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Not Only are the New Star Wars Films Better Than The Prequels…They Might Be Better Than The Originals

Come at us, bros.

Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

Another weekend, another bad take on the internet making people mad. Yesterday it was this article from CNET  that made the bold claim that “The New Star Wars trilogy is worse than the prequels.” It’s a clickbait-y headline, yes, but the points the article makes – that JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson have something to learn from George Lucas’s abysmal work behind the camera on the prequel trilogy is just…wrong. On every meaningful level the new Star Wars films are miles better than the prequel trilogy. And in some ways, they’re actually better than the originals.

Yeah. I said it.

Now. a lot of the criticisms of the “new trilogy” in the bad article is about the plot arcs and character beats of the new films, but the author’s argument rests on a very bad premise – mainly that he’s talking about a “trilogy” that isn’t complete yet. Sorry, dude. You can’t criticize Rey’s arc for being unfocused if you don’t know where it’s going. We have no idea how the new sage will end, so it’s incredibly silly to compare the three-movie arcs of the prequels or the originals to two movies and a trailer. He acknowledges things like the writing and acting of the new films are better and yet still sees fit to criticize plots that aren’t complete.

And the critiques of the plots that are complete are bad too. The author argues that the new films have no dramatic stakes and that we don’t get big deaths like Qui Gon’s  in the prequels. I guess he was asleep when Han Solo got skewered by his own son in The Force Awakens, or when Rey and Kylo unexpectedly killed the red herring big bad in The Last Jedi. He must have also dreamed up a version of the Phantom Menace where Qui Gon an interesting character, not a series of plot devices who stole a child from his home and left his mom in slavery. He also argue that the prequels have dramatic tension when they are by their nature pre-determined in how they end. Come on.

It’s all bad-faith, straw man fallacies. The comparisons in the article reek of fanboy rage about how Star Wars is different now and it shows in the shallowness of the arguments and accusations that the prequels bypass the new trilogy in any way. The prequel trilogy were essentially bad fanfic made independently by a man who didn’t care about emotion, plot or impact. They were boring, two-hour-long toy commercials with wooden dialog, terrible acting, that used nascent CGI and Digital technology to place characters in environments where they looked as lifeless and fake as possible.

The new Stars Wars films – including Rogue One and Solo – get back to the solid, real film making and fun, complex characters that made the first Star Wars trilogy great. And instead of sucking the life out of the myth and majesty of the originals the way the prequels do, they all improve on it. The characters in the original trilogy – a movie made for kids as Freddie Prize Jr. just reminded us – are literal archetypes straight out of Joseph Campbell. They’re great, but ultimately simple; and that’s fine. But the characters in these new films are far more complex and interesting. Even the old character have grown up and advanced in complexity. Everyone in the new films is more morally ambiguous and rebellious. One might say…better.

And they’re not majority white and male. Yes. We’re going there. The diversity and progressive ideals of the new Star Wars films place them miles above the originals (and the prequels). There’s more than one woman. There’s more than one person of color. Those women and people of color have agency and don’t just die of a broken heart or serve as plot devices or love interests. The whole point of new trilogy is how important a diverse and democratic Force is.

Nostalgia is very kind to the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s kind to everything. But we can love something (and believe me, I do love the old films) and appreciate its flaws. Nostalgia however has never been kind to the prequels. There has to be some sort of fandom Stockholm syndrome at work for a discerning viewer to think that the basic filmmaking of the new movies isn’t better than anything that’s come in the past, but it’s probably just the same anger we see from all sorts of Star Wars “fans” when they’re confronted by the fact that this franchise doesn’t just belong to little white boys anymore.

Just a the Force belongs to everyone, just like the boring myths and rules of the old Jedi order had to be destroyed, so too does the idea that George Lucas was some misunderstood genius whose prequel trilogy was anything but an ego trip that misunderstood everything that was great about his first film. Lucas got lucky with Star Wars and continued to be lucky when he worked with other directors on Empire and Return of the Jedi.

But it was JJ Abram, Rian Johnson and perhaps most importantly, Kathleen Kennedy that got what worked in Star Wars and improved it, diversified it and democratized it. Their films weren’t made just to sell toys or tell dry, unmoving back story. They made films to inspire audiences – all audiences. And that’s why, by my reckoning, they’re better than anything that came before.

(Image: Lucasfilm/Disney; via CNET)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.