While the Star Wars prequel trilogy is cinematic garbage and largely deserves the ridicule and derision it receives from disgruntled fans, there are some things in those films that are actually tolerable; enjoyable even. While we’re not endorsing that you go and invest eight hours of your life watching the trilogy over again, we would like to posit that there are some things in the prequels that don’t actually suck and that we’re surprisingly thankful for. Still, we’re hoping that the new generation of films doesn’t take too much inspiration from this particular Star Wars era!
9. The Lightsaber Battles
While lightsaber duels are a highlight in all six Star Wars films, it’s hard to deny that the flashier, more acrobatic showdowns in the prequels are more exciting than the understated clashes between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the original trilogy (even if those fights are more satisfying from a thematic standpoint). It’s no coincidence that the fight between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn is the best part of The Phantom Menace, even though the battle itself is admittedly too short. While the fights got a little too ridiculous as the trilogy wore on (watching Yoda flip around Sir Christopher Lee like a maniac is one jump-the-shark moment too many), the prequel lightsaber duels remain a series highlight.
8. The Clone Troopers
Attack of the Clones is a significantly uneven viewing experience, dragged down significantly by Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s completely unconvincing portrayal of young love. Fortunately, the film is helped along considerably by the introduction of the Clones, who are as badass looking as Stormtroopers, but with the added benefit of actually being able to hit a target five feet in front of them. Based off of the DNA of Jango Fett (a mixed bag of a character who is at least killed off in pretty spectacular fashion), Clone Troopers may all be genetically-identical, yet somehow they give off the illusion of having distinct personalities underneath their helmets. This might be because the actual design of the clones’ outfits and various weapons and vehicles are some of the most aesthetically-pleasing in the trilogy; definitely much cooler than the Droid Army. Come to think of it, perhaps the inherent lameness of the Droids is what gave the Clones their onscreen presence. It’s easy to root for them when the alternative is so much worse.
7. General Grievous
In many ways General Grievous, the Separatist commander introduced in Revenge of the Sith, is a bumbling disappointment, a villain whose promise is squandered by questionable writing decisions. Then again, as much as we yearn for an alternate universe where Grievous is actually as nefarious as he thinks he is, the wheezing rustbucket has his own unique charm. His cowardly escape from his own ship, the Invisible Hand, at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith is an act as glorious as it is craven, and the fact that he uses Bart Simpson windmill arms as a viable fighting style is kind of endearing. Plus, the guy can wield four lightsabers at once; even if he does get absolutely decimated by Obi-Wan Kenobi, the sheer audacity of that kind of visual display is worth the price of admission.
We’ll be the first to admit that the Podracing scenes in The Phantom Menace overstay their welcome by a significant margin, but the actual concept of the sport and the fictional culture that surrounds it is one of the more interesting additions the prequels made to the Star Wars canon. Much like Quidditch in the Harry Potter franchise, Podracing is a spectator sport that makes sense in its respective universe (spare us the “But Star Wars takes place in OUR universe!” claims). From the sounds the pods make to the fantastic sense of speed the filmmakers were able to convey during Anakin’s race, it’s difficult to not look at the Podracing scenes as some of the best parts of The Phantom Menace and the trilogy as a whole. It even gave us the fantastic Podracing game, Star Wars Episode I: Racer, for Nintendo 64, arguably still the best Star Wars racing game ever made.
5. Darth Maul
The big bad of The Phantom Menace is almost totally wasted, getting only a few lines of dialogue and a death scene that completely undermines the character. Still, the fact that Darth Maul, as portrayed by Ray Park, remains an iconic villain to this day only goes to show how memorable his brief presence really is. Whenever Maul is onscreen, it feels like the film as a whole is elevated, as you think to yourself, “Now there’s one thing they didn’t manage to screw up!” A ferocious swordsman who makes his Jedi adversaries look like amateurs, Maul’s ultimate demise at the hands of a young Obi-Wan Kenobi felt more like a storytelling necessity than an outcome that was earned, as the way in which it happens doesn’t make any sense given that Maul made mincemeat of the Jedi up until that point. Unearned death scene aside, Darth Maul is without a doubt one of the prequel trilogy’s greatest assets, and the entire enterprise would be much worse off than it already is if he wasn’t in it.
4. Anakin’s Tusken Raider Massacre
Look, the prequels do a pretty lousy job of illustrating Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side, with Revenge of the Sith basically having him flip-flop between being a compassionate Jedi Knight to straight-up murdering a roomful of children in a matter of minutes. This is unfortunate because the previous film did an excellent job of convincingly showing Anakin give into his hatred and anger when he slaughters a whole encampment of Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. The reason this scene actually works — and the ostensibly more dramatic but totally unbelievable darker moments in Revenge of The Sith fail — is because the scriptwriters actually lay the proper groundwork for the audience to understand Anakin’s state of mind. The young, reckless Jedi’s mother, who he hasn’t seen in a decade, dies in his arms only moments after they are reunited. It makes total sense, given what we know of the character in that moment, that he would lash out violently at those he holds responsible, which in this case include a number of innocent women and children. It’s a moment that comes to define and haunt the character, which makes it unfortunate that the rest of the trilogy didn’t really bother trying to live up to it.
3. Ewan McGregor Channeling Sir Alec Guinness
The prequels catch a lot of flak for their poor displays of acting and while this is a totally justifiable criticism, there are a few actors among the ensemble that actually turn in decent work. Ewan McGregor had some pretty big shoes to fill in portraying a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, the role originally played by the late Sir Alec Guinness. Rather than try and upstage Guinness, McGregor made the shrewd decision to try and channel the legendary actor as much as he could in his approach to the character, and he was largely successful in that endeavor. Throughout the entire trilogy, Obi-Wan is the one character you can rely on to ground a lot of the more ridiculous content; without his solo mission in Attack of the Clones, that film would be even more unbearable than it already is. Whether or not you agree that Ewan McGregor was successful in his attempt to act like a young Alec Guinness, you have to at least appreciate his effort.
2. Mace Windu
Of all the new characters introduced in the prequels, Samuel L. Jackson’s “bad motherf*cker” Jedi Master Mace Windu has to be the greatest. He’s not only described as the best swordsman in the Jedi order, he very nearly destroys Emperor Palpatine after discovering he’s a Sith Lord. Of course, we all know how poorly that encounter turned out, but even in death, Mace gave us one of the trilogy’s greatest moments. Getting an arm sliced off by a pathetic Anakin Skywalker, Force-lightninged into oblivion, and then being thrown out a window? As awful as it is to see the coolest Jedi in the series killed off so thoroughly, we have to admit that we only wish we could go out in such spectacular fashion.
1. Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine
The prequels are infamous for their terrible dialogue and wooden acting (hey, you’re only as good as the material you’re given…or is it the other way around?), which makes Ian McDiarmid’s gleefully unhinged performance in Revenge of the Sith a joy to witness. As much as the films want us to hate Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine, it’s really difficult to not want to root for him when he looks like the only guy who’s having any sort of fun in these movies. Much like Ewan McGregor, McDiarmid gives his portrayal of Palpatine his all, acting like he’s actually in a much better series of films. He’s definitely the MVP of the prequel trilogy and without his maniacal laughter and sinister machinations, we’re not sure how we would have survived sitting through Hayden Christensen’s “Manequin” Skywalker. It’s just too mortifying to even dwell on.
Bonus: “Where Are You Taking Them?”
This is the best scene in the entire prequel trilogy because it’s a near-perfect summation of why these films were such a mess. If you can sit through it without cracking up, you truly have indomitable self-restraint.