Six Star Wars “Hot Takes”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Wars franchise, from A New Hope to Obi-Wan Kenobi and beyond.

A little while ago I gave six of my “hot takes” on the Star Trek franchise, so this time it’s Star Wars’ turn to receive some controversial opinions! These are all opinions on the Star Wars franchise that, at least based on my limited engagement with the broader fan community, are either unpopular or will prove to be divisive.

This is supposed to be a bit of thought-provoking fun, so more than ever I ask you to keep in mind that all of these opinions are subjective, not objective! I’m not trying to claim that my perspectives on these broad and complex topics are in any way factual or unquestionable; I’m simply offering up my singular take on these points for the purposes of entertainment. I’ll try to explain why I feel the way I do – but I already know that many folks can and will disagree. And that’s okay! The Star Wars fan community is big enough for respectful and civil disagreement about all manner of subjects.

With all of that out of the way, this is your last chance to jump ship if you aren’t interested in some potentially controversial Star Wars opinions!

“Hot Take” #1:
The sequel trilogy having problems hasn’t magically redeemed the prequel trilogy or made it any more enjoyable.

Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.

One of the strangest arguments, in my view, that has been put forward in recent years by critics of the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that the prequels look so much better by comparison. Although I find Revenge of the Sith to be an okay film, I’ve never been wild about the first two parts of the prequel trilogy in particular, and the fact that The Rise of Skywalker and, to a lesser extent, The Force Awakens have issues doesn’t change any of that.

The prequels had a planned story from the start, and George Lucas knew which characters he wanted to include, what roles he wanted to give them, and what their arcs would look like from beginning to end. There were changes and edits along the way, but the broad strokes of the story had been planned in advance. This is something that the sequel trilogy lacked, with different writers and directors being given free rein to tell whatever stories they wanted – something widely considered to be a mistake. But just because the producers of the sequel trilogy screwed this up, that doesn’t mean that the uninspiring, overexplained backstory that comprised much of the prequels is any better as a result. It was a planned story, sure, but an unnecessary, bloated, and occasionally just plain boring one that did a lot to detract from the intimidating nature of Darth Vader in particular.

Padmé and Anakin in Attack of the Clones.

Though it’s difficult – and perhaps even a little unfair – to try to summarise the main issue with an entire trio of films in just a few words, I’d say that the sequels went wrong by trying to be too much of a copy of the original films, and then by trying to course-correct following the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi. But the prequels went wrong by telling a story that was ultimately unnecessary; we didn’t need three films chronicling the minutia of Anakin Skywalker’s rise and fall to know that he was an evil villain who could be redeemed by the residual love that he had for his son.

And in many ways, the prequels undermined the story that the original trilogy had told. The inclusion of things like a nine-year-old Anakin being the builder of C-3PO was just plain dumb, and smaller things like Yoda not being the Jedi who trained Obi-Wan, as he would later claim to Luke, ended up contradicting points in the original films. Some of these are arguably nitpicks, but in a story that was weak and muddled, smaller points like these become much more noticeable and begin to pile up.

A Republic battle cruiser in Revenge of the Sith.

At the end of the day, many of the prequels’ biggest defenders are folks who grew up watching them as kids. For many people in their teens and twenties, these films were their first point of contact with the Star Wars franchise. And there’s nothing wrong with loving the prequel trilogy – there are points from all three films that I enjoyed, and I even put together a list of some of my favourites for Star Wars Day a couple of years ago.

But just because the sequel trilogy had issues with its production and its narrative, that doesn’t mean that the prequels are somehow made better in hindsight. For me, the prequels remain a disappointment, and although I was scathing in my review of The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it in 2020, for me it’s still a toss-up as to whether it’s marginally better or worse than The Phantom Menace.

“Hot Take” #2:
Star Wars needs to end its overreliance on the same handful of legacy characters.

Darth Vader loomed very large indeed over the Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

Since it premiered all the way back in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has focused on a tiny number of characters, only a few of whom have been explored in any detail. Prequels, sequels, spin-offs, and even supposedly-unrelated projects have all brought back into play the same handful of characters again and again, and sooner rather than later I’d like to see that stop.

The Star Wars galaxy is, in my view, one of the finest fictional settings ever created. It has both a breadth and a depth that other settings could only dream of: dozens of factions, hundreds of alien races, thousands of inhabited planets, and tens of thousands of years’ worth of galactic history – all of which could be explored in a way that would be absolutely riveting. But so far, writers and creatives have been limited to one tiny corner of this potentially vast sandbox, forced to re-use the same characters, revisit the same planets, and stay within the confines of the same relatively short sixty-year span of galactic history centred around the rise and fall of the Empire.

Boba Fett reappeared in The Mandalorian Season 2.

One of the reasons I love the video game Knights of the Old Republic so much is because it stepped away from much of what was familiar about Star Wars. There were some recognisable planets, and of course we spent time with the Republic and the Jedi, but beyond that the story took place thousands of years prior to the events of the films and introduced an entirely new cast of characters. There were definite inspirations from the original and prequel trilogies, but Knights of the Old Republic was separate from them.

That’s what I’d like to see Star Wars do more of. Instead of telling us another story about Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, tell us something else. Introduce us to a new Jedi, a new Sith, or better yet, new Light and Dark Side factions. Or abandon the Force altogether for once and show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t blessed with space magic live! That’s what I hoped that a series like The Mandalorian might do.

Luke Skywalker in The Book of Boba Fett.

George Lucas once spoke of symmetry in Star Wars, saying that its stories should “rhyme.” But there’s a huge difference between rhyming and being a carbon copy of what came before, or between rhyming and diving ever deeper into less and less important chapters of backstory. Unfortunately, because Star Wars has never broken away from its previously-established characters, doing so now is something that must feel like a risk to the suits at Lucasfilm and Disney – and if there’s one thing that makes corporations uncomfortable, it’s risk.

However, as I’ve recently argued, Star Wars can’t just coast forever on nostalgia for its original films and the only real story it’s ever told. Sooner rather than later those characters and settings will be exhausted, spent of all storytelling potential. Then the only remaining choice will be to either try something genuinely new and different… or to bring the entire franchise to an end.

“Hot Take” #3:
The Last Jedi will be highly-regarded in fifteen or twenty years’ time.

Luke Skywalker heads out to meet the forces of the First Order.

I unapologetically love The Last Jedi – it’s the highlight of the sequel trilogy for me by far. But I recognise that it was divisive in the fan community, and that some narrative decisions seem to have been made to be deliberately challenging to the expectations its audience had. For me, those points succeeded – and just like Star Wars fans eventually came to accept patent nonsense like “from a certain point of view,” or the arbitrary and unexplained decision to make Luke and Leia into brother and sister at the last moment, in time I think many of The Last Jedi’s story beats will just become accepted part of Star Wars lore.

Moreover, as fans who are kids today grow up and look back on the sequels, we’ll probably see a reappraisal of those films within the wider discourse of the fan community. Just as the prequels are supported today by fans in their teens and twenties, in fifteen or twenty years’ time I think we’ll see a similar movement in support of the sequels from fans for whom those films were their first contact with the Star Wars franchise.

Ben Solo’s turn to the Dark Side was shocking and unexpected.

In particular, the merits of The Last Jedi will come to be reappraised. The film wasn’t perfect, but it got a lot of things right, and after The Force Awakens had played it very safe by basically copying large parts of the plot of A New Hope, The Last Jedi really tried hard to take Star Wars to completely different narrative and thematic places.

Unfortunately many of its successes were overridden by The Rise of Skywalker – which itself will gradually become accepted as part of the wider lore of Star Wars, too – but that doesn’t mean that the film can’t be enjoyed on its own merits. Decisions like Rey’s parents being “no one” of consequence or Kylo Ren fully embracing his inner Dark Side to claim the mantle of Supreme Leader are – at least in my opinion – storylines that had massive appeal and huge potential. I’m sure that they’ll be looked upon much more kindly in the years ahead.

The Holdo Manoeuvre.

If the Star Wars franchise continues its current trend of doubling-down on cheap nostalgia plays and samey, almost repetitive storylines, then The Last Jedi’s attempts to shake things up will come to be seen in a new light. Star Wars is in real danger of becoming stale – if every story focuses on the same few characters, or characters who are so similar as to fill functionally the same role, then the franchise will feel like it’s lost a step and stopped innovating.

It may take a while for attitudes to shift, and there will of course be some fans for whom The Last Jedi will always remain one of the worst parts of the Star Wars franchise. But I really do believe that in a few years’ time the film will find more defenders than detractors, and will come to be an accepted and even celebrated part of Star Wars’ cinematic canon. Hopefully there’ll still be a Star Wars at that point, with new films and shows being created!

“Hot Take” #4:
So-called “Jedi Robes” were originally just typical desert attire and not something ceremonial or unique to the Jedi Order.

“Old Ben” Kenobi with Luke and R2D2 in A New Hope.

One thing that’s always bugged me, even as far back as Return of the Jedi, is how so-called “Jedi Robes” are basically just the typical outfit one would expect to wear in a desert environment like Tatooine. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s outfit in the original film was never intended to be some kind of ceremonial marker of the ancient Jedi Order, but rather a costume inspired by desert cultures around the world.

Look at typical outfits worn in North Africa and on the Arabian peninsula as examples. The typical thobe (thawb) and bisht that are worn by men in those regions was part of the inspiration for the outfit, along with outfits worn by Bedouin and nomadic peoples. These outfits are designed to be worn in hot desert conditions, and that’s exactly what we see in “Old Ben” Kenobi’s costume when he encounters Luke Skywalker.

This mistake was first made with Anakin’s ghost in Return of the Jedi.

Luke is actually dressed very similarly to Kenobi at that point. The outfit he wears is similar to what Kenobi was wearing under his cloak – a kind of loose-fitting belted tunic. Again, this is something pretty standard in desert regions and makes sense for a planet like Tatooine. There’s nothing about either of their outfits that screams “religious order,” and it’s always struck me as odd – and more than a little arbitrary – that Kenobi’s desert cloak ended up being the basis for the ceremonial robes worn by everyone in the Jedi Order.

In-universe, it doesn’t even make sense for “Old Ben” to be cutting about Tatooine in his Jedi robes – if indeed that’s what they’re supposed to be. He’s in hiding on that world, and as we saw in the opening act of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, changing out of his robes into civilian attire would help him blend in. Putting his robes on to go exploring would draw unnecessary and unwanted attention to him at a time when he’s still one of the Empire’s most-wanted Jedi survivors.

Members of the Jedi Council in their robes in Attack of the Clones.

It would’ve been nice to see more diversity in the outfits worn by Jedi Knights and Masters, particularly during the prequel era. We could have seen a whole new range of costumes introduced, including elaborate ceremonial attire if there was a need for that. But simply copying what “Old Ben” wore on Tatooine and slapping it on every Jedi character has never made sense.

While I accept that this is now an established part of the lore of Star Wars and isn’t going to change, it’s something that’s always bugged me!

“Hot Take” #5:
Star Wars doesn’t need the Jedi and the Force to tell fun stories.

Rey and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.

When The Mandalorian was announced a couple of years ago I felt that it had a truly exciting premise. Following “the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic” sounded absolutely fascinating, and would have been a huge departure from anything we’d seen the franchise do before.

But within two episodes the Force came back into play, and by the end of the second season we’d been reintroduced to Luke Skywalker himself. I still find The Mandalorian to be disappointing as a result; it didn’t live up to expectations and very quickly fell back to retread the same ground as other Star Wars projects.

Finn wielding a lightsaber in The Force Awakens.

The Book of Boba Fett likewise brought the Force and Luke Skywalker into its story, and again there was a missed opportunity to show us how the 99.9% of the galaxy who aren’t Force-users live. I’m hopeful that one day a Star Wars project will be bold enough to leave the Force behind entirely – and perhaps it’ll finally happen in Andor, Rogue Squadron, or one of the upcoming films or television shows!

As I said above, the Star Wars galaxy is massive and densely-populated – and the vast, vast majority of the population doesn’t use the Force or rely on it in any way. Characters like Han Solo didn’t even believe that the Force existed at first – and that attitude could well be prevalent across much of the population. Showing us characters like that could take all manner of different forms, and I’d be really interested to see some completely different projects set in the Star Wars universe.

A New Republic pilot in The Mandalorian.

Just as a couple of examples, we could see a kind of noir-inspired crime drama set in the underworld of a planet like Coruscant. Or we could see an ER-esque medical drama that follows the exploits of doctors and nurses at a hospital. There’s more to Star Wars than just Jedi Knights, Sith Lords, and the Force, and while we all love a good lightsaber duel… Star Wars can be more than that, if there’s someone bold enough in creative control to make those decisions.

So far, every Star Wars project has included the Force or Force-wielders to a greater or lesser degree. I’d like to see a film or TV show that completely sets the Force aside. Not only would it expand our knowledge of the Star Wars galaxy away from those familiar elements, but it would be thematically and narratively different by default. And telling new and different stories is something that the Star Wars franchise needs to start doing!

“Hot Take” #6:
The prequel trilogy told a story that was ultimately unnecessary.

Young Anakin in The Phantom Menace.

This isn’t saying “the prequels were bad” and commenting on things like the quality of the writing or specific narrative choices. Instead, what I’m saying is that the story of the prequel trilogy didn’t actually add anything of consequence to the Star Wars saga. Everything we knew about characters like Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and of course Darth Vader had already been explained in the original films.

At best, the prequels were padded backstory. They showed us the Clone Wars firsthand, instead of the conflict being left as a rather ambiguous part of the saga’s lore that was referenced but unexplained. They explicitly showed us things like the original duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan that had been referenced, and confirmed that Obi-Wan had been responsible for causing Darth Vader’s life-limiting injuries. But nothing that they brought to the table was necessary or couldn’t be inferred from the original films.

Palpatine seizes power in Revenge of the Sith.

By the time it had been decided to make Darth Vader Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, his pathway toward redemption was possible. He was an evil villain, but he had enough residual goodness and light inside him thanks to the love he had for his son that it was possible for him to betray the Emperor. We didn’t need three films charting Anakin’s rise and fall to tell us that.

Nor did we need to see Obi-Wan Kenobi training Anakin to inform their conflict. Darth Vader told us all we needed to know in a single line when they were reunited aboard the Death Star. Even Palpatine’s scheming and the way he played both sides in the Clone Wars didn’t really do much to explain his role in The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi – and certainly wasn’t necessary to understand his position or role in either story.

The “birth” of Darth Vader.

There are things to celebrate about the prequels, don’t get me wrong. And there’s nothing inherently wrong or problematic about stepping back in time to look at characters in their younger days or to go into more detail about some of the events that preceded what we’d seen in the original films. But the Star Wars prequel trilogy padded out that story without really adding to it anything of substance.

The simple fact is that we knew all we needed to know at the time of the original films for those stories to be exciting and engrossing. I never felt that I was missing any crucial context to understand Luke, Leia, Han, Palpatine, or Vader, and while the prequels certainly expanded the story of Star Wars – and in many ways set the stage for its ongoing success – I feel that the reason the story never really resonated with me is because it never seemed like it was one that needed to be told.

So that’s it!

Han Solo.

I hope we’re still friends after all of that! Just remember that these are simply the opinions of one person, presented here for a bit of fun and perhaps to be thought-provoking.

Despite criticisms of some individual films and stories, I consider myself a fan of Star Wars. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I first sat down to watch the original trilogy at the insistence of a friend in the early 1990s, and I’ve supported Star Wars at the cinema, on television, and in the gaming realm ever since. There’s a lot to love – even if I have some controversial “hot takes” on the franchise sometimes!

Just this year I’ve enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett and Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Andor and Lego Star Wars: Summer Vacation will have to offer, too. So I hope this was a bit of fun as we look ahead to some of those upcoming Star Wars projects.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films, games, and television shows discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten things that the Star Wars prequels got right

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). In addition, spoilers are present for the sequel trilogy, including The Rise of Skywalker, and for Knights of the Old Republic.

Happy Star Wars Day! In celebration of today’s event, I thought we could take a look back at the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Though this isn’t my favourite part of the franchise by any means, today is a day for positivity within the Star Wars fandom, and despite my overall feelings, the prequels did get some things right. It’s easy to criticise and complain, but no film is 100% awful. Not even The Rise of Skywalker.

I became a Star Wars fan in the early ’90s, having watched the original trilogy at the prompting of a friend. It was thus a very exciting time when the prequel trilogy was announced, and even though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the first two films in particular, Revenge of the Sith managed to churn out an adequate end to the trilogy and set up the original films.

Trekking with Dennis talking positively about the Star Wars prequels?!
“A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one!”

For a decade after the prequels concluded, Star Wars was said to be complete. Six films, and that’s it. Of course we now have sequels and spin-offs, with many more in the works, and it looks like the Star Wars franchise will continue to roll on and bring in money for parent company Disney. Though no major plans are afoot to revisit the prequel era right now, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series will bring back at least two prominent characters from the trilogy and serve as a continuation of sorts.

As always, this list is just my personal opinion. The prequel trilogy is going through somewhat of a renaissance in the minds of some Star Wars fans – particularly those who grew up with the films. If you adore the prequels, that’s okay. We all have preferences; things we like and dislike, even within a single fandom. There’s no need for discussions about Star Wars to descend into arguments!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into my list of things the prequels got right.

Number 1: Showing the Jedi Order at full strength.

Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn meeting with the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

At the time The Phantom Menace premiered, Star Wars’ cinematic canon had only ever shown five Force users – only one of whom could reasonably be said to still be “a Jedi” when he appeared on screen. Though Luke Skywalker appeared to take on the mantle of Jedi Master by the end of Return of the Jedi, we were still curious to see how the Order appeared in its original form.

All three films spent a decent amount of time with the Jedi Order, showing the organisation if not at its peak then certainly in far better shape than we’d ever seen it before. The Jedi maintained a huge temple as their headquarters and base of operations, and hundreds of Jedi Knights and Jedi Masters were seen on screen, taking on various roles across the three films.

Young Jedi train while Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi observe.

Prior to this, all we really had to go on was hearsay. Ben Kenobi and Yoda had told Luke Skywalker a little about the former Jedi Order across the original films, but there’s a big difference between hearing a character explain something and actually seeing it firsthand. The legend of the Jedi Order made it to screen in a big way, and told us a lot about the history of the Star Wars galaxy as well.

We also got to know several key members of the Jedi Order in this era, and see the Jedi take on leadership roles to try to bring about peace and stave off the separatists. We arguably learned more about the minutiae of the Jedi in the prequel trilogy than in the originals, sequels, and spin-offs combined, and while it wasn’t all perfect – the Jedi robes being just one example of that – the prequels undeniably expanded the lore of Star Wars in this regard.

Number 2: Starship designs.

A Republic starship during the Battle over Coruscant.

Many of the starship designs used during the prequel trilogy were cleverly designed with the original trilogy in mind. It’s not an easy task to take an existing design and try to work backwards from it, creating a new design that’s supposed to look like a realistic predecessor to something that was supposedly built later. But the prequel trilogy does a creditable job in this regard, especially insofar as starships are concerned.

There were two issues that the prequels faced: on the production side, technology had changed a lot regarding how special effects were made, meaning some of the original films’ starships looked very much “of their time.” And secondly, the Imperial ships seen in the original trilogy were designed to look villainous and menacing as the Empire was the antagonist faction in those films. Thus the designers had to create something that looked like a reasonable precursor to the Empire without looking too “evil” and also without looking like it came straight from the 1970s!

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi starfighter has elements of both X-Wings and TIE Fighters in its design.

This is a design challenge unlike many others in cinema, and the prequels got it largely right. The Republic’s ships, both large capital ships and smaller starfighters, retained enough design elements from the original trilogy to look like plausible ancestors of things like TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers, but the brighter colours and softened edges made them look at least a little friendlier.

In any fantasy film, things like design and aesthetic world-building are easy to overlook, but they’re absolutely essential to the sense of immersion that viewers need. The best films work hard to ensure their designs are iconic, and while perhaps very few things in the prequels are as iconic as designs from the original trilogy, the designs blend together well. Nothing was outright copied, and nothing was overwritten.

Number 3: The musical score.

The prequel trilogy had a great soundtrack.

John Williams, who had composed and conducted the music for the original trilogy, returned to Star Wars for the prequels, and his music has to be considered one of the high points of all three films by anyone’s standards. Pieces like Duel of the Fates have become iconic and emblematic of the whole franchise, and it’s impossible to imagine Star Wars without Williams’ compositions.

Considering the budget and creative freedom George Lucas had when making the prequels, he could’ve chosen to approach any composer to create the film’s score. He didn’t have to go back to John Williams if he felt he wanted someone else, but he did. And the films are undeniably better for the inclusion of Williams’ compositions.

Number 4: Palpatine’s scheming.

The story of Palpatine’s rise was interesting.

Though I have argued that seeing the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker was ultimately unnecessary to explain anything from the original films, one thing that absolutely was interesting was seeing how Palpatine schemed and manipulated events to allow himself to rise to the position of Supreme Chancellor – and ultimately Emperor.

I’m having a hard time, in light of The Rise of Skywalker, truly appreciating this aspect of the prequels, because Palpatine’s clumsy insertion into that film has done a heck of a lot to detract from his characterisation. But if we set that aside as best we can for a moment, one of the prequel trilogy’s themes – and best-executed narrative elements – was Palpatine’s rise. Though he was treated as a secondary character when compared to the likes of Anakin and Obi-Wan, I would suggest that his story was actually handled better than almost everyone else’s.

Palpatine meeting with Count Dooku, the separatist leader. He played both sides during the Clone Wars, having planned everything to allow a smooth rise to power.

Say what you will about George Lucas and his storytelling, but when it came to Palpatine in the prequels, there was a meticulous and detailed plan from day one – and it actually made sense. Taking inspiration from the rise of Julius Caesar, who transformed Rome from a Republic into a dictatorial Empire, Palpatine’s scheme was cleverly written, with just enough shown on screen to leave an air of mystery – that the character knew more than he was letting on.

Considering that the prequels overall, and The Phantom Menace in particular, had a kid-friendly tone and plenty of action going on, this kind of political manipulation is a very adult theme, and in other films or series, the juxtaposition of politicking and scheming with space wizards and magic would have fallen completely flat. It succeeded here, in part due to being set up well and planned from the beginning, and in part thanks to Ian McDiarmid’s stellar performance.

Number 5: The Knights of the Old Republic games.

Promo art for Knights of the Old Republic II.

This one is a bit of a cheat since the games were not related to the films, but they were released around the same time (2003-04) and made use of a number of aesthetic elements and settings that had been established in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. I’ve said before on a number of occasions that the Knights of the Old Republic games aren’t just among my favourite video games, they’re two of the best stories ever told in the Star Wars universe.

Though distinct from the prequels, it’s hard to imagine either game being made were it not for the renewed interest in Star Wars that the prequel films generated. The use of things like Jedi robes and a Jedi Council were borrowed from the prequel trilogy as well, and Knights of the Old Republic leaned into the notion of the Jedi Order remaining a constant part of the galaxy, barely changing over millennia. This was a big part of the mythos of Star Wars at the time – the idea that the Republic had existed for thousands of years until the Empire overtook it.

The Knights of the Old Republic games were fantastic.

The big twist in the first Knights of the Old Republic was one of the few moments where I was genuinely blown away by a storyline in a video game, and I remember sitting there with the control pad in my hands just in shock! It was a fantastically-executed narrative point, and while it isn’t really taken from the prequels, it mirrors in some respects the idea of Anakin Skywalker being a Jedi, then falling to the dark side, before ultimately being redeemed – which was, of course, a major theme in the prequel trilogy.

A third Knights of the Old Republic title was rumoured to be in production earlier in the year, so perhaps we’ll finally get a sequel! Even if that isn’t the case, or turns out to be unconnected to the original duology, they’re two of the best games I’ve ever played.

Number 6: Better lightsaber fights.

Obi-Wan Kenobi duelling Count Dooku.

The original trilogy had a couple of solid lightsaber duels, both between Luke and Darth Vader. But the prequel trilogy in general has more exciting lightsaber combat. Not only the duels between Sith and Jedi, but also seeing Jedi in combat against non-Jedi opponents was generally done better – in my subjective opinion, at least – in the prequel films.

In terms of specific lightsaber duels, I’d point to the fight between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan against Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, and Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda duelling Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones as two of the better ones put to screen in the franchise.

The moment Darth Maul ignited his lightsaber’s second blade was jaw-dropping for many fans in 1999!

The prequels changed the way we imagine lightsaber combat, expanding the idea of duelling to encompass different styles and “forms” of wielding the weapon. This has been picked up in video games, films, and television shows produced in the wake of the prequel trilogy, and has gone on to be a defining part of the way lightsaber combat looks on screen.

We also got to see different designs of lightsaber hilt, and a new purple colour for Mace Windu. All of these things made a difference to the way the franchise as a whole handles its signature weapon, and a good deal of what we know about lightsabers and lightsaber duelling comes from the prequel trilogy.

Number 7: Solid acting performances.

Natalie Portman as Padmé and Hayden Christensen as Anakin in Attack of the Clones.

One area of criticism of the prequel films that I fundamentally do not agree with is that the acting performances were somehow stilted or poor quality. Practically every actor involved did the best with the material they had, and some of the harshest criticism levelled at people like Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) or Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) should really be aimed at George Lucas for his writing and direction.

Not only would I say that much of the criticism of the acting is unfair and overly harsh on the performers, but there are some genuinely outstanding performances in the prequel films. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine, as we noted above, is stellar, but I’d also point to Ewan McGregor’s stint as Obi-Wan Kenobi, in particular the incredibly pained emotional moments he shares with Anakin on Mustafar.

Number 8: A planned story.

The prequel films had a narrative that was planned from day one.

This is one which has come into sharper focus given the complete lack of overall direction afforded to the sequel trilogy. As I’ve said before, the sequel trilogy having its own narrative issues does not magically make the prequels any better, but it is worth acknowledging that the prequels had a planned story from the beginning.

Not only that, but the prequel trilogy does a creditable job of executing that story in an understandable manner. There aren’t many moments where viewers are left thinking “who’s that character?” or “what’s going on?” The narrative runs as smoothly as possible from point to point, and main characters like Anakin, Palpatine, and Obi-Wan had their arcs pre-planned.

The prequel trilogy had a story planned from the ground up to reach this moment.

Partly, it has to be said, this is because the films are prequels – they have a definite end point that they absolutely must reach. But there were many different ways to tell the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine’s ascent to the Imperial throne, and so on. There is no denying that Lucas and others planned the story, knew where they wanted it to go, and put that to screen about as well as possible.

Whatever you may think of the story itself, this is the way filmmaking – and any storytelling, come to that – is supposed to work. If you’re going to create a trilogy of films with a view to focusing on the adventures of a few characters, planning out where the narrative and character arcs are going to go is essential.

Number 9: Tense and exciting action sequences.

There were some well-executed moments of action in the prequel trilogy.

Though not every action set piece worked perfectly, the Star Wars prequels do have several exciting and tense sequences. The starship crash-landing early in Revenge of the Sith is a great example of a sequence that didn’t drag on too long and kept the excitement going practically the whole time.

Parts of the Battle of Geonosis in Attack of the Clones – though a CGI mess at points – managed to be stirring and exciting too, with the last-minute arrival of a Jedi “Strike Team” to save Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé achieving at least some of the feelings it was going for. Star Wars can do battles and action very well, and the prequels have some sequences that demonstrate that.

Number 10: Reinvigorated Star Wars for a new generation of fans.

A lot of kids who saw the prequels are big Star Wars fans today – and big defenders of those films!

I’m not surprised to see many Star Wars fans in their teens and twenties defending the prequels with such vigour. These films are theirs – perhaps the first Star Wars films they ever saw, and they’re films which, for many younger fans, started a lifelong love of a galaxy far, far away. Without the prequel trilogy, it’s likely Star Wars would be nowhere near as big as it is today. It would be a well-remembered trilogy of films from the late ’70s with a bunch of spin-off fan-fiction.

The prequels proved that there was more to Star Wars than just the original films, even though they relied heavily on those films in large part. From a business point of view, all three films were massively profitable, with the films themselves and, crucially, their merchandise bringing in literally billions of dollars. The Walt Disney Company would never have been interested in Star Wars and Lucasfilm had the prequels not demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Star Wars franchise could be more than its original trilogy.

Moments of humour, comical characters, and fun designs in the prequels all appealed to kids.

Whatever you may think of the films Disney has made over the last few years, there’s more to come from Star Wars. I personally loved Rogue One, and I’m interested to see what some of the upcoming television series have to offer. Without the prequels, we’d never have seen Rogue One, the sequel trilogy, or The Mandalorian – or at least, they’d have taken a very different form.

Any successful franchise builds on the accomplishments of its earlier iterations, and we can see attempts for Star Wars to do so too. Those attempts aren’t always successful, but the legacy of the prequel trilogy is that Star Wars still exists and is expanding to become bigger than anyone expected it could be twenty years ago. The success of current and future projects is, to a greater or lesser extent, built on what the prequel trilogy achieved. Though I may not be wild about these three films on their own merits, the prequels’ biggest achievement may be in rejuvenating Star Wars for a new generation of fans, pushing the franchise forward.

So that’s it. I wanted to try something positive for Star Wars to mark today, and I thought revisiting the prequel trilogy would be a good place to start.

Anakin Skywalker – a.k.a. Darth Vader.

Star Wars is in a strange place right now, in some ways. The sequel trilogy has wrapped up, but it ended in a pretty ambiguous way, and we’re still not sure exactly what will happen to the galaxy after the “final” defeat of Palpatine. Disney has shifted its focus back to the original trilogy era with most of its upcoming projects, and depending on the success of shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi, perhaps a more serious attempt will be made soon to revisit the prequel era. Time will tell!

Regardless, having watched The Phantom Menace a few days ago I thought I’d also go back and re-watch Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith to complete the set, and that led to this article in celebration of Star Wars day. It’s possible that Disney (or other companies affiliated with Star Wars, like EA) might use today to make announcements of upcoming projects, so if there’s significant news I hope you’ll check back as I daresay I’ll try to break it down.

Now, where’s my review of The Mandalorian Season 2? It’s been six months… better get cracking on that!

The Star Wars franchise – including The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm. The prequel trilogy can be streamed now on Disney+ and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Looking back at the Star Wars prequel trilogy

Spoiler Warning: Beware spoilers for the Star Wars prequels.

I’m not a prequels fan. I wasn’t when they came out and I’m not today. For all of the missteps made since Disney acquired Star Wars, the films that have been made since 2015 are superior in practically every way to the prequels. So if you’re here expecting me to say that the prequels were great, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Nor am I going to say that the sequel trilogy having problems – and it undeniably does – somehow makes the prequels better. That’s probably one of the more idiotic arguments people have put forward – “this is bad, therefore this thing that’s also bad is now good!” It doesn’t work that way.

Of course films are subjective – a film that works for one person doesn’t work for another, and that’s okay. We don’t all enjoy the same things and that’s fine. I’m not for a moment trying to argue that the prequel trilogy is objectively bad, just that it failed to win me over. In my subjective opinion. One of the biggest annoyances in the aftermath of The Last Jedi was the insistence by some fans that it was an “objectively” bad film. It wasn’t; they just didn’t like it. And that feeling is the same for me with the prequels.

Theatrical release poster for The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Nostalgia is a funny concept, and one that can be difficult for all of us, let alone big companies, to come to terms with. If someone (like myself) watched the original Star Wars films years before the prequel trilogy was even conceived, there’s a higher than average chance they’d be disappointed in the prequels when they came out. If someone’s first encounter with the Star Wars universe was the prequels, or they were very young when they first saw those films, chances are they enjoyed them much more. Particularly as kids, a lot of the finer points of cinematography and filmmaking go completely over our heads. That’s why a film like The Emoji Movie found an audience – it’s made for kids. And those kids who saw it and loved it at age six or eight will grow up regarding it as a piece of their childhood.

In that sense, we tend to put childhood memories on a pedestal. It’s just a natural way that human beings are, and it means that some legitimately bad stories we encountered before the age of, say, twelve or thirteen are forever cemented in our brains as a positive experience. This applies to films, books, television series, and even songs, and it’s related to the idea that we’re all defined to an extent by the era we grew up in and the trends that were evident at that time. There are many examples from my own childhood; silly little cartoon shows of the 1980s which I remember with incredible fondness. British children’s television shows in that era were – when looking at them with a critical eye – awful. Animation for cartoons was dire, with whole scenes often comprised of a single static image. Stories were simplistic, there was often only a single voice actor who would make no effort to differentiate characters, but because these are some of my earliest memories of watching television I hold such programmes as The Adventures of Rupert Bear, Bagpuss, and The Clangers in high regard. Not for their actual value, but for what they represent to me as an individual. Their flaws, while I can spot them with a critical eye, melt away. And all that remains is the positive nostalgic feelings.

For many people, the same is true of the Star Wars prequels. They were young enough when first viewing them that the flaws in the films don’t register – only the positive feelings do. And when it comes to looking back and being objective, they’re incapable of doing so. Particularly in the wake of the disappointment many fans felt at the sequels – The Last Jedi in particular – they’re clamouring for more films like the prequels, and for the figurehead of their hate, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, to be replaced by Star Wars creator George Lucas.

But Lucas wasn’t a particularly good director or writer, especially when given the kind of leeway he got when making the prequels. His status as a legend in both the franchise and wider filmmaking industry scored him essentially free reign to do whatever he wanted when he started to make the prequel trilogy. This wasn’t the case when making the originals, and a group of incredibly talented creative people, including John Williams the composer, as well as editors, directors, script doctors, and so on all contributed massively to those films’ success. Lucas may have come up with this kernel of an idea, but to say he alone was responsible for Star Wars as we know it simply isn’t true. And when given free reign to tell his own story in the universe, he came up with a series of three films which undermined Star Wars’ classic villain, Darth Vader.

When we encountered Vader in 1977’s Star Wars (later retitled Episode IV: A New Hope) we knew all we needed to know. He was “more machine now than man”, he had a very powerful command of the Force, and he was ruthless. Seeing nine-year-old Ani, and trying to frame at least the first two films of the prequel trilogy to make him the protagonist detracted from that, in practically the same way as Hannibal Rising detracts from the character of Hannibal Lecter, or the 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory overexplains Willy Wonka. Some characters work because they’re mysterious. We didn’t need to know that Willy Wonka runs a sweets factory because his dad was a miserly old dentist. And we didn’t need to see Hannibal Lecter as a scared orphan – it took something important away from the character. And the same applies to Darth Vader. Seeing him as a bright-eyed child, with much of the film shot to make him as sympathetic as possible, robs Darth Vader of much of his imposing fear factor.

To explain why, let’s hop from one franchise to another and look at Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in particular the two-part episode Chain of Command. Capt. Picard has been captured by the Cardassians, who are trying to get him to reveal sensitive tactical information – using torture. It’s one of TNG‘s finest stories, but one moment in it is interesting, and it shows why too much backstory ruins a threat. At one point, days or weeks into his captivity, Picard is sat down with his torturer, Gul Madred (played expertly by David Warner). Madred tells Picard a little of his life growing up alone and in poverty on Cardassia, and Picard seizes upon it, proclaiming: “Whenever I look at you now, I won’t see a powerful Cardassian warrior. I will see a six-year-old boy who is powerless to protect himself. In spite of all you have done to me, I find you a pitiable man.” The circumstances are not the same – we’re the audience looking in, Picard is a character in the middle of it. But the effect is the same. Too much information detracts from a villain.

The creative decision to allow us, the audience, to see Darth Vader as a child, to tell his story as a young man, robs the character of a significant part of his imposing nature. He could still tear us apart with his lightsaber or choke us to death while not even being on the same starship, but all the while we’re still able to pity him, not be afraid of him. Lucas allowed the most significant element of his story’s most important character to be lost through this decision. Instead of wondering what horrors lay beneath the mask, or what twisted reasons Vader had for giving himself mechanical parts, we now know not only that he was a slave, that he grew up in poverty and cried for his mommy, but that underneath that scary suit is a burnt-out husk, and without the suit he’ll just suffocate and die. As he ultimately does.

The reveal of Vader in Return of the Jedi as a mere man, a fragile, badly wounded man kept alive by this suit we’d come to fear over three films, is robbed of all dramatic effect too. In Return of the Jedi, this powerful scene is rendered almost meaningless, because we’ve already seen what he looks like under there in Revenge of the Sith – which showed us more than we needed to see of his injuries. Vader’s transformation from imposing and frightening villain, redeemed through his one good deed, is complete. It began with seeing him as a child, it ran through his stint as protagonist, and finally seeing the painful, life-limiting injuries he had to live with, as well as the mental anguish he went through after the loss of his wife, change fundamentally how we see him. And it’s not a change for the better. Sometimes, less is more. The original film gave us everything we needed to know about Vader. The prequels told us too much.

While for me, the fact that the prequels seriously undermine Vader as a redeemable villain is their most unforgivable error, the prequel trilogy also throws up a huge number of other issues, some minor and some more major. Many of these are present simply as a result of the nature of prequel stories, and others are just a consequence of bad and/or lazy writing.

One of the biggest criticisms I’d have of the sequel trilogy is that it was split up. There wasn’t any attempt made to tell one single story over three films, instead the writing was split up between different writers and directors, with each given free rein to tell whatever story they wanted. The result is a jarring tonal mess. The prequels don’t have that issue, because generally George Lucas knew what story he wanted to tell. There were tweaks, certainly – Jar Jar Binks’ role was scaled back after the response to The Phantom Menace, for example. But overall, he knew what story he wanted to tell and he made three films to tell it. Problem is, the story was crap.

Politics can be exciting, and political dramas can be thrilling. At a fundamental level, the rise of Palpatine from being a senator from a backwater planet to Supreme Chancellor and then Emperor is the same as the rise of the scheming Frank Underwood in House of Cards – and watching how he manipulated circumstances to become Vice President and then President was both fascinating and exciting. So I disagree with those who say that all of the politics behind Palpatine’s rise is a fundamental flaw; if handled differently it could’ve been okay – though it’s not necessarily what fans wanted or expected from a Star Wars film.

Theatrical release poster for 2002’s Attack of the Clones.

The prequels didn’t fall flat for any one reason, though Vader’s characterisation is a significant issue all by itself. There were dozens of smaller problems that they created. Jar Jar Binks is mentioned frequently by detractors of the films, though he was really only a significant stumbling block in The Phantom Menace, being largely absent from the two other titles in the series. It’s understandable to see why he was disliked though: in a film that a lot of people had been waiting almost twenty years to see, there was this oafish character with a hammy performance that seemed to be aimed at children under five. Many of those kids, by the way, are the prequel films’ defenders today as mentioned above. Reaction to Jar Jar was so extreme that some fans even went so far as to edit him out of the film, cutting his scenes entirely in a reworked fan-edit of The Phantom Menace. But Jar Jar was there to give the film extra appeal to children, because Star Wars has always been – despite what many hard-core fans want to think – a family franchise. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re kids’ films, but they’re films which have always appealed to children and though there’s nothing wrong with adults enjoying them too, Star Wars wants to keep that child-friendly atmosphere. After all, it’s mostly kids who buy toys and other merchandise.

And that’s another big point. The original films had made a lot of money from merchandise, so when the prequels rolled around the expectation was that they’d do the same. Some creative decisions can be linked to this, such as the decision to have “Jedi robes” mimic Alec Guiness’ costume from the original film. That costume was clearly something fit for wearing in a desert environment, and wasn’t originally supposed to represent the robes of the lost Jedi order. If it was, why would Obi-Wan be so blasé about wearing it everywhere he went? If the Jedi are being actively hunted, any surviving Jedi would be taking steps to ensure no one knew of his or her identity. The fact that this doesn’t happen is an example of a prequel-created plot hole.

By going back in time to before the original films, the Star Wars prequels create a number of inconsistencies and issues for the franchise. This isn’t something unique to the prequels – the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back, and the semantic gymnastics required to get around that in Return of the Jedi (remember “from a certain point of view”?) was the first and biggest example. But the fact is that that reveal worked – it was dramatic, shocking, and for the vast majority of the audience who didn’t remember Ben Kenobi’s one line in the previous film about Luke’s dad, wasn’t in any way contradictory.

But it’s stated several times that Yoda is the Jedi who trained Obi-Wan. Yet in The Phantom Menace, we’re introduced to Obi-Wan Kenobi as a padawan apprentice – whose master is in fact Qui-Gon Jinn. Liam Neeson’s performance as Qui-Gon is one of the few high points of that film, so I’m not trying to detract from the character altogether. But it’s yet another example of the prequels taking what was already established and ignoring it. It would have been perfectly feasible to have Kenobi and Jinn as partners, teamed up in much the same way, and still establish firmly that Yoda was Obi-Wan’s master. Same story, no contradiction. One or two lines of dialogue and/or an extra scene would’ve established this and it would fit right in with canon.

Then there’s the inclusion of C-3PO and R2-D2. Obi-Wan spent a lot of time in the prequels with R2-D2 in particular, yet in A New Hope claims to have never seen the droid. That must’ve been depressing for poor R2. Not to mention that Anakin build C-3PO as a child. Okay, this one isn’t so much a plot hole as it is stupid.

Speaking of stupid – Anakin was conceived with “no father”, implying a Jesus-esque immaculate conception via the Force. This was vaguely tied into the “prophecy of the chosen one”, which is referenced several times across the three films, but ultimately serves very little purpose. Star Wars has, and continues to have, problems with the idea that people – good and bad – can come from ordinary beginnings. Anakin had to be a Force baby. Rey had to be a… well, spoiler alert for The Rise of Skywalker. Luke couldn’t just be a great Jedi, he had to be Vader’s son. And so on. Because both the immaculate conception and chosen one concepts were handled so poorly, it wasn’t even obvious that this was Lucas’ intention. The famous opera scene, where Palpatine tells Anakin the “story of Darth Plagueis the Wise” is supposed to imply that Plagueis created Anakin by “manipulating midi-cholorions to create life”. Except, we never met Plagueis, we never saw any of this happen, and no timeframe is hinted at by Palpatine in the scene. As far as I knew on watching the films, the Plagueis legend took place centuries earlier, and was just another way Palpatine could get his hook into Anakin to sway him. It was also never expressed that Palpatine was the one giving Anakin the visions of Padmé’s death – though again we’re supposed to have implied this somehow. Even though the film is shot in such a way that we don’t.

Some of these ideas actually have merit – particularly the concept that Palpatine was both giving Anakin the visions of his wife dying while at the same time hinting he knew enough about the Dark Side that he could save her. That shows Palpatine at his devious best, except it never fully made it to screen. It instead stumbled halfway onto the screen, then fell flat. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the few good story points the prequels had.

A little while ago, I read an article where someone had suggested that the prequels would have been made significantly better if Revenge of the Sith had been all three films, and The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were never made. This might actually be a decent idea, because it would have allowed some of the themes and concepts in Revenge of the Sith more screen time to be properly explored, instead of merely mentioned in passing or hinted at.

So those are some of the story threads that failed in the prequels. And by far, story and characterisation is where the prequels failed hardest for me. But on the production and filmmaking side, there are major issues too.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were when CGI was really becoming a big deal in filmmaking. But the CGI in those days was pretty rough, meaning a lot of films produced in that era that rely heavily on those kind of effects have aged very poorly – and didn’t even look great at the time.

This is arguably at its worst in Attack of the Clones, where legions of clone troopers are seen, rendered in CGI. And it looks like a mid-2000s video game. The CGI is unrealistic, far too “shiny”, and not at all lifelike. The fact that these films were largely shot on green screens with few practical effects has dated them horribly, and the aesthetic they present is poor by anyone’s standards. CGI today is still an impefect medium, but back then it was far worse.

Where the original films have a late-70s, early-80s aesthetic, complimented by some wonderful puppets and practical effects giving them a unique charm, the prequels just look like a low-budget fan film of the kind you’d find on YouTube by comparison. Even in The Last Jedi a little over two years ago, director Rian Johnson opted to use a puppet to represent the spirit of Yoda, believing CGI would look worse. And he was right – CGI would’ve looked worse that a physical puppet. In 2017. So you can imagine how much worse it would’ve looked in 2002 – but you don’t have to, just take a look at Yoda in Attack of the Clones.

2005’s Revenge of the Sith theatrical release poster.

One thing that the visuals of the prequels did get right, and I’m happy to give credit where it’s due, is in how the Republic ships, troops, and overall aesthetic is clearly linked to the later Imperial aesthetic that we know from the originals. The Republic had its own look, but it was clearly a predecessor to how Imperial things looked, and the attention to detail to get that right is impressive.

And there were some decent performances from the cast. All of the main cast, really. Part of the reason fans are excited for the Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off television series is because Ewan McGregor was fantastic in that role. I’d argue he gave a great performance from three poor scripts, as did other actors like Liam Neeson, Christopher Lee, and even Hayden Christiansen, but the fact is that as acting performances they’re all decent. I don’t believe for a moment the prequels flopped on account of bad acting. Some of it was “hammy”, certainly, but that’s how the films were written.

Again, it’s worth crediting Lucasfilm in the prequel era with crafting and telling a single story. That’s absolutely how filmmaking should work, and the idea that writers/directors can “pass the baton” from one to another without even having the barest bones of a story structure to work from has meant that the sequel trilogy has not been the success it should’ve. The fact that I personally dislike the story of the prequels, and the plot issues it creates, as well as the overreliance on bad CGI, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that it was planned and told as one story – the fall of Anakin Skywalker.

I’d just argue that we didn’t really need to see his fall to know he’d fallen, nor to understand how he came to be redeemed in Return of the Jedi. Once it had been established that Luke was Vader’s son, his path to redemption existed and seeing how he came to be Vader rather than Anakin was an unnecessary addendum. It isn’t in any way necessary to watch the prequels, or even read a plot synopsis, to understand how anything in the original trilogy came to unfold. In fact, in many ways it detracts from that experience, particularly if someone new to the franchise were to choose to watch the prequels first. But again, that’s my opinion, and all of this is subjective.

At the end of the day, it’s easy enough to ignore or not watch the prequels and still enjoy Star Wars for what it is and what it represents. To me that’s a positive thing, because I’m not arguing that the prequels somehow “ruin” Star Wars. But it’s also a fairly damning indictment – three films telling the rise and fall of a main character are ultimately wholly unnecessary and contribute nothing to the story except exposition and background.

Star Wars was, for me, Luke’s story, not Vader’s. And overexplaining his origins, from his “virgin birth” and awkward childhood through his spell as the series’ protagonist, ultimately did more to detract from his character as an imposing but ultimately redeemable villain. By turning Vader into an object of pity, the prequels ultimate sin was in robbing Star Wars of its best villain and most mysterious Sith Lord.

The Star Wars prequel trilogy is available to stream now on Disney+, and may also be available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The Star Wars franchise – including The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.