Try to imagine a world where the Star Wars prequels don’t exist. How do you think George Lucas is viewed in said world? There’s no controversy. There’s no backlash. The heaviest criticism he receives is for messing with the original movies, and while that criticism is warranted, he remains a widely beloved figure who’s credited with creating one of the most enduring trilogy of films ever made.
It’s also a world where people aren’t careful with what they wish for, and would like to see prequels.
To be fair to Lucas, it’s not like the prequels were automatically a bad idea, and if you take many, many steps back, you can kind of see what he wanted to achieve: the loss of innocence leading to a tragic downfall. If the original trilogy marked the success of a rebellion and the restoration of hope to the galaxy, the prequel trilogy was supposed to mark the death of peace and how a good man went evil. Perhaps if Lucas had given that seed of an idea to another filmmaker and screenwriter and let them run with it, the prequels could have been a success.
However, it didn’t turn out that way, and while I will argue that the Star Wars prequels are worse than Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, I’ll say that the shortcomings of both series come from a similar place: two directors who became overly enamored of technology at the expense of quality storytelling. Both series feel like tech demos rather than expansions of beloved mythology. The technology doesn’t serve the storytelling; the storytelling serves the technology.
So why are The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith worse than An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and Battle of the Five Armies? There are several reasons.