Massive Star Wars spoilers ahead.
The Prequels (Episodes I, II and III) are allegedly some of the worst--if not the worst--things that ever happened in a galaxy far, far away. Vulgar cash-grabs disguised as lore-enriching fanfare, they're a blight on Star Wars' good name, according to those old enough to remember watching them in the theaters. Jar-Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace, the tedious romance between Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala in Attack of the Clones and the mediocre first half of Revenge of the Sith made fans feel personally betrayed by George Lucas. With The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson refused to make the same mistakes.
Two Episodes down, the current Star Wars trilogy hopes to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore fans, starry-eyed Padawans who've never held a lightsaber and jaded old Jedi. Can it be done? It's looking less and less likely. The Last Jedi has staunchly refused to cater to superfans' questions and demands. Who are Rey's parents? "Nobody special," says The Last Jedi. What's Snoke backstory? "Not telling. He's dead anyway, so whatever." If the Prequels had handled fans' questions that flippantly, there would have been riots. This article looks at the things the Prequels did better than the new movie.
15 ILLUSTRATES THE TEMPTATION OF THE DARK SIDE
Anakin's descent is gradual and the appeal of the Dark Side makes sense. Palpatine earns his trust, preys on his fears and promises him incredible power. When Anakin goes full-Sith lord and murders a bunch of kids, it's tragic to behold. Could the story have been told better? Absolutely, but what we got is probably better than you remember.
So how does Rian Johnson's movie handle the lure of Dark Side? First, Rey feels drawn into the island's underbelly where she ends up in a subterranean funhouse mirror of evil. There, as one does when being tempted by the Dark Side, she does little finger snaps and thinks she sees her parents in her cloudy reflection. Seriously, it's the Dark Side, not an accidental caving expedition to the mirror realm. Later, Kylo Ren has his shirt off on one of their psychic fireside chats. TEMPTATION! Sorry, Prequels win.
14 GODAWFUL AS THEY ARE, AT LEAST MIDI-CHLORIANS MAKE SENSE
The Phantom Menace took a (largely unwelcome) medical perspective of Force sensitivity. The more midi-chlorians in your blood, the stronger you are with the Force. So much for studying. Apparently, a simple blood test can tell you if you're Jedi material now! Although the M-word has yet to be spoken in the current trilogy, the Force is virtually unrecognizable in Johnson's movie.
For example, it can be used to link Force-sensitives telepathically against their will. Furthermore, Leia uses it to avoid freezing to death in the vacuum of space. (If that's a thing, is Sidious alive out there?) She then uses it to Star-Lord her way back to the ship. Yes, Leia is a boss, and it's thrilling to see her use her powers, but this scene just raises way too many uncomfortable questions for longtime fans. We take back everything we said. Midi-chlorians for everyone!
13 THE PREQUELS SHOW WHAT'S AT STAKE
In The Last Jedi, the Resistance abandons the old formalities--the Jedi Order, sentimentality about the Old Republic, the values of the New Republic. For that matter, the First Order--with its Supreme Leader concept--abandons the Sith's long-held Rule of Two. Diehard Star Wars fans can't make sense of it. The Prequels show what's at stake by showing the scale and unity of the New Republic. It upholds tradition and exalts democratic ideals.
We see the wealthy hanging out in the casino on Canto Bight, unbothered by the struggle between The First Order and the Resistance, until the Fathiers charge in. So what would be lost if Kylo Ren were to snuff out our heroes? Freaking ghost Yoda--the Jedi Master who, during life in the Prequels, instructed the younglings in the Jedi Academy back in the days of the Republic--destroyed sacred texts of the Jedi for giggles. Ghost Yoda, how could you?
12 CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS
Characters make it clear what's going on in their heads in the Prequels. Sure, the Palpatine-Sidious "reveal" shocked literally nobody, but at least character motivations make sense. In the end, scarred and fallen, Anakin owes his survival (if you can call it that) to Darth Sidious.
Let's look at The Last Jedi. Since when is Luke Skywalker the kind to even consider murdering a kid? Why does anybody think Poe is good leadership material? Why do Finn and Rose settle for DJ, when they were specifically told to find the Master Code Breaker? Couldn't they have gone back to the casino, perhaps via DJ's ship that just magically appeared at the last possible moment? Why did Hondo die? Couldn't she have set a course and then fled to safety with the rest of the Resistance?
11 JEDI APPRENTICESHIP IS ACTUALLY A THING IN THE PREQUELS
Midichlorian-counts and uptight affectations notwithstanding, the Jedi Council and Jedi Academies are fully realized in the Prequels. There's a bond between Jedi and Padawans, supported by philosophical lessons, friendly banter, formal hierarchy and rigorous study.
In The Last Jedi, Rey, an untrained spontaneous Jedi-anomaly, seeks out Luke Skywalker either to recruit him for the Resistance or to be his advanced Padawan. He refuses. Not that it matters. Now, without any formal training, you can use the Force to fly in outer space without a spacesuit, prevent yourself from freezing to death, wirelessly connect to any other Force-sensitive in your metaphysical network, freaking astral project a tangible version of yourself across the galaxy. Using the Force used to mean something, ya know? You had to study and train. Kids today have no appreciation anything anymore.
10 DARTH SIDIOUS > SNOKE
Despite George Lucas's stunted dialogue, Ian McDiarmid is quite good as the Machiavellian Senator Sheev Palpatine. Darth Sidious orchestrates his rise from Senator in the Republic to Emperor of the Imperial Forces. In contrast, Snoke plays nonconsensual telepathic matchmaker and then promptly dies because he's either too dim-witted or too arrogant to consider a lightsaber pointed directly at him a threat.
Supreme Leader Snoke is wasted in the new trilogy. In The Force Awakens, he appears as this Lincoln Memorial-sized hologram with scraggly teeth and a divot in his forehead. Now, in The Last Jedi, he is a nine-foot tall disappointment. He does a few Force pushes, threatens our heroes and then gets cut in half--just like Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. Snoke does nothing on-screen to justify his Supreme Leader title. Heck, at least Darth Maul kills Qui-Gon before he dies.
9 COUNT DOOKU > SNOKE
Andy Sirkis, who portrayed Smigel / Gollum in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, played Supreme Leader Snoke in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Come to think of it, Snoke's "Bring he-e-e-r to me-e-e-e" is pretty similar to Gollum's "Preciiioouus." Unlike the Tolkien character, however, Snoke is a one-note bore.
Legendary actor Christopher Lee (Saruman to Tolkien fans, Dracula and Lord Summerisle to classic movie buffs) played Count Dooku, the Sith lord in the galaxy. He leads the separatists against the Republic and the Jedi. Unfortunately, Dooku loses his head in Episode III, killed by Anakin at Darth Sidious's behest. (Gotta love that Rule of Two.) Long story short, Snoke makes us wish that Dooku were still around in the Star Wars universe and Lee in ours. He died in 2015.
8 FIGHT SCENES
According to George Lucas himself, Star Wars was always meant to be a sci-fi fantasy spectacle for kids, with thrilling, more-or-less family-friendly action sequences. Adults latched onto the space opera and mystical aspects, and a glorified toy commercial transformed into a cultural phenomenon--but that wasn't part of the plan.
When the Prequels came out with epic lightsaber battles, technical impressiveness notwithstanding, some of the older fans complained that the awesome acrobatics didn't belong in Star Wars. Obi Wan and Anakin flip like high-strung Power Rangers. The Last Jedi returns to the series' roots with corny, old-fashioned lightsaber duels, with minimal assistance from modern CGI. Nothing in The Last Jedi comes close to the lava-burnt finale of Revenge of the Sith.
7 PLOT POINTS MATCH THE TITLE
Shouldn't the title tell you something about the plot? Admittedly, the Prequels' titles have some issues. Who is "the Phantom Menace" in Episode I? Is it the Trade Federation, imperial fascism or corruption in podracing? We like to think it's midi-chlorians but in reality, it's probably Darth Sidious, the Sith lord masquerading as a Senator. Episode II's title seems to miss the mark at first, too. Obi Wan investigates a cloning operation but it could have been called Anakin and Padme Play House.
Eventually, though, the Clones Attack, as explained in the title, and the Clone War begins. In Revenge of the Sith, the Sith get their Revenge. See how this works? Now, who is the last Jedi? Is it Luke, Leia, Rey, that nameless kid at the end? If it's Luke, what is Rey, a mega-ultra Jedi? Clearly, Force-sensitives haven't died off, they've just quit studying or caring about tradition...
Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux is the Jar-Jar of evil galactic generals. His speech in The Force Awakens tells us everything we needed to know about his character. He's a petty, fear-driven caricature who spits when he shouts. Throughout that movie, it seemed a certainty that he'd be killed for his many embarrassing failures.
Hux's only survival skills are cowardice and spontaneous disloyalty. Yet, somehow he has survived for two Star Wars movies, an impossibility in the days of the Empire, when losers like him got Force-choked on the spot. Perhaps the rules are different for First Order generals than they are for Imperial ones. Not even close to the best, the insectoid Kaleesh cyborg General Grievous beats Hux, no contest. Grievous has a collection of lightsabers, trophies taken from Jedi he's killed. He also wields four at a time because, frankly, he's ridiculous.
5 POLITICAL TURMOIL AND INTRIGUE
In the Prequels, dishonesty and deception corrode the Republic from within. Sheev Palpatine AKA Darth Sidious, the secret Sith influence in the Senate, corrupts Anakin Skywalker. By enacting Order 66 (a heinous plan to kill all Jedi, including Padawans), Sidious proves his treachery knows no bounds. So why isn't this storyline more powerful? It's bogged down by the terribly written, atrociously acted and blandly directed Anakin-Padme love story.
Poe Dameron breaks rank, gets demoted and starts a mutiny, yet there's little intrigue in The Last Jedi. There's no question about how the mutiny will play out. Furthermore, what possesses General Leia Organa to adopt Poe Dameron as her unofficial second-in-command? What, just because his hotheadedness reminds her of Han? Can you imagine what would've happened to the Rebel Alliance if Han freaking Solo had been in charge? Impulsivity is not a good trait for a leader to have.
4 NOT ALL ALIENS MUST MAKE US FEEL SOMETHING
There's no denying the Prequels' new aliens are problematic. Strong evidence supports the argument that they're based, at least in part, on offensive racial stereotypes, such as Jar-Jar and the Gungans' thinly disguised minstrelsy and the way Watto seems like a miserly anti-Semitic stereotype. That said, at least they have identities beyond being cute.
The wide-eyed Porgs of Ahch-To, the Fathiers (those goat-like space racehorses on the casino planet Canto Bight), the fish-faced Caretakers of Ahch-To, those ice wolf critters (Vulptex) of Crait and even the lactating space manatee walrus with the udders and the green milk seem designed to distract us from the porous plot and mediocre dialogue. They're inoffensive props. Enough already with the silly adorable aliens, Episode VIII! This is supposed to be Star Wars, not Guardians of the Galaxy!
3 FEWER DEI EX MACHINA
The Last Jedi's plot relies on a series of increasingly ludicrous dei ex machina. Hard as it is to explain how Yoda and his battle-ready army find Anakin, Obi Wan and Padme in Attack of the Clones or how R2-D2 knows how to open doors in the Death Star, this is nonsense on another level. Take the saga of Finn, Rose and DJ the codebreaker. Not only is he waiting around for Finn and Rose in the prison cell, he's also able to swoop in with his spaceship to rescue them. How did he know where they were?
Later, betrayed by DJ and cornered by Phasma, Finn is once again at death's door, when--what do you know?--BB-8 hijacks a First Order AT-ST and prevents his and Rose's executions! Wait, what? How? BB-8 is an astromech droid. Isn't manning massive First Order guns beyond the scope of its programming?
2 TACTICS AND LOGISTICS
Planning is really important in galactic warfare. The Prequels deserve credit for trying to explain the logistics of maintaining massive standing armies and fleets of ships, even though the execution fell short. "Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away… The Trade Federation made getting supplies difficult and expensive!" Good try, Prequels.
The sequence on Canto Bight raises serious questions about the Resistance's methods of, well, resisting. "The gleeful alien gamblers… of the casino city aren’t in stormtrooper outfits pointing guns at people, but the system underwriting them is," wrote David Sims in The Atlantic, "and by the end of the film, Finn understands why it’s worth toppling." Well, those same gamblers are arms dealers, according to Rose, so why doesn't she tell DJ to swing the ship around and blast the casino to smithereens? Isn't "cut off the enemy's supply chain" Rule Numero Uno of tactical warfare?
1 TELEPATHY/LINKING ISN'T A THING
In the Prequels, there are limits to what a Jedi or a Sith lord can do with the Force. Telekinesis and the old "mind tricks" of meddling with others' perception are fair game. Telepathy, however, isn't. Then again, if Snoke's access to Kylo Ren's thoughts had been unobstructed, he would've seen the lightsaber trick coming.
How does Supreme Leader Snoke "link" Rey and Kylo Ren's mind without their knowing? Snoke talks about mind-reading but the Force is about feelings, not thoughts. It's more like empathy than telepathy. In other words, real Jedi don't hear disturbing thoughts. They feel disturbances in the Force. Real Jedi do mind tricks. They don't read minds. If Luke is the titular last Jedi, then whatever Rey is, she isn't a Jedi. And as far as some fans are concerned, Star Wars without Jedi is no Star Wars at all.