Since ROTS the prequels have slowly mutated from just movies, into ideas of movies, to ideas of memes. Now the internet has absorbed the whole thing and slowly spews out Palpatine image macros that have no relevance to the actual reality of movies that are below average at best. Meanwhile George’s position as “genius creator” remains unchallenged in a way that many will believe his now Disney branded version of events. Interesting? Maybe. But not surprising. People are weird and fickle.
Having gone from a child to an adult during this time period, I’m trying to go back and figure out what exactly changed between then and now. I kinda want to try and lay out a timeline of sorts.
So between 1999 and 2005, we had the releases of the prequels. The films didn’t do well critically, and while some fans liked them, a lot of fans who grew up with the OT didn’t. While I remember a lot of grade school kids my age liked the films for what they were, the kids who didn’t have an interest in Star Wars just didn’t say anything about them. I do remember though a lot of stuff from the early 00s days of the internet that did make fun of the prequels, like flash animations of Jar Jar, the “George Lucas raped my childhood” song, etc.
My memory isn’t the best during this time, so maybe someone who was already an adult in the 2000s could get a sense of the atmosphere better than I can. But it does seem like during the time, the kids still enjoyed the prequels, but the OG fans and critics alike were generally disappointed in them, while the movies came and went for general audiences (they still made $$$). I would definitely say during this time it was popular to hate the prequels. I also think the quality of the films probably encouraged disappointment toward George regarding the Special Editions as well as his refusal the release the unaltered OT.
This drastic change of attitude, though, I think can be seen just in the past 10 years.
In 2009 and 2010, RedLetterMedia released the Star Wars Plinkett reviews that went viral on the internet. Also, you had other media like the movie Fanboys (2009), about Star Wars fans wanting to break into Lucasfilm and watch The Phantom Menace so their terminally ill friend can watch it before he dies (the film ends with them in the theater on opening day with one of them asking, “What if it sucks?”), and you also had the documentary The People vs George Lucas (2010). A lot of this content at the turn of the decade, combined with the rise of social media, reignited the criticism toward the prequels. It also is during a time where the was little Star Wars content beyond The Clone Wars which were in their weaker, earlier seasons at the time.
But interestingly, I think the dialogue started to change again just within 5 or so years. Just a few years later, we found out Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, and they were making Episodes 7, 8 and 9. I remember people being a little skeptical about Star Wars becoming “Disney-fied”, I remember a lot of jokes about Jedi Mickey Mouse, but I generally seem to remember people being happy about it.
During that time gap, a few things had been beginning to happen. One, The Clone Wars had began to come into its own as a show, and were bringing back a lot of adult fans, and I also believe it began to recontextualize the prequels for many people. And second, a lot of the kids who grew up with the prequels were becoming adults, like myself. So during the build-up and anticipation for the new films, there began to be a lot of videos that were going back and looking at the prequels from a different perspective. You had videos like this, “Are the Star Wars Prequels Secretly Brilliant?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2BNdF_NCVQ&t=406s
Suddenly some people were starting to spread the idea that the prequels weren’t so bad. After TFA came out, it seemed most critics, a lot of fans, and general audiences really enjoyed it ($$$$$$), but there were some fans who were quick to call it a New Hope rehash, probably its biggest criticism. People started comparing it to George’s “world building” in the Prequels and Clone Wars, and this only increased with how divisive The Last Jedi ended up being. You have people who really hate the new movies use George’s lack of involvement as a way to discredit the new films, or they will continuously praise George and his brilliance. the r/prequelmemes subreddit was also created in 2016, so after the TFA release.
But, I really think fans just use George as a weapon for their arguments and their opinions. I vividly remember people talking about how George betrayed his own vision with the Prequels and the Special Editions. The idea that the fans understood Star Wars better than its creator, that he had lost his touch, was a very common opinion. But now, people are saying that because the new movies lack George’s creative touch, that they are no better than “fan fiction”. You see what I mean?
And this leads us to now. I have no idea what this will mean for IX. I’m genuinely curious if JJ can do something that can please both the people who like the new movies and who don’t. If JJ and Chris have figured something out to do that, I will honestly think they’ve done the impossible. I think the safe bet though is that if you don’t like TFA and TLJ, you won’t like Episode IX. BUT, I would still encourage those people to give it a chance because I could be totally wrong (and I hope I am).
But I will be curious to see how people look back on this trilogy in 10-15 years. Honestly, with how fast social media moves now, I wouldn’t be surprised if people look back it in a better light even within 5 years. But I think with several years worth of extra content, and being able to watch the films back-to-back without years of anticipation and speculation, people will look back at them differently (especially with the voices of an adult Gen Z included). Also, if other media turns out to be popular with both sides of the fence, really like The Mandalorian and the new trilogies, people might start giving Disney-Lucasfilm Star Wars a fairer shake. It might be an optimistic view, but maybe a lot of the hate will stop when we leave the OT behind.