This has been a study I have been conducting since 2005 or so, mainly looking at the original trilogy as it was recieved by critics in the years of its original release. This study, by Rotten Tomatoes, published in 2005 stated that upon examination, the prequels were actually reviewed better than the originals.
"Tomatometer Ranking of Star Wars Series Based on Critical Reaction During Original Release Dates:
83% - Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
79% - Star Wars
65% - Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
62% - Star wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
52% - The Empire Strikes Back
31% - Return of the Jedi"
This made a lot of people scratch their heads, but its hard to argue with hard data. Well, I'm arguing back. That study is fundamentally flawed in a multitude of ways, such as the fact that they only sampled whatever reviews were onhand at the local library, to the fact that the ratings for the prequels come from websites. Over the last three years, I collected close to 100 reviews of the original trilogy, in contrast to their 48, for my study.
The results I have published on my website. I will post the links below.
Here are the results, however. For the prequels the rating is from metacritic.com, and the tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes "Top Critic" filter. For the originals, both tomatometer and rating are my own calculations based on my study:
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
This is very different than the 79%, 52% and 31% tomatometer results RT claimed for the originals.
Below are the detailed pages on my study.
In Part I I explain the background, my aims, my methodology and then present the raw data in various forms of measurement.
Part II is the real heart of it. Here I offer analysis and interpretation of the data, give the reviews greater context and detail, track shifting opinions of the OT films through the post-release period and into 1997 and the modern era, and finally compare the prequels to the originals.
I am sure people will have something to say about any of this. Enjoy! (Sorry about all the words and stats!)
The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!
"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."
--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010