The List: 5 Things The Star Wars Prequels Did Right

We all know the Star Wars Prequels. Three of the best films ever made, with excellent dialogue, a fantastic dynamic between it two romantic leads and no-one has anything bad to say about them. Well, that would be the case if we lived in Bizarro world, but unfortunately we don't, so what we instead got was a confused mess with an awfully wooden lead, stereotypical and racist characters that annoyed everyone and midiclorians. But that's not to say the films were all bad, all three films had definite good parts. And I've managed to cobble together a list out of them. I'm only doing 5 this time, because a lot of the good bits I've found can fit under certain banners, so rather than stretching the list out to make 10 or so, let's just go with 5.

Warning: Opinions ahead. Don't let them get you angry, anger leads to the dark side.

5. Lightsabre Duels

With the prequels expanding the number of lightsabre wielders, the ante had to be upped on how they were used. And they did just that. Obviously neither David Prowse nor Alec Guinness were exactly the most agile or mobile of men during the original trilogy and Mark Hamill had to work to the pace of a man who couldn't turn his head to see where he was swinging, so obviously the duels from the prequels look much more intense than their predecessors. Of course, not all of them are great, the battle between Yoda and Dooku is just an effects showcase  and Yoda vs. Palpatine looses its tension very quickly because you already know the outcome, but then you have the battle with Darth Maul (which is still probably the best in the series) and the battle on Mustafar, which is the most intense duel in the series, even if the lightsabre swinging bit is apocalyptically stupid.

4. The Score

I love John Williams. Everything he did on Star Wars was great. As with all great movie composers, he knows how to milk every single emotion out of a scene, no matter how much the dialogue or the actors ruin it. And his storytelling with the music is phenomenal as well. If you listen to the soundtracks, the first film is mostly new themes, there are very few call backs to the music of the original triology (maybe a few in some of the Tattooine scores). However once we get to episode 3, you have call backs to episodes 4-6 alongside themes carried over from the previous films, mixtures of Luke's theme alongside Anakin's in the Battle of the Heroes theme that plays during the final confrontation on Mustafar, the classic themes from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back during the Jedi temple attack, it brings the series full circle before the final scenes.

3. Asthetics

This covers a lot of stuff, so bear with me. What I'm talking about here is the costume design, the prop design, the set design and the special effects. Say what you like about George Lucas' reliance on sfx in these films (and he does rely on them too much) but the worlds he is able to create with them are stunning. Whether you've got the classical/ renaissance mixture of Naboo or the futuristic cityscape of Coruscant. You have things like the lightsabre designs, each being individually tailored to the Jedi, backing up the idea that each character built their own weapon. Plus you had Count Dooku's lightsabre, which was bad-ass. And of course, the costume design. As ridiculous as some of Padme's episode 1 costumes were, you can't say they weren't impressive to behold. Costuming was used to tell you everything you needed to know about a place, not just a person, which is a brilliant and effective way of doing it, from the opulent costumes of Coruscant, to the humble rags of Tattooine.

2 The Casting

Yes, Hayden Christensen was more wooden than a tree and had the emotion capabilities of said tree, but if you look at some of the other casting, they held together the script (if it can be called that in some places). Liam Neeson gave gravitas and importance to some of the silliest dialogue in the series, Christopher Lee put in his usual excellent performance as the haughty, treacherous count despite being woefully underutilised and Samuel L. Jackson was the guy who made you believe that these robe wearing monks could actually be the guardians of peace in the galaxy if required, even before he's stood up from his chair in the Jedi Council chamber. But the real stand-outs here belong to Ewan Mcgregor and Ian McDiarmid. Mcgregor perfectly captures Alec Guinness in his portrayal of the younger Obi-Wan and becomes a far more effective emotional core to the series than Christensen. He goes from an impulsive student through smart, droll teacher to wise master and brings each of these roles to life. He adds so many layers to an already beloved character and make that character his own. And then we have McDiarmid. Easily the best actor in the trilogy, his role as the seemingly benign but inwardly scheming Senator/ Chancellor/ Emperor is wonderful, like Mcgregor, capturing every instant perfectly, delivering dialogue that would otherwise be stupid and making it sound like Shakespeare. And by the time episode 3 comes around and he can really cut loose with the manipulative side of the character, giving one of the finest Star Wars scenes with his Darth Plagueis speech, and then cut loose altogether as the Emperor, he is wonderful and a magnetic presence on the screen.

1. Expanding The Mythology

The entire point of the prequel trilogy was to give some backstory to the events of the original 3 films. In that regard, it succeeded, despite the execution. It elaborates on all the major points that it needed to, such as how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vadar and how The Emperor came to power, and it also took some throw-away lines of dialogue and expanded on their importance (see The Clone Wars). It showed us how the Storm Troopers came to be and the genesis for some of the most recognisable parts of the original trilogy, such as the Star Destroyers. The deleted scenes from the third movie give us the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance, which probably should have been left in even if it did slow the pace down. It also added a large amount to the mythos of the Force and those who use it, being the introduction of midichlorians, the establishment of the Jedi Order, it's rules, the training system and their role as protectors of the peace in the Old Republic, as well as film canon confirmation of the Sith and the rule of two. New planets and alien species were added and old ones given further spotlight (i.e. we get to see the Wookie homeworld). The prequels may be fairly maligned but all of this stuff originated from those films and are now basically gospel, whether you look at the books, comics, cartoons, video games, whatever. And we have to give them credit for that.

So do you agree with my list. Feel free to leave your negative opinions of the Star Wars prequels in the comments below.

And with that

JR out.

JR19759

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12 Responses to The List: 5 Things The Star Wars Prequels Did Right

  1. Well, I like the old lasersaber battles, a lot more than the new ones.

    These are supremely dangerous weapons. Even a simple graze can cost you a limb. So, to me, these are weapons you wield carefully, first, to avoid wounding yourself (like, when doing jumps and flips), then, to avoid being wounded: you observe your opponent, search for an opening, because 1 mistake = death.

    I can understand that people prefer the more cinematic fights of the first trilogy, I can somewhat rationnalize that their acrobatics do not result in self-disembowelment due to some frce-fueled reflexes and intuition (although the more superhuman the jedi become, the less I like them), but I can’t help to see them more the work of young, flashy rookies, with the first trilogy fights being more the ones of masters.
    There’s a scene like this in Legend, by David Gemmel. Druss, the hero, a conan-like in his 60s, is faced by a young, agile opponent. He knows he can’t beat his speed. So he waits for the right moment and opening, and then, in one strike, fells him. This, IMO, is old obi-wan vs young obi-wan.

    Of course, to each his own 🙂

    Otherwise, good points. I very much agree on lightsaber design, this is something I love.

  2. The Atomic Punk

    #5. I agree with Arioch about wielding a weapon that could slice you clean more efficiently than any blade. Also, Darth Maul didn’t get enough screen time. He should have been around at least until the beginning of Attack of the Clones.

    4. One of my favorite childhood memories is the soundtrack to A New Hope. It is worth going through Star Wars: Episodes I – VI just listening to the scores. John Williams has this “Wagner meets Pink Floyd” vibe throughout.

    3. Definitely the asthetics! Even when the story and acting fall flat, I give credit to Lucas for a fully-realized galaxy with rich cultures and beautiful backdrops that pull the audience in.

    2. Ewan Mcgregor and Ian McDiarmid were the real stars of the prequels. McGregor to Guiness is seamless. Christopher Lee had a commanding presence.

    I’ll put it up there. Samuel L. Jackson… with a purple lightsabre… just… come on…

    1. This ties in with #3: The prequels are canon and thus part of the framework of the SWEU. I will have to watch the uncut version of Revenge of the Sith for the history of the Rebel Alliance.

    Now for the rant: “midichlorians.” Star Wars‘ harshest criticism is stereotyping and racism, rightly or wrongly. However, midichlorian-levels determine a being’s potential to become a Jedi? That’s eugenics! I was shocked and dismayed.

    To me, the concept of genetic markers runs completely against the Force as being “an energy field created by all living things.” That surrounds us and penetrates us. That binds the galaxy together.

  3. @Arioch- I see your point, and I will agree that the prequels do tend to over-do the lightsabre battles with too much flipping around and spinning incredibly dangerous energy weapons around. However, you have to give them credit for the choreography and the fact that they tried to make more of it than they did in the original series, even if they did go over-board. And tbh, I don’t prefer either over the other. Sometimes you want to watch a flashy Darth Maul fight, sometime you want to watch a moody and tense Darth Vadar fight.
    @Atomic Punk- It’s amazing that both trilogies were written by the same person at points. Midichlorians is the least of it, he also forgot stuff like Yoda being the one who trained Obi-Wan, Leia remembering her mother (despite her mother dying after child-birth and Leia being born second of the twins), oh and there’s the whole Princess thing, despite Padme not actually being a Queen (the royalty in Naboo was like a Presidency and Padme had finished her final term decades before Leia was born). I think he pretty much made up whatever he thought sounded mystical and could kinda work and then just shoe-horned it in without considering the continuity. But that’s Lucas for you.
    Also, Jackson requested his lightsabre be purple because a) it’s his favourite colour and b) he wanted to stand out on the battlefield. His sabres also have the initials BMF inscribed on them in reference to his character in Pulp Fiction (what the initials stand for I will not repeat here).

  4. Fun, beautiful work done on the movies, easy to forget the lack of consistency, writing.

  5. I mostly agree with your points, to be honest.
    1. The most memorable fight from the prequels is Qui Gonn and Obi Wan vs. Darth Maul. At least as a good fight. It’s easily my favorite part of the prequel films. Then again, I also agree that Darth Maul needed more…. everything really. He was so woefully underused in that film. The only other fight that really comes to mind is super CGI Yoda and I thought super CGI Yoda looked bad then and I doubt it’s aged well.

    2. It’s a John Williams score, ’nuff said.

    3. Asthetics- I agree. I really loved the way Naboo and Coruscant looked. But the computer effects really show their age and I didn’t like the over-reliance on them. I am a big fan of practical effects, though, and I have a bit of a bias toward them. But everything was given such care in how they looked, and that can’t be faulted. I WILL fault them for ‘spicing’ up the originals to sort of ‘match’ the opulence of the landscapes up to the level of the prequels. Seeing all that CG on Bespin is jarring and I don’t like it.

    4. Agreed. There was some really good casting and some really… not so good casting. Ewan McGregor is really trying, and fares better than most with this. Although a lot of the issues probably could have been fixed with a better script that wasn’t so wooden and stiff. Loosen it up a little, find some of the fun and humor of the originals, and you could’ve nailed it. Especially given the quality of actors that were in these things. And no midichlorians. Ever. Just no.

    5. Yes…. that’s true. But at the same time, there almost wasn’t enough expansion of the mythos. Considering how plodding these films can be, some of the major points feel really rushed. Attack of the Clones was so boring for a movie that was supposed to be the beginning of the Clone Wars. Not to mention the hasty montage that was Order 66. My biggest problem though, was the retcons and the fudging of the continuity and timeline to make it all fit. That bugs me. Especially since a lot of them could probably be fixed quite easily with a little bit of forethought.

    All in all, the prequels had so much potential. They really did. And some things worked. But a lot didn’t, unfortunately. Good list, though. Nice to see a juicy, controversial subject we can all debate. 🙂
    *Edit- I believe Leia is a princess because her adopted parents were royalty on Alderaan.

  6. William A. Peterson

    Sorry, melmo, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that SENATOR Bail Organa was Royalty. Maybe I just missed it.
    Obviously, the initials on that lightsaber stood for “Bat, Mothra, Fokker”! What’s wrong with that? 😉
    The lightsaber duels were ‘kewler’ in the prequels, and I suppose you could claim that the Jedi had lost a LOT of ability between Episode I and Episode IV… That makes sense. Saying it was just the age of the wielder is wrong, though, since Luke wasn’t a whole lot flashier than Obi-Wan or Darth…
    And, of course, there is the ritual canon of all true Star Wars Fans…
    Han fired first, the Force is NOT a bacterial infection, and Darth Vader did NOT build C3P0… 😉

  7. Now for the rant: “midichlorians.” Star Wars‘ harshest criticism is stereotyping and racism, rightly or wrongly.However, midichlorian-levels determine a being’s potential to become a Jedi?That’s eugenics!I was shocked and dismayed.

    Actually, as much as I love Star Wars, this is my biggest point of contention. It’s a lot worse in the prequels, but it’s already there in the old ones: The big movers and shakers? They’re all force-users.
    And you can’t just say “Ok, I’ll go see a jedi and train in the force”, like you could train to be a mechanic or learn close combat. You need to be force-sensitive first. Even without the midichlorians, there’s this idea of “lineages” of force-users: The force just ain’t something that belongs to everyone

    This is something I love with Thrawn: He’s a famous vilain and opponent, a real danger, and he has no special powers.
    And as well as Rebels is a great show, I was disappointed when when sprung up jedis on us.

    (This isn’t particular to Star Wars, mind you. Any universe where “magic” requires some kind of elusive “gift” suffers from it. I do my best to forget it)

  8. The Atomic Punk

    JR: Also, Jackson requested his lightsabre be purple because a) it’s his favourite colour and b) he wanted to stand out on the battlefield. His sabres also have the initials BMF inscribed on them in reference to his character in Pulp Fiction (what the initials stand for I will not repeat here).

    I know that the choices were Samuel L. Jackson’s. Talk about stereotypes, though. Mace Windu was a tad much. Imagine Prince as The Joker and his cufflinks were the initials “SMF.”

    The biggest let down for me was the Battle of Kashyyyk. Lucas himself said that he was disappointed that he didn’t have the budget for Wookies and had to settle for Ewoks. I was all excited for an epic 40 minutes of lasers, fur, and fury! It was less than three! Even a tactical nuke would have been a longer action sequence.

  9. The Atomic Punk

    Arioch: The force just ain’t something that belongs to everyone

    (This isn’t particular to Star Wars, mind you. Any universe where “magic” requires some kind of elusive “gift” suffers from it. I do my best to forget it)

    That’s the rub. As Obi-Wan described it in A New Hope, the Force is for everyone. The power of the Jedi comes from within. The Force is about bending the universe to one’s will. It is training, discipline, and a whole lot of zen.

    Are some people predisposed to such awesome power? Certainly. It could be a matter of lineage or simply having “good genes.” However, the introduction midichlorians as to what gives people the power of the Force? Just no. It evaporates the spirituality and subjects itself to abuse. Just as the Republic was reluctant to clone soldiers.

    There is no reason for hope. Just get you some of them super bugs. Forget all that hard work and studying. Juice up, Johnny! If I had been six years old when I saw Phantom Menace, my dreams would have been crushed.

    I understand your point about magic requiring a gift. Which has its place in story-telling. The Force was something different. It was honing one’s senses to wield the power of the cosmos. Some farm kid from a planet furthest from the bright center of the universe learned of his potential. Through sheer will and determination, he mastered his craft. He overcame his fears. He brought justice to the galaxy and forgiveness to his father. Nope… that’s just the midichlorians talking.

  10. @Atomic Punk- Ironically I was literally 6 years old when Episode 1 was released. No dreams were crushed I can assure you, because I didn’t understand what Midichlorians were.

  11. William A. Peterson:
    Sorry, melmo, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that SENATOR Bail Organa was Royalty. Maybe I just missed it.

    No worries. I haven’t seen these films in years, and other than Phantom Menace, I don’t think I’ve seen the other two more than twice. But fortunately, Wookiepedia’s got us covered! It seems that Galactic Senator and royalty on one’s homeworld aren’t mutually exclusive.
    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Bail_Organa
    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Breha_Organa

  12. Overall, I agree. I was 3 or 4 when I first saw Episode I on VHS, and because I grew up on them I have got a soft spot for the prequels. Even though they’re not that great and the romance in Episode II was… bad. The points you made are roughly the same things I like about them.

    5. When I was a little kid I loved the lightsaber battles. And it does help illustrate that it was a different era.
    4. It’s John Williams, so it’s hard to go wrong, and Duel of the Fates was always one of my favourite pieces from the saga (again, probably because I was very little when I first saw it, so it stuck in my head)
    3. It certainly makes the whole thing feel very rich, with all the different styles and aesthetics, despite the overuse of bluescreen
    2. While Hayden Christensen was… not great, especially when doing romance, Ewan McGregor was great. And by Episode III he was channelling Alec Guinness brilliantly.
    1. I don’t have especially strong opinions here- in large part I just accept the stuff it shows as part of the universe, and quietly ignore inconsistencies with the original trilogy. But I do like how they expanded the role of the Jedi in the Republic, and how the Republic got transformed into the Empire.