Star Wars Retrospective: Prequel trilogy (Episodes I, II & III)

Peter Lennon looks back at three of the most hated films of all time. Are they really that bad?

Peter Lennon
11th December 2019

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

Director: George Lucas.

Writer: George Lucas.

Producer: Rick McCallum

IMDB Rating: 6.5 / 10.

Admittedly the weakest entry in the trilogy, The Phantom Menace sets a rather slow pace, refusing to engage in any great detail of action before it ruthlessly interrogates the legitimacy of Nute Gunray and his Trade Federation’s blockade and subsequent invasion of Naboo. Not the most invigorating aspect of the prequels – though the analogies they provide have proved immensely useful when learning 20th Century war politics in GCSE History – but the inclusion of negotiations is crucial in understanding the original purpose of Jedi as peacekeepers in order to witness their transition to generals in the Clone Wars, and whether or not this is hypocritical within their duties.

I don’t remember hating Jar Jar Binks when I watched the prequels in my pre-adolescence. Designed as a novelty act for children, his inclusion elicited emotions from my 5-year-old self that you’d hope to get for such a thing. As far as I’m concerned in retrospect, Jar Jar simply fills the role that C-3PO fulfils in the original trilogy. It still baffles me that the hatred reached a point where grown men were essentially gatekeeping children from a product made for them. It would be like a 40-year-old man boycotting the new Tickle-Me-Elmo toy for not providing enough emotional security.

That being said, The Phantom Menace provides many genuine thrills, from an unexpectedly fun Pod-racing sequence, to the unforgettable duel with the sinister Darth Maul. The reveal that Maul’s lightsaber is double-bladed is an iconic moment, paired eloquently with John Williams’ 'Duel of the Fates' soundtrack that fuels the conflict of the film’s climax. The strong finish paves the way for more enjoyable entries in a trilogy that is considerably less stingy in its action.
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn & Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi face-off against the devilish Sith Darth Maul.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)

Director: George Lucas.

Writer: George Lucas.

Producer: Rick McCallum.

IMDB Rating: 6.6 / 10.

It’s no secret that Attack of the Clones harbors all the best lines in Star Wars, from “I hate the sand” to “I killed them all. And not just the men but the women and the children too.” There’s something to be said about the union of wooden acting and stilted writing that births something so beautiful. That being said, Attack of the Clones is a massive step up from The Phantom Menace, filling its 142 minutes run time with well-positioned action sequences and a menagerie of worlds and lightsabers that are captivating to behold as a child. Although now famous for being a pre-CGI GIF, seeing a legion of Jedi fight in an arena against a seemingly endless Droid army is a magical spectacle that is as entertaining to watch as it is simple.

Only recently have I noticed that Attack of the Clones doesn’t actually lend much of its considerably large runtime to its villains. Despite this, the film builds both Count Dooku (portrayed by an ever-menacing Christopher Lee) and Jango Fett (played by Temuera Morrison)on intrigue and reputation. Listening to the Jedi council doubting former Jedi Dooku’s responsibility in the attempted assassination of Padme works fluidly in the ancient Order’s hubris and eventual downfall. As for Jango, while many will always gravitate towards Boba Fett, I can’t help but smile with glee whenever he pulls out his dual pistols or fire out a grappling hook from his wrist.
Yoda shows that not only does size matter not, but neither does age as he battles to Seperatist leader Count Dooku (aka. Darth Tyranus).

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Director: George Lucas.

Writer: George Lucas.

Producer: Rick McCallum.

IMDB Rating: 7.5 / 10.

I’ve long held the opinion that trilogies peak in the centre, from The Godfather Part II (1974) to Empire Strikes Back (1980), and even The Dark Knight (2008) more recently. Revenge of the Sith is one of those rare exceptions, bringing everything to an exceedingly epic close. But before we get to the end, we need to appreciate the exhilaration of the opening scene: the battle over Coruscant. Entering in media res, the galactic space battle is unlike anything seen at the time and continues to be a tour de force in action sequences. Fortunately, it also sets the precedent for the rest of the film, rather than being the exception. From lightsaber duels with a four-armed cyborg to an emotional clash on the fiery pit that is Mustafar, Revenge of the Sith refuses to stagnate in what was going to be the final Star Wars film.

Even the performances are a step up, with Ian McDiarmid receiving some much deserved and needed screen time as Chancellor Palpatine, while Ewan McGregor continues to charm in his more sardonic take on Obi Wan Kenobi. Heck, Hayden Christensen’s performance borders on passable this time around and even – dare I say – convincing in Anakin’s quieter moments of broodiness and Faustian path.Of course, these are all amplified by some of John Williams’ best work, particularly 'Battle of the Heroes', and special effects that have aged reasonably well, but were transcendent in 2005.
Obi-Wan Kenobi duels newly anointed Sith Lord Darth Vader on the hellish landscape of Mustafar.
"You were my brother Anakin. I loved you!"
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AUTHOR: Peter Lennon
English Literature undergraduate. Although I primarily write for the Courier's Film section, I do love helping out in the Televsion and Gaming sections as well. I also organise and host livestreams/radio shows as FilmSoc's inaugural Head of Radio. Twitter: @PeterLennon79

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