I am going to sum this up to avoid a tldr: I love the originals, the prequels are terrible yet enjoyable for the most part (almost in a spiteful way), and the sequels are … their own thing.
Now for the longer version:
It’s difficult to compare the three trilogies: they’re products of different times and technologies. George Lucas helped define a blockbuster, and for better or worse, changed movies forever, and there wasn’t a surefire way that he was going to duplicate that effect. With each successive movie, the fandom grew, and the lore expanded. I hesitate to call these cinematic masterpieces, but honestly, they delved into humanity’s core need for mythos. We identified with these alien people and their far-away galaxy. Now, the special editions that came out in the late 90s were I think I precursor to the failure of the prequels (which I’ll get to in a second), as random and completely unnecessary additions of CGI only made some of the sequences look childish. I liked the edit of Cloud City, since it was rather stuffy in the original version, and even inserting the Jabba the Hutt deleted scene made sense because it gave you a better explanation of Han’s behavior. But the extended ride into Mos Eisley, where it was just long shots of its denizens doing outlandish, dangerous things (like a Jawa just swinging from a giant creature) and making squeaky noises, was just hubris. “Oh, look what we can do!” Well, make a movie longer, for one, when it doesn’t need to be. Lucas, there are ways of establishing a location than making us sit through that shit.
As far as the prequels go, I think about the Romero Of the Dead series. Trust me, just go with it. The original Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead are excellent movies, critiquing American culture (racism, consumerism, militarism, etc.) and how said culture affects normal, every day people. They are obviously low budget, but that’s not even the point: the story is what’s important. Then in 1990, Romero reworked his script for Night of the Living Dead and executive produced it, but even with the extra money and better makeup (arguably), the movie had a quarter of the life and poignancy of the original – but it had a better budget.
The tale of Anakin’s fall could have been interesting – proven by The Clone Wars television series – but Lucas’ ego and tendency to surround himself with gutless yes-men essentially doomed it from the start from meeting or exceeding anyone’s expectations. The story was lifeless and dull when it wasn’t completely ridiculous (I still can’t believe the sheer magical thinking that Palpatine manages to make come true over the three films), and when Natalie Portman is made to look as if she couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag, that’s not a good sign. I still maintain that Belated Media’s version of the original trilogy would have been so much better, and if you haven’t watched their take, get the fuck over there: Episode I, Episode II, Episode III.
With the sequels, I’ve already complained about JJ Abrams lack of understanding source material beyond fanboy bullshit, but I think at least some of it can be restated. He basically just recreated A New Hope with The Force Awakens, felt the backlash against The Last Jedi and thus took back over for The Rise of Skywalker, which was just such a mess of WTF that it’s a completely unsalvageable movie. That being said, I’m all for other people taking over Star Wars from George Lucas – he lost all of my trust with the prequels – but JJ Abrams isn’t it. Dave Filoni loves the saga as much as, if not more than, Abrams and has a better grasp on what Star Wars is. Jon Favreau gets it. Hell, even Freddie Prinze, Jr. understands it.
As we continue seeing content from Star Wars, I hope that the creators look at what originally made the series great. Not the actual beats of plot, but the core of it: myth. The human condition. Learning and knowing who you are. If they can remember that and truly examine it as deeply as they can, Star Wars will stay relevant. If they can’t? Well, it deserves to end and let something else worthy fill its void.
Art Credit: 99 Designs