Ah, the Star Wars prequels. For a long time, they were the most divisive science-fiction movies in existence. Well, at least until the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Although, in all actuality, the online flames fanned by the latter made you long for 1999-2005. At least there was no Twitter back then.
But look, fair’s fair. The Star Wars prequels get a bad rap. And, let’s be honest, justifiably so. But no matter how much of a mess a film may be, there are always some gems to be found among the duds even if you have to squint hard to see them.
Thus, in anticipation of Disney Plus’s Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries, let’s look at the top ten good things the prequels did – both in terms of moviemaking and fleshing out George Lucas’s beloved universe.
10) They Gave Us A Good Laugh
This point might appear harsh, but it nonetheless remains true. One of the Star Wars prequel movies’ biggest contributions is its supply of quotable internet memes. And, as funny as it sounds, it’s thanks to George Lucas’s silly dialogue that we have them.
The infamous “I hate sand. It’s messy and gets everywhere” line inspired some side-splitting memes featuring Anakin. And it’s hard to describe the impact of the ‘I have the high ground’ meme. For better or worse, the prequel movies have given us some unintentional comedy – and are a crash course on how not to write dramatic dialogue.
9) It Inspired the Spin-Offs
While many deride the Star Wars prequels, ‘many’ also agree the spin-offs they inspired are pretty good. In fact, in a few cases (i.e. the two Clone Wars TV Shows), the spin-offs are of greater quality than the movies they are based on. This is perhaps down to a few factors, namely the absence of George Lucas, the quality of the writing, the convenience of multiple episodes of TV, and the capitalization of their individual artistic styles.
Without the prequels, we would not get the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi TV Series starring Ewan McGregor. The inclusion of Jango Fett inspired further stories of Mandalorians and gave the Clones their iconic Kiwi accents. In ways both little and big, the Star Wars prequels have inspired the Star Wars we see today.
8) The Enemy Designs Were Cool
While there are many good reasons to deride the Star Wars prequel’s writing, the visuals are impressive. One major part of this lies is in the enemy’s designs. The introduction of the Trade Federation droids also meant the introduction of some crazily creative adversaries for our heroes.
Some memorable examples include the Droideka (destroyer droids), who roll into a shell and unleash rapid-fire while protected by their shields. Then there’s the battle droid (or ‘clanker’), who has wrist-activated lasers with a hunchback-like body design. While one wishes they were more of a threat to the heroes, it’s hard to disagree there are some creative designs in these movies.
7) The Most Tragic Moments in Star Wars
The problem with the Star Wars prequel movies isn’t that they don’t have great moments. There are a lot of them. The real problem is that most of the time, the threads that connect these moments are poorly spun by bad writing.
But hey, that aside, the Star Wars prequels feature some of the franchise’s most heart-wrenching tragic moments. Whether that’s Anakin watching his mother die in his arms, the eradication of the Jedi, or Anakin’s dark turn, there are tragic moments aplenty. And, if you’ve managed to invest yourself in these characters, they’ll hit you hard.
6) More Ian MacDiarmid
Ian McDiarmid’s performance as the Emperor in Return of the Jedi is iconic. McDermot, an English actor in the Shakespearian style, made us believe this was a powerful man capable of pulling Vader’s strings. And amazingly, he achieves this long before he unleashes his Force Lightning upon Luke Skywalker.
Indeed, it isn’t the CGI embellishments that give Emperor Palpatine his power. Rather, it’s Dermot’s cheesy but endearing performance that does the trick. As Senator, we see why your average joe wouldn’t guess his real identity via his mild-mannered façade. And when Palpatine recounts the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise to Anakin, subtly taming his emotions, we see a skilled manipulator at work. His over-the-top turn as Sidious is also plain enjoyable to watch, giving us a clear view of one of the prequels’ strengths.
5) Darth Maul
There’s an interesting irony surrounding The Phantom Menace. It’s often cited as one of the worst movies in the Star Wars franchise. And yet, this notoriously terrible movie gave birth to one of the Star Wars fandom’s most beloved villains – Darth Maul.
Sadly, Darth Maul isn’t given any development during TPM. But his iconic face paint and double-bladed red lightsaber make the character one of the most visually-stylish villains in the franchise. Undoubtedly one of George Lucas’s better inventions, the character was brought back in the Clone Wars cartoon to fulfill his potential.
4) Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan
Whether you like the prequels or not, there’s one thing most agree on – Ewan McGregor is a great Obi-Wan. We see Obi-Wan evolve from Padawan to Jedi Master throughout the three films. And by the third, it’s easy to see how McGregor’s Obi-Wan becomes the Alec Guinness version of A New Hope. Not just in appearance, but in attitude and character.
For examples of how McGregor elevates the films, see his final speech to a burning Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. He exudes emotion in this scene, making you truly believe he’s heartbroken about losing his friend. And even in scenes when he’s scolding Anakin as his strict mentor, we feel the pain Obi-Wan feels trying to discipline his apprentice. Overall, it’s hard to imagine a better actor to portray young Obi-Wan.
3) The Universe Feels Alive
The original Star Wars – later appropriately subtitled A New Hope – was a revolutionary film for its time. The film’s practical effects helped us feel as though its fictional universe was credible. Whether that be through filming elaborately-designed starship models or using the desert sands of Tunisia as Tatooine, Lucas succeeded in making us feel, as Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy famously remarked, as though “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
But special effects age as technology progresses. In some cases, the original trilogy’s backdrops feel rudimentary compared to the lively futuristic chaos of Coruscant and Naboo’s city of Theed. This is achieved through relatively-modern CGI and makes Star Wars’ universe feel more ‘lived-in’ as a result.
2) Lightsaber Fights
This might be a controversial one. After all, many fans think that the lightsaber fights in the Star Wars prequels are flashy and elaborate, but lack the feeling or tension of the original trilogy’s confrontations. And while this is partly true (partly down to the fact we seldom harbor any connection to the characters doing the fighting), the duels have their upsides.
The enhanced lightsaber choreography is a visual confirmation of the skill of the Jedi and Sith. Just by watching Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon hold their own against Darth Maul, you get why these force-users are so revered and, in some cases, feared. Their fights are as eloquent as a ballroom dance and yet, as dangerous as can be. And they can be a damn good watch (Kenobi vs. Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith being a memorable example).
1) More John Williams
Anyone who’s grown up with the Star Wars movies knows the deal. John Williams’ iconic score is as much of a character of Lucas’s universe as the ones played by the actors. Through the ‘Imperial March,’ we feel the intimidating nature of the Galactic Empire, and when we hear the main Star Wars theme burst to life on the speakers alongside the opening crawl, we feel unexplainable magic on par with the Force.
Therefore, it was great to have Williams return for the prequel movies. Although Anakin and Padme’s relationship is admittedly awkward (thanks to Lucas’s dialogue and the wooden acting), Williams’ love theme ‘Across the Stars’ is a beautiful serenade of the couple. And by bringing a choir into the mix, the celebrated composer enhances the prequels’ lightsaber duels with ‘Duel of the Fates’ and ‘Battle of the Heroes’. It’s great work like this that has us looking forward to what he brings to Disney Plus’s Obi-Wan Kenobi later this month.
But that’s just our take. Do you think the Star Wars prequel trilogy is really that bad? Or are there good things to take away from these movies?