Let’s face it, the Star Wars prequels are pretty despised, and that’s because they are mostly terrible. The Phantom Menace introduced fans that had been lining up around the block for over fifteen years to the whiny little brat that would supposedly become Darth Vader and it just went downhill from there. But like all things that are unanimously hated, they’re not all that bad. There are a few silver linings to the dark, grayish cloud that destroyed your childhood. It’s not all doom and gloom, as they say. Here are 10 things to love in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
10. Jango Fett
Some prequel trilogy devotees think that Jango Fett is actually a stronger character than Boba Fett. Boba was always played mysteriously in the original trilogy, which is partly why audiences took to him so much. He swaggered around with his ice cool demeanor inspired by Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. But he was such a minor and insignificant character that George Lucas didn’t even realize how much of a fan favorite Boba Fett had become and that’s why he had such a brief and unceremonious death. In the prequel trilogy, Lucas got a second go around when he introduced us to Boba’s father. It’s easy to say that Jango Fett is basically Boba Fett, but with purple armor instead of green armor. But that’s not the case. Jango is a much more developed character than his son. He’s the best mercenary in the galaxy and his DNA was used to build the Clone Army that would eventually bring down the Jedi Order and do the Emperor’s dirty work for years to come. It may come as no surprise that since Boba Fett was inspired by a classic western movie character, so was Jango (he even got his name from Franco Nero’s Django character).
9. Building on the Jedi/Sith conflict
In the original trilogy, we got some vague notions of the Jedi and the Sith, but the only Sith Lord we ever got introduced to was Darth Vader (and Emperor Palpatine, technically, but he was a Sith Lord back when he was a Senator and before he was an evil Emperor, so we didn’t get to see him in action much in the original trilogy). And as for the Jedi, we got a preliminary idea of what they were from Obi Wan and Yoda, but since the Jedi Order had fallen by the time those movies took place, we never got much of an idea of what the Jedi were about. In the prequel trilogy, we got an idea of the Jedi and the Sith as actual organizations on either side of the Force. We got to see more Jedi Knights and more Sith Lords and we got a clearer representation of their contentions. We only got an ambiguous conception of the Jedi versus Sith skirmish, but the prequel movies filled in all the blanks. Props to George Lucas for building on that conflict and giving us a clearer idea of their place in the fictional universe that he had created.
8. John Williams’ score
No matter what you think of the prequel movies, no matter how much you might claim to hate them, you cannot deny that John Williams’ musical score is as phenomenal as ever. He’s a composer who never lets you down. So many of his compositions are memorable and revered and the prequel trilogy is no different. In fact, a couple of the tracks in those movies rank among his very best work. “Duel of the Fates,” which plays over the lightsaber duel between Obi Wan and Qui Gon and Darth Maul, is perhaps just as iconic as some of Williams’ most memorable tracks from the original trilogy, like “The Imperial March” and the main theme tune. It has an ethereal, religious quality that really makes the duel sound as epic as it looks. And that’s indicative of the feel of the whole trilogy’s soundtrack. Williams really pushed the boat out with his soundtrack for the prequels. He even experimented with synthesizers to get a brand new sound that he had never been able to achieve with the original trilogy. He said that he used the synthesizers to “capture the magical, mystical force that a regular orchestra might not have been able to provide,” and craft a sound that was “more mysterious and mystical and less military,” which he felt was a problem with his score for the original trilogy.
7. Darth Maul
When he sat down to write the first movie in a prequel trilogy to his most beloved creation, one of the many Herculean tasks that George Lucas was faced with was creating a villain that would top, or at least match Darth Vader. Vader had become arguably the most iconic villain in cinema history at this point and one of the most unique characters ever conceived. His suit and his breathing and his red lightsaber and his cape all made him a fearsome presence. Lucas had to replace all of those things, but still keep the character fearsome, and also make him just as unique and original. It’s fair to say that he did a great job with Darth Maul. Instead of a mask, he had a horrifying red and black pattern on his face with horns sticking out of his head and doubled the threat of his lightsaber by giving him another blade. Maul might not live up to Darth Vader as a complex character, but he certainly lives up to him as a villain. A lot of the prequel trilogy’s villains are great – from Count Dooku to General Grievous – but Maul is the scariest, coolest, and most memorable.
6. Space battles
The space battle sequences in the prequel trilogy are undeniably awesome. They were directed with such a deft, kinetic style, with slick visuals and impressive visual effects. The space battles in the original trilogy were revolutionary for their time, but they were made with little models. They don’t have the dizzying camera movements and colorful laser and explosion effects that the prequels’ space battles do. This is something that the new sequels haven’t even gotten right and they’re being made now, years after George Lucas pioneered the CGI technology that made visual effects like this possible. The space battles in the sequel trilogy aren’t as exciting or as visually interesting as the ones in the prequels, since they feel flat and uninspired. The directors don’t even move the camera half the time, whereas Lucas followed individual starfighters through a huge, sweeping battle in the deep reaches of space. Plus, hardly any of them even take place in space. Most of the dogfights are in the sky or over a lake which doesn’t make any sense (it’s not called Sky Wars or Lake Wars, is it? It’s called Star Wars!). So, yes, there is in fact an area in which the prequel trilogy is superior to the sequel trilogy and it’s the space battles.
5. Qui Gon Jinn
We now know Liam Neeson as an action movie star and that’s what has made him a badass in the public eye. But he has always been considered to be awesome. There aren’t many actors who could liberate Jews from concentration camps in a three hour black and white drama and smash robots with lightsabers and utter the line, “There’s always a bigger fish,” within the same couple of years. Most actors couldn’t do both of those movies at all, let alone do both of them in the ’90s. Neeson is Irish and Lucas apparently was originally seeking an American actor for the role, but he decided on Neeson because Neeson is, in Lucas’ warm words, a “master actor, who the other actors will look up to, who has got the qualities of strength that the character demands.” He’s right about that and what we got from it was a fantastic performance and an iconic character. It was a shame that Qui Gon died so early on in the trilogy, but his death was so important for the development of Obi Wan’s character that it was sort of worth it. Still, it would’ve been great to see more of him in the prequels.
4. Easter eggs
The prequel trilogy is full of Easter eggs that nod to the audience about the original trilogy. For example, we see an early version of the Landspeeder that would eventually be owned by Luke Skywalker parked at Mos Espa. The number 1138 recurs throughout the prequels, including one moment where we see it written on a Battle Droid’s back. This is a reference to George Lucas’ directorial debut, which was further referenced in the line, “Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138,” in the original 1977 classic. There are also more general callbacks to the earlier movies, like the recurring use of the Wilhelm scream. We even see the Millennium Falcon docking at a spaceport at one point, but that’s a very brief Easter egg – blink and you’ll miss it! George Lucas even wanted to throw in more original trilogy Easter eggs, including a ten year old Han Solo who was cut from an early draft of the Kashyyyk scene, but he was wise not to overdo it. It seems like he found the right balance between breaking new ground and winking to the audience about the old ground. The prequels also have Easter eggs that reference movies outside the Skywalker saga – in the Senate, you can see some representatives from E.T.’s planet!
3. The Anakin/Obi Wan relationship
“You were my brother, Anakin!” While the original trilogy is the story of Luke Skywalker following his dreams and saving the galaxy, the prequel trilogy is as much as about Anakin Skywalker’s relationship with Obi Wan Kenobi as it is about his development from innocent young boy to evil ruler of the galaxy. Originally, Qui Gon picks up Anakin with the intention of training him, despite what Yoda and the rest of the Jedi Council say about the darkness in his soul, and that’s what Anakin is happy with. When Qui Gon dies, it forces both Obi Wan and Anakin to do what they’re not prepared to do: Obi Wan, a Padawan, is forced to become a Master and train some kid who he didn’t even believe in to begin with, and Anakin has to follow the tutelage of some guy who was the Padawan of the Master that he wanted to train him. Over the course of the trilogy, he becomes frustrated that Obi Wan sees him as a trainee, rather than an equal. And then Obi Wan reveals that he saw Anakin as a brother, but by then, it’s too late. The whole trilogy culminates in an emotional standoff between Anakin and Obi Wan on the volcanic planet of Mustafar, which is the perfect choice of a setting, because as the volcanoes of Mustafar erupt, the volcano in Anakin’s heart erupts and everything he’s been feeling about Obi Wan comes to the surface. Obi Wan sums up the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker perfectly in one line: “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them – bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness.”
2. Lightsaber duels
The lightsaber battles in the original trilogy were the first ones that we ever got to see. They were the ones that made us all rush out to the nearest toy store and buy our own plastic lightsabers so that we could replicate those duels with our friends, putting millions upon millions of dollars into George Lucas’ pocket thanks to a misguided contract deal drawn up by 20th Century Fox executives who didn’t believe in his weird little space movie. But let’s not kid ourselves. The lightsaber duels in the original trilogy are pretty vanilla. The first one is old Obi Wan versus old Darth Vader. Those guys aren’t really moving. And there was only one of those lightsaber duels per movie. But in the prequel trilogy, there’s one every five minutes. And the moves aren’t incredible. CGI effects and younger actors in harnesses mean that the guys are doing back flips and twisting through the air and using the Force to send each other flying across the room. There are some battles where it’s like two guys fighting one guy, like Obi Wan and Qui Gon versus Darth Maul. They’re all incredible. They’re better than the lightsaber duels in the sequel trilogy, too.
1. Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan
There aren’t a lot of Hollywood actors who can nail a British accent – Robert Downey, Jr. did a good job as Sherlock Holmes and that’s about it – but in the role of young Obi Wan Kenobi, Ewan McGregor did a flawless English accent. And this was hot on the heels of his most iconic role, heroin addict Renton in Danny Boyle’s black comedy Trainspotting, which was about as Scottish as they come. It was hard to picture him without a Scottish accent and a lot of viewers were watching his British accent intently, waiting for him to slip up and for the Scottish to come through. But it never happened! His accent was flawless. And it wasn’t just the accent – that was just the tip of the iceberg. It was a brilliant performance on top of that. One of the problems with Alden Ehrenreich’s recent performance as a young Han Solo is that he was making too much of a conscious decision to ‘do a Harrison Ford.’ But McGregor wasn’t trying to ‘do an Alec Guinness.’ He simply made the character his own and played him truly. He conveyed all of the emotions so perfectly: anger at Darth Maul, sadness at the corruption of Anakin, whatever it may be. There’s no doubt about it: Ewan McGregor is the best thing about the prequel trilogy.