Anyone who’s known me for approximately 3.5 seconds knows that the first six slots of my “top 10 movies of all time” list are occupied by each of the six Star Wars movies. The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi have occupied a special place in my heart for many years. My fandom started in 1997, when I was ten years old and saw the Special Edition theatrical re-release. I immediately fell in love with the movies, devouring all the storybooks, guidebooks, and later novels in the rich expanded universe that Star Wars had to offer.
My fandom only increased in 1999, when the first of the three prequels, Phantom Menace, came out and I saw it in theaters 5 times. I’d repeat a similar feat again when the other two came out in 2002 and 2005. My friends and I had always loved these movies, which is why I never really understood the groupthink that emerged about them. Many, many people took shots at these movies, and entire websites were devoted to hating them. The interesting thing about it was this: many hardcore Star Wars fans I know loved (or at least liked) the prequels. It was the casual fans that hated on them to a ridiculous degree. Also, many of them couldn’t really say why they didn’t like the movies (other than the knee-jerk “JAR-JAR BINKS” answer), creating the impression that they only hated the movies because it became “cool” to hate them. I’m going to take this opportunity to stand up for the prequel defenders, and talk about why I’ve always liked them.
First and foremost, the music. John Williams set a very high bar with the music to the original trilogy, giving us such gems as The Imperial March and the iconic Main Theme. But he may have topped himself in the prequel trilogy. Every movie has great musical moments in it, the best being Duel of the Fates, which to this day still runs through my head whenever I’m in a dramatic or urgent situation. Other highlights include the celebration theme at the end of Episode I, and the theme from Anakin and Obi-Wan’s battle in Episode III.
The stunts and saber work. The lightsaber work in the prequels is infinitely superior to the first three movies, largely due to them having a much bigger budget with which to work. They were able to hire professional stunt coordinators and specialists in stage combat to help them make the lightsaber duels and battles much smoother and more graceful. More broadly, this also contributes to this movie having the biggest, baddest, special effects in their era. Rather than go on and on about this point, I’ll let these three scenes provide the best evidence.
The battle aboard the Invisible Hand at the beginning of Episode III (last minute or so of this video):
The Geonosian arena scene in Episode II (last four minutes of this video):
The duel between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul in Episode I:
Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson. These two are the best new actors in the prequel trilogy. McGregor adds a dose of acerbic wit to the Obi-Wan character, especially in Episodes II and III, and his chemistry with Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) is very good in Episode III. You really believe these two are like brothers, good apart but stronger together.
Neeson, on the other hand, plays Qui-Gon with a more “wizened sage” type of personality. He provides a steady hand to guide his apprentice, but is also warm and patient. It’s his maverick streak that impresses me the most, though. He doesn’t always follow every single rule just because they’re the rules, keeping everything in perspective and providing another point of view on the Jedi and their traditions.
The prequels offer some interesting political intrigue. Ripped from the headlines of Roman times, Episodes I-III show a how a noble republic can become a heartless empire in very little time. The practice of giving the chief executive the “emergency powers” of a dictator in wartime is also taken straight from Roman practices. It also provides a lesson in how one strong charismatic personality can ruin an entire political system. Ian McDiarmid of course portrays the stealth evil of Chancellor Palpatine perfectly.
When all is said and done, these movies are still gems. They may not be perfect, and there are obvious criticisms to make of them. Jar-Jar may have not been the best-written character (though he made me laugh more often than he annoyed me), and the chemistry between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman is virtually nonexistent, for instance. But there is still much to love about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and it all comes together in Episode III. Pretty much all the positives I’ve outlined above are present in that movie, and that’s why I often enjoy it the most.