The Star Wars prequels have become these very weird movies. As we head towards the 20th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the entire prequel trilogy. I genuinely thought that if they were allowed to just stand on their own, the movies may not be great, but they would at least be interesting and compelling on their own merits. Sadly, the films have not improved. I watched them with my wife, who had never seen them at all, and we both agreed that all three movies were an absolute chore. They’re each bad in their own way, but what’s more damning is how they don’t really contribute anything to the overall Star Wars mythos. At times they even seem to contradict that mythos like when Obi-Wan says Anakin was a great pilot when they met (which only works if piloting starships is synonymous with pod racing) or that Leia remembered her mother being sad (which I guess works if her non-biological mother was sad for some reason).
The weakness of the prequels led me to consider a perplexing question: should the Star Wars prequels be remade? Now that Disney has ownership of Lucasfilm, they’re within their rights to do whatever they want to any of the Star Wars movies. It’s their property. Back when George Lucas still owned Lucasfilm, I argued that Star Wars was his, he didn’t owe fans anything, and that while you could be unhappy with his treatment of that world, those were still his choices. However, he saw fit to sell that control over to Disney, who are happily cranking out a bunch of new Star Wars movies. If you have three Star Wars movies that are generally ignored or disdained, why not try again?
It’s an appealing line of thinking, especially if you think that studios should remake movies that are bad rather than movies that are good. Fans have been trying to figure out a way to live with the prequels, from ignoring them to the “machete” order of viewing to re-cutting them entirely. The general idea of the prequels has always been sound–how Anakin Skywalker fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader–but the execution was abysmal. So what if you took that central premise and didn’t bury it under awful CGI, bad characters, terrible acting, and atrocious storytelling? Wouldn’t that be better?
I flirted with the idea the past week (because I’m sure if I said “Yes, they should remake the prequels,” Kathleen Kennedy would come to my house and let me remake Star Wars; this is all that’s stopping her), but ultimately I think we should leave the prequels alone. As bad as those movies are, they are still George Lucas’ vision for the first three episodes. If we respect Lucas enough to accept the Original Trilogy (Special Edition warts and all), then we also have to respect him enough to say, “These prequels are canon, and no one gets to take another shot at them.”
I’m also not crazy about the idea of erasing the history and doing it over just because we didn’t like the outcome. That’s partially why Lucas came under fire for his Special Edition edits, and while you could say there’s some poetic justice to redoing to prequels, it’s not the same thing. When Lucas made the Special Editions, they were still his movies. It’s unfortunate he didn’t want to give fans a say in the matter of which version they preferred, but they were his movies. If the prequels were remade, it wouldn’t be Lucas making the changes; it would be someone else. It’s not enough to say, “But the Original Trilogy was good while the Prequel Trilogy was bad!” You have to factor in the designs of the original filmmaker, otherwise it’s all just consumer product. You don’t get to send the movie back because it isn’t what you ordered.
I have no doubt that if social media had been what it is now when the prequels were made, the drumbeat to remake the prequels would be much louder. Even when they were released, it went so far as to Alexandre O. Philippe’s 2010 documentary The People vs. George Lucas where fans talk about how angry they were with Lucas and his treatment of Star Wars. It seems that Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and the creation of new Star Wars has allowed people to move on, although now their ire can be directed at newer movies like The Last Jedi.
And that’s the central problem: the unhappiness of a vocal subset of fans believing they should get to dictate art despite never risking anything in the process. Say what you will about George Lucas, but it wasn’t the fans who risked anything in the 1970s by creating Star Wars or even in the late 90s/early 2000s with the prequels. Creativity is about risk, and yes, there is the chance that people won’t like what you’re doing. George Lucas didn’t say, “You’re not allowed to dislike my movies.” He put them out there, the fans responded, and that’s kind of the end of it.
Could the Star Wars prequels be better? Of course. But it’s not up to fans to make that call. Maybe Disney will mull it over, and because they own the property, it’s literally their right to do so. But I would argue that rather than open that can of worms and belittle the creator of your billion-dollar franchise, it’s better to seek out new stories to tell in the vast universe Lucas created. Trying to redo the Prequel Trilogy may be tempting and easy, but so is the Dark Side.