If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I’m guessing you liked it. And on the off chance that you didn’t, I’m guessing you still liked it more than the prequel films. Though there are many elements working for this film that weren’t working in the prequels, I think the key is tone.
What was the tone of the original three Star Wars films? A satisfying blend of wonder, adventure, humor, action, and drama. The prequels were a little heavy on the latter two, which kind of spoiled the recipe. The Force Awakens, however, got it just right.
It’s much easier to enjoy the world of a film when the characters are enjoying, too. For example, when Rey and Finn escape aboard the Millennium Falcon, they’re just as excited about their accomplishment as we are. That feels much more real to me than the characters of Episodes I, II, and III, who pretty much have flat reactions to just about everything. Exhibit A:
And Exhibit B:
We don’t see this kind of stiffness in the original trilogy. Instead, we have scenes of straight humor, such as Han’s classic “Who’s scruffy lookin’?” line—which is way more quotable, and not in an ironic way. Probably should’ve used that one more in high school…
It’s not that the prequels didn’t try for moments of levity. Jar Jar Binks was an attempt at humor. A misguided, bungling, completely unfunny attempt at humor, sure, but an attempt nonetheless. (P.S., did you know he’s a Sith Lord? I’m convinced.)
Ultimately, the tone of The Force Awakens matches the tone of the originals far better than the prequels. If the prequel trilogy came out first, I suspect it wouldn’t have been so disappointing. The established tone would’ve been a bit more serious and a bit less humorous. Therefore, audiences maybe wouldn’t have gone into theaters expecting something they weren’t going to get. It’s sort of like when Coke changed their recipe; people didn’t like it because it was unfamiliar.
The Force Awakens, however, is much more successful because the filmmakers go back to a world in which discovery and fun are integral to the story, just like in the original trilogy of films. It’s not just that we get Luke and Han and Leia back—it’s that we get their energy and excitement back, too.