Coincidentally, this post was published on the birthday of the greatest father in the galaxy… Darth Vader!
Just kidding. It’s my Dad’s birthday. And he loves Star Wars, as I mentioned in Part 1 of my Star Wars story study. Happy birthday, Dad!
I don’t know what’s more controversial these days, the prequels or the sequels. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I actually enjoy the sequel films. They’re definitely different and don’t always feel like a Star Wars film, but I’m not sure if that’s just because they’re new, they’re not written and envisioned by George Lucas, or what. Still, I like them, and strangely, The Last Jedi might be my favorite Star Wars film.
I chose to break my analysis of the nine-film Skywalker Saga into these two specific parts because I think it illustrates something important about the story as a whole. The original trilogy and the prequels tell a complete, well-rounded story focused on Anakin. The originals didn’t need the prequels, but the prequels do need the originals. Furthermore, the prequels do answer questions about Anakin’s backstory that help us appreciate his redemption story more.
The sequels, on the other hand…don’t fit into the existing story, at least if you view it as Anakin’s story. The story of Episodes VII-IX didn’t need to happen. They don’t really affect my watching of the original trilogy either. While I like the sequel films, I must admit that they face an uphill battle when it comes to storytelling and fitting in with the rest of the series.
Sequel Trilogy (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, & The Rise of Skywalker)
As a whole, what stands out about the entire trilogy is the impressive cinematography, extremely epic and creative battles, and great character dynamics and dialogue, particularly in Episodes VIII and IX. I do think this trilogy raises the stakes and the terror-factor of the Dark Side, too, as the evil seems to get bigger, grander, and more frightening. (As a side note, I do think that Episode IX does a disservice to this fear-factor by reversing the consequences at various points, such as C3PO memory loss, Chewbacca’s fake death, etc.)
As I mentioned before, Episode VIII might be my favorite Star Wars film. This is weird to me, because there are actually quite a few aspects of The Last Jedi that I didn’t like. For example, I think exploring the theme of what makes a good leader by contrasting Poe against Admiral Holdo wasn’t great, as Holdo was also a terrible leader. Yet at the same time, I do appreciate the clear and pronounced character arcs for Poe, Finn, Rey, and Luke that work well and emphasize themes of courage, hope, leadership, pride, etc. I think Luke’s arc in his film is powerful and makes sense, given his story in the original trilogy. I personally loved that they didn’t leave Luke as he was at the end of Episode VI – it illustrates that we never truly stop growing as people and even heroes make mistakes. I also love how Episode VIII played off of expectations in ways that both honored the legacy of Star Wars and yet broke new ground.
I feel mixed about Episode IX because of how it builds off of what preceded it. It focuses more so on bringing elements of Episode VII full circle (and does so beautifully, I might add), but it cheapens or ignores aspects of Episode VIII that don’t fit in with the story it wanted to end on. However, its epic ending is satisfying for me, and I do think that the Emperor is the only logical final villain for the Skywalker Saga as a whole.
I’ve hinted at this already, but my biggest problem with this trilogy is its lack of coherency. Though technically it does set up things in Episodes VII and VIII that pay off in Episode IX, most of it doesn’t seem intentional. For example: Rey’s lineage. We’re not really given any strong indication that Rey could be Palpatine’s granddaughter, with the exception that, in Jedi training with Luke, she gravitates toward the Dark Side almost immediately (which Luke notes). Also, while I think the Emperor’s return at the end makes sense when looking at the saga as a whole, it really did need more set up within the individual sequel trilogy. I think this trilogy might have been the strongest Star Wars story if they’d just had a consistent plotline from the start.
This might be a nostalgia-induced observation, but I also think rounding out the prequel saga was a missed opportunity of the sequels. In the sequels, any nods to the prequels are subtle. While they were limited in how they could accomplish this since most of the prequel characters are long gone, involving Anakin more explicitly in the story would have been meaningful, I think. I think an effort to involve Anakin in Kylo’s life (something I know many wanted to see) would’ve put this trilogy over the edge and given the entire Skywalker Saga more of a cohesive feel.
What can writers learn from the sequel trilogy? My takeaway: it’s important to have a direction for your story before you start, especially if you’re writing a series. While it’s good to be open to change, not knowing your direction or end goal may lead to writing a dissatisfying or disjointed story.
What the Sequel Trilogy Adds
The original trilogy is the best and almost perfect in terms of storytelling. While I think the prequels had a strong concept (the fall of Anakin), they suffered from poor execution (pacing, writing, etc.). In contrast, I think that the sequels had a weak concept (didn’t know where they were going when they started), but strong execution (in terms of acting, dialogue, special effects, etc. – they’re quality films from a craftsmanship perspective).
Put together, I think the prequels and the original trilogy make Star Wars the complete story of Anakin, and it works in a satisfying way. The sequels, curiously, with the return of the Emperor and Rey being his granddaughter, make the entire Skywalker Saga more about Palpatine, the Emperor, always at work in the shadows, pursuing more and more power. The idea that the sequels subtly reshape the Skywalker Saga’s overarching story is fascinating to me.
I enjoyed rewatching the Star Wars films and certainly have a new appreciation for them and the story they tell. I hope to write a series with a similar structure—an “original” series, followed by a prequel of the previous generation, then a sequel series of the post-original generation—so I definitely appreciate the lessons and cautionary tales I took away from analyzing Star Wars as a story. Thanks for joining me on this adventure to a galaxy far, far away.