Hello there and welcome to Clash at the Stash, a staff collaboration series from those of us here at The Nerd Stash. This series pits two of our writers against each other over hotly contested nerd culture topics that have been going on for days to decades. Here, you will see things like the Mario Franchise vs. the Zelda Franchise, PlayStation Exclusives vs. Xbox Exclusives, Silent Hill vs. Resident Evil, and Old School Assassin’s Creed Games vs. New School Assassin’s Creed Games.
With our most recent Clash, Uncharted vs. Tomb Raider, we crowned the first-ever Clash at the Stash (C.A.T.S) champion — a remarkable achievement nobody could ever truly dream of.
I’m your host, Taylor Cole. Today, I want to put out a PSA. Please do NOT take anything you read in this article as gospel or fact. This series is purely for entertainment purposes only. You may be asking, “Why the weird PSA?”. Good question awesome person on the internet who found this article. I put out a PSA because we are talking about everyone’s favorite subject that we can all see eye to eye on, Star Wars.
We hope to finally give you an answer to a long-running debate. Which is better, the Star Wars prequels or the Star Wars sequels? It’s Rey vs. Obi-Wan. Kylo Ren vs. Anakin. BB-8 vs. R2-D2. Jar Jar Binks vs. Porgs. God, we’re going to get so much flak for this one, aren’t we?
Here are the rules. Both writers will have 500-1,000 words to argue for their side or to bash the opposition. After they are done with that, I’ll direct you to our three judges (other members on TNS staff). They will give out their final verdict based on what the writers said and how entertaining the writers were.
In the corner of Star Wars: Episodes 1-3, we have Trent Katzenberger. Trent’s coming into this contest at a fresh 0-0 and he once spent an afternoon in his college cafeteria with his friends singing John Williams songs where they replaced all the notes with the name “John Williams”. And in the corner of Episodes 7-9, we have Billy Whitehouse. Billy has tried his luck with Clash at the Stash before but he came up a little short. He’s walking into this Clash at 0-1. In an attempt to establish his Star Wars expertise, Billy wanted to declare to the world that he, “once calculated how many tacos Luke would’ve had to eat to lift his X-Wing out of that swamp on Dagobah”. So, if you couldn’t tell by that introduction, this is going to be an extremely in-depth discussion.
Let’s get started with the Star Wars Prequels. Trent, take it away:
Star Wars Prequels
The prequels, as wacky and out there, as stupid and childish, as over-complicated and even boring as they might have been, the prequels tried new things and in doing so they helped to broaden the very definition of what is and is not Star Wars. The sequels did not. The argument that I am presenting here, in my portion of this Clash at the Stash, is that the prequels tried to expand the Star Wars universe. Whereas all the sequel films did was retread old ground while adding almost nothing new themselves.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There was some really cool stuff in the sequels. All of them are visually stunning, John Williams’ score remained as outstanding as it always had been, and some of the characters introduced are genuinely engaging. But, good parts do not always make a good whole.
That’s the issue with these new movies; they don’t add much and many would even say that they hurt the franchise overall. The Last Jedi is the film that broke me, specifically. It seemed to change characters I loved in weird and unwieldy ways while, at the same time, underutilizing and mishandling its new cast members to a similar degree. The story gave me tone whiplash, ruining some potentially strong scenes with misplaced humor and bathos. And scenes which were cool, like the Holdo Maneuver, left the lore part of my brain battered and confused.
I realize these are fictional rules in a fictional universe but I really didn’t think that was how it worked. And if it was, couldn’t you have done that before? I felt let down and actually kind of disengaged. It wasn’t that I was bored but, when I saw the movie for the first time, I found myself constantly checking my phone. I was surprised by how long the film had been going on and starting to hope that they would just hurry up and get on with it. It’s sad to find that I could feel this way about a Star Wars movie and by the end, I was sort of mad. Wasn’t this supposed to be a trilogy? Where were they supposed to go from here? They had seemingly written themselves into a corner.
Even if you disingenuously discount every single complaint or criticism made against The Last Jedi as toxic rubbish, The Rise of Skywalker has topped even that and now stands atop the pile as the worst-rated Star Wars movie ever. No other film in the entire Star Wars canon has received a lower rating, not even any of the much-maligned prequels. It would be impressive if it wasn’t so sad.
At least The Force Awakens was good. However, the interesting things that it introduced were quickly overwritten, retconned, or just plain forgotten in the following films. Anything that wasn’t new was more or less nostalgia bait. Hey, remember the Millennium Falcon? You guys loved the Death Star, right? Well, what about a Death PLANET!? The prequel trilogy, on the other hand, actually has its own story to tell and its own ideas to bring to the table.
The prequels needed to do three things simultaneously to be even remotely comparable to the films of the original trilogy. They needed to fill out the backstory of the universe introduced to us in the original films, tell the story of how things got to the point where those movies picked up, and also tell an interesting story of their own which wasn’t just a retread of the first three films. All while being decent movies individually that came together to make a compelling whole.
The prequels chose to do this by going the Infinity War route and humanizing one of the most iconic villains of all time. These movies took Darth Vader and gave him a face to the name. These films showed us just how Anakin, the Jedi, and the Galaxy at large slowly turned to darkness. It’s honestly incredible. If things had been made a little bit differently, Revenge of the Sith could potentially have become one of the greatest films ever made. As it stands, it’s just pretty good.
But, even where these films hold themselves back by making the most nonsensical decisions, such as the inclusion of Jar Jar Binks as a prominent character in this story, it is ultimately used to help shape and craft a startlingly realistic portrait of how a working society crumbled before the advance of fascism and slowly gave up everything they had to the heinous march of power-hungry space Nazis.
You might think I am joking about Jar Jar Binks doing anything worthwhile but I’m not. He can serve as a vital lesson for how powerful the banality of evil can be. In short, Jar Jar Binks can show us how good people who mean well can end up helping with some really bad things.
The situation is as follows:
Princess Padme is in hiding due to various attempts on her life and so, Representative Binks has stepped in to replace her at the Galactic Senate. Things, of course, are very grim. His friend’s life is in danger and the Separatists continue to menace the members of the Galactic Republic with their massive drone armies.
Proud to be able to do something not just for his people, but for all the people of the Galactic Republic and acting on the advice of his more senior colleagues, Jar Jar speaks to the Senate floor. He suggests that Supreme Chancellor Palpatine should be given emergency powers, the powers he needs in order to establish a Grand Army of the Republic. The movement is passed, and thanks to Jar Jar’s speech, the Clone Wars finally begins as does the slow descent towards the dissolution of the Galactic Republic and the rise of Sheev Palpatine as the Galactic Emperor.
And it’s all because of Jar Jar Binks.
If a story can find a way to grow and evolve a character as silly as Jar Jar Binks into a prime example of one of its most powerful and important messages, that evil can take ahold of anyone because nobody thinks they are the bad guy, then doesn’t it deserve a spot right alongside the original trilogy? Those original films taught us that there is the potential for good in everyone and the prequels serve as an important counter piece with the message that there is the potential for evil in everyone too.
Star Wars Sequels
I want to start off my argument by proclaiming that Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is a coward.
I know that’s a weird way to begin my argument for the superiority of the Star Wars sequels, but bear with me.
JJ Abrams is an incredibly talented filmmaker who, at least lately, refuses to take any risks.
The Force Awakens is essentially just a remake of A New Hope. And The Rise of Skywalker seemed like an attempt to placate to the worst/loudest parts of Star Wars fandom (Rose is gone! Poe totally isn’t gay! Will you stop yelling at me yet?).
All of this is to say that the one thing the prequels have on the sequels is that they at least tried to do something different and interesting.
And as Yoda once wisely said, “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”. And the prequels did not do.
Almost any defense of the prequels relies either on purely hypothetical movies or long and convoluted headcanons with little to no textual evidence in the films. When we look at the actual movies as they exist, it’s hard to argue against the superiority of the sequels.
The sequels are better written, better shot, better acted, better directed, and — most importantly for a Star Wars film — just flat out more entertaining than the prequels. On one hand, I want to have a good-faith argument here and provide specific examples but *widely gestures to both films* one of these things is just better. This is less like debating the merits of Light vs Dark Side than it is pitting an X-34 against a Star Destroyer.
One can never be truly objective about a piece of art — especially not one so deeply ingrained in our collective myth, society, pop culture… whatever or wherever you place Star Wars — so I can’t just proclaim, “The sequels are more entertaining than the prequels. Period.”. But, I can say that I’ve never met, read, or heard anyone try to (in good faith) claim otherwise. And when you dig down into it, shouldn’t “be entertaining” be the root requirement of a Star Wars movie?
This is a tough argument because I feel like I’m standing in front of someone holding an onion and an apple and trying to decide which to eat raw. My colleague Trent is making very good points about how nutritious that onion is while I’m over here frantically screaming, “The apple contains much of the same stuff and you’ll enjoy the process of consuming it so much more!”
How about this… I think most Star Wars fans are willing to admit that maybe — just maybe — George Lucas might not be a very good writer. Excellent Producer! Big ideas! But not awesome at writing or working with actors or, like, generally knowing how actual human beings function.
A tense character/political drama based in a fantastical world I love? Sounds awesome! Space Glengarry Glen Ross? Hell yeah! 12 Angry Men With Laser Swords? Shut up and take my money! Unfortunately, it turns out the guy to write that movie probably wasn’t the guy who made Laser Sword Space Wizards Because I Couldn’t Get The Rights To Flash Gordon: Chapter Four: The Journal of the Whills.
In closing, I will just say again that I believe the most important thing for a Star Wars movie is that it be entertaining. Extra points for being inspiring. For all their ambition, when you actually sit down and watch them, the prequels are mostly just boring slogs. And, because of their subject matter, kind of a bummer. The sequels are more fun and filled with hope. Therefore, they are much better Star Wars films.
It appears that both sides… let the hate flow through them with this debate. Okay, I’m sorry. That was bad. We should just move on to the judges so I can go re-evaluate my life choices:
Steve Bennett (Occasionally talks like Yoda in the morning pre-coffee) –
Both arguments here have just made me hate the prequel and sequel series. I was conflicted before. Now, I’m just voting for the least terrible option.
I’m not going to build up to it, I’m voting for the prequels. Both writers do a great job of explaining why each trilogy isn’t very good and I’m completely on board. I pick 1-3 mainly for what Billy said when championing 7-9. He said that the most important thing for Star Wars is that it’s entertaining.
The prequels are certainly enjoyable — but mainly for the wrong reasons. Seeing the anger that people have for Jar Jar Binks is very fun. There was also a purple lightsaber and Darth Maul, both were pretty cool.
I no longer know what I’m saying. I never thought I’d vote for the prequel series for anything positive ever. I’m giving my point to Trent, even though I’d rather award it to no one.
Shelby Royal (Considers herself an expert on all things Wookie and Baby Yoda) –
I never would have thought there would be so much hate in a Star Wars discussion! Venom aside, my vote has to go to the Billy and the sequels. Based on the arguments presented, Episodes 7-9 are way more entertaining and much easier to watch than the prequels. While I thoroughly appreciate Trent’s point about the message of the prequels, they’re just a bore (and a bit of an eyesore) to get through. And the message just isn’t enough for me to say they’re better. In the end, at least we can all agree that Baby Yoda has brought us all together… Right?
Brandon Stephenson (Wonders why Star Wars hasn’t made it in Kingdom Hearts) –
No matter how I felt about the subject being argued, I’ve always based my judgments for Clash at the Stash solely on the arguments. I just cannot, in good faith, side with the prequels. So my vote goes for the sequel trilogy.
Yes, they were sloppy and The Rise of Skywalker showed there might not have been a plan for the trilogy, but each movie has redeeming qualities. Plus, as Billy said, these movies are entertaining. Unlike the prequels, which outside of Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson, there’s pretty much nothing else that’s worthwhile from those movies.
WINNER: Billy Whitehouse and the Star Wars sequels
I reached out to Billy regarding his first win at Clash at the Stash. Here’s how that conversation went:
Taylor Cole: “Billy, you started your C.A.T.S career at 0-1. It wasn’t pretty by any means. Seriously, I… I think you guys broke Steve. There was just so much shade thrown towards this amazing-yet-flawed franchise. Anyway, you managed to pull out a hard-fought victory today and come away with your first win. But, what did it cost you?”
Billy Whitehouse did not answer me with a text, instead opting to send this gif:
Which trilogy do you prefer? Prequels or sequels? What topics do you want to see us debate next? Let us know in the comments below!