the first subject I wrote about here on the website – and finally, of course, I have recently watched The Rise of Skywalker.

So that recaps my personal history with Star Wars – but already there’s more on the horizon. A couple of weeks ago I picked up Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PC, and I’m going to be playing that very soon (assuming my PC can handle it!) There are of course more projects in the pipeline for Disney+, including the aforementioned Cassian Andor series, as well as an Obi-Wan Kenobi series which will see Ewan McGreogor reprise his role. It’s definitely a great time to be a Star Wars fan right now, with so much going on and the franchise very much alive.

Star Wars began with a story about this trio, but grew to be much bigger than any of them.

When I think back to what Star Wars was when I first encountered it – a geeky trilogy of films that you’d be bullied at school for being associated with – and compare it to where it is today, the change is astonishing. Star Wars has fully entered the mainstream in a way science fiction and fantasy stories usually don’t. Along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and Game of Thrones, Star Wars has not just crossed over successfully, it’s been a trailblazer for many other sci fi and fantasy projects to become a success. More than that, it’s popularised both genres in a way that they never had been, and transformed what was once a fairly small niche into something that big companies are happy to invest vast sums of money in. The entire world of sci fi and fantasy owes a lot to Star Wars’ success, and it’s hard to envision how many great shows, films, and games we’d have missed out on were it not for the franchise.

Star Wars also has an aesthetic all its own, inspired by earlier science fiction in some regards, but putting its own spin on them. The ships, weapons, and even costumes of the Star Wars galaxy are instantly recognisable. A Star Destroyer or a lightsaber couldn’t possibly come from any other franchise, and this visual style has carried through every iteration to date.

Speaking for myself, Star Wars has had hits and misses, but there were definitely more of the former than the latter. I’ll always be excited to see what the franchise has to offer next, and I’ll always be ready to tune in to the latest film or series or try the latest game if at all possible. The setting Star Wars created, with Sith and Jedi and the Force, and with hyperspace, blasters, and droids, remains a genuinely fascinating and enthralling fictional galaxy to escape to, and I’m happy to go back and re-watch my favourite films and re-play my favourite games time and again.

May the fourth (or fifth) be with you!

The Star Wars franchise – including all films, series, and games mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking back at the Star Wars prequel trilogy

Spoiler Warning: Beware spoilers for the Star Wars prequels.

I’m not a prequels fan. I wasn’t when they came out and I’m not today. For all of the missteps made since Disney acquired Star Wars, the films that have been made since 2015 are superior in practically every way to the prequels. So if you’re here expecting me to say that the prequels were great, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Nor am I going to say that the sequel trilogy having problems – and it undeniably does – somehow makes the prequels better. That’s probably one of the more idiotic arguments people have put forward – “this is bad, therefore this thing that’s also bad is now good!” It doesn’t work that way.

Of course films are subjective – a film that works for one person doesn’t work for another, and that’s okay. We don’t all enjoy the same things and that’s fine. I’m not for a moment trying to argue that the prequel trilogy is objectively bad, just that it failed to win me over. In my subjective opinion. One of the biggest annoyances in the aftermath of The Last Jedi was the insistence by some fans that it was an “objectively” bad film. It wasn’t; they just didn’t like it. And that feeling is the same for me with the prequels.

Theatrical release poster for The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Nostalgia is a funny concept, and one that can be difficult for all of us, let alone big companies, to come to terms with. If someone (like myself) watched the original Star Wars films years before the prequel trilogy was even conceived, there’s a higher than average chance they’d be disappointed in the prequels when they came out. If someone’s first encounter with the Star Wars universe was the prequels, or they were very young when they first saw those films, chances are they enjoyed them much more. Particularly as kids, a lot of the finer points of cinematography and filmmaking go completely over our heads. That’s why a film like The Emoji Movie found an audience – it’s made for kids. And those kids who saw it and loved it at age six or eight will grow up regarding it as a piece of their childhood.

In that sense, we tend to put childhood memories on a pedestal. It’s just a natural way that human beings are, and it means that some legitimately bad stories we encountered before the age of, say, twelve or thirteen are forever cemented in our brains as a positive experience. This applies to films, books, television series, and even songs, and it’s related to the idea that we’re all defined to an extent by the era we grew up in and the trends that were evident at that time. There are many examples from my own childhood; silly little cartoon shows of the 1980s which I remember with incredible fondness. British children’s television shows in that era were – when looking at them with a critical eye – awful. Animation for cartoons was dire, with whole scenes often comprised of a single static image. Stories were simplistic, there was often only a single voice actor who would make no effort to differentiate characters, but because these are some of my earliest memories of watching television I hold such programmes as Mr Benn or The Adventures of Rupert Bear in high regard. Not for their actual value, but for what they represent to me as an individual. Their flaws, while I can spot them with a critical eye, melt away. And all that remains is the positive nostalgic feelings.

For many people, the same is true of the Star Wars prequels. They were young enough when first viewing them that the flaws in the films don’t register – only the positive feelings do. And when it comes to looking back and being objective, they’re incapable of doing so. Particularly in the wake of the disappointment many fans felt at the sequels – The Last Jedi in particular – they’re clamouring for more films like the prequels, and for the figurehead of their hate, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, to be replaced by Star Wars creator George Lucas.

But Lucas wasn’t a particularly good director or writer, especially when given the kind of leeway he got when making the prequels. His status as a legend in both the franchise and wider filmmaking industry scored him essentially free reign to do whatever he wanted when he started to make the prequel trilogy. This wasn’t the case when making the originals, and a group of incredibly talented creative people, including John Williams the composer, as well as editors, directors, script doctors, and so on all contributed massively to those films’ success. Lucas may have come up with this kernel of an idea, but to say he alone was responsible for Star Wars as we know it simply isn’t true. And when given free reign to tell his own story in the universe, he came up with a series of three films which undermined Star Wars’ classic villain, Darth Vader.

When we encountered Vader in 1977’s Star Wars (later retitled Episode IV: A New Hope) we knew all we needed to know. He was “more machine now than man”, he had a very powerful command of the Force, and he was ruthless. Seeing nine-year-old Ani, and trying to frame at least the first two films of the prequel trilogy to make him the protagonist detracted from that, in practically the same way as Hannibal Rising detracts from the character of Hannibal Lecter, or the 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory overexplains Willy Wonka. Some characters work because they’re mysterious. We didn’t need to know that Willy Wonka runs a sweets factory because his dad was a miserly old dentist. And we didn’t need to see Hannibal Lecter as a scared orphan – it took something important away from the character. And the same applies to Darth Vader. Seeing him as a bright-eyed child, with much of the film shot to make him as sympathetic as possible, robs Darth Vader of much of his imposing fear factor.

To explain why, let’s hop from one franchise to another and look at Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in particular the two-part episode Chain of Command. Capt. Picard has been captured by the Cardassians, who are trying to get him to reveal sensitive tactical information – using torture. It’s one of TNG‘s finest stories, but one moment in it is interesting, and it shows why too much backstory ruins a threat. At one point, days or weeks into his captivity, Picard is sat down with his torturer, Gul Madred (played expertly by David Warner). Madred tells Picard a little of his life growing up alone and in poverty on Cardassia, and Picard seizes upon it, proclaiming: “Whenever I look at you now, I won’t see a powerful Cardassian warrior. I will see a six-year-old boy who is powerless to protect himself. In spite of all you have done to me, I find you a pitiable man.” The circumstances are not the same – we’re the audience looking in, Picard is a character in the middle of it. But the effect is the same. Too much information detracts from a villain.

The creative decision to allow us, the audience, to see Darth Vader as a child, to tell his story as a young man, robs the character of a significant part of his imposing nature. He could still tear us apart with his lightsaber or choke us to death while not even being on the same starship, but all the while we’re still able to pity him, not be afraid of him. Lucas allowed the most significant element of his story’s most important character to be lost through this decision. Instead of wondering what horrors lay beneath the mask, or what twisted reasons Vader had for giving himself mechanical parts, we now know not only that he was a slave, that he grew up in poverty and cried for his mommy, but that underneath that scary suit is a burnt-out husk, and without the suit he’ll just suffocate and die. As he ultimately does.

The reveal of Vader in Return of the Jedi as a mere man, a fragile, badly wounded man kept alive by this suit we’d come to fear over three films, is robbed of all dramatic effect too. In Return of the Jedi, this powerful scene is rendered almost meaningless, because we’ve already seen what he looks like under there in Revenge of the Sith – which showed us more than we needed to see of his injuries. Vader’s transformation from imposing and frightening villain, redeemed through his one good deed, is complete. It began with seeing him as a child, it ran through his stint as protagonist, and finally seeing the painful, life-limiting injuries he had to live with, as well as the mental anguish he went through after the loss of his wife, change fundamentally how we see him. And it’s not a change for the better. Sometimes, less is more. The original film gave us everything we needed to know about Vader. The prequels told us too much.

While for me, the fact that the prequels seriously undermine Vader as a redeemable villain is their most unforgivable error, the prequel trilogy also throws up a huge number of other issues, some minor and some more major. Many of these are present simply as a result of the nature of prequel stories, and others are just a consequence of bad and/or lazy writing.

One of the biggest criticisms I’d have of the sequel trilogy is that it was split up. There wasn’t any attempt made to tell one single story over three films, instead the writing was split up between different writers and directors, with each given free rein to tell whatever story they wanted. The result is a jarring tonal mess. The prequels don’t have that issue, because generally George Lucas knew what story he wanted to tell. There were tweaks, certainly – Jar Jar Binks’ role was scaled back after the response to The Phantom Menace, for example. But overall, he knew what story he wanted to tell and he made three films to tell it. Problem is, the story was crap.

Politics can be exciting, and political dramas can be thrilling. At a fundamental level, the rise of Palpatine from being a senator from a backwater planet to Supreme Chancellor and then Emperor is the same as the rise of the scheming Frank Underwood in House of Cards – and watching how he manipulated circumstances to become Vice President and then President was both fascinating and exciting. So I disagree with those who say that all of the politics behind Palpatine’s rise is a fundamental flaw; if handled differently it could’ve been okay – though it’s not necessarily what fans wanted or expected from a Star Wars film.

Theatrical release poster for 2002’s Attack of the Clones.

The prequels didn’t fall flat for any one reason, though Vader’s characterisation is a significant issue all by itself. There were dozens of smaller problems that they created. Jar Jar Binks is mentioned frequently by detractors of the films, though he was really only a significant stumbling block in The Phantom Menace, being largely absent from the two other titles in the series. It’s understandable to see why he was disliked though: in a film that a lot of people had been waiting almost twenty years to see, there was this oafish character with a hammy performance that seemed to be aimed at children under five. Many of those kids, by the way, are the prequel films’ defenders today as mentioned above. Reaction to Jar Jar was so extreme that some fans even went so far as to edit him out of the film, cutting his scenes entirely in a reworked fan-edit of The Phantom Menace. But Jar Jar was there to give the film extra appeal to children, because Star Wars has always been – despite what many hard-core fans want to think – a family franchise. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re kids’ films, but they’re films which have always appealed to children and though there’s nothing wrong with adults enjoying them too, Star Wars wants to keep that child-friendly atmosphere. After all, it’s mostly kids who buy toys and other merchandise.

And that’s another big point. The original films had made a lot of money from merchandise, so when the prequels rolled around the expectation was that they’d do the same. Some creative decisions can be linked to this, such as the decision to have “Jedi robes” mimic Alec Guiness’ costume from the original film. That costume was clearly something fit for wearing in a desert environment, and wasn’t originally supposed to represent the robes of the lost Jedi order. If it was, why would Obi-Wan be so blasé about wearing it everywhere he went? If the Jedi are being actively hunted, any surviving Jedi would be taking steps to ensure no one knew of his or her identity. The fact that this doesn’t happen is an example of a prequel-created plot hole.

By going back in time to before the original films, the Star Wars prequels create a number of inconsistencies and issues for the franchise. This isn’t something unique to the prequels – the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, and the semantic gymnastics required to get around that in Return of the Jedi (remember “from a certain point of view”?) was the first and biggest example. But the fact is that that reveal worked – it was dramatic, shocking, and for the vast majority of the audience who didn’t remember Ben Kenobi’s one line in the previous film about Luke’s dad, wasn’t in any way contradictory.

But it’s stated several times that Yoda is the Jedi who trained Obi-Wan. Yet in The Phantom Menace, we’re introduced to Obi-Wan Kenobi as a padawan apprentice – whose master is in fact Qui-Gon Jinn. Liam Neeson’s performance as Qui-Gon is one of the few high points of that film, so I’m not trying to detract from the character altogether. But it’s yet another example of the prequels taking what was already established and ignoring it. It would have been perfectly feasible to have Kenobi and Jinn as partners, teamed up in much the same way, and still establish firmly that Yoda was Obi-Wan’s master. Same story, no contradiction. One or two lines of dialogue and/or an extra scene would’ve established this and it would fit right in with canon.

Then there’s the inclusion of C-3PO and R2-D2. Obi-Wan spent a lot of time in the prequels with R2-D2 in particular, yet in A New Hope claims to have never seen the droid. That must’ve been depressing for poor R2. Not to mention that Anakin build C-3PO as a child. Okay, this one isn’t so much a plot hole as it is stupid.

Speaking of stupid – Anakin was conceived with “no father”, implying a Jesus-esque immaculate conception via the Force. This was vaguely tied into the “prophecy of the chosen one”, which is referenced several times across the three films, but ultimately serves very little purpose. Star Wars has, and continues to have, problems with the idea that people – good and bad – can come from ordinary beginnings. Anakin had to be a Force baby. Rey had to be a… well, spoiler alert for The Rise of Skywalker. Luke couldn’t just be a great Jedi, he had to be Vader’s son. And so on. Because both the immaculate conception and chosen one concepts were handled so poorly, it wasn’t even obvious that this was Lucas’ intention. The famous opera scene, where Palpatine tells Anakin the “story of Darth Plagueis the Wise” is supposed to imply that Plagueis created Anakin by “manipulating midi-cholorions to create life”. Except, we never met Plagueis, we never saw any of this happen, and no timeframe is hinted at by Palpatine in the scene. As far as I knew on watching the films, the Plagueis legend took place centuries earlier, and was just another way Palpatine could get his hook into Anakin to sway him. It was also never expressed that Palpatine was the one giving Anakin the visions of Padmé’s death – though again we’re supposed to have implied this somehow. Even though the film is shot in such a way that we don’t.

Some of these ideas actually have merit – particularly the concept that Palpatine was both giving Anakin the visions of his wife dying while at the same time hinting he knew enough about the Dark Side that he could save her. That shows Palpatine at his devious best, except it never fully made it to screen. It instead stumbled halfway onto the screen, then fell flat. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the few good story points the prequels had.

A little while ago, I read an article where someone had suggested that the prequels would have been made significantly better if Revenge of the Sith had been all three films, and The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were never made. This might actually be a decent idea, because it would have allowed some of the themes and concepts in Revenge of the Sith more screen time to be properly explored, instead of merely mentioned in passing or hinted at.

So those are some of the story threads that failed in the prequels. And by far, story and characterisation is where the prequels failed hardest for me. But on the production and filmmaking side, there are major issues too.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were when CGI was really becoming a big deal in filmmaking. But the CGI in those days was pretty rough, meaning a lot of films produced in that era that rely heavily on those kind of effects have aged very poorly – and didn’t even look great at the time.

This is arguably at its worst in Attack of the Clones, where legions of clone troopers are seen, rendered in CGI. And it looks like a mid-2000s video game. The CGI is unrealistic, far too “shiny”, and not at all lifelike. The fact that these films were largely shot on green screens with few practical effects has dated them horribly, and the aesthetic they present is poor by anyone’s standards. CGI today is still an impefect medium, but back then it was far worse.

Where the original films have a late-70s, early-80s aesthetic, complimented by some wonderful puppets and practical effects giving them a unique charm, the prequels just look like a low-budget fan film of the kind you’d find on YouTube by comparison. Even in The Last Jedi a little over two years ago, director Rian Johnson opted to use a puppet to represent the spirit of Yoda, believing CGI would look worse. And he was right – CGI would’ve looked worse that a physical puppet. In 2017. So you can imagine how much worse it would’ve looked in 2002 – but you don’t have to, just take a look at Yoda in Attack of the Clones.

2005’s Revenge of the Sith theatrical release poster.

One thing that the visuals of the prequels did get right, and I’m happy to give credit where it’s due, is in how the Republic ships, troops, and overall aesthetic is clearly linked to the later Imperial aesthetic that we know from the originals. The Republic had its own look, but it was clearly a predecessor to how Imperial things looked, and the attention to detail to get that right is impressive.

And there were some decent performances from the cast. All of the main cast, really. Part of the reason fans are excited for the Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off television series is because Ewan McGregor was fantastic in that role. I’d argue he gave a great performance from three poor scripts, as did other actors like Liam Neeson, Christopher Lee, and even Hayden Christiansen, but the fact is that as acting performances they’re all decent. I don’t believe for a moment the prequels flopped on account of bad acting. Some of it was “hammy”, certainly, but that’s how the films were written.

Again, it’s worth crediting Lucasfilm in the prequel era with crafting and telling a single story. That’s absolutely how filmmaking should work, and the idea that writers/directors can “pass the baton” from one to another without even having the barest bones of a story structure to work from has meant that the sequel trilogy has not been the success it should’ve. The fact that I personally dislike the story of the prequels, and the plot issues it creates, as well as the overreliance on bad CGI, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that it was planned and told as one story – the fall of Anakin Skywalker.

I’d just argue that we didn’t really need to see his fall to know he’d fallen, nor to understand how he came to be redeemed in Return of the Jedi. Once it had been established that Luke was Vader’s son, his path to redemption existed and seeing how he came to be Vader rather than Anakin was an unnecessary addendum. It isn’t in any way necessary to watch the prequels, or even read a plot synopsis, to understand how anything in the original trilogy came to unfold. In fact, in many ways it detracts from that experience, particularly if someone new to the franchise were to choose to watch the prequels first. But again, that’s my opinion, and all of this is subjective.

At the end of the day, it’s easy enough to ignore or not watch the prequels and still enjoy Star Wars for what it is and what it represents. To me that’s a positive thing, because I’m not arguing that the prequels somehow “ruin” Star Wars. But it’s also a fairly damning indictment – three films telling the rise and fall of a main character are ultimately wholly unnecessary and contribute nothing to the story except exposition and background.

Star Wars was, for me, Luke’s story, not Vader’s. And overexplaining his origins, from his “virgin birth” and awkward childhood through his spell as the series’ protagonist, ultimately did more to detract from his character as an imposing but ultimately redeemable villain. By turning Vader into an object of pity, the prequels ultimate sin was in robbing Star Wars of its best villain and most mysterious Sith Lord.

The Star Wars prequel trilogy is available to stream now on Disney+, and may also be available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The Star Wars franchise – including The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.