The Big Idea Issue: Star Wars & The Prequels

This article appears in our “The Big Idea Issue,” which is on stands now.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away there lived a man who had the creativity, the talent, and the balls to create a legacy that would span decades. He built a cinematic empire straight out of his imagination that has bridged the gap between pop culture, counter culture, and even mainstream culture. But it’s not over yet—in December, George Lucas will pass the torch to Disney for the latest installment of the Star Wars saga, Episode 7: The Force Awakens. To celebrate, we’re sharing our favorite big ideas from this remarkable series.

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The first 3 Star Wars movies released—Star Wars (eventually re-titled A New Hope), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are cultural touchstones that connected with a generation of filmgoers like nothing ever had prior. The prequels to those 3 movies have a much more complicated standing with fans.

When Return of the Jedi was released in 1983 many wondered if the series would continue. Lucas promised more space adventures but it took almost 20 years before he released Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. The prequel trilogy also included Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. The films served as a backstory to the beloved original trilogy. As we all know many hardcore Wars fanatics weren’t thrilled with the quality of the prequels. The reasons for fan’s tepid responses have been debated numerous times and the quality of any artistic endeavor is subjective. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the prequels—they did help to usher in a widely utilized filmmaking device.

Believe it or not actors are human. They get older and often evolve in terms of the types of projects they want to be involved with. Sean Connery brought the character of James Bond to life for the screen in the 1960s. After 6 appearances he grew tired of the role and wanted to move on. The Bond franchise was so successful that filmmakers never considered retiring the character for film with Connery’s departure. Many actors followed in Connery’s footsteps and have portrayed Bond in the series. The films never gave any explanation as to why James Bond suddenly looked different and sounded different—the filmmakers just hoped audiences would accept the latest actor in the part.

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Just replacing an actor with another in a film franchise isn’t necessarily the most creative approach. The prequels showed Hollywood there was another way to keep its franchises alive when it loses its stars. You could go backwards in a timeline and focus on a younger version of a character—like how Episode 1 concentrated on an adolescent Darth Vader. Many studios now utilize the prequel approach with a “reboot.” The reboot strategy has been used with James Bond when Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale. The reboot allows a studio to start at the very beginning of a story and it makes it easier to replace an actor or cast.

The Star Wars prequels may not have connected with hardcore supporters the way the originals did, but like the originals, they did have an impact on Hollywood. The prequels showed studios a financially viable way to keep their properties alive and relevant.

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