There are a many reasons that one could point out to explain why the Star Wars prequels were as bad as they were*. The most poignant reason that I see is the lack of constraints Lucas had when creating episodes I, II, & III. No constraints crushed his creativity.
Budget, time and limited special effects were all constraints that required Lucas to be more creative while making the originals. In the prequels no similar constraints existed. Every scene was filmed on blue screen so that it could be digitally tweaked and polished to “perfection”, Lucas had a nearly endless budget and he had no push back from anyone he worked with. Red Letter Media does a great analysis of The Phantom Menace about this point, check it out here.
*If you don’t think episodes 1,2 and 3 were bad then you definitely need to watch the entirety of Red Letter Media’s critique. Start here.
“Limitation is vital. The first step toward a well-told story is to create a small, knowable world. Artists by nature crave freedom, so the principle that the structure/setting relationship restricts creative choices may stir the rebel in you. With a closer look, however, you’ll see that this relationship couldn’t be more positive. The constraint that setting imposes on story design doesn’t inhibit creativity; it inspires it.
The irony of setting versus story is this: The larger the world, the more diluted the knowledge of the writer, therefore the fewer creative choices and more clichéd the story. The smaller the world, the more complete the knowledge of the writer, therefore the greater his creative choices. Result: a fully original story and victory in the war on cliché.”
-Hollywood screenwriter mentor Robert McKee
“One of the most intriguing phenomena we have noticed is the tendency for high counts of objects on refrigerator panels to co-occur with large numbers of objects per square feet in the house as a whole. Put in another way, a family’s tolerance for a messy refrigerator may be associated with a fairly relaxed attitude about high density or clutter in public rooms in the house.
The fridge panel may function as a measuring stick for how intensively families are participating in consumer purchasing and how many household good they retain over their lifetimes.”
“As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In the uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.”
-Steven Pressfield, War Of Art