There's a terrible fear of abandomnent that pervades the human spirit, and the most bitterly dissapointing losses are the trust of people we used to know we can rely on.
The phrase "Star Wars" is bittersweet for a number of people--most notably, adults with B.A.'s in English. George Lucas is a source of great consternation for many of these good folks, as illustrated on standup comedian Patton Oswalt's Werewolves and Lolipops album, which offers a succinct complaint about the prequels.
"I don't care where the stuff I love comes from, I just love the stuff I love!"
Taking it further, Brian Posehn views the prequels as a violation of trust.
"I look at those movies as betrayal. To me, it's like... your uncle put his dick near your mouth. I don't mean back when you were a kid. I mean now, while you're in your thirties. Your uncle's your bro, he's like your favorite person in your family... But then you're at Christmas, everybody's asleep, you're watching Letterman and it's like, 'What's by my ear--OH FUCK!'"
If you're on The Inappropriate Thesaurus reading this article, there's an 80% chance that your favorite Star Wars movie is The Empire Strikes Back. There is also a 70% chance Empire was NOT your favorite when you were a kid. I'll discuss why this is relevant to your hatred of the prequels in just a moment.
But first, let's step back in time. When George Lucas made A New Hope during the mid-seventies, he set out to make--quite successfully, to be sure--"a movie for adolescents". Adolescents saw it and loved it. But there was a problem...
Adults loved it too.
Lets take a look at the other older-kids' films of 1977.
George Lucas's movie for youngsters was a tad racier. Good vs. evil, attractive princesses, fighting (albeit with flashlights and flashlight guns), exploding planets, scary villians... Not necaserrily for kindergaardeners, but certainly suitable by fourth grade.
Lets compare to Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. Imagine for a second that when Disney made that third Love Bug movie, they had invented new technology never before seen on the big screen. Imagine that herbie had invented a genre and set a standard for the still-adolescing motion picture industry itself. This would have compelled adults to see, discuss, and appreciate a movie for youngsters much the way Toy Story did.
Let me push even farther for a brief moment, into music. Take Schoolhouse Rock (remember "conjunction junction, what's your function"?)--seminal kids' music of the 70's. Imagine that the Moog synthesizer had not been first demonstrated at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival and then popularized in the 70's by Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes. Imagine the Moog was invented for, and then popularized by Schoolhouse Rock. Now we look back at music history and realize the popularity of signal oscilation in pop music was originally created to drive the narrative of a bill becoming a law. That elevates Schoolhouse Rock to--a bit more than kids' music, wouldn't you say?
So, we can realize how a product for youths can transcend its target audience. And you can understand why our dads sat us down with Star Wars in 1990 saying, "I remember when these movies came out, and I've been waiting for you to be the right age to see them."
And, naturally, we loved them! We were kids!
Why aren't our dads as furious as we are about how bad the prequels (and the special editions) turned out? They INTRODUCED US to this stuff!
Well, it's simple. These films didn't shape their childhoods. To them, it was just "a big deal at the movies". To us, it's been a world of imagination, personality, meaningful ethics... and it was definitely always there for us when life got tough towards the end of middle school (socializing is often difficult for people with imaginations, and you didn't have to be on the Napoleon Dynamite level to have noticed that the very athletic seemed to live on easy street).
Lucas was like a second dad for us. In fact, he's quite like the uncle Posehn describes.
But here's the problem. When it came time for him to make our prequels (which, EVERY fan looked forward to), George wasn't making them as OUR uncle. We were in our 20s. He was making them as the uncle to contemporary 8-year-olds.
I have two cousins around that age who were shown all six of the movies in order of I - VI. Their favorites are Episodes I and III (the older prefering III). The original trilogy (IV-VI) is too slow paced for them, not enough action. The aliens are not lively enough, the dialouge get a bit boring, everything's sort of bogged down.
Are these kids idiots? Well, only in the sense that all the kids are idiots--too much SpongeBob and red-40 dye. But they're also kids. If pod-racing had "existed" when I was 9, I would have told the Tosche Station and their power-converters to go screw.
Which leads me back to my earlier point. Our favorite episode is Empire.
Why do you suppose that is? Because it's clearly the best, right?
More accurately, it's the darkest. The post-pubescent fan was still able to love it for more than nostalgia value. It was the closest to the "real world" of any Star Wars movie because there were various emotions, pain, loss, and only a few minor victories sprinkled in with the devastation. As our understanding of film matured, we were able to stay current with it's deeper layers--as though Empire was growing up with us. Also, it doesn't have any lame kid stuff! No cheesey ceremonies, no ewoks, no "the force will be with you", no happy ending, none of the stuff that the Star Wars franchise was actually all about.
It's our favorite because we were going on to be English majors and Empire is the central conflict of the narrative arch. We also learned in highscool that life can be shitty, and Luke and Han's lives were shitty with us. We eventually got our liberal arts degree and realized that teeny-bopper shit is lame, and Empire was crystalized the most relevent Star Wars film.
It's for these very same reasons that Empire was the least satisfying episode when we were eight.
If you show A New Hope or Return of the Jedi to a liberal arts major who DIDN'T grow up with any Star Wars exposure (these specimens do manage to fall in between the cracks, but are certainly rare--half of us would have been surveyors or actuaries without Star Wars, instead of unemployed) they translate just as unwatchable as the prequels.
So, let me summarize. The original Star Wars movies (IV-VI) were kids' movies that were loved by kids and appreciated by adults. The "least kiddie" of these remains an intimate part of the life for any Star Wars fan over 16.
The NEW Star Wars movies (I-III) are kids movies on steroids, and probably closer to what Star Wars always would have been, had the technology been attainable during the 70s.
Whatever subtlety or nuanced humanity existed in the original films was solely a result of the limitations of the time. The prequels are Lucas' true vision of Star Wars. This might make him less of a visionary--to have settled for the more easily attainable goal of pleasing kids--but it doesn't make him an inconsistent or unreliable film-maker.
Unless we need all our geniuses to be our dad.