From Screen Rant:
“How has opinion on the Star Wars prequels changed over time? We’ve looked back through the history of Rotten Tomatoes to view how their critic and audience scores have gone down (and up), representing how we all view Star Wars Episodes I-III. […]
To collect this data, we used the Wayback Machine to view the Rotten Tomatoes pages for Star Wars Episodes I-III from 2005 (the earliest records with usable site structure) to the present. The critic “Tomatometer” and audience score have been charted over the past 14 years, creating an image of how this period of backlash was measured by one of the most popular movie aggregators on the internet.
The Phantom Menace started 2005 on 62%, and stayed in the 61-64% range for the better part of a decade. Episode I only became Rotten in 2012, with the film’s ill-advised 3D rerelease. Intended as the first of a complete saga reissue using the new technology, George Lucas’ decision to start with his divisive first entry hurt its reputation badly; reviews skewed negative on the film and the effect, sending its score steadily downwards; it went straight to 57% before slowly decreasing to the 54% it’s on today. As the only film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy to get a rerelease, this means The Phantom Menace is at a real disadvantage: whether this was a case of the new reviews setting the score straight or the mounting distaste skewing it, this glut of new reviews marked a point of no return.
The film officially going Rotten had an impact on the audience reviews too. It reached a high of 73% approval around the time of Revenge of the Sith‘s release before leveling out around 67%. It was only in early 2007 when its score dropped down to 60%, possibly spurred on by the 30th Anniversary celebrations causing a full-series reevaluation, but that recovered. It wasn’t until 2014, though, that the film became Rotten for audiences, the result of a gradual degrading ever since the 3D rerelease: it had been on 65% before 3D, but quickly fell. […]
Again, Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones‘ data begins in 2005, meaning its initial 2002 release isn’t counted. But as a more recent film, its change in opinion can still clearly be seen, as can its similarities and contrasts to The Phantom Menace.
From a critical perspective, Attack of the Clones‘ story is very boring. It was on 64% at the start of 2005 and is on 65% at the start of 2019, with it only ever going as high as 67%. This is what happens without a major chance for new reviews to present discussion. That said, the impact of certain events can be seen: the film dropped from 67% (which it had held pretty much interrupted since 2008) to 65% in late 2015, reflecting some degree of reevaluation to coincide with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
But whereas there’s no metric of professional reviews, fans have clearly turned on Episode II. It was around the 70% point mark when Revenge of the Sith hit, but then shot down to 66% at the start of 2007 (at a similar rate and time to The Phantom Menace). It gradually recovered to a fairly impressive 69%, but soon found itself depreciating. First, it dropped to 66% in 2012, then to 60% in 2013. This collective impact seems to be a response to two key factors: first, the Disney purchase; second, the film’s title was changed to include 3D, expecting a follow-up release to The Phantom Menace, something fans understandably didn’t react well to. Once it slipped Rotten in 2015, there was no coming back. […]
Revenge of the Sith is the only Star Wars prequel we have a full set of data on. But if you think that means we can draw better conclusions about the film’s appreciation over time, you’d be wrong. Instead, it’s a muddle that highlights just how inaccurate Rotten Tomatoes measurements can be. First, a clarification: from December 2012 to February 2013, the film was marked as “Upcoming” due to the proposed 3D rerelease and so its audience score became “Wants to see“. This saw it plummet to 33%, but as it uses entirely different input data can’t really be contrasted to what else there is (why this didn’t occur for Attack of the Clones is unknown).
Critic-wise, Revenge of the Sith‘s score is even more boring that Attack of the Clones. After initially getting 83% upon release, it steadied out to 80%, only dropping one point to 79% with Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ reappraisals. As Episode III is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars prequels and is most certainly the subject of the least backlash, a more static score would only be expected.
The audience score, on the other hand, is all over the place. It started off on 96% for the week of release, slowly leveling out around the 85% point for the rest of the decade. Then, in Fall 2010, 32 million new votes caused it to plummet to 64%. Two years later, in October 2012, a further 1.5 million had seen it settle on 65%, the score it holds to this day. The extremity of this cannot be understated. Revenge of the Sith currently has 33.6 million votes on Rotten Tomatoes, 32 million of them cast in the same month in 2010 causing a 20 point drop. In comparison, since its release in December 2015, The Force Awakens has 229,322 audience votes and Star Wars: The Last Jedi only 204,091. Box Office Mojo estimate Episode III sold 59,324,600 tickets domestically.
It’s totally unclear what happened to Revenge of the Sith‘s score, although the obvious suggestion is that the score was hijacked, with an influx of fake scores aiming to take the movie down; at the time, the 64% score made it the lowest scored of the trilogy, perhaps indicating the goal was to get the movie viewed in a less positive light in comparison to its predecessors. This was around the like of both the Mr. Plinkett prequel reviews and The People vs. George Lucas (with the drop happening in the release month of the latter), which plays into the general mood. Rotten Tomatoes hit back at the suggestion that The Last Jedi‘s low audience score was hacked, but it seems very difficult to suggest otherwise here. […]
What’s more interesting, though, is what the Star Wars prequels tell us about Rotten Tomatoes. Plainly, it’s a rather ineffective tool for gauging the opinion of non-recent movies. They can be influenced by poorly handled rereleases or remain static without, which shape opinions as much as they present them. And that’s nothing on the audience side, which is so open to abuse they have to be discounted from the discussion in some cases. If there’s one key takeaway from all this, it’s that this really is as ineffective a tool as so many cautions. […]”