I became a fan of SW before the prequels, and while I enjoyed those films when they came out, over time I've come to prefer the pre-PT SW films and expanded fiction more. There's something to their sensibility that just feels right to me.
In the years since the PT films came out (not to mention the books and other fiction), I've seen them accused of bad scripting, confusing plotting, poor acting, overuse of unrealistically dynamic special effects, etc. Those things notwithstanding, I think there is a shift in tone. I always found it hard to define, but I happened to read Adam Roberts' review of The Hobbit today and I think it gets at the notion very well:
Punkadiddle said:My beef, if I may slip into a nonvegetarian idiom for a moment, is not with Tolkien's religious beliefs, which (although I do not share them) are clearly essential to the dynamic of his art. My beef is with the notion that all our bents and faculties have a purpose. In Tolkien's second version of The Hobbit, it is precisely the haphazardness, the intimations of glorious, human, comic incompetence, that must be sanded, smoothed and filed away. It is no longer enough for Gandalf to turn up on the doorstop of the world's least likely adventurer merely because that is the sort of thing batty old wizards do. Now he must do so because he has a larger plan. In the first version of the story it doesn't really matter why Gandalf chooses a hobbit, of all people; or more precisely, his whylessness of choice is actually the point of the story. ('I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging,' Gandalf says, with what sounds to me rather like desperation, 'and it's very difficult to find anyone.') This is because the novel is not about Gandalf's whys, it is about Bilbo's adventure: why he is chosen matters less than the way he acquits himself on his journey, and the extent to which he sheds his unheroism and becomes a better fellow. That's what matters because we are he. That's how the reading experience goes.
But in Tolkien's second version of the hobbit everything has to happen for a reason. Gandalf was not idly arranging an adventure; he was setting in motion one crucial play in a larger strategy of a grand war against Evil.
Obviously, there is some element of "crucial play[s] in a larger strategy" in the OT, specifically the two sequel films. However, the original film has a sense of adventure and "haphazardness," and I think that Empire and Jedi, while they pile on the additional story mythology and relationships, do not fully shift the feel.
In the OT, the Empire and the Emperor are politically powerful, but the universe itself doesn't have to care; it's a fight between political factions and ideologies. Vader is a man who made choices and happens to be in the right place at the right time to end the Emperor's rule. In the PT, a "larger plan" of the universe is added. The Force itself wobbles, out of balance, and Anakin springs forth from it (in this, I'm going by a reading of the films; I've not read Plagueis and anyway even if Anakin's creation is explained there, the notion of his being born by the will of the Force seems widespread regardless). This drastically expands the scope of the narrative in much the same way LotR and the revised Hobbit change the original Hobbit.
The comparison is inexact: The OT already had a strong freedom vs authoritarianism ("good" vs "evil") theme, true, and the PT was always going to focus on characters who also appeared in the OT, giving them (like Ben) more total screentime than the OT leads, perhaps making them feel more like the "main characters" of the films in general. That might account for part of the redefinition of the films into "Darth Vader's story." However, the shifting of the narrative focus to make it a truly cosmic-stakes battle, and to make Anakin (and by extension, Luke and Leia) unique characters in the universe, does change the whole feel. It's the retconning of the ring Bilbo wins from Gollum into The Ring of Power, forged in Mount Doom, the key to defeating Evil once and for all.
I think this shift has also been quite evident in the expanded material, by the way, with the focus - to near exclusion of all else - on the Jedi and Sith, the Force, and related concepts. I was looking at used books recently and found the old Brian Daley Han Solo novels, the ones that came out between SW and ESB. Their lack of Jedi and the Force is probably partially due to such things being reserved by Lucas, but I like to think it's also because the feel of the SW universe was such that Solo and Chewie were just as interesting and relevant to the galaxy as the stories of the old Jedi.
The Hobbit review goes on to say:
Punkadiddle said:The story of The Lord of the Rings is that even 'the little people' (that's us, of course) have their part to play in the great historical and martial dramas of the age -- and it is a potent and truthful story, well told. But The Hobbit is that story only in its second iteration. In its first, the one we are chiefly considering here, The Hobbit is not about the great dramas of the age; it is about us-sized dramas of people being taken out of their comfort zone -- whisked away by Story.
I'm happy that there are two versions of The Hobbit, and feel no desire to try and force them into some notional procrustean 'coherence'. Only narrative fundamentalists, the textual Taliban, believe that all stories must be brought into that sort of rigid alignment. But of the two stories, really I prefer the one (homely, funny, a little bit slapstick and a little bit wondrous) over the other (grand-verging-on-grandiose, theological, epic and strenuously, to coin a phrase, eutragic).
I think this might be how I feel about Star Wars.
"Star Wars films are basically silent movies. And they're designed as silent movies, therefore the music carries a -- has a very large role in carrying the story, more than it would in a normal movie." -GL
"NOO! NOOOOOO!!" - Darth Vader