For years, I have been going around and defending the Star Wars Prequels like a big ol’ doofus. Yes, the acting is awful. And the writing. And the visuals too. I know that doesn’t leave much left, but defending the prequels is like defending my childhood. I grew up with these movies. How can I condemn my adolescence? In preparation for The Force Awakens, I went through and rewatched all the prequels. I hadn’t seen the first two in five years or so, but I’ve been watching Revenge of the Sith a couple of times annually since 2005. While I still believe Sith to be George Lucas’ masterpiece, the trilogy as a whole was legitimately terrible at points. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy watching it, and appreciate its unappreciated strengths.
The prequel trilogy gave more development and depth to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker than the original trilogy ever could have. I firmly believe the prequels enhance the experience of viewing the original trilogy in that aspect. Also, George Lucas refused to go full-out nostalgia with these films (I fear the new trilogy will). He set out to tell this additional story, and he did so without jerking off the fans. Also, the prequels helped significantly expand the Star Wars universe with a vast slate of new characters. Many bad, but some were pretty fantastic. Without further ado, here are the ten best characters exclusive to the Star Wars prequels.
Honorable Mention: Jar Jar Binks
Sorry, but I couldn’t possibly making this list without mentioning you-know-who. Yes, I hate him too. But he’s integral to the trilogy itself. The prequels without Jar Jar is like GoodFellas without gangster. He makes it what it is. He’s part of the reason they’re so iconic. Although not usually in a positive light, our favorite Gungan has become the face of the prequels, and the beginning of George Lucas’ complicated relationship with his fans. I’ll say this much: The Phantom Menace was always going to be bad. But Jar Jar made it so bad you felt okay laughing at it.
10. Darth Maul/General Grievous (TIE)
These two are easily the coolest lightsaber-wielders in the saga (although Kylo Ren may disagree). Akin to Boba Fett, in that they don’t really carry much dramatic weight or substance, there’s still no denying how insanely cool these guys are. Nobody can top a double-sided lightsaber. Or a robot-alien with four arms, one for each lightsaber (interestingly, Grievous is the only non-Jedi/Sith in the saga who uses one of these weapons). Although they both died as soon as we met them, these two will always be remembered among George Lucas’ coolest character designs.
9. Commander Cody
Remember this jerk? He had a brief yet effective role, handing Obi-Wan his lightsaber right before shooting him and his hideous-yet-likable giant lizard down. Cody’s on-the-dime change of heart shows us that, no matter how polished a character may seem, they’re not always as white hat as they seem. Cody’s betrayal marked the end of the Jedi/clone alliance, as well as my own admiration for these troopers as a kid. You never know somebody’s plan, or frustrating lack thereof.
A worthy followup to testicle-chinned Ponda Baba from Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope, Ki-Adi-Mundi’s head actually looks so much like a dick. Even so, he’s got to be the most honorable dick in the galaxy.
7. Battle Droids
If only the Battle Droids were fighting for the good guys. These clumsy stick figures are far more dedicated, innocuous, and spirited than their clone trooper counterpart. They have no ambition whatsoever, other than serving their ruler faithfully and enjoying themselves along the way. Sort of like the Minions, but less obnoxious. It’s sad that they get shut down so instantaneously by their master. They deserve better. As crazy as it sounds, Battle Droids are probably the most pure-intentioned characters in all three movies.
It’s tough to explain my love for Wald. Of all the Star Wars LEGO minifigures I’ve acquired over the years (it’s quite a collection), he’s always been my favorite. I developed my own backstory and personality for him, and I’ve gone on more adventures with him than any other Star Wars character. The great part about how massive Lucas made this universe is there’s a million tales to tell, and I made mine for Wald. Also, just look at him. He’s adorable.
5. Padmé Amidala
I’m pretty sure Padmé and Shmi are the only named female characters in the prequels (kind of like Aunt Beru and Leia in the originals). Clearly, Star Wars has a gender-problem, and I’m glad Disney is working so hard to remedy that with The Force Awakens. Still, there’s no denying that Padmé is a great wife for Anakin, and her role directly explains his transition into Vader. Christensen and Portman haven’t much chemistry, and the senate stuff is still super boring, but there is certainly independence and complexity within Queen Amidala.
Look, I know Watto was a half dozen cultural stereotypes rolled into one, and I can see why that bothered you. But let’s look at Watto in the context of the saga. Watto is a slaveholder, and one of his slaves happened to be the most powerful Jedi/Sith in the entire galaxy. Also, the master of said Jedi’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn, is incapable of performing Jedi mind tricks against Watto. Yet these tricks work against the most powerful army in the galaxy among others. Yeah, Watto’s pretty badass for a half-fairy, half-elephant.
3. Mace Windu
It’s true, Samuel L. Jackson with a purple lightsaber was guaranteed to make this list. But there’s more to Mace Windu than that. Unlike the calm gracefulness of Yoda and Obi-Wan, Windu is forceful in his way of keeping the peace. Probably the most serious character in the trilogy, Windu really doesn’t mess around. He clearly didn’t have time for Anakin’s anger and confusion, and rejected him as a legitimate Jedi. His distrust and disrespect for authority was unparalleled, and Mace Windu’s death will always be among the saga’s most tragic (it also marked a pivotal point for young Skywalker).
2. Count Dooku
Christopher Lee as a Sith was exactly what we needed and deserved. Of all the Star Wars villains, nobody is classier than Dooku. Lee brought his typical menacing charm to the role, and it worked. There are clearly parallels to Dooku and Vader; both were skilled Jedi who were seduced by power and security that they felt they lacked, and defiantly became men they knew were corrupt. Palpatine’s jarring betrayal of Dooku right in front of Anakin is absolutely heartbreaking, because Anakin somehow failed to realize that the emperor fakes compassion, despite the evidence sitting right there in front of him. Count Dooku’s death makes Darth Vader’s change of heart at the end of Return of the Jedi more logical. He realized Luke was in the same position as himself several years earlier, and didn’t want to force his son to make the same fateful decision he had made.
1. Qui-Gon Jinn
You hear a lot that Qui-Gon lacked personality, and was only there to “rhyme” with Obi-Wan in A New Hope. This simply isn’t true. Qui-Gon represented so much more than that. Played by Liam Neeson (who was obviously just cashing in. He does that), Qui-Gon is the face of the old as it falls victim to the new. A moral knight with the simple and pure intention of keeping the peace, his death didn’t just mark the end of an era; it pretty much triggered the entire saga, including the motivations for Obi-Wan and Anakin. When Qui-Gon Jinn said that Anakin was the chosen one, he was correct: Anakin ultimately did bring balance to the force. Qui-Gon’s prophecy connects the two trilogies masterfully.