The Star Wars Prequels Aren’t Great Movies, But They Are Great Games

I finished playing through Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga a couple weekends ago. I haven't done a full saga watchthrough since the sequel trilogy came out, so this was my first time choosing what order to experience all nine episodes in. I started with the original trilogy, then moved on to the sequels, before time traveling back before the fall of the Republic for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.

After playing the original and sequel trilogies, which feel more like loose adaptations, the prequel trilogy was a bit of a surprise. Each in-game episode feels like a fairly straightforward adaptation of the movie it's based on. While the prequel trilogy has the lowest batting average of any of the trilogies, those movies work the best when converted into games. That may seem counterintuitive, but when you think of the arc of Star Wars, it makes a lot of sense.

George Lucas signed an unusual deal when he made the first Star Wars movie. In exchange for waiving the $500,000 he was due for his services as director, Lucas was able to hold onto the licensing and merchandising rights. Fox was willing to take that deal because, at the time, merch was not the major pillar of movie money making that it is now. If you look at the highest grossing movies of the '70s in the years leading up to Star Wars— Love Story (1970), Fiddler on the Roof ('71), The Godfather ('72), The Exorcist ('73), The Towering Inferno ('74), Jaws ('75), and Rocky ('76) — none, except maybe Jaws, lend themselves especially well to being made into children's toys and emblazoned on kids' t-shirts and lunchboxes.

Star Wars changed that. With iconic characters like Darth Vader, iconic enemies like the Stormtroopers, iconic locations like the Death Star, iconic vehicles like the X-Wing, and iconic weapons like the lightsaber, it invented the concept of a media property being "toyetic," or "having the potential to generate consumer interest in associated merchandise, such as toys, computer games, etc." This continued throughout the original trilogy, and the Ewoks, introduced in Return of the Jedi were criticized at the time, and since, for being included in the film just to sell toys.

When Lucas returned in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, every element of the movie felt designed for that purpose. There were new ships with memorable designs, new sidekicks like Jar-Jar Binks who could be endlessly merchandised, and characters like Padme/Queen Amidala who had multiple outfits, meaning the potential to sell multiple toys depicting the same character. The original Star Wars movies got spin-off games, but by the time the prequels were hitting theaters, gaming was a significantly larger industry.

The Phantom Menace, and the two movies that followed, were perfect fodder for games. The Phantom Menace got a straightforward adaptation named after the movie. But, its podracing scene also easily lent itself to gamification (Star Wars Episode 1: Racer) as did its lightsaber fights (Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles) and its war scenes (Star Wars Episode 1: Battle for Naboo). While the movies still also received plenty of the old kinds of merchandise (I had several Revenge of the Sith action figures as a kid), Lucas also took advantage of a growing market by making movies that could easily spin off games.

The original trilogy segments of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga go by surprisingly quickly. In Empire Strikes Back, you have the Hoth skirmish and then the game speeds along until you get to Cloud City. There isn't much that translates well to video games in that middle section. But, General Grievous? That guy feels like a mini boss. The arena battle on Geonosis? That feels like a musou battle. Anakin and Obi-Wan's duel on Mustafar? It feels like a QTE heavy cinematic boss fight. The prequel trilogy is chock full of moments tailor made to be popped off the screen and into a game. Maybe that makes them bad movies. But, it makes for some great games.

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