If you watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you could go for the entire film without knowing there was a prequel trilogy. Given the poor reaction to the prequels, a reputation that hasn’t really improved in the decade since the release of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, it made sense that J.J. Abrams’ movie mostly ignored those installments. Yes, there are the broad strokes of an unnamed hero coming from a desert planet, but Abrams’ film was largely unconcerned with everything that happened in the prequels. And no one complained because there’s no point on drawing on unpopular movies when there’s the incredible original trilogy to serve as inspiration.
Although Star Wars: The Last Jedi also tends to steer far away from the prequels, it does find one valuable connection and makes the most of it.
[Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi]
In the scene where Luke goes to destroy the sacred Jedi tree and the texts inside, the Force Ghost of Yoda appears. He uses his powers to strike the tree with lightning, and then he has a heart-to-heart with Luke about how failure is the most valuable teacher and that students are what they leave behind. Although the scene still works if you’re only going by Luke and Yoda’s past relationship, it becomes even more powerful when you consider what happened in the prequels.
In the prequels, we see that Yoda teaches young padawans. Of course, as Luke pints out to Rey, at the height of their power, the Jedi allowed the rise of Darth Sidious who then proceeded to wipe them out. That includes the younglings, who were all killed by Darth Vader. Just as Luke lost all of his students to Kylo Ren, Yoda lost all of his students to Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. And like Luke, Yoda went into exile, unable to cope with his failure (and yes, to avoid being killed by the Empire).
Without the prequels, we never would have known this about Yoda. We would have conjecture and die-hard fans would likely draw from a wealth of extended universe materials, but nothing would have been established by the movies themselves. Thanks to the prequels, we now know that Luke and Yoda share more than just the relationship of a student and teacher. They’ve both suffered from a similar failure, and because of this, Yoda’s words of wisdom he gives to Luke carry the weight of experience.
Now if I go back to watch the prequels, specifically Revenge of the Sith, they now reach past the original trilogy and actually carry thematic weight into the sequel trilogy. Yes, you’d have to dig past a lot of wooden acting, painful coincidences that make the universe smaller, and other missteps, but at least there would be actions that carry an impact far beyond Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader.
I don’t know if Episode IX will attempt to dip back into what the prequels have to offer, and Abrams certainly shouldn’t feel obligated to make use of the discarded movies that exist more as curiosities than vital parts of the Star Wars saga. But Rian Johnson shows that the prequels, while rife with issues, still have something to offer the larger Star Wars narrative.
For more on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, click on the links below.
- Mark Hamill Clarifies His Public Criticism of Luke Skywalker in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
- ‘The Last Jedi’ VFX Supervisor Ben Morris on the Throne Room, Kyber Crystals and More
- Listen to Rian Johnson and Spike Jonze Talk ‘The Last Jedi’ for 20 Minutes
- ‘The Last Jedi’ Editor Bob Ducsay on the Film’s Evolution, the Ending, and More