Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is likely to enjoy a warmer reception than it currently holds in the coming years, especially in comparison to the similar path traveled by the Star Wars prequels. The release of The Rise of Skywalker this past holiday season would result in an exceptionally polarized reception, one that would inversely mirror that of The Last Jedi two years earlier. Of course, the Disney-era is also hardly the first time the franchise has been less-than-universally beloved.
In fact, The Rise of Skywalker makes a significant comparison point with the Star Wars prequel trilogy of the late 1990s and early 2000s. That trilogy would go through its own bumpy road of being the butt of jokes about the depths to which Star Wars had seemingly fallen, even as all three consistently filled movie theaters without breaking a sweat, and with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith being comparatively well-liked next to Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
While there’s a lot to compare and contrast between the prequel trilogy and the Disney Star Wars films, it’s hard to deny that the reception of The Rise of Skywalker hasn’t exactly been commensurate with the expectations placed on the glorious conclusion to a nonology spanning back to the late 1970s. However, there’s a lot in the history of Star Wars as a franchise to suggest that the movie’s reputation is likely to improve over time. In fact, one need only look at the prequels themselves to see that very sequence of events has played out before for Stars Wars.
One noticeable phenomenon that Star Wars has seen is the reevaluation the prequel trilogy. It certainly isn’t the first time that movies that were once subject to a negative or polarized reception have seen their reputations improve years after the fact, with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and John Carpenter’s The Thing being notable examples. However, the built-in Star Wars fanbase and a few other factors make the renewed love for the prequels a somewhat different situation.
Many contemporary Star Wars fans were first introduced to the franchise as a whole through the prequels, and that early love would carrying over as that generation grew up while many of today’s younger Star Wars fans would get their first experience with the franchise through the Disney movies. The expansive nature of the Star Wars canon would also provide a basis for the prequels to be reevaluated due to the popularity of The Clone Wars, with its more direct tie to the prequels and the involvement of prequel characters like the young Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul.
However, the Star Wars ring theory also provides an explanation for the prequels’ reevaluation, with close examination showing themes and character points of the original trilogy found to echo within each parallel film in the prequel trilogy. These factors combined have surely contributed to the improved reputation of the prequels, but it also bears repeating how much of an uphill battle it has been for them to get to that point. And on top of it all, the fact that Star Wars fans have looked back on the prequels with knowledge of the recent trilogy’s events, some have found greater appreciation in the daring choices George Lucas made – though they may not agree with them all.
Anyone who has paid any attention to Star Wars since the dawn of the new millennium is well-aware of just how hated the Star Wars prequel trilogy was when it released. The documentary The People vs George Lucas even went as far as to devote a large section of its runtime to the prequel trilogy’s infamy. It should also go without saying that few, if any, characters in cinema history have been subject to a backlash on the level of Jar-Jar Binks’ rejection, which rose to such heights as to have a real-life impact on Jar-Jar actor Ahmed Best.
The Rise of Skywalker is in a different position than the prequels, in that the hate it has received is balanced out by an equally vocal number of defenders that the prequels did not see at first. While far from The Empire Strikes Back levels of acclaim (though that’s another example of a Star Wars movie growing more beloved over time), the comparison between the prequels and The Rise of Skywalker shows the former carried a far greater burden of disdain, and for a much longer span of time until being seen in a more positive light. Furthermore, that also highlights another key point about the reception of The Rise of Skywalker that the prequels did not have to contend with.
To understand the hate towards both the prequels and The Rise of Skywalker, it’s important to analyze what each represented to the Star Wars canon within their own time. When Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999, audiences had the opportunity to walk into their local cinemas to travel to a galaxy far, far away for the first time in 16 years. Interviews with moviegoers camping out in front of theaters days in advance of the film’s release only solidify just how massive the anticipation for the return of Star Wars (and for the beginning of the Star Wars prequels) really was, but it’s also a major contrast with The Rise of Skywalker.
Following the release of a new Star Wars movie every year since 2015 (along with the debut of The Mandalorian on Disney+ just weeks earlier), the anticipation for The Rise of Skywalker was based in it being the conclusion of the sequel trilogy, and with that came the expectations and fan theories typical of the closing chapter of a long-running big-screen saga. While the movie clearly went in a different direction for many, that anticipation also wasn’t based in a 16-year drought of big-screen Star Wars content. This leaves The Rise of Skywalker in a more advantageous position than the acquired taste of the prequels. With the sequel trilogy now complete, all three films can now be viewed in succession, with the full knowledge of where The Rise of Skywalker concludes the series and the scope of its relationship with its two predecessors able to come into full focus.
One other area where Star Wars has also benefited not shared by other franchises is in its relationship with its non-cinematic material. The effect that The Clone Wars would have on the reputation of the prequels demonstrates that Star Wars is as much a multi-media franchise as it is a film series. Indeed, that aspect of Star Wars is even more greatly illustrated in the material making up the Expanded Universe (or as it’s now known, Star Wars Legends.)
The Rise of Skywalker has recently received a renewed wave of criticism is in the novelization’s inclusion of elements such as explaining Palpatine being a clone and other aspects omitted from the film. However, these and other elements like Rey being Palpatine’s granddaughter are now already set up to be completely canonized within Star Wars, and if the franchise’s past is any indication, expounded upon in external material from the movie itself a la The Clone Wars. Whether that ends up being included in future movies, Disney+ shows, novels, or comics, Star Wars has never hesitated to run with already established story elements wherever they’ve been established, and that’s as likely to be as true for The Rise of Skywalker as it was for the prequels.
Obviously, the Star Wars prequels seeing an influx of retroactive appreciation wasn’t an overnight development, and there’s no reason to think that will be the case for The Rise of Skywalker either. However, the film nevertheless echoes the ebb and flow of how the prequels would come to be regarded, and the areas where the reception of the two diverge point to Star Wars fandom having a quicker turnaround on The Rise of Skywalker than was the case for the prequels.
NEXT: The Clone Wars Fixes Jar Jar Binks’ Star Wars Prequel Portrayal