Even the staunchest prequel defender will typically concede that Episodes I, II, and III featured embarrassing dialogue and unconvincing acting. That doesn’t mean it fatally inhibits the films, nor does it necessarily reflect poorly on the cast and crew.
In regards to the writing, Lucas has acknowledged his struggles with dialogue. But he never strained to be Aaron Sorkin either. (Though how cool would a walk-and-talk between Yoda and Mace Windu be?) Instead, he dismisses the importance of dialogue. As long as it advances the plot, it doesn’t matter how mechanical it sounds.
Does he deserve criticism for his ambivalence? Maybe. But the problem with critics of Lucas and the prequels is that they have absolutely no problem ignoring the same shortcomings in the original trilogy. Those films weren’t a showcase of Shakespearian exchanges either. The actors mocked much of the dialogue, and since Lucas’ detractors want to downplay his contributions to those films they paint themselves into a logical corner.
The dialogue never held the original films back, so it’s foolish to argue otherwise with the prequels. I’ll see your scoff at “My little green friend” and raise you a “scruffy-looking nerf herder.” Why the latter outclasses the former, I’ll never know. And even the nadir of prequel writing – the romance – serves a purpose. Anakin Skywalker is the Star Wars equivalent of a repressed home-schooler. Attack of the Clones features a realistic portrayal of young love because there’s absolutely no reason that Anakin should have any game. Whether or not Lucas planned it that way, his writing, soliloquies about irritating sand and all, works.
As for acting, the stilted performances are par for the course with the original trilogy, so why should the prequels be any different? Lucas is adamant that he strived to hearken back to over-the-top acting from the early days of cinema with Star Wars. Maybe that’s a convenient excuse for eliciting weak performances, but if the original films get a pass the prequels deserve one too.
Furthermore, much of the criticism dovetails with complaints about CGI. Lucas’ obsession with digital imagery hurt the films, his critics will say because constantly surrounding actors with green screens fostered rigidity and led to unrealistic reactions to the characters on-screen. This too fails the sniff test. If I wake up tomorrow magically transported to Coruscant, I’m freaking out. But if I was born and raised in the Star Wars galaxy, it would seem normal. Same as if you dropped a bumpkin in the middle of Times Square vs. a hipster from Brooklyn forced to pick up a t-shirt at the M&M’s store for his stupid nephew.
Besides, if these critics demand shock and awe from the prequel characters, why don’t they make a fuss about the originals? Using their logic, The Empire Strikes Back should have been at least ten minutes longer because Luke should have meandered through Cloud City, mouth agape in amazement. “Oh my God, how far of a drop is that!?” He should scream as Darth Vader impatiently awaits in the carbon-freezing chamber.
Like so many of these complaints, it’s a double standard that exposes circular logic. If the acting and dialogue truly harms the films, then the original trilogy has been massively overrated. Acknowledging the same foibles in the originals undermines claims that Lucas fell backwards into success while riding the coattails of more talented writers and producers. Lucas may not be perfect, but he’s certainly not a bumbling fool that so many characterize him as, which is quickly established by sifting through their individual grievances.