From WIRED :
“Nothing rankles some Star Wars fans more than mentioning The Prequels. Derided when George Lucas started releasing them in 1999, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith have been a sore spot from the beginning, a cartoonish blemish given to an otherwise perfect franchise. In the intervening years, critics have come around to realize they’re not that bad, yet the debate persists. But no matter how out-of-hand the whining, fretting, and kvetching gets in the nerd internet echo chamber, they’re not going to just fade away. And now, with the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, their lore is more relevant than ever.
This will likely surprise some fans. The assumption was that when Disney dropped $4 billion on Lucasfilm in 2012 it intended to clean up any part of the franchise deemed messy and undesirable. The Lucasfilm Story Group razed the franchise’s overgrown expanded universe and it seemed only logical that the prequels would be next, especially after Disney started announcing anthology films—Rogue One, Solo—that revisited the earlier periods of the Star Wars canon yet focused on stories and characters popularized by the original films.
The hype leading up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 did little to dissuade that notion. The rallying cry at the time was “practical effects,” a coded way of signaling a shift from from Lucas’ CGI-heavy episodes. And when the film hit theaters, the opening line—”This will begin to make things right”—seemed to reinforce that notion, and leave prequel fans feeling as though they’d found a severed eopie head in their beds. The shocking moment when the galactic capital is blown up by the bad guys also raised eyebrows. While it wasn’t the prequel capital of Coruscant, in the moment it certainly appeared that Disney was tearing the saga’s first ecumenopolis, along with prequel-style political squabbling, asunder.
The Return of the Sith
But something very, very different has come to pass since then. Instead of pointing a Starkiller Base-esque, canon-erasing superweapon at prequel-era stories and characters, the studio has instead fully embraced them. The Lucasfilm Story Group’s boffins are tying together the franchise’s two main trilogies, doubling down on what many thought to be beyond salvaging. The proof is not just in novels, animated shows, or comics, but up on the silver screen.
With the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Disney has added not one but two films to the canon that could be counted as part of the prequel era. With Rogue One, it weaved in animated character Saw Gerrera (played in live-action form by Forest Whitaker), who learned guerrilla warfare from Anakin Skywalker in The Clone Wars, and even gave fans a glimpse of, yes, Coruscant. And in Solo, writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan teased the prequels with glimpses of colo claw fish roe—the species Jar Jar Binks, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn narrowly escaped in the oceans of Naboo—and a mention of the bounty hunter Aurra Sing, who first appeared during Mos Espa’s famous Boonta Eve pod race.
But none of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references compares to the whopper prequel endorsement that comes at the end of the latest Star Wars Story when Darth Maul, the big baddie from The Phantom Menace, shows up. Cut in half by Obi-Wan in that film, he was revived (and given new legs) in The Clone Warsanimated series and eventually formed an alliance of gangsters and villains called the Shadow Collective. In Solo, though, Maul (played again by Ray Park) is the head of the Crimson Dawn gang who Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) calls after taking out Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). With no official Solo sequel in the works, it’s hard to tell if he’ll ever show up again, but the moment clearly sets up Maul as a central figure in the franchise—and validates the prequels’s relevance in the process.
The Prequels and the Future
Unless your last name is Kasdan it’s hard to know for sure, but it seems likely the allure of narratively revisiting the 18-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope has to do with the inherent richness of that span of time. Hot on the heels of the execution of Order 66, and the reformation of the Republic into the Empire, the so-called dark times Obi-Wan refers to still have nooks and crannies left unexplored.
Narrative reasons aside, it works in the prequels’s favor that in the two decades since The Phantom Menace they’ve had something of a critical reevaluation. From memes to documentaries to crazy-complex theories and praise from cultural critics, that trilogy feels nearly as embedded in pop culture as the holy, untouchable original one. Even director Rian Johnson has admitted to turning to those films for inspiration, mirroring a shot from Revenge of the Sith in The Last Jedi and making reference to the fall of the haughty Jedi and the rise of Darth Sidious.
It also helps that the kids who grew up on the prequels as “their” Star Wars movies are now old enough to participate in popular culture. Millennials who have only ever had a six-part saga have come of age, and are being counted alongside the vocal Gen Xers who grew up with half as many. Even just for business reasons, it’s a smart move to appeal to all generations of fans, while enticing new ones and fleshing out the increasingly complex lore.
Given the secrecy of Lucasfilm projects, it’s nearly impossible to know just how much that lore will factor into future Star Wars installments. But even if Johnson’s upcoming trilogy or the new animated series Star Wars: Resistance explores virgin territory, the next creators will be beholden to that galactic history. The prequels, like it or not, are now an important part of the franchise’s future.”