‘There’s nothing new,’ he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, ‘There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward.’
That’s laughable - and typical Lucas. He shrunk the Galaxy Far Far Away into the Solar System Far Far Away by having everyone end up being related to each other. Not a new story, just more of the same one. New characters? He milked Bobba Fett. New technologies‽ He rolled out a second Death Star!
In the interest of disclosure; I’m not familiar with the prequels beyond seeing Phantom once and screen-grabs of scenes from the other two. I just havent seen much beyond video game quality rehashes and spinning colors. I may be way off on the two prequels I’ve never seen.
While there’s no denying The Force Awakens mirrors the same structure as Star Wars, it at least matches visually and has a bigger Death Star.
One of the criticisms against the PT was, that it was visually too distinct from the OT, particulary after Lucas decided to go fully digital filmmaker with AOTC. You might argue Lucas cared more for the new technology than consistency with the previous movies, which to him were less than he had hoped for, due to technical limitations. So, I think Lucas for better or for worse was always interested in moving the envelope technically. Additionally I would argue Lucas introduced a whole host of new worlds, and environments in the PT, and certainly greatly expanded the visual language of the Star Wars universe through highly diverse designs, even if they didn’t always translate very well to the big screen.