10 Things From the ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Trilogy that Were Actually Good



“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is just around the corner now, and it seems like one of the reasons everyone is so excited for it is that it feels like a return to the proper form of the original trilogy, and a rejection of the much-maligned prequels. Tie fighters and stormtroopers and Han Solo! No Jar-Jars or Midichlo-whatevers to be found again from here on out, and good riddance. But while it’s easy to find faults with the prequel trilogy (because let’s face it, there are tons), or dismiss the movies outright, it’s not like they weren’t without their diamonds in the rough. So before we look ahead into the future of the galaxy far, far away, let’s look back a long, long time ago, and acknowledge 10 things from the prequels that were actually good.

10. Exploration of the Galaxy

Before we ever even see the words “Star Wars” blast across the screen, every movie starts the same way: with the intro of “A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” This establishes the story’s setting before we know anything else about it, and galaxies are pretty freakin’ huge, each one holding countless solar systems with countless worlds within them. And yet, when you think about the original trilogy, there’s only so many planets we actually visit. Hell, “A New Hope” really only takes place on Tatooine and space, with maybe a minute or two of screen time on Yavin IV. Episode V only has Hoth, Dagobah, and Bespin, and then Episode VI just goes back to what Episode IV did by taking place only on Tatooine, a forest, and a death star.

The prequels however, took us to vast amounts of new worlds. The sprawling, metropolitan city-planet of Coruscant; the regal elegance and lush landscapes of Naboo; the endless oceans and never-ending rain of Kamino; the Mars-esque, anthill mountains of Geonosis; the tumultuous, lava spewing Mustafar – we see them all and more in the prequels. By taking us to all of these various planets, the prequel movies not only spark our imagination of the limitless places to be found in the “Star Wars” galaxy, but they also gave us a real sense that the events that take place really have an effect on not just the characters, but the countless peoples across countless worlds. More lives at stake, more tension in the events and their consequences. One might argue that all the planet-hopping makes the action of the prequels too spread out and fast-paced, but it still gives feeling of scope and scale to the world of “Star Wars” that the original trilogy just couldn’t do.


9. Pod Racing

Pod racing was arguably one of the only entirely new things to be introduced into the “Star Wars” universe with the prequel trilogy. We saw droids before, we saw ships before, we saw lightsabers and blasters and the Force before, but you know what we had never seen in the “Star Wars” universe? Leisure. Sport. Lifestyle. I know that “war” is literally in the title, and so the conflict is the driving factor of the story, but it’s still nice to have a moment of levity, where we can zoom out and see what else is in the world. It reminds us that the world of “Star Wars” isn’t just a stage to present a battle between good and evil, it’s a place that is actually lived in by various peoples. The people of that world like to gamble and be entertained, just like we do, and showing that lets us become a bit more invested in that world.


Plus, the actual pod racing scene in “The Phantom Menace” is a lot of fun. Does it drag on a bit and recycle the same sorts of shots? Yes. Does it directly further the plot? Not exactly. But it’s still exciting! The rush and carnage of that race are still intense, and watching Anakin pull through despite all the obstacles plant the early seeds of showing us his proficiency with the Force. Love it or hate it now, you have to admit the first time you watched that scene, you were on the edge of your seat.

Not to mention the Nintendo 64 and arcade games based on the race were incredibly fun, and still hold up to this day. And the race was the longest stretch of “The Phantom Menace” without any dialogue, so that bit of salvation alone is worth praising.


8. The Jedi Order

In the original trilogy, the jedi knights are talked about as mysterious figures, lost to antiquity. There’s something to be said for mystery, and how delving too deep into it robs the imagination and intrigue. However, I still think it was incredibly cool to see the Jedi Order in their prime. We got to see their temple and their customs, how they taught the young and how they arranged their hierarchy. They weren’t just some myth, they were a legitimate force for good, complete with their own set of beliefs, values, and traditions. I even think it’s nice that they had some bits of absurd bureaucracy in the council, and that they ended up as significant political players. These flaws made them feel more grounded and less idealistic, and their involvement in the war was a solid set-up for their downfall.

It was also nice to see a much wider set of diversity in the Jedi order. In the original trilogy, knowledge of the Force seems to be restricted to just a few dudes and a puppet. But in the prequels, we saw a whole slew of Jedis of all varying races, genders, and even species. You didn’t have to be Luke Skywalker if you wanted to pretend to be a Jedi anymore, you could be literally anyone, and that kind of broad openness is the perfect thing to bring “Star Wars” to more generations of viewers from all over the world.

7. Expanded Universe

I feel like I’m slightly cheating here since these aren’t technically in the prequel movies themselves, but they’re a result of the prequels and damn awesome, so I thought it worth putting on this list.

While some die-hard fans might want to crucify me for saying this, the fact that remains is that a lot of, if not most of, expanded universe material that involves or proceeds the original trilogy isn’t all that great. Episodes IV through VI are such a tightly knit, perfect story that it doesn’t need too much else added to it. With the exception of the current Marvel comic line-up, and a few key pieces of what is now deemed “Legends” material, EU for the original trilogy feels like sprinkling a five-star dessert with M&Ms: they’re bits of sweetness, but given their context, unnecessary at best, and cheapening the experience at worst.

It’s a whole different story for the prequels. There is such a huge time gap between Episodes I and II, and yet another between II and III – both of them filled with material that benefitted from expansion. The first gap allowed several books and comics about Anakin’s training as a young Jedi, and more importantly, who the hell Count Dooku was and how he rose to such prominence. Then the second gap of course, was the Clone Wars.

If you haven’t seen it, you really need to check out Genndy Tartakovsky’s amazing animated series, “Clone Wars.” On top of absolutely stunning action sequences, it captures pivotal moments in Anakin’s character, it explores even more planets in the galaxy, gives the spotlight to a wide variety of other Jedi, and builds up the power and cunning of the major villains. Seriously, General Grievous is such a force of nature in this series, he seems like a total wimp in “Revenge of the Sith.” “Clone Wars” was such a hit, it spawned a computer-animated feature film and a following series similarly titled, “The Clone Wars.” “The Clone Wars” may have gotten off on a really rocky start, but a few seasons in it picked up steam. Several of its characters became so beloved, that they’ve even carried over into the new animated series “Star Wars: Rebels,” which has garnered nothing but praise.

In many ways, the Expanded Universe was the greatest silver lining of the prequels. There were serious holes riddled throughout the story, but this allowed many talented artists to fill them with their vision and passion for “Star Wars.”

6. Lots of Lightsabers

The lightsaber is arguably the coolest and most iconic thing out of the multitude of cool and iconic things to come out of “Star Wars.” The look, the sound, the sheer power of it – it all radiates pure awesome. And yet, for being as monumental as they are, the lightsabers don’t see a ton of use in the original trilogy. “Return of the Jedi” has a fair amount of Luke using his Jedi weapon, but in “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” we see lightsaber usage in only a handful of minor scenes outside of the pivotal duels.

But considering that the prequels take place when the Jedi were still at large, we were treated to loads of scenes with lightsabers. Deflecting laser blasts, cutting through walls, slicing droids, slicing limbs, clashing with one another – we saw it all!

And then there were the great fights. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that watching Luke fight Vader in “Empire” and “Jedi” is much more exciting and enjoyable because of the tension in those scenes, and how pivotal those moments are for the characters. That being said, the fight choreography in the prequels is much more refined. So much so, they make the fight between Old Ben and Darth in “A New Hope” look like two drunken old men whacking each other with their canes. A lot of people complain that they look too good, that it looks so rehearsed to the point of it being a dance. But dances are still incredibly entertaining to watch. Especially dances of death. When Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn take on Darth Maul, or when Obi-Wan faces off against Anakin, it’s utterly mesmerizing. The moves are so rapid, and fluid, truly befitting warriors who have spent their entire lives training. Hell, I’ll even go as far as to say that Yoda flipping around in “Attack of the Clones” was great too. Silly as it was, it was a good bit of fun to watch.

At the end of the day, the prequel movies at the very least can be enjoyed as popcorn-flick thrill rides. Without the multiple stellar usage of lightsabers throughout, they wouldn’t even have that saving grace.

5. Palpatine’s Politics

If you boil it down, the struggle in the original trilogy is of a righteous band of heroes versus space Nazis. There isn’t a ton of nuance or topical social commentary to it.

Comparatively, the prequel trilogy seemed very much in line with the political climate of the United States in 2002, when “Attack of the Clones” came out. We watch as soon-to-be-Emperor Palpatine manipulates the political landscape from behind the scenes, playing the two sides against each other to level his own power. This culminates in Episode II, where the galactic republic decides to relinquish some of their free reign over proceedings in order to expedite the growth and execution of military might against what amounts to a terrorist group. The allusions to the Patriot Act and War on Terror couldn’t have been more obvious unless the Emperor’s Sith name was Darth Bush or something. Still, subtly or not, the prequels dared to present a more ambitious and morally ambiguous depiction of good versus evil.

Additionally, the political machinations did a lot to highlight the cunning of Palpatine. In “Return of the Jedi,” all we know of the emperor is that he’s wrinkly, evil, in-charge, and can throw more lightning around than Zeus on a bad day. But we don’t know why he of all people is the emperor, or how he held on to power for so long. The prequels squash all questioning. Through his political mastery, we see how Palpatine was able to manipulate people even more skillfully than he can manipulate the dark side of the Force, and that is an evil even more frightening than just a red lightsaber.

4. Darth Maul

Speaking of red lightsabers, let’s talk about the coolest one in the entire “Star Wars” universe (or should I say the coolest two?). Darth Maul and his signature double-bladed lightsaber were the epitome of the word “menace,” and it’s no wonder that he became the most recognized and most beloved part of that movie.

He was vicious, ruthless, efficient, and with his horns and make up, he looked like a demon made flesh. His fighting style was rapid, fluid, and aggressive – unlike anything else seen in “Star Wars” before, and nothing has really matched it yet. In a lot of ways, he was like the Boba Fett of the prequel trilogy: an iconic look, hardly any dialogue, saying all he needs to say with actions, and garnering many fans as a result. When Maul reveals the two blades to his lightsaber, you know he’s dangerous – capable enough to fight two jedi at once! He didn’t need all the boasting and pomp as his forgettable successor, Count Dooku, did.

Really, among the many criticisms there is to give to the prequel trilogy, I think one of the biggest missteps was getting rid of this amazing antagonist way too early. Darth Maul deserved better. Here’s hoping that J.J. Abrams knows when he’s got a good thing with Kylo Ren in the upcoming films.

3. Anakin’s Turn to the Darkside

Listen, I’m not going to defend Hayden Christensen’s performance, nor am I going to find the good in George Lucas’ abhorrent dialogue writing. Because to be frank, Lucas’ attempts at romance are probably what inspired Stephenie Meyer and I to find Hayden so appalling I couldn’t even bear to have him be the picture for this section.

What I’m praising is that of all the potential outcomes that George Lucas could have written for Anakin’s descent into darkness, he went with the one that perfectly parallels Luke’s character arc in the original trilogy. The ultimate reason Anakin turns to the Dark side is to protect Padme and his unborn children – the ones he loves. That was perfect. Why? Well, because this is the one thing that comes out of the prequels that makes viewings of the original movies even better. In the final confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi,” it is only after that Darth Vader says that he’ll focus his efforts on Leia if Luke doesn’t join the emperor that causes Luke to become enraged and strike his father down. His desire to protect those he loves is the one area his Jedi training could not suppress, and he realizes how succumbing to that passionate rage would send him into darkness, just as it did with his father. Since we know how this passionate rage is what tipped Anakin over, the tension of seeing Luke at the same edge is heightened, and the payoff of Luke being able to steer clear of the dark is even more cathartic.

Knowing that Anakin became Darth Vader out of love for his family also places him in the perfect place for redemption. When the emperor is shooting Luke with lightning and Darth is trying to decide which to side with, if you’ve seen the prequels, you have to wonder if one of the thoughts in Vader’s mind in that moment is how horribly ironic it would be to side with the man who’s killing his child – a child whose protection was the main reason he followed that man in the first place! So we see him choose to cast the emperor down into the abyss, a moment made even more powerful after having seen what great lengths Anakin goes to in “Revenge of the Sith.” It’s love that sent Anakin to the dark side of the Force, and in the end, it’s love that brings him back to the light.

2. Obi-Wan Kenobi

Someone needs to give Ewan McGregor a medal. Despite the haphazard direction and problematic dialogue, McGregor seemed to be the only one who was able to give a consistently good performance in each of the prequel movies. He has moments of utter shock, serious grief, and witty levity, and he delivers every time (with the exceptions of a few dialogue lines that nobody could have saved). Another testament to McGregor’s talent is that Obi-Wan is the character that has the most visible growth throughout the three films. He starts off young, eager, and brash in “The Phantom Menace,” then he tries desperately to be stern and authoritative toward Anakin in “Attack of the Clones,” and lastly we see him in “Revenge of the Sith,” where he is wisened and weary from war.

And Obi-Wan is an absolute badass. The man is central to pretty much all of the greatest action sequences throughout the prequel trilogy. He goes from the brink of death to chop up Darth Maul, the Sith who just slayed Obi-Wan’s master. Obi-Wan takes on Jango Fett in torrential downpour while the bounty hunter has access to his ship and all of his weaponry. He takes on General Grievous, the infamous Jedi-killer, and makes it look easy. Finally, he clashes with his friend, and the strongest Force user in the entire “Star Wars” universe, Anakin. And it’s not like he’s enormously powerful like Anakin the Chosen One or the master of Jedi like Yoda, so the stakes are higher in all of his battles, thus they are way more exciting. He pulls through based on skill and determination alone.

In many ways, Obi-Wan is the protagonist in a series of movies that for whatever reason don’t want to treat him like it. He has the most exciting moments, he has the most growth, and it’s his actions that set up the events of the original trilogy. And for all that, he should be remembered with nothing but fondness.

1. Jar-Jar Binks

Hahaha. No. I’m just kidding. Keep clicking for the real #1.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzVBqBosf5w&w=420&h=315]

1. Duel of the Fates

Forget Anakin Skywalker. Forget Obi-wan. Forget Luke. Master composer John Williams is the greatest hero of all of “Star Wars.” His score for the original “Star Wars” to this day holds some of, if not THE most memorable bits of music in movie history, and he knocked it right out of the park again when he came back to compose for the prequel trilogy. “Duel of the Fates” joins the ranks of the greatest bits of hummable classics like the main theme and the Imperial March. The booming choir sings an old Welsh poem in Sanskrit, making every listening an old-world, near-religious experience – absolute perfection for mythic essence that surrounds “Star Wars.” The brass and orchestra go from creeping and crawling to frantic and frenzied, truly capturing the chaos and tension of battle. It’s sweeping. It’s epic. It’s the best thing to come out of the “Star Wars” prequels.

There’s so much from the original trilogy that is coming back in one form or another for “The Force Awakens,” but if there had to be one thing from the prequels to return in the new movies, it’s this masterpiece. Go ahead, give it another listen. I bet it still gives you goosebumps.


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