Why the Disney “Star Wars” Movies Will Never Be as Influential as the Prequels

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Lucasfilm)

A new “Star Wars” movie is almost upon us, and the first few reviews that are trickling in suggest that it’s a pretty good romp, with director Rian Johnson finally doing something we haven’t yet seen from Disney’s movies set in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Unlike “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, it seems that “The Last Jedi” actually attempts to do something different, doing more than just trying to copy the aesthetic and story beats of the original “Star Wars” movies.

The Last Jedi
Source: Lucasfilm

Even as fans gear up in anticipation for these new movies, though, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the “Star Wars” films that will forever go down in history as the worst of the worst.

Without a doubt, “The Phantom Menace” will be remembered as the most disappointing film in the history of cinema. It is a dud film, lambasted by “Star Wars” fans and foes alike for its utterly terrible characters and horrendous comic relief.

That said, while the Prequel Trilogy is rightly remembered as being far less than fantastic, it’s hard to deny one thing: it’s certainly going to be remembered.

Some stories get ingrained in the public consciousness with such a force (pun not intended) that it’s hard to shake them. For all their flaws, every movie in the Prequel Trilogy have become cultural touchstones for generations.

The Prequel Memes are a perfect example of this – the movies’ terrible dialogue have been applied to a variety of jokes and gags that have spread in large part because everyone knows these movies back to front.

Ironic Prequel Meme
Source: Reddit

Can the current Disney movie franchise achieve the same level of notoriety? Probably not – the shock value simply isn’t there.

The Prequels are terrible to the point of infamy; the kind of So Bad It’s Good movies that will likely endure in large part because they’re terrible. Meanwhile, “Rogue One” is ultimately not quite as culturally important. It’s enjoyable enough, but it’s not a black hole of despair on par with “Attack of the Clones”, and as such, it doesn’t cast a particularly long shadow.

We see this, to a certain extent, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nobody is regularly debating the relative merits of, say, “Ant Man”, in the same way that we’re all still unpacking everything that went wrong with “Batman v Superman”.

Truly bad movies stick in the public consciousness far more than good movies. If a film isn’t either spectacular or terrible, it’s not going to be remembered.

This is especially true considering Disney’s increased focus on episodic movies. There’s no time to focus on any of the new “Star Wars” movies, because we’re already looking forward to the next film.

Eventually, these films all blur into one, creating an ongoing series that’s homogenous and indistinguishable.

With the “Star Wars” Prequels, there was three years in between each movie to give audiences time to truly digest what was on display. By contrast, with Lucasfilm still ostensibly aiming for a summer release for “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, we only have a few months to appreciate “The Last Jedi” before it’ll be replaced by another new film.

This strategy might ultimately end up hurting Disney’s “Star Wars” legacy, but the company doesn’t mind. It’s better to have a conveyer belt of new movies than to focus too hard on old classics.

While the new “Star Wars” movies tell far more competent stories than George Lucas’ last three films set in this universe, it’s hard to deny that the Prequels have left a greater lasting impact on popular culture as a whole – even if they only serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers who are trying to avoid making mistakes.

Besides, while they’re really dumb movies, there’s still fun to be had with the Prequels. There’s a quirky earnestness with these movies that doesn’t seem possible under the corporate Disney model.

Or, maybe, the current fascination with the Prequels is simply a hipster nostalgia for a generation of kids who miss the time when they were too young and enthusiastic to appreciate how bad “The Phantom Menace” truly is.

Only time will tell.

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