Since The Rise of Skywalker recently brought the 9-episode Star Wars: Skywalker Saga to an end, I decided to rewatch all of the main films as a study in story during my break from school in May. Though I am extremely familiar with Star Wars, as my dad is a huge fan, I hadn’t seen some of the films for eight years. Since then, I’ve had a lot of education on storytelling and writing, so I was curious to see how well the Star Wars saga did at telling its story. The results? I ended up being pleasantly surprised.
This present post, “Part 1,” covers the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. “Part 2,” coming next month, will cover what I think the sequel trilogy adds to the Skywalker Saga. For each trilogy, I cover what I appreciated, what didn’t quite work, and a lesson or two about writing I took away from the films. Before I dive in, though, I wanted to briefly mention my childhood experiences with this film saga.
My Childhood Experience
Star Wars was probably the first epic story I was ever introduced to, although, unlike The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter, I don’t remember my first experience watching the original films. I just always knew the story in my memory. Which means it is possible my journey as a fantasy writer began not with Narnia or Harry Potter, but all the way back to Star Wars!
There is a lot of nostalgic history tied to the prequel trilogy, which I consider the Star Wars of my childhood. After all, I was roughly the same age when the prequels were released as my dad was when the original trilogy came out. Episode III was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw, and in theaters, no less. The Clone Wars was the setting of games of pretend with my brother and our friends, especially when the animated show came out. Also, my brother and I often turned to the Lego: Star Wars video game for our afternoon entertainment. (Sorry for making you play the Cloud City level so much, bro…)
Despite my investment in Star Wars as a kid, I never considered myself a huge Star Wars fan until recently. Rewatching the films through the lens of a writer and a storyteller gave me a deeper appreciation for them—and that’s not the nostalgia blindness talking! Strong themes, classic adventure stories, and memorable character dynamics all top the list of storytelling aspects done right in the first two Star Wars trilogies.
The Prequel Trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, & Revenge of the Sith)
There are some genuinely good moments in the three prequel stories. They definitely have some glaring flaws—perhaps the most noticeable of the entire saga—but I don’t think they deserve all of the hate they tend to get. Weakest films as a whole? For sure, but they have their redeemable qualities too.
First of all, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the best, and I personally found his relationship with Anakin to be the most compelling relationship of the prequel films. On a craftsmanship level, Ewan McGregor, too, carries the acting load in the prequels against his co-stars—second only to Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine, who is truly terrifying in Episode III. Way to go, creepy villain.
I also think that Anakin’s character arc is fairly well done (for the most part—I’ll get to that). My favorite part of Episode I is seeing young Anakin and subtly foreshadowing who he ultimately will become. I also think Episode II sets up why he eventually goes to the Dark Side in Episode III: the death of his mom motivating him to protect those he loves and save them from dying. His descent from light to dark feels believable in Episode III based off of what precedes it, and I think that believability and buy in to Anakin’s fall marks a strong character arc.
Speaking of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, the theme of Episode III surprised me. The movie accurately reflects the dangers of sin, demonstrating how easy it is to let deception lead us into further temptation and, ultimately, to our own destruction. It is, perhaps in a strange way, refreshing to find a story that so blatantly cries out that we must be on guard against evil and sin in a world that all too often ignores the presence of real depravity and Fallness. It tells one part of the Gospel narrative, which goes on to be completed through Vader’s redemption arc in the original trilogy. The clear theme of Revenge of the Sith makes Episode III by far the best film of its trilogy and makes the not-so-great elements of the prequels worth it.
Now, as for what hindered the prequels – let’s start at the beginning. And by beginning I mean Episode I, which does not work well as the start of this epic saga. I enjoyed pieces of it, but it is a weird movie compared to the other films. It includes lots of gags put in there to entertain kids, yet the main plot revolves around something that not even most adults enjoy watching: politics. While it does introduce important plot points for the whole trilogy—such as meeting Anakin and Palpatine’s rise to Chancellor—the rest of the plot chugs around those elements and doesn’t serve a long-term purpose. In my opinion, a stronger opening to the prequel about Darth Vader’s backstory should have focused more on Anakin and the Jedi. Episode I as it currently stands feels like a rusty, shoddily-crafted link in the grand chain of the Star Wars story.
The second and last thing I’ll mention about the prequels is the romance of Anakin and Padme. This is the aspect of Anakin’s arc that didn’t work. While I like that his motivation in Episode III is to save Padme, it’s almost like they forced their relationship in Episode II solely for that Episode III plot point. As a result, it didn’t flow naturally. It was poorly written, way too rushed, and came across as creepy and off rather than charming. Ultimately, their romance fell flat for me and served as a rather poor set-up for the thrust of Episode III.
This leads into my takeaway as a writer for the prequels: it doesn’t matter how great your plot point ideas are—if you can’t realistically build up to it and pace your set-ups well, the story will flop and dissatisfy. Don’t force your cool ideas. The coolness won’t translate unless the story leads naturally up to that point.
Additionally, another piece of writing advice gleaned from this: only make prequels as long as necessary if you’re going to do one. Did Episode I need to exist? Maybe the prequels would’ve been stronger with just two films. Or even just one! I ended up narrowing down a prequel from three novels to a single book because I realized stretching out the story across three books only weakened the story I wanted to tell.
Original Trilogy (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, & Return of the Jedi)
I forgot how good the original Star Wars trilogy is, and honestly, maybe I just appreciate it more now that I’m older and more familiar with writing/storytelling. The story naturally progresses without ever being boring, containing superfluous scenes, or feeling forced. There are even plants in Episode IV for things that happen in Episode VI, which I hadn’t realized until rewatching the trilogy. The trilogy works as a coherent arc, yet each film stands as its own installment. It follows the path of the classic hero’s journey with a good character arc all the way through: Luke’s progression from craving adventure for himself to becoming a compassionate hero. On top of all of that, these movies are incredibly well-written with snappy dialogue. Everyone’s Star Wars journey needs to start here.
Also! Redemption arc for Anakin! Personally, I think the original trilogy makes the prequels more meaningful in the Star Wars story. There are even certain lines of dialogue that make more sense with the context of the prequels in mind. Most importantly, the prequels add depth to Anakin’s character arc and make his ultimate redemption feel more complete. From the prequels, we know that Anakin’s motivation for turning to the Dark Side was, at first, love, until he was consumed by the Dark Side. Similarly, what ends up saving him is love too—love for his son and the love of his son. Like I mentioned before, this is the Gospel story completed: the Love of God, in Christ, redeemed us from our own Darkness, which we fell into because of our pursuit of lesser loves. Granted, Star Wars isn’t a perfect metaphor, but I do love seeing the echoes of the Gospel through Anakin’s arc.
In terms of critiques, I don’t have many big ones. The original Star Wars trilogy is truly well deserving of its title as a piece of classic cinema. If anything, my biggest complaint is Luke’s mentors and Jedi training. Though a common fantasy trope, Luke progresses way too fast in way too short a time in his Jedi training. Obi-Wan’s death also did not make much sense to me—I think that could’ve been a more sacrificial moment, perhaps? I also wonder if I would have full understanding or appreciation of the Jedi from the original trilogy alone, as I feel like my understanding of the Jedi comes more from the prequels than from Luke’s journey.
In terms of writing, I do think that the original trilogy is worthy of study for anyone who wants to write fantasy, sci-fi, or even just adventures. The classics are classics for a reason, and thus can teach us a lot about writing and shaping the hero’s adventurous journey. In particular, I think the original Star Wars trilogy demonstrates how to write fast-paced stories with a few side quests that feel natural and make sense within the scope of the larger plot. Everything flows so naturally and every action leads to unexpected consequences or problems. Nothing quite goes right—until the very end. In short, they’re incredible stories worthy of emulation.
Together, the prequel and original trilogies tell the full story of Anakin Skywalker. It feels finished. Completed. No other stories needed.
Which is why the sequel trilogy faces an uphill battle, I think, and why I have isolated that trilogy to its own story study post. In other words, this conversation of the Skywalker Saga is to be continued.
Until then, may the force be with you.
One thought on “Story Study: Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – Part 1”
Dad will be thrilled to know that Star Wars has given you such an education. The Force is strong in you, Padawan.
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