The Skywalker Saga: The Successes and Failures of Each Trilogy
Issue 12, Volume 111
“Star Wars” is arguably the best-known film franchise of all time. The series has had a massive impact on pop culture, and its popularity has given it a much-deserved seat at the forefront of the sci-fi genre. Its recent rebirth in the House of Mouse has only increased its popularity and given the franchise a more interconnected universe, making room for even further expansion.
Fans of “Star Wars” have existed for decades; it is one of the first major film series to have a significant cult following, and aficionado numbers have only grown over generations. However, the “Star Wars” fanbase is notoriously divided against itself on every detail of the franchise. Though differing opinions and criticisms are normal for most fanbases, “Star Wars” fans seem to have a special aptitude for attacking both the franchise and each other with a Sith-like passion. Specifically contentious are the films in the Skywalker Saga, centering around Anakin (Hayden Christensen), Luke (Mark Hamill), and Rey Skywalker (Daisy Ridley). While many tend to attack the prequel and sequel trilogies and glorify the originals, each trilogy has its strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to remain unique and entertaining in their own ways.
The prequels were hated for years after they first came out, and the toxic reactions from fans were actually detrimental to the acting career of Hayden Christensen. However, it is Christensen’s performance that really sells the prequel series. His portrayal of Anakin—the Jedi knight and general who fell to the Dark Side to protect the love of his life and became the most hated man in the galaxy—is heartfelt and complex and demonstrates a deep understanding of Anakin’s character. He brings Anakin to life, displaying perfectly just why Vader became the man we see in the original trilogy.
However, the prequels aren’t without their shortcomings. Much of the first two films, “The Phantom Menace” (1999) and “Attack of the Clones” (2002), are insanely dull and hard to follow. They take place on the floor of the galactic senate just as much as they do on the battlefield. While this does deliver a complex narrative of how fascism can rise through the ranks of democracy if given the chance, it is massively unentertaining and could have been handled in a much better way. Furthermore, almost all the antagonists are poorly introduced and severely underdeveloped despite their potential. Dooku, Grievous, and Maul are all incredibly complex, intriguing characters, but they lack the development and relevance needed to really matter to either the audience or the plot. The final installment, “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) does end up carrying the trilogy, as the prophecy of Anakin Skywalker’s tragic fall comes to fruition. It delivers a heartbreaking conclusion that helps tie up loose ends, and the duel on Mustafar is one of the most emotionally charged sequences in the “Star Wars” universe.
The prequel series owe much of their current popularity to the animated “Clone Wars” series, airing from 2008-2020. Taking place between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith,” it helps bring a better understanding of the prequel characters and the complex universe they inhabit, neither of which were properly explored in the movies.
The most universally enjoyed trilogy is, of course, the originals. It is the standard to which every other piece of “Star Wars” media is held and with good reason. It is an amazing example of a series that is able to balance action with character growth and development. Every character has a distinct personality and energy that is largely unmatched in comparable franchises. The antagonists, Vader and Palpatine, are mysterious, chilling, and complex. Luke is a lovable protagonist with one of the best examples of the Hero’s Journey in modern media. Not to mention, he has one of the best wardrobes out of everyone in the franchise, taking down the Empire in Chanel boots.
The trilogy also has one of the best overarching plots, even if it is relatively simple. Its big reveals make sense because they don’t rely on shock value, which is something the later movies fail to recognize. “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) is still considered one of the best sequels of all time because it successfully incorporates suspense, action, character growth, and worldbuilding. The ending is absolutely perfect, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats anticipating the next installment. The only major critique of the series is that most of the action is extremely underwhelming. Though space action capabilities of the time were limited, it still could have been better considering George Lucas’s other works at the time, such as “Indiana Jones” (1981).
Last and least comes the sequel trilogy. The center of most current fan hate, the latest installments in the series have made many fans hail the prequels, once some of the most reviled media in all of sci-fi, as cinematic masterpieces. The sequels are indeed massively flawed, but they aren’t necessarily bad movies. They have the best action sequences of the films, with fast-paced, gripping combat. The lightsaber action in the sequels is hands down the best in the “Star Wars” franchise, and their beautiful choreography makes the sequels’ fight scenes some of the best in contemporary media.
It's impossible, however, to find a character immune to the trilogy’s bad writing, with nearly every character having their potential in the story squandered. The only character fans can agree is written well is Ben Solo (Adam Driver), or as he is known in the First Order, Kylo Ren. His redemption is developed over all three movies, coming to a beautiful conclusion and his ultimate return to the light. However, the only other character that seems to have truly spoken to fans was resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs). He had an amazing arc until “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019), where he was unfortunately shoved into a Han Solo archetype that largely played into racist stereotypes, undermining the arc that was being built over the previous two installments.
Furthermore, the plots of the individual movies, while interesting in their own ways, fail to form a coherent unified narrative. “The Force Awakens” (2015) offers a strong start to the trilogy, introducing new characters with depth and intrigue, while still having old characters appear in a way that felt natural and exciting. Gears shifted in “The Last Jedi” (2017), seemingly restarting Finn’s (John Boyega) character arc from how he was already developed in the previous film, and introducing Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) as the main character. While it did a spectacular job in establishing the relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey, it also killed off Snoke (Andy Serkis), the mysterious and extremely underdeveloped master of Kylo Ren. This left a hole in the place of the antagonist, seemingly filled by the conflicted Ren in the movie's climax, but ultimately given to an undead Palpatine clone in the final film. The reveal at the beginning of “The Rise of Skywalker” felt forced and out of place, and was a damning feature of the final installment. Ultimately, the sequels had the potential to be fantastic, but beyond the flashing lights and big fight scenes, they failed to do much with the momentum they created.
Each “Star Wars” trilogy is a unique experience that ties into one another in one cohesive story. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Some succeed more than others, while some fail much, much worse. But, objectively speaking, there are no bad “Star Wars” movies. Are they bad within the context of the series? Yes. But each film has its redeeming qualities which make for a great viewing experience regardless. It is impossible to ignore the massive impact that these films have and will continue to have well into the future, and how they come together to tell a collective, compelling story.