Where Star Wars: Episodes I–III Succeeded
I’m one of those rare Star Wars fans who actually likes the prequel trilogy. I wouldn’t call myself an apologist, because I think most criticisms you could make about these movies are true. I won’t deny that for a second. But I still love these moves and enjoy them (without irony) every time I watch them. It depresses me that other fans can’t have a good time with them like I can. So, in the interest of changing that, here are a few things the prequels did right. Focus on these the next time you watch them instead of Jar Jar Binks or awkward dialogue. I’ve got a good feeling about this.
The original Star Wars trilogy isn’t lacking in iconic worlds, but the prequels explore and develop worlds in a way the originals didn’t. Tatooine seems like a place that civilization has actually touched. Coruscant is vibrant and dynamic. Naboo is diverse and exciting. Even locations that get less screen time have a certain level of depth and development that places like Hoth or Endor didn’t have. We get an idea of the culture and atmosphere of Geonosis. Kamino delivers an alien backdrop for a deadly investigation. Even the brief shots of Kashyyyk give us more depth than we had with Dagobah.
2. Cool Machines
Part of the wonder of the original trilogy is seeing things like the Death Star, AT-ATs, or Star Destroyers for the first (or fiftieth) time. I’m sure we all have fond memories of X-Wings and TIE Fighters duking it out. These grand sci-fi machines create a sense of awe that keep me watching these movies over and over again. The prequel trilogy continues this tradition. Things like destroyer droids, pod racers, and MTTs and battle droids kept me on board through The Phantom Menace. Throughout the trilogy, the droid and clone armies (not to mention Slave I) are brilliant technological eye candy.
3. Beautiful Music
Okay, so it’s not very controversial to point out how much of a boss John Williams is. But we still ought to take the time to appreciate the breathtaking music that the Star Wars prequels gave us. The reminiscent wonder of “Anakin’s Theme” brings me back to the feeling of discovery of the original movies. The weaving of “The Imperial March” through other pieces to cues important moments with confident fluidity. The simple beauty of “Anakin and Padmé” does a better job of making the movies romantic than the actors ever could. The swell of “Anakin’s Betrayal” as Order 66 is executed makes the heartbreak so much heavier. And to be frank, if you don’t think that “Duel of the Fates” is one of the greatest pieces of music in any film ever, then we can’t be friends.
4. Intense Tension
The finer details of writing in the Star Wars prequels is subpar, sure. But there are some moments when the big stuff comes together, and a lot of those moments have a common theme: tension. Moments like Anakin, under Palpatine’s pressure, deciding whether or not to kill Count Dooku. Obi-Wan and Jango Fett playing coy with each other on Kamino, each trying to keep their true intentions from one another is a deliciously tense scene. And if anyone tells you they’re not all about Obi-Wan and Darth Maul staring each other down before the final part of their duel, that person is definitely lying.
5. More Yoda
The nightmare fuel puppet from The Phantom Menace aside, Yoda is one of the most enjoyable parts of the prequels. He’s all over, dispensing wisdom and ass-kickings as needed. Seeing him in battle and the confidence with which he wields a lightsaber definitely makes me geek out every time I see it. He even brings a cathartic cockiness when confronting Palpatine. But the top Yoda moment is in Attack of the Clones when we see him teaching younglings. The warmth with which he guides and jokes with them always puts a smile on my face.
6. Palpatine’s Machinations
Making tax disputes the catalyst for the Clone Wars was a mistake. It’s unengaging and caused a lot of people to not pay attention to the political side of the Star Wars prequels. That’s a shame, because when you look at it as a whole, Palpatine’s maneuverings are fascinating to follow. From starting the conflict, to positioning players, to grooming Anakin, to provoking the Jedi Council, it’s a fun ride to be on board for. Every time I watch the prequels, I notice some new small detail that points to a larger behind-the-scenes plot, and that’s extremely rewarding.
7. Sassy Obi-Wan
The prequels aren’t good at comic relief. The once-hilarious team of R2-D2 and C-3PO don’t deliver the same humor. Moreover, we all have bitter memories of Jar Jar. But where droids and Gungans fail us, Obi-Wan is there with some snarky comment to lighten the mood. The stoic and fatherly Jedi Master we know from the original trilogy hasn’t developed yet. Instead we have a sassy and wry Jedi Knight who makes even bad jokes land. Things like a cocky “hello there” as he drops behind General Grievous, or his grumpy and sarcastic “good job” in response to Anakin’s failed rescue attempt on Geonosis get a laugh out of me, whether they should or not.
8. Relationship Development
Speaking of Obi-Wan, I think most agree that Ewan McGregor was one of the better casting choices. He superbly portrays Obi-Wan as his relationship progresses with Anakin. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the trilogy. Obi-Wan acts as a competent teacher, offering guidance and knowledge. He becomes a caring friend, and is the only person able to comfort Anakin. Seeing the difference between the pair’s last meeting as friends and their eventual duel is heartbreaking. It gives the transition an emotional weight and substance.
9. Lightsaber Techniques
The original trilogy is limited in its portrayal of lightsaber duels. Between Obi-Wan, Vader, and Luke, we don’t get much of a sense of different fighting styles. The prequels, on the other hand, put a lot of effort into making each fighter unique. We’re treated to the flurry of blows and aggressive assault of Darth Maul; the acrobatics and fluidity of Yoda; the reserved and reactive stances of Count Dooku; the elegance and control of Mace Windu; the swiftness and lethality of Palpatine. All these work together to create unique and engaging duels throughout the prequel trilogy.
10. Hilarious Memes
Alright, you got me. This isn’t something the Star Wars prequels intentionally did, but I have to talk about it. As someone who spends most of their time on the Internet, my life has been made infinitely better by people putting the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise in places where it doesn’t belong, and I’m sure yours has too. Star Wars references are about half of what comes out of my mouth, and seeing the online world embrace silly memes about what constitutes podracing and who has the high ground brightens my day every time.
But it’s about more than jokes. The memes surrounding the prequels show us what’s most wonderful about the Star Wars universe. Even when the movie might not be very good, fans will still find a way to have fun with an enjoy it. And if that’s not doing Star Wars right, I don’t know what is.
What are you favorite moments in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith? Talk about them in the comments!