Today I am going to spend some time discussing everyone’s favorite movie trilogy the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Now obviously that is a bit of a joke because the Star Wars prequel trilogy is far from perfect. Unless the film in question is The Godfather or Citizen Kane, any film is going to be flawed and imperfect. That is not the point that I will be discussing today. What I wish to comment on is that the court of popular opinion influences the reputation of the Star Wars prequels almost entirely. This phenomenon is something that I like to call Godfather III syndrome. Godfather III syndrome is when a film much like The Godfather Part III, has a popular opinion not based on its own merits but rather held up to its predecessors.
Why did I decide to name this phenomenon after The Godfather Part III? If you look at lists compiled of the greatest American films of all time on that list, you will see both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (many times both get listed near the top). Long story short, the first two parts are undisputed in the fact that they two of the greatest films of all time. The Godfather Part III is a film that at this point is just assumed to be awful. The Godfather Part III on its own merits is a fine film; it is not entirely awful. When looked at comparatively with Parts I and II it does not hold up as one of the greatest films of all time. Therefore, Part III is widely considered to be a lesser film altogether, which is not true.
How does this apply to the Star Wars prequels? Simple on their own the three films that comprise the prequel trilogy are not categorically terrible movies. However, when held up to the impossibly high bar set by the original Star Wars trilogy they seem to look like they that terrible. What happens is that the popular opinion becomes based around that the prequels do not meet the bar set by the original trilogy. If you look each of the films in the prequel trilogy on Rotten Tomatoes, a website where they collect reviews and create a score for a given film based on how many of these reviews meet the criteria for a “fresh” review. Each of the films scores increases. The score for Revenge of the Sith is the third highest for all six of the Star Wars films at 80%. The scores for the other two films are 57% and 67% for The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones respectively. Those scores are not that bad, yet, popular opinion of the prequels remains rather poor.
The prequels, like The Godfather Part III, the popular opinion tends to suffer because comparatively speaking they do not hold up to the impossibly high standard that has been set by the predecessors, and held by the fans of the series. That bar that was set by the original trilogy is a bar that was impossible for anything to match going forward. When looking at the prequels people look at them through the lens of comparing them to the original trilogy. In the minds of these people if the films do not meet the level of expectations that they already have in their minds then the films are already seen as a lesser film. Going in with this mindset is what generates this popular opinion. If these films are viewed (much like The Godfather Part III) without the impossibly high level of expectation placed on them, and then they are fine films on their own.
When a film is part of a series and a new installment comes out after more than a decade, it is usually judged not on its own merits but by comparing to its predecessors. Trusting in popular opinion is the wrong way to go because it means that there are people out there who will not even give these films a chance because of the popular opinion. I either personally know or have met people who have never seen either the Star Wars prequels or The Godfather Part III because according to these people those movies are awful. It was not I heard these movies are terrible, or those movies are supposed to be bad; the actual phrasing they used was that they were not even interested in these films because they are awful. They have not even seen the films and they just use the popular opinion of the films as a defense for not seeing them. The easiest way to explain how this Godfather III syndrome applies to the Star Wars prequels is that popular opinion has an effect on these films, and these films are frankly rather unjustly panned. For the purposes of full disclosure, the Star Wars prequels are far from perfect, but that does not mean they are bad movies. Really, the only one that is even really close to actually being a bad movie is Attack of the Clones and really only half of that movie is on that level the other half really is not the bad.
Here is a little bonus thought. The Star Wars prequels have suffered so greatly in the court of the popular opinion the bar of popular expectations that was ridiculously high for The Phantom Menace is now significantly lowered for The Force Awakens. This means that The Force Awakens is guaranteed to be more successful in the court of popular opinion than the prequels. I am willing to put money on that.