It seems likely that this pattern will repeat itself indefinitely into the future, providing unmeasurable entertainment.
It is also true that the new Star Wars movies (Phantom Menace, Clone Wars, Vader is Back - or something) have provided a near endless supply of entertainment for Star Wars fans. However, 99.9% of this entertainment comes in the form of sitting around and talking about the ways the movies could have been better.
It is impossible to talk about these movies without, even by accident, mentioning a way by which they could have been improved.
Most of the methods of improvement can be summarized quite simply. They are ways in which the movies could be *better*. Better characters, better story, better moments, better casting, better writing . . . etc.
I can agree with that, but I've always had one huge issue with the challenge presented by Episodes I-III of Star Wars: at the end, the bad guys win.
That seems to me to be a structural flaw in the story that no amount of "better" is going to fix. At the end of the movie Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, two cherished characters from the original movies, lose. A moment which I imagine goes something like this:
The bottom line is that Vader and the Emperor standing triumphant over a crushed republic and hundreds of dead Jedis is an ending that no amount of "better" is going to rescue.
Yoda: How did your battle with Anakin Skywalker go?
Kenobi: Great, I cut off all his limbs and left
him on fire next to a river
Yoda: At least the terrible evil who
betrayed us all and killed the Jedi is
Kenobi: . . . .
Yoda: He is dead right?
Kenobi: . .
. so, uh, how was your fight with Palpatine?
Yoda: oh, that . . . yeah, that
was fine, y'know,
Kenobi: like mine?
Yoda: yeah, uh, limbs .
. . lava . . . or something
Kenobi: . . .
Yoda: . . .
Kenobi: So, want to go hide out on remote planets for the next twenty
Yoda: sounds good
Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a serious movie with a serious ending as much as the next guy. The Thin Red Line is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it ends with the harsh realities of war. But there are limits. You can't make a prequel of Saving Private Ryan that ends with the Nazis celebrating in the streets of France. That's going to be a terrible movie, even if it doesn't have Jar Jar Binks.
Those limits are especially applicable to an action movie about cowboy ninja wizards in space.
So how do we fix it?
The fact of that matter is that Episode IV starts in a dark place. The Jedi are dead, democracy is toast, and the Death Star is complete and blasting planets out of the sky. The prequels have to get us to that bad spot.
The answer, as with the corrections to all of George Lucas' idiocy, is pretty simple.
Episode III needs to end the moment before Episode IV begins. This way the triumphant ending of the movie can be the rebels successfully stealing the plans to the Death Star; the very theft which initiates the plot of Episode IV.
It's not that tricky to do. Simply lop off Episode I entirely. This way the first Star Wars movie is about the friendship and training between Obi Wan and Anakin. The second movie is about the betrayal of Anakin, the emergence of the Emperor and the fall of the Jedi. Then the third movie can be about the rise of the rebellion, and mostly center around Princess Leia. At the end, she manages to organize a group of rebels for the daring theft of the Death Star plans.
The third movie has the added benefit of allowing an explanation for why Yoda and Kenobi, the two most powerful good guys in the galaxy, are hiding in caves on remote planets. Yoda and Kenobi helped to organize the rebellion initially. However, their strength in the force allowed the Emperor and Vader to detect their presence, and could be used to give away the location of rebel bases and outposts.
This structure would mirror the basic outline for the first three movies. The first one is where we meet our characters and learn a bit about their struggles. In the second one the bad guys win. In the third, the good guys regroup and emerge with a gritty victory against all odds.
It's the formula by which all cowboy ninja wizards in space should live.