Luke, Han and Leia didn’t fail
Yes, they did.
She is the daughter Luke never had.
No, she’s not. TRoS tries to pretend like Luke and Rey had a positive, familial relationship, but they didn’t. Not at all.
As for the fall of the Republic, Palpatine had been working behind the scenes for decades to allow corruption to seep into the Republic. For the most part, that decay didn’t just happen on its own. It was largely initiated by Palpatine and other hidden malefactors. We were shown a galaxy in TPM where the well-intentioned but flawed good guys were in charge and struggling to keep under control an increasingly volatile galaxy. We see the steps of the Republic’s fall into authoritarianism. It’s not perfectly told, but the transition is more or less earned. We witness the tragedy as it takes place.
In the sequel trilogy, most of the tragedy takes place either off-screen or in throwaway sequences. There is no sense of a logical progression from the end of RotJ to the beginning of the TFA. The titular “return of the Jedi” failed to take place, and we had essentially another Jedi Purge occur off-screen. The Empire, instead of being at all diminished, is now comically overpowered. The New Republic is tossed away never to be seen again, partly for shock value, partly because JJ Abrams no doubt thought that having an established Republic be the galaxy’s status quo would be too “Prequelish.” So he threw that out and the New Jedi Order with no buildup or groundwork whatsoever. Thus turning Star Wars from a story of hope after tragedy into a depressing cycle where the failures of the past are forever doomed to repeat “just because”, and forcing the OT heroes to witness everything they worked for crumble within their lifetimes.
Han abandons Leia after the betrayal of their son, and regresses back to being a smuggler under the nose of the regime he helped found. Luke abandons his friends and family and leaves the galaxy to rot at the hands of the Dark Side because he somehow blames the Jedi for his own personal failings. Leia is forced out of the government she had devoted her life to restoring, with her family abandoning her and her son fighting for the Empire. Meanwhile, she finds herself exactly where she started, as a leader of a small guerrilla rebel force, her life having completely stagnated and the struggle to which she had devoted herself being made 30 years longer and mostly fruitless all for the sake of doing a soft reboot in the seventh chapter of a story.
That’s awful. What’s enjoyable about that?
Nailed it! Everything I’ve been trying to say is right here.
I’d argue though that we see the seeds of an increasingly volatile galaxy throughout The Phantom Menace. You see it through the actions of characters such as Nute Gunray and Watto. Nute Gunray acting through fear and Watto acting out of greed. Even Sebulba I think shows pride with his desire to cheat in the podrace. It’s the little seeded nuances that I think make up the collective whole of what society was becoming. Every little action has a cause and effect. You see it throughout the story too. Qui-Gon helps Jar Jar and Jar Jar in turn helps Padme and thus brings the Naboo and Gungans together. Anakin helps too for that matter. It’s a movie about people helping people with the final example being Obi-Wan beginning to train Anakin. The crux of the whole saga.
I’d even say Attack of the Clones has some great subtly too. Especially when it comes to Coruscant becoming more commercial and Padme being relieved they didn’t try amending the constitution to allow her to continue serving as queen. This is contrasted by Palpatine staying in office long after his term has expired.
Unrelated a tad but I also like how Dooku is referred to as a “political idealist” while the Clone War later is referred to as an “idealistic crusade”.
The Prequels have lots of subtle layers that are very easy to miss but they’re there. They really expand the scope and scale of the plot. In my opinion they’re executed much better than they’re given credit for.
I do think too that a very important aspect to Star Wars is not repeating the sins of past generations. Luke not making the same mistakes as Anakin is the most obvious. However there’s little things like the Rebel Alliance and Separatist being very similar to each other but under different circumstances and ideals. The problem the Sequel Trilogy falls into is what you highlighted though, we’ve seen these things before exactly as they were. Every generation goes through the same problems more or less but the moments do differ in some way. Just like in real life.
Luke could fail to restore the Jedi Order at first but we need to see it happen and then for him to properly rebuild it throughout the trilogy to fulfill what he was set up to do.
Leia shouldn’t have to be a rag tag Rebel leader again but a senator like her mother before her that rises to the occasion and becomes Supreme Chancellor.
Han doesn’t have to go back to smuggling again after overcoming that part of his life but he could be a respected general in the New Republic.
None of these things have to undermine a new generation of characters. They can easily happen interchangeably and it leads all the way back to The Phantom Menace being a story about people helping people. Star Wars was always about the collective whole and not just one individual. Anakin may have been the Chosen One but he would never have fulfilled Balance or found the courage to break free from Palpatine’s clutches if it weren’t for Luke.