George Lucas oversaturated the prequels with computer-generated images and the dated, artificial visuals contributed to their mediocrity. This argument gets passed around often, to the point that many fans toss it out matter-of-factly. But it’s incredibly flawed and misleading.
The biggest rebuttal to the criticism is the fact that each prequel commissioned more miniature models than the entire original trilogy combined. A testament to the talent of modelers and the animators, miniatures of Coruscant, Geonosis, Mustafar, and other locales blend seamlessly with their digital counterparts. Yet critics foolishly decry slick visuals that defy realism, almost certainly presuming numerous practical shots to be CGI.
While the confusion redeems the films against claims of primitive-looking visuals, the sterile, polished look of the prequels plays into another superficial attack. Fans rightfully praise the original trilogy for its gritty, lived-in atmosphere. The clean, shiny prequels strike some as inauthentic by comparison. But there’s a perfectly good explanation beyond indistinguishable miniatures and CGI.
Lucas promised to show the Republic on the tail-end of its prime. Of course the galactic capital should showcase posh regality, as should Naboo considering the films’ focus on its royalty. The prequels feature plenty of grit, including a more fleshed-out Tattooine and dingy areas such as Geonosis and Mustafar. Furthermore, the original trilogy had plenty of polished environments including Bespin and the interior of Empire ships.
Ultimately, these fans rely on false equivalencies built upon faulty assumptions. Considering that the original trilogy featured a galaxy under the rule of a selfish emperor and focused on an underdog rebellion, of course, most action would take place in grungier environments. But when the story called for it, the films offered slick visuals. The same goes for the prequels, but a larger concentration of those movies took place in cleaner environments.
The look of the prequels served the story well. Copping the aesthetics of the original trilogy would only cater to a stubborn, opinionated sliver of the fan base. Granted, CGI gave the films a different look, but it has no bearing on their authenticity or essence. If the technology existed in the 1970s, the original trilogy would have utilized it.
In their haste to demonize Lucas and the prequels, these critics fail to appreciate their monumental achievement. With the original trilogy, Lucas revolutionized the special effects industry. He somehow pulled it off again with the prequels. Yet many fans want to stereotype the films as an exercise in mindless CGI and make Lucas answer for the sins of those who have since squandered the digital tools he helped develop. Try as they might conflate the two, Lucas isn’t Michael Bay and the prequels aren’t a computer-generated mess.