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(Spoiler Alert)
 
The Trade Federation’s blockading Naboo,
So Jedi are sent to negotiate peace.
A battle with droids and evasion ensue
As Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fight for release.
 
Below on Naboo, Qui-Gon rescues a twit,
A Gungan outcast who is called Jar Jar Binks.
In gratitude, Jar Jar assists them, to wit
He leads them to where he is branded a jinx.
 
The Gungans live deep underwater, they learn,
But don’t wish to help anyone in the least.
One dark shortcut later, the Jedi knights turn
To Queen Amidala, whose fears have increased.
 
The Jedi and queen flee the threatened Naboo,
But their ship is damaged by enemy snares.
With help from a droid known as R2-D2,
They land on the sphere Tatooine for repairs.
 
While searching for parts, Qui-Gon locates a slave
Named Anakin Skywalker, only a boy.
This Anakin may be “the One” meant to save,
To bring the Force balance and peace to enjoy.
 
A bet and a pod race free Ani at last,
But he’s forced to leave his own mother behind.
They fight off Darth Maul, like a Sith from the past,
And head back to Coruscant with their new find.
 
The queen’s handmaid Padmé is rather friendly
With Ani, who’s introduced by Qui-Gon Jin.
The whole Jedi Council is loath to agree
With Qui-Gon’s assertions about Anakin.
 
Soon, everyone’s on their way back to Naboo
And seeks out the Gungans to help intervene.
At last, they agree to do battle anew,
When Padmé reveals she is really the queen.
 
As Jar Jar leads Gungans against battle droids,
The Jedi and Padmé sneak into the base.
Through luck, little Anakin somehow avoids
The fight on the ground for a battle in space.
 
Young Obi-Wan steps up to deal a death blow
To Darth Maul, who duels and dispatches Qui-Gon.
The droids are defeated, and peace seems to grow,
As Anakin’s trained under wise Obi-Wan.
_______________
 
When Padmé, now senator rather than queen,
Still serving Naboo with unflinching resolve,
Returns back to Coruscant, death unforeseen
Fuels fears that the peace may yet further devolve.
 
In light of the recent attempts on her life,
The Chancellor Palpatine bids her lie low.
The Jedi assign her two guards against strife,
With whom she’s familiar from ten years ago.
 
Young Ani has grown, and he clearly is smitten
With Padmé, though Obi-Wan bids him resist.
Soon after, they save her before she is bitten
And race to catch up with this antagonist.
 
Their target is nixed, so they go separate ways.
While Anakin takes Padmé back to Naboo,
His master does research and doubtfully pays
A visit to cloners deleted from view.
 
There, Obi-Wan learns that an order’s been met
For countless clone troops the Republic can claim.
He’s introduced to the clone-ee Jango Fett,
A cold bounty hunter, who flees to hide blame.
 
On Geonosis, Obi-Wan is detained
By evil Count Dooku, who chose the dark side.
Meanwhile, Skywalker is thoroughly pained
By dreams of his mother he cannot abide.
 
Returning to Tatooine, Padmé in tow,
He learns Tusken raiders abducted his mom.
He finds her in time for her final death throe
And yields to revenge as a coldhearted balm.
 
Both Padmé and he learn of Obi-Wan’s plight
And on Geonosis are captured as well.
Confessing their love, they are driven to fight
Three monsters in front of a large clientele.
 
The Jedi come calling with armies of clones,
And Jango and droids are no match for them all.
As Dooku retreats with some escorting drones,
Our heroes pursue for a lightsaber brawl.
 
Though Dooku defeats Obi-Wan and his ward,
When Yoda arrives, Count is nearly outmatched
And flees with some top-secret blueprints on board
To where his dark master has plans to be hatched.
 
Though Anakin lost his arm due to Dooku,
Because of the clones, this one battle was won.
As Padmé and Anakin wed on Naboo,
An unforeseen clone war has swiftly begun.
__________________
 
When General Grievous, who’s mostly a droid,
Abducts Palpatine in a militant raid,
Two Jedi and hundreds of clones are employed
To rescue the chancellor from this crusade.
 
With some difficulty, they breach the lead ship,
And Anakin finishes Dooku in rage.
They crash-land, and Grievous then gives them the slip
To find some more trouble in which to engage.
 
When Anakin learns that his wife is expecting,
He’s eager to end all the secrets they hide,
But more dreams of death make him doubt his protecting
Will save Padmé’s life since they will not subside.
 
As Chancellor Palpatine builds up his ego
And asks that Skywalker speak on his behalf,
The Jedi are doubtful about his amigo
And don’t wish the dark side to have the last laugh.
 
While Obi-Wan executes Grievous in flame,
His Padawan learns Palpatine is a Sith,
But Palpatine’s pledge to save Padmé by name
Convinces Skywalker to serve him forthwith.
 
His turn to the dark side at last is complete:
He massacres younglings as he is directed.
The order goes out to the clones in deceit
To kill all the Jedi that they have protected.
 
Though Yoda and Obi-Wan cheat death, the rest
Are caught by surprise and are exterminated.
When they learn of Anakin, both are distressed,
And Padmé refuses to trust what is stated.
 
When Anakin heads to a volcanic sphere
To wipe out the Separatist leaders at last,
His wife follows him, and his worry and fear
Are changed into anger when she is aghast.
 
He clashes with Obi-Wan furiously
As Palpatine barely bests Yoda as well.
Disturbed at the “Chosen One’s” deviancy,
Kenobi disarms and leaves him where he fell.
 
The Chancellor/Emperor’s now in control.
As Padmé gives birth to her predestined twins,
Darth Vader is painfully somewhat made whole
And ready for when the next chapter begins.
 
Though Padmé is lost and two Jedi alone,
The twins are divided and safely will stay.
Both Leia and Luke will have tales of their own
One day in that galaxy far, far away.
__________________
 

Many will probably disagree with my placement of George Lucas’s three-part return to the Star Wars universe. I have heard all the scorn for this trilogy: Jake Lloyd is the worst child actor of all time. What’s with all this Midi-chlorian crap? Hayden Christensen is so whiny and insipid as Anakin. The romantic dialogue is as corny as a popping machine and less entertaining. The politics drag, and the acting is mediocre. Nothing is as good as it should have been. These films are an embarrassment to the originals. Jar Jar Binks must die!

With all these criticisms, how then did the Star Wars prequels earn a place in my top 100? Quite simply, it’s because they’re far better than most people give them credit for. Do they compare with the first three as a whole? No. Are they flawed? Yes. But amid the minor annoyances that have garnered so much loathing, there are genuine moments of brilliance, with the visuals especially, that do make them worthy of the Star Wars name.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the weakest of the three because of its two most hated elements: Jar Jar Binks and the young Anakin Skywalker. Neither one ever bothered me much. There are much worse child actors than Jake Lloyd out there, and Jar Jar’s comic relief is not totally without charm, though it’s overplayed compared with the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi (again, I don’t mind the teddy bears). I agree that Lucas should not have tried to explain the Force with inscrutable talk of Midi-chlorians, but to me, these minor frustrations are overshadowed by the exciting, effects-laden sequences and the otherwise solid casting. Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson (the first time I’d seen either of them) lend respectable sobriety, which is needed next to Jar Jar, and Ewan McGregor plays an up-and-coming Obi-Wan Kenobi who grew to become my favorite character in the next two films. Though his demise was a bit shocking at the time, Darth Maul also proves to be a formidable adversary. The pod race is far from pointless, as some detractors claim; it’s meant to buy Ani’s freedom and to be tense, impressive, and above all fun, and in my opinion, it succeeds, as do the battle scenes at the end. And let’s not forget John Williams’s magnificent score, which truly qualifies the film for its genre of space opera; no score could come closer to matching his musical achievement with the original Star Wars.

The first film was certainly closest to deserving its opprobrium, but Episode II: Attack of the Clones is as close to perfect entertainment as the prequels get. Perhaps I’m biased by the fact that it was the first Star Wars film I viewed in the theater, but it’s easily my favorite of the prequels. From the speeder chase on Coruscant to Obi-Wan’s rain-drenched duel with Jango Fett, Attack of the Clones offers the most exciting plot, as well as several explanations to burning questions, such as “What do all those stormtroopers look like?” While I think the first film’s obvious age difference between Anakin and Padmé was written away with the casting of Christensen, their relationship is sufficiently progressive to make it believable, even if the dialogue is indeed shallow. Plus, Anakin’s return to Tatooine is certainly a plausible prelude to his descent to the dark side. Episode II also possesses what is probably my favorite sequence of the entire saga: the Coliseum battle and its combination of giant monsters, droids, clones, bounty hunters, Jedi, a few pithy lines, and hopelessly romantic epicness, not to mention a subsequent peek at Yoda’s latent lightsaber prowess. I, for one, did not leave that theater disappointed.

I enjoyed watching Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated Star Wars: Clone Wars, which was released between the second and third films and set the stage for Episode III; thus, I was excited for Star Wars’ supposedly final installment. Revenge of the Sith is not an obvious favorite, not because it is bad (it actually received the best reception of the three), but because it is a tragedy, one that is surprisingly well-told. It essentially explains how Darth Vader came to be and how his children were separated. Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s life, foreshadowed by his premonitions about his mother in Episode II, is an effective catalyst for his moral plunge, though his embracing of murder is no less shocking or frustrating. The special effects of Episode III far surpass any other Star Wars film, and from droid commander General Grievous to Yoda’s showdown with the Emperor, from breathtaking beginning to tragic end, it is truly a feast for the eyes. (I love how the Yoda fight turned the long-established setting of the Senate chamber into an extravagant set piece.) The lava duel finale at last achieves the visual and emotional awe that words like saga and space opera imply; plus, the Emperor’s political intrigue provides timely, if occasionally ponderous, insights into the clandestine machinations of dictators. As splendid as Revenge can be, it’s depressing as heck and “ended” Lucas’s films on a disheartening note sorely in need of A New Hope.

Haters and critics can ridicule and underrate these films all they want, but George Lucas’s complete vision of the Star Wars saga is an absolute spectacle that earned him an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award after Revenge of the Sith was released. Yes, the dialogue is its weakest point, but the actors do their best with the sometimes clunky lines, such as Darth Vader’s lame climactic “Noooo.” Quiddities aside, the entire story of Anakin Skywalker deserved a full telling, and the Star Wars prequels supplied a fantastically realized narrative and some of the finest action sequences of the modern CGI era. I’ll be interested to see what J. J. Abrams has in store for the continuation of the franchise. Considering what he’s already done with Star Trek, I have high hopes for Episode VII.

Best line from The Phantom Menace: (Jar Jar Binks) “How wude!”
More serious best line for The Phantom Menace: (Yoda, to Anakin) “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
 
Best line from Attack of the Clones: (Anakin, as their coliseum execution begins) “What about Padmé?”  (Obi-Wan, as Padmé climbs onto a pillar) “She seems to be on top of things.”
More serious best line from Attack of the Clones: (Queen of Naboo) “We have to keep our faith in the Republic. The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.”  (Padmé) “Let’s pray that day never comes.”
 
Best line from Revenge of the Sith: (Anakin, crash-landing Grievous’s ship) “We lost something.”   (Obi-Wan) “Not to worry. We’re still flying half a ship.”
More serious best line from Revenge of the Sith: (Padmé, as the Emperor takes over with full senatorial support) “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”

 

Rank: 53 out of 60

 

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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