“Mythology” is a term that’s thrown around perhaps a little too freely when discussing movie franchises. Does a series develop a certifiable mythos simply by racking up enough installments? Nah, and a big chunk of the audience probably wouldn’t want it to, anyway.
Chart the development of most adventure series, in every medium, and you’ll find that there’s always a very distinct turning point in their lifespan. At this point, the creators step back for a moment from the imaginary world they’ve been making up on the fly, look over what they’ve got and say, "Hey! Maybe we ought to weave this all together into something we can take more seriously." Of course, after this point, some fans inevitably won’t want to stay along for that weaving.
Out of all the endlessly quoted lines in A New Hope, the one that just nails the tone is Han’s smug assertion that “hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.” If you re-watch the original Star Wars trilogy after years of being immersed in all the Expanded Universe stuff, it's surprising to find how little of the lore’s explained or even addressed within the movies themselves.
The Empire's really just a gang of goons who show up to chase the heroes and get shot down. You don't know how they got there. You don't know what Vader or Palpatine's deals are, either - - the Sith are never even identified on screen. And for all the aphorisms spouted about the Jedi way, Luke doesn't actually have to change that significantly to become the great reclaimant he’s supposed to be. He basically just learns some new, fancy tricks.
Luke gets top-billing, but the point-of-view character is really the previously-quoted Capt. Solo--a smartass who enjoys the bang and zoom of this world well enough, but doesn't particularly give a shit about too many of the particulars behind it all. As such, when the prequel trilogy puts the Star Wars oeuvre closer to Lucas’ admitted literary, filmic and mythological influences--venerated material that hardcore faboys are likely to pay lip service to instead of actually watching, reading or enjoying--backlash is unavoidable (perhaps even inherently so.)
When a series starts taking deep dives into its own backstory, some fans are simply going to be getting answers longer than what they expected, or even wanted. They may have kept asking who the man behind the mask is, but they'd actually prefer not to know the answer.
Knowing that Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress inspired A New Hope will win you points at any Star Wars trivia challenge. How many trivia hounds have actually bothered to seek out this old B&W samurai flick, though? Even if they already knew that General Makabe, Princess Yuki and their peasant pals specifically inspired Obi-Wan, Leia and the droids, they’d be surprised to find that the movie’s actually got far more in common with Episode I than Episode IV. Yuki evades danger by posing as one of her servants, just as Padme does, for one. More to the point, both flicks are dryer serials--almost like feudal travelogues--where hefty chunks of plot involve our fugitive heroes getting out of trouble through clever maneuvering and non-violent bargaining. You know, the “boring stuff before Duel of the Fates .”
Another thing about the Hidden Fortress: Makabe and Yuki are stately figures bound by rigid decorum. Thus, even while you’re compelled to watch what they do, they rarely get into the loud displays of personalities that bookstore screenwriting gurus insist are necessary to make characters compelling. Somehow, such a quality doesn’t hurt the opinion-normalizing Rotten Tomatoes' 100% "fresh" rating of this flick, but it courts plenty of messy tomato splotches when Phantom Menace depicts underage Naboo regents who don't have lives outside of public office in the same fashion. Or Jedi knights who're actually acting according to the way Yoda chatters on about in that faultless Empire Strikes Back--you know, ascetic monks who’ve been trained to totally master their feelings.
Then there’s all that political mumbo jumbo in the Coruscant senate in that brings Star Wars closer to Frank Herbert’s Dune, another source of inspiration that's also held noticeable influence from the beginning. The desert planet Tatooine may be a bit like the desert planet Arrakis and the original trilogy may have had a handful of throwaway references to the commerce of spice but the linkage firms up in these latter installments with the introduction of the Clonetroopers and the Force-balancing Chosen One (who respectively recall the Imperial Sardaukar guard and the messianic Kwisatz Haderach.) Emperor Palpatine’s successive shadow wars are bit like the Padishah Emperor's cloak and dagger with House Harkonen, too.
Here's the rub with Dune: it's often regarded as the greatest science fiction novel of all time, but its Byzantine mythos has been notoriously difficult (unto impossible) to properly render on screen. One might read the book and be riveted just by the details of the Bene Gesserit rite of Gom Jobbar, the rituals of Mentats created after the Butlerian Jihad and the "folding" of the Melange-mutated Spacing Guild... but that sensibility doesn't necessarily align with the one that'd really just prefer some old school flicks that make easy material for cute and ironic t-shirts. As posited earlier, despite what they say, many fans don't really want to get that deep into a long-ago, faraway galaxy.
Dune's steeped in mythology, of course--its hero's even worshiped as a prophetic "M'uad Dib." Likewise, the biggest influences the prequels bring Star Wars closer to are the various underpinnings of world religion that've been a key part of the franchise’s PR platform since well before the opening of any “Power of Myth” museum exhibit. Anakin has a divine birth like Buddha's instead of just being some hotshot pilot, his ruination comes down to him seeking out and misinterpreting prophecy like Oedipus Rex, the Jedi are an uncompromising monastic order instead of a set of vaguely-defined weekend warriors... and so on.
Read a lot of these classic poems, epics and tragedies and, yeah, you'll find the players don't talk the way normal human beings do. They're more often personifications of ideas, virtues and whatnot, in service of the conceptual point. Even if any other merits of the prequel trilogy are dismissed, it still does offer much to chew on, conceptually. It's something of a Satanic inversion of Campbell's monomyth, actually. Not only does the protagonist murder most of the cast, he's also presented with a whole host of intentionally undesirable qualities--legitimately undesirable ones, not endearingly undesirable--that no focus-group-minding studio board would ever allow another hero to get away with in movie spectacles of this magnitude.
Anakin’s a creepy stalker, he's prone to bi-polar mood swings, he's entitled (or "whiny," in other terms,) he awkwardly attempts to seem stoic or romantic, he makes a lot of seriously stupid decisions... and yet he succeeds in spite of all that simply because he was born to be the most powerful being in this universe. Add on to this the unstated implication in Revenge of the Sith that Sidious (or his master, Darth Plagueis) willed Anakin’s birth through black magic in a horrific perversion of the Jedi prophecy. Now the saga’s even more of a generational conflict; one that's largely taken up by a grotesque, cosmically-sized prank the Sith play on the Hero’s Journey.
This part of the series offers a departure from your usual cycle through Call to Adventure > Belly of the Whale > Crossing of the Return Threshold with a likable, blank-slate everyman. It passes the turning point described at the start of this feature to veer closer to influences that've been there from the beginning. The journey becomes markedly different, to be sure, but it does follow through on a trajectory it was always pointing to.
Are there missteps? Certainly, but no movie saga of this scope is free of them--including the original trilogy. Here we are, 13 years later, and the Phantom Menace's re-release is still doing respectably in spite of its missteps (close to $90 million gross at the time of writing.) If you’ve been reading all of this and rolling your eyes, then I'd argue that what you really wanted out of these prequels was a space pirate on screen to roll his eyes about everything, too.