*This article contains minor spoilers for The Last Jedi
Here’s my thesis: The Last Jedi will have a surprising, unintended consequence of increasing appreciation for the storytelling of George Lucas in Episodes 1-3 (the prequels).
The nearly universal consensus is that Lucas displayed storytelling genius in the first three Star Wars films, episodes 4-6. The character development and plot progression seamlessly wove together into a “believable” science-fiction masterpiece.
And then Lucas did something crazy. He resisted the temptation to create three identical movies as he directed the three prequels. Lucas veered into dangerous territory by providing a glimpse of scientific explanation behind the force, he built episode 1 on the less-than-inspirational concept of a trade federation, and he relied on the maturity of the viewer to follow an intricate plot development connecting the Clone Wars, Palpatine/Emperor, and the Jedi Order. This was all happening while the Skywalker family remained central to not only the saga as a whole, but also to each individual film.
And that, to me, is the beauty of the prequels that goes unnoticed. Lucas managed to keep the main thing the main thing while presenting a rich and complex story that felt quite different than the original trilogy. The fans, however, were for the most part apathetic at best.
The Last Jedi is a good movie with an emotionally rich subtext. Many of the scenes are breathtaking and the film certainly answers a significant number of questions that were raised by The Force Awakens. The problem is that the film’s most glorious moments are captured by utilizing nostalgic elements from Lucas’ films, and the times the film ventures off to establish new material, there is a silent emptiness that seems to hover over the screen.
The Force Awakens was a powerhouse blockbuster the fans loved. Why? Because it was Lucas’ original trilogy repackaged. The best moments in The Last Jedi? Better give thanks to Lucas for those too. I found the story progression to be, at times, absurd in The Last Jedi. Without giving away too many details, a significant portion of the film depends on low fuel and a bunch of Star Destroyers and First Order ships “keeping their distance” from a Resistance ship. It’s almost as if the story had to come up with some kind of structure in order to provide room for the cool visual moments, and more often than not, that structure failed. A notable exception was the relationship between Kylo and Rey. That, by far, was the strongest aspect of the film.
I may be (and deeply hope) I am wrong, but Star Wars Episode IX has the potential to be horrible, largely because there is so little left of Lucas to rely on. If the standard continues to move downward, then the stock of Lucas’ prequels will begin to rise. And in my opinion, rightfully so.