Star Wars is one of the most famous science fiction franchises in history. The first three movies (Star Wars IV-VI) become an important part of today’s pop culture. Overwhelmed by the success of the trilogy, director George Lucas decided to make a sequel trilogy, in which the young Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side. This trilogy consists of three movies, The Phantom Menace (I), Attack of the Clones (II) and Revenge of the Sith (III).
In the eyes of many fans, those movies are disastrous, missing the vibe of the original movies. After over a decade of their release and after we could take a look at the newest installment of the franchise (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), I think it is necessary to revisit the prequel trilogy and assess it. Are the movies so bad that they don’t deserve being called Star Wars?
Let’s start with the negative points. There are a couple of them, so I will focus on the two that bother me the most: Jar Jar Binks and bad acting. Jar Jar Binks is the most annoying character of the franchise. He is badly animated (movies like the Terminator franchise had shown how CGI-effects could be done right), has an irritating voice and isn’t funny at all. Luckily, he only plays an important role in the first movie. But when he returned in the second movie for a short scene, he (as senator of Naboo) argued in favor of giving more power to Palpatine. What more reasons to hate this character?
Some actors did a very poor job. The scripts of the movies may have had something to do with it as well. Unforgotten are certain lines of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker (“I don’t like sand”). The love story between Padmé and Anakin was expendable. Especially the character of Padmé had undergone a bad development. Once a proud queen and warrior, the third movie pictured her as very weak and passive person. A lot of potential was lost there.
Let’s move on to the things I enjoyed about the movies. The lightsaber duels were superb. The most remarkable one was Obi Wan and Qui-Gon Ginn taking on Darth Maul. Especially the reveal of Dart Maul’s double lightsaber and the following one against two fight were outstanding scenes. Another memorable fighting scene was the Emperor Palpatine taking on Yoda in the senate chamber. This duel can be seen as a fight between the then best warriors of the Sith and the Yedi Council. Which adds to this epic scene is the fact that the difference of the two characters was also pictured in their fighting techniques. Yoda was visualized as a very agile and artistic warrior, while Palpatine was shown as a more slow and rough type of fighter.
Speaking about Emperor Palpatine, the villains were outstanding. Ian McDiarmid did an amazing job playing the power-obsessed Palpatine. Even though Darth Maul valued fighting over talking and we didn’t learn much about his backstory in the movies, he became a rememberable character. And I even liked Count Dooku, even though he only played a minor role in the trilogy. These three villains complete each other very well.
The overall story of the three movies is great. Certainly, the story of every single movie on its own doesn’t shine (except maybe the third part). But putting the pieces together, we get three amazing plotlines over the course of the trilogy. The first plotline deals with a galactic republic (not a true democracy) turned into an authoritarian state controlled by an evil dictator. What makes this especially fascinating is the fact that this change wasn’t forced from the outside but rather legitimized by the senate, giving the insidious Palpatine more and more power over the course of the movies. The second plotline, which plays more in the background, deals with the Yedi Council. At first, they seem to be the good guys, honorable and law-abiding. But their strict codex and some bad decisions damaged their image. After Palpatine was revealed as a Sith Lord, the Yedi decided to kill him. Anakin refused this approach and argued that Palpatine should stand trial. At least Anakin’s opinion would have been a better solution in compliance with the rules of the Yedis. The third important plotline deals with the young and powerful but skeptical and impulsive Anakin Skywalker slowly turning to the dark side. The audience easily emphasizes with the character, who is torn between the supposedly perfect Yedi Council and the manipulative forces of evil. Even though we knew that he would turn to the dark side eventually, there is at any time a glimmer of hope that he won’t. But at the end, his motives to become Darth Vader are comprehensible and we might even feel some pity for him.
So, are the Star Wars prequel movies really that bad? I would argue against it. Yes, the movies have some flaws and certain annoying scenes. But this is also the case for other epic franchises like Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter movies. Definitely, the prequel Star Wars movies have another vibe to them than the original trilogy does. But skipping the bad scenes (especially those with Jar Jar Binks in it), one will get three good Star Wars movies with awesome lightsaber fights, original and plausible villains, and three good overall plotlines. The prequels are a different approach to the franchise compared to the original trilogy. With this approach, George Lucas was able to enrich the lore of the Star Wars franchise significantly.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), directed by George Lucas and produced by Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC.