We all know that the “Star Wars” prequels are highly criticized. With an overabundance of CGI, boring political scenes and Jar Jar Binks, some fans choose to deny their existence entirely, but there’s a lot to be praised about the prequels, even if they’re often overshadowed by flawed execution and dialogue that’s coarse and rough and gets everywhere.
George Lucas has always been an experimental filmmaker and he took a lot of chances with both the original trilogy and the prequels. Some of those chances paid off and some definitely did not. Love them or hate them, the prequels are the canonical chronicle of how Darth Vader came to be. Here are 15 things that actually make us think the prequels weren’t so bad.
15. EWAN MCGREGOR’S OBI-WAN KENOBI
Although his casting was controversial at the time, these days most fans agree that no one was more fit to play young Obi-Wan Kenobi than Ewan McGregor. Not only was he the biggest “Star Wars” fan on set, but also he’s probably a bigger fan than you or me. According to George Lucas, during his lightsaber scenes, he repeatedly had to be told to stop making the lightsaber noises with his mouth and many of his scenes still had to have his mouth effects edited out in post-production. McGregor would apologize and respond, “I keep getting carried away.”
He nailed Sir Alec Guinness’s accent and mannerisms, and after he grew the beard, he even looked like the original Obi-Wan Kenobi. With the announcement that Disney will produce a “Star Wars” spinoff film every other year, rumors have circulated that McGregor could reprise his role as the iconic Jedi Master with some even going so far as to say an Obi-Wan trilogy could be on the table after “Episode IX.”
14. THE LIGHTSABER BATTLES
Even people who hate the prequels with a passion have to admit that the lightsaber choreography was spot on. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan battling Darth Maul in “The Phantom Menace” is easily one of the most enjoyable scenes in the movie, “Attack of the Clones” has the massive battle in the Colosseum of Geonosis and the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan in “Revenge of the Sith” may be one of the most visually stunning, intense lightsaber duels of the entire saga.
Most of that is thanks to Nick Gillard, nicknamed the “Swordmaster,” the lead choreographer and stunt coordinator on the prequel trilogy, who Lucas hired to bring a more stylistic, high-octane approach to the lightsaber battles. For the original trilogy, Lucas elected to use a more realistic approach to swordfighting, lifting actual Japanese techniques and styles, especially in the battle between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan in “A New Hope.” While purists will say that using real sword techniques was part of what made the original trilogy great, there’s no denying that the duel in “The Phantom Menace” was more fun to look at than the one in “A New Hope.”
13. THE MUSIC
John Williams’ score throughout the saga may be one of the key factors responsible for elevating “Star Wars” from quirky sci-fi adventure to legendary classic. George Lucas’ decision to bring Williams in to score the entire saga may have been one of the best decisions he made during production. John Williams is one of the most iconic and influential film composers of all time, with credits on the “Indiana Jones” films, “Harry Potter,” “Jaws” and more.
“Duel of the Fates” from Episode I is one of the most epic and memorable compositions in the entire saga. Even if you haven’t seen the film in years, you can probably hum the tune when you picture the battle with Darth Maul. The score from the battle on Mustafar also sticks out, being the grand finale of the entire trilogy. Although there was massive restaffing when Disney acquire the rights to “Star Wars,” they still brought Williams back for Episodes VII through IX, because he’s as much a part of the success of the series as anyone.
12. DARTH MAUL
Darth Maul was only around for one film and he only had a few short lines of dialogue in it, but he was such an intriguing character that he was resurrected for the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and later “Star Wars: Rebels.” He also got his own series of Extended Universe novels and even a Marvel comics miniseries by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Luke Ross.
Part of the intrigue was Ray Park’s non-verbal acting and expressions of hatred, part of it was his martial arts acrobatics, and part of it was just the look. Red skin with black tribal tattoos and a head covered in horns. Only Vader himself looks more bad to the bone. In a way, he’s like the Boba Fett of the prequels. He’s mostly silent, he only plays an important role in one film, he looks awesome and he was killed way before the character reached its full potential, but the fans love him regardless.
11. NEW LIGHTSABER STYLES
Lightsabers are the coolest part of the “Star Wars” mythos, second only to the Force, and they appear relatively seldom in the original trilogy. Some people have said that the prequels suffer from lightsaber overkill, but let’s admit it, most “Star Wars” fans have owned at least one toy lightsaber in their life and there’s no denying that sense of childish glee you got during “The Phantom Menace” when Darth Maul extended his double-bladed lightsaber for the first time.
Although other lightsaber styles and light-weapons appeared in the Extended Universe novels before the prequel trilogy, the prequels gave us our first visual representation of anything other than a single-bladed blue, red or green lightsaber with a straight hilt. The prequels gave us the Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber, Count Dooku’s curved-hilt saber, Mace Windu’s purple saber and Yoda’s short saber. These new experimentations paved the way for Kylo Ren’s broadsword-style crossguard saber and anything they have in store for future films.
10. VISUAL EFFECTS
Was there too much CGI in the prequel trilogy? Maybe. Were some scenes so packed with CGI that it was hard to focus on any particular thing? Sometimes. Were they some of the best visual effects ever put to screen at the time of their release? Without a doubt. One of the best space battles of the saga was in the first five minutes of “Revenge of the Sith” and it was entirely CGI.
The alien designs were more creative and interesting than ever. Finales were no longer just a lightsaber battle in a space station. We got the epic lightsaber duel in the Plasma Refinery Complex in “The Phantom Menace,” the colosseum showdown in “Attack of the Clones” and the battle on the lava planet, Mustafar, in “Revenge of the Sith.” Villain designs got more complex and interesting too. General Grievous only appeared in “Revenge of the Sith” and almost no backstory was given, yet he was one of the most memorable characters of the prequels. That all came down to the character design.
9. A BIGGER UNIVERSE
The original trilogy, while classic, felt kind of small. “A New Hope” only took us from Tatooine to space. “Empire Strikes Back” showed us the ice planet, Hoth, Dagobah and Cloud City. “Return of the Jedi” only gave us Endor. In contrast, the prequels took us to dozens of planets and locations. Each planet had cityscapes and a bustling citizenry. In “Attack of the Clones,” we even got to see the seedy underground when Anakin and Obi-Wan chased Padme’s would-be assassin through the city on Coruscant.
It doesn’t feel like the characters are just moving from plot point to plot point, but rather they’re moving around a living, breathing universe with characters who have lives outside the battle of good and evil. As hated as the Gungans are, we got an in-depth look at their culture, and even the political situation between their people and the land-dwelling people of Naboo. We even got to see more of the warrior Wookiee race and the Tusken Raiders of Tatooine.
8. THE EMPEROR’S RISE TO POWER
Emperor Palpatine’s insidious rise to power happened right in front of everyone’s eyes, and yet he was so subtle in his machinations, moving people like pawns in a chess game, that no one saw it coming until it was too late. In “The Phantom Menace” he influences the trade federation to invade Naboo, which brings Queen Amidala to Coruscant where she seeks his counsel. He then convinces her to call for the Senate to remove Chancellor Valorum from office, leaving Palpatine to take his place after the crisis on Naboo.
In “Attack of the Clones,” his Sith apprentice, Count Dooku, leads a movement of planets to secede from the Republic. He uses this crisis to be granted emergency powers from the Senate, and his first act is to authorize the creation of a clone army. Finally, in “Revenge of the Sith,” he manipulates Anakin into betraying the Jedi and reshapes the Republic into the Galactic Empire with himself as Emperor, while using his clone army to wipe out the only remaining threat to his power, the Jedi.
7. MACE WINDU
Mace Windu is an extremely compelling, if under-utilized, character in the prequels. He represents a Jedi on the edge of light and dark. His lightsaber even reflects his duality being purple, a combination of blue (the common saber of light associated with the Jedi) and red (the usual choice of saber for the Sith). Samuel L. Jackson always plays him on the verge of rage while all the other Jedi we see carry an air of wise tranquility, because anger is generally a Sith characteristic. Just before Anakin stops him, he’s even about to murder Palpatine, something that would be considered far from the Jedi way.
Windu is also the only character to have a differently colored lightsaber from the standard colors which, behind the scenes, was because Samuel L. Jackson requested it from George Lucas, reasoning that Windu was the second most powerful Jedi next to Yoda, so it made sense for him to have a different color (Secretly, Jackson just wanted to be able to find himself in the battle on Geonosis with dozens of other lightsabers on-screen).
6. YODA VS. THE EMPEROR
Whether or not Yoda should have been portrayed as a warrior is a topic of much debate in the “Star Wars” community. In the original trilogy, he was a wise old master of the force, a non-violent tiny Buddha. When he battled Count Dooku in “Attack of the Clones,” some people thought it went against the character’s nature. In “Revenge of the Sith,” the finale features Yoda going head-to-head with The Emperor. Ultimate Good vs. Ultimate Evil.
Regardless of your feelings on Yoda’s portrayal as a fighter in the prequels, the question of “Who would win in a fight between Yoda and the Emperor?” had been asked by fans all over the world for decades before we got to see it. The wisest and most powerful Jedi master in the universe finally went up against the wisest and most powerful Sith lord in the universe. Whether you liked it or not, it would have been a major disappointment for a lot of fans if the two had never faced off against each other.
5. THE SHIPS
In the original trilogy, ships like the X-Wings, the Millennium Falcon, TIE fighters and Star Destroyers fascinated fans so much that some of us can recite technical stats and specifications for these fictional crafts at the drop of a hat. The prequels introduced dozens of new models of ships with interesting and unique designs. The real intrigue from the ships in the prequels, however, came from how many of them were meant to be predecessors of the ships from the original trilogy.
George Lucas could have just continued to use the same ships from his original films, but he wanted to show that the universe had evolved and changed since the time of the prequels. The ARC-170 fighter that appeared in “Revenge of the Sith” during the Clone Wars resembled a bulkier X-Wing and the Republic Attack Cruiser from “Attack of the Clones” was a clear predecessor to the Imperial Star Destroyer. Even the ships that didn’t resemble those from the original trilogy were visually striking. Who could forget Queen Amidala’s chrome Nubian Royal Starship or Jango Fett’s upright-flying Firespray-class interceptor?
4. STAR POWER
By the time “The Phantom Menace” came out, “Star Wars” had already taken on legendary status, so when the prequels were announced, they managed to attract quite a few major stars. Liam Neeson, who was already popular for “Schindler’s List,” “Rob Roy” and “Les Miserables,” among other films, took the role of Qui-Gon Jinn. Christopher Lee was famous for everything from “Dracula” to “James Bond” to “Lord of the Rings.” Jimmy Smits played Leia’s adoptive father Bail Organa. Terence Stamp played Chancellor Valorum. Samuel L. Jackson appeared in all three films as Mace Windu.
The only major star the original trilogy had was Sir Alec Guinness, but everyone else was relatively unknown at the time. Even James Earl Jones didn’t really break out until he landed the role as Darth Vader. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher managed to launch successful film careers after “Star Wars,” and Mark Hammil went on to a long successful career of voice work, most notably playing The Joker in nearly every animated Batman adventure, but even they were new faces before “Star Wars.”
3. THE JEDI ORDER
We heard a lot of vague tales of the ancient Jedi Order in the original trilogy. They were some kind of quasi-religious order of monks who were masters of the lightsaber and wielders of the force. The prequel trilogy let us actually see them in action. In the original trilogy, Obi-Wan gave us a nostalgic reminiscence of the Jedi at their best, an infallible force for good.
What we got in the prequels was a bureaucratic society of flawed people struggling to reconcile their natural emotions with the laws of their order. In the end, the Sith and the Jedi really were two sides of the same coin. The Sith completely indulged in their passions and emotions to the point where their greed for power overtook them, and the Jedi closed themselves off from emotion, eventually leading Anakin to nurture a hatred toward a neglectful father-figure, who only told him he loved him when it was too late to go back.
2. ORDER 66
Before “Revenge of the Sith,” audiences wondered how Emperor Palpatine was going to overthrow the Jedi Order and wipe them out to the point where they’re practically extinct by the time “A New Hope” rolls around. When he executed Order 66, it became all too clear. In the tragic scene, we watch Jedi after Jedi fall to the clone troopers. If nothing else, it shows that it was Palpatine’s plan to murder the Jedi from the moment he acquired the clone army and probably long before.
Order 66 marked the end of the Clone Wars and the beginning of the Jedi Purge. It was revealed in the animated series, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that during the cloning process that created them, all clones were implanted with a bio-chip that could be activated by Palpatine’s voice command of “Execute Order 66” ensuring complete and total obedience and erasing all existing biases and beliefs.
1. THE STUDENT BETRAYS THE TEACHER
One of the greatest things about the prequels was the overarching relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan and the tragic betrayal that eventually tears them apart. While it fell somewhat flat in the execution, the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin throughout the prequels is at the very core of what led to the birth of Darth Vader. Obi-Wan took him away from his mother, who only ever saw her one more time when she was dying. He raised him from boyhood, teaching him to be both a Jedi and a man.
In their interactions in “Attack of the Clones,” it’s clear that they have become close friends in the way they joke with each other, and they fought side-by-side as brothers in arms in the Clone Wars. As close as they should be, the laws of the Jedi order prevent Obi-Wan from showing the family love that Anakin so desperately desires, the same kind of love that he was forced to abandon from his mother as a child. It wasn’t until it was too late that Obi-Wan finally tells him, “You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.”
Be sure to tell us in the comments what your favorite part of the “Star Wars” prequels is!
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