Having composed a list of reasons the Star Wars prequels sucked, it only makes sense to bring balance to the Force by considering the noteworthy ways in which these millennial films added to the saga’s greatness. I have to admit, it was a lot tougher coming up with things to like about Episodes I through III than it was to throw stones at them. Even so, whether you love the prequels or hate them, they’ve undeniably expanded that galaxy far, far away. Here’s the top 10 things George Lucas got right.
Lucas defied the Expanded Universe of books, comics, and games in a number of ways when the time came to bring Star Wars back to the big screen. The Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk had been the setting for many adventures authored since Return of the Jedi. It was described as a dense forest world with massive redwood-like trunks supporting cities suspended hundreds of meters above the ground. The forest floor, known as the Shadowlands, was home to Kashyyyk’s most vicious wildlife.
It was therefore deviant for Lucas to set Revenge of the Sith’s Battle of Kashyyyk on a beach. Even so, the world’s time on screen does justice to its mighty inhabitants, making Endor look like a city park by comparison.
9. The Podrace
The Phantom Menace stands most reviled of the Star Wars films, due in large part to its long, boring stretches of nothing compelling happening. Thankfully, we get a break in the malaise on Tatooine when young Anakin defies limitations of both age and species to compete in the Boonta Eve Classic.
Apparently, Lucas included the podrace as a nod toward his love of car racing. Whatever his reasons, Lucas demonstrated that he retains the ability to craft a taut and exciting action sequence, even if the rest of the film fell mostly flat.
8. The Evolution of Artoo and Threepio
Perhaps the one redeeming characteristic of Jar Jar Binks is that he makes C-3PO seem well-adjusted and competent. Along with the astromech droid R2-D2, Threepio has remained a staple of the Star Wars saga, unwittingly bumbling through the galaxy’s most consequential events.
In the prequels, we learn that the ties which bind Artoo and Threepio to the Skywalker family go deeper than we might have imagined. Indeed, Threepio was built by Anakin Skywalker, and Artoo served Luke and Leia’s mother, Queen Amidala. It all seems rather unlikely unless you believe that even droids bind to the will of the Force.
7. Double-Bladed Lightsaber
How do you make the lightsaber, the most iconic movie weapon ever conceived, even better? Give it two blades, of course.
That moment in The Phantom Menace when Darth Maul reveals himself to Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, producing a saber with not one but two blades, may have been the most exciting in the film. Certainly, Lucas played it up for all it was worth, punctuating the weapon’s activation with a reverent choral hymn.
Later attempts to up the lightsaber ante, whether through dual-wielding or General Grievous’ over-the-top four-saber hackery, fell short of Maul’s glorious saberstaff.
6. The Battle of Coruscant
Revenge of the Sith was very self-aware of its place as the (intended) final Star Wars film. Lucas threw everything he had into making it the most action-packed installment. The carnage begins right away, scrolling from that opening title crawl down into a massive orbital space battle with the highest stakes this side of a Death Star.
The sequence serves to highlight the brotherly relationship developed between Anakin and Obi-Wan in the years since the Clone Wars started. That heightens the sense of betrayal when Anakin inevitably turns to the Dark Side.
5. “A Great Warrior”
Since Attack of the Clones, Yoda’s prowess with a stubby green lightsaber has become a fully integrated aspect of the character. It’s easy to forget how awesome and surprising our first exposure to Yoda as combatant was.
Before challenging his former padawan at the climax of Episode II, Yoda’s status as Grand Master of the Jedi Order seemed a title earned through stoic wisdom and deep knowledge of the Force. The idea of Yoda drawing a lightsaber seemed almost inappropriate. The filmmakers bringing it to screen feared it might seem silly. In the end, Yoda validated the assessment made by Luke years later. He truly was a great warrior.
4. “It’s Treason Then”
Least we assume that masters of the Force leave their sabers sheathed, Chancellor Palpatine finally reveals himself as the phantom menace infesting the Republic when Jedi Master Mace Windu and a squad of fellow knights move to arrest him. The fight which follows serves two highly anticipated functions.
First, we get to see Samuel L. Jackson do something other than talk. It would have been a shame if the whole prequel trilogy went by without Windu engaging in a Saber duel. Secondly, we get to see what a master of the Dark Side looks like when fully unleashed.
3. Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul
In spite of all the other duels which permeate the Star Wars saga, none prove as dramatic or effective as the final match between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul. After watching helplessly as his master is skewered by the horned Sith warrior, Obi-Wan is left to seethe on the wrong side of a force field separating him from the action. Waiting to face the threat alone, Kenobi endures the mocking smirk of his master’s killer.
A masterpiece of choreography crafted by stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, the melee between Kenobi and Maul stands as a uniquely convincing portrayal of two martial adepts trying their absolute best to kill each other. It’s the best fight in the saga, period.
2. Order 66
Ever since and elderly Ben Kenobi told Luke of Darth Vader’s vicious betrayal, fans have longed to see it realized on screen. When the prequels were first announced, many presumed Vader’s hunt would prove central to the film’s story.
Alas, it did not. Even so, the initial thrust of the purge triggered by the new emperor’s Order 66 effectively transforms the galactic landscape into that known from the original trilogy. The brilliance of flipping a genetic switch and turning the Jedi’s most trusted compatriots into their cold-blooded murderers proves Darth Sidious a mastermind.
1. The Immolation of Darth Vader
The moment we all knew was coming does not disappoint when it finally arrives. Fans had long known that the reason for Darth Vader’s mask was life-threatening injuries inflicted during a duel with his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on a volcanic planet.
Lucas never allowed the moment to be depicted in the Expanded Universe. So it became something of a myth within a myth. Only when it was finally realized on the slopes of Mustafar did the circle of the Star Wars saga become complete.