Really, there was nowhere to go but up after the last two. At my showing, there was a technical glitch after the previews and before the movie started, so the "PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONES" sign remained on the screen for about five minutes. My friend Marty: "It's true what they said; it is better than the last two." Still, my expectation were high, especially after reading Steven Hunter's glowing review. (Actually, it was the photo that ran with the review that got my full attention. Especially after recently re-watching the first Star Wars, which contains the fight between Vader and Obi-Wan, where Vader taunts Obi-Wan and calls him an old man.)
But I'm a sentimental fool for happy endings. The Natural. The Muppet Movie. The Godfather, Part I. I'm tearing up just thinking about them. (Okay, maybe Godfather requires a wider definition of "happy.") And this really didn't have a happy ending. Not so much. (On the other hand, I did love Empire Strikes Back, so maybe this doesn't explain it.)
Second problem: we knew how it was going to end! During the climax of the movie, there are concurrent battles between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan and Yoda and the Emperor. And everyone in the theater knows that all four of these characters are going to live! This is the problem with the whole concept of the prequel.
I'm guessing that prequels are here to stay. ABC Family has been showing a prequel to Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion about six times a day. I mean, if they're making prequels to movies that people didn't like in the first place, I'm guessing we'll see more of these things. Well, you might. I won't. There's no drama without suspense, and there's no Josh without ... okay, I can't finish this sentence. But I'm done with prequels.