Movie prequels have been around at least as long as Butch and Cassidy: The Early Years (1975) or The Adventures of Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Still, when Phantom Menace came out in 1999, George Lucas presented it as a bold new horizon for filmmaking.

That promise was a corporate vision, not a creative one. Lucas was sometimes the artist who made THX 1138, sometimes a purveyor of cheap plastic toys, and always a tinkerer. He made no secret of “moichandising” and his desire to turn Star Wars into an endless source of profit. To the industry, Star Wars’ first prequel looked like a shiny rollout of stratagems to reuse and recycle massive franchises. Give the people what they want.

To everyone else, it looked like surgeons cutting into healthy flesh. Rooting around in the past of a well-rounded story can break its bones. More so than a bad sequel, a bad prequel can force you to reconsider what you liked about the original to begin with. Vader’s image, for instance, never quite recovered in the public’s imagination.

But 2022 went for it. This year, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones all went under the knife. Unprecedented levels of cash and labor flowed into franchising the history of those universes. Millions of dollars and man hours later, it’s worth spending a few moments to reflect on the results of the year’s prequel series, and examine their seams.

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