George Lucas’ three prequel movies get a bad rap, and quite rightly too. But let’s not forget that they’re not all bad. Even the worst things have saving graces so, with The Force Awakens about to hit, let us remember the awesome things from The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith...
1) Darth Maul
Sometimes less is most definitely more. Darth Maul only has two lines in The Phantom Menace (voiced by the incomparable Peter Serafinowicz), but that only bolstered the beautiful mystery of the saga’s most enigmatic character since Boba Fett. Darth Maul was a Sith Lord under the command of Darth Sidious (later the Emperor) and, armed with his ferociously cool double-ended lightsaber, fought it out with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace’s money-shot fight scene.
2) Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine
Ian McDiarmid was cast as the wizened Emperor Palpatine for Return of the Jedi when he was only 39. Fast-forward 16 years and a then-55-year-old McDiarmid was enticed back to the franchise to play the 30-years-younger version of the same character (yes – our heads are hurting too). The story of the prequels was as much about Senator Palpatine and his Machiavellian rise to power as it was about the Dark Side’s seduction of Anakin. McDiarmid is simply mesmerising in the role, and the only one playing it as the grand pantomime it really is.
3) Seeing the Lars homestead again
For many, the highlight of Attack of the Clones was once again seeing the Lars homestead. First glanced in the first Star Wars movie in 1977, the remote moisture farm was the home of Luke Skywalker and his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. But in Attack of the Clones, set 20-odd years before, it’s the home of Anakin’s mother and new hubbie Cliegg Lars (Owen and Beru are also there as fresh-faced twenty-somethings). It’s such a crucial location in Star Wars that it made us quite teary to see it again all those years later.
4) Casting Christopher Lee
Given Peter Cushing’s headline role in the first Star Wars, it created a neat bit of trilogy symmetry when Lucas cast Cushing’s old Hammer cohort Christopher Lee in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Lee gives a typically towering performance as the nefarious Count Dooku and it’s only a shame that he’s killed off so early in the third film.
5) John Williams’ score
While the visuals and the writing often stumbled, there was always one guy you could rely on with the prequels – the mighty John Williams. Having scored all three previous Star Wars movies, the musical maestro pulled out all the stops for the prequels, adding some fantastic new pieces to the franchise canon.
6) Samuel L Jackson’s purple lightsaber
It was Samuel L Jackson himself who insisted on his character, Mace Windu, wielding a purple lightsaber for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. But when George Lucas explained to him that lightsabers were usually only red or blue, Jackson replied, "Yeah, but I want a purple one. I’m like the second baddest Jedi in the universe next to Yoda!"
7) The pod race
In a film that’s desperately low on action and spectacularly high on talk, the pod race is one of The Phantom Menace’s few pulse-pumping moments. A high-speed race which the nine-year-old Anakin ends up winning, it’s an adrenalin-fuelled sequence that’s a perfect brew of CGI and live action.
8) Jango Fett
Boba Fett was one of the original trilogy’s most iconic characters – an appealingly taciturn bounty hunter whose entire dialogue in the series would fit into a single 140-character tweet. Lucas’ brainwave to bring back the costume and have it belong to Jango Fett, Boba’s father, was a masterstroke. Attack of the Clones also brought back Boba, this time as a scowling ten-year-old, and miraculously didn’t make it wincey.
9) The birth of Vader
It’s the scene the whole of the prequels had been leading up to – the moment when Anakin, charred and delimbed, is given the Darth Vader suit. And how fantastic was it to hear James Earl Jones’ bassy tones again for the first time in 22 years?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on 17th December (that’s NEXT WEEK, EVERYONE!).