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Why The Star Wars Prequels Look So Dated Compared To The Original Trilogy

Updated February 11, 2021 2.7k views13 items

While it’s definitely popular to hate on the Star Wars prequels, not all of the vitriol of warranted. The prequels featured genius foreshadowing, some of the casting is amazing, the idea behind the overarching story is well-researched and subversive, and the creative team didn't try to create remakes of the original trilogy (unlike other films out there).

But those who hate the prequel trilogy have many valid points to back up their claims. Aside from the acting and writing, one of the biggest complaints is, despite the fact the films were made with newer technology, they somehow look dated as compared to their predecessors.

So what behind the scenes reasons are there for why the VFX hasn't aged as well as it could have? Why do the props pale in comparison to those in films with worse technology and much smaller budgets? There’s no simple answer, but if you’re curious to find out, check out the list below.

  • Lackluster Special Effects Made Poor Performances Even Less Believable

    Photo: Lucasfilm

    It's easy to blame Natalie Portman or Hayden Christensen for subpar performances but the situation was far more complex than a perceived lack of talent. Many of the actors were essentially stuck in a room with four blue walls and told to act like they were on a normal set; that's incredibly hard, even for the most experienced thespians.

    Actors need things to play off of and they simply didn't have them. What resulted is some very confused and stunted performances from Oscar-winning performers.

  • CGI Characters Have Not Aged Well

    Photo: Lucasfilm

    Back when making the original trilogy, Lucas famously said that special effects should serve the story rather than be the story. Well, the prequel trilogy often took the opposite approach. Many sequences feature shots that feature CGI characters or effects shots that simply contribute nothing to the story. That meant the movies tended to be a bit bloated. 

    Writing aside, Jar Jar Binks gets worse every year. While it’s laudable that Lucas decided to pioneer the use of completely CGI characters in his films, the technology just wasn't quite there – especially in the first two prequels as Jar Jar almost looks transparent in some of his scenes. Facial expressions are lacking when compared with other films such as Avatar or the new Planet of the Apes films. It’s a side effect of being the first major attempt at using the technology, but it ages the films nonetheless.

  • Background Compositing Is Awkward

    Photo: Lucasfilm

    One of the trickiest elements with blue screen is melding it with everything in the foreground. At its best, the audience won’t even notice it was there. At worst, it looks like an awkward floating painting behind a pair of badly shot actors.

    While the prequels are by no means a disaster, there are times when the background composition just doesn't come together. At times, audiences are aware the characters are standing in front of a green screen, and it just completely takes you out of the film.

  • Shots Lack Depth

    Photo: Lucasfilm

    Because many of the shots featured actors standing in front of a green screen, the camera often lacked points in the foreground and background that gave the image a three-dimensional quality. If you look at The Empire Strikes Back, it features sets that were specifically built to make them feel bigger than they really were; they feature points that draw your attention using forced perspective and camera focus. The Star Wars prequels simply lack that quality, which results in a very flat image.