The Star Wars films will always have an important place in pop culture. Over forty years later, the franchise is alive and doing as well as it ever has, with Disney now releasing one new Star Wars film a year — both episodic films and stand-alones.
It's easy to see why so many people connect with these stories in a galaxy far, far away. These films are not just sci-fi epics; they are stories about hope and fear, life and death, friends and family. They depict conflcits that nearly everyone can relate to in one way or another.
Yet, as beloved as this franchise is, there are a few films that some fans look at less fondly: the prequel trilogy. At the time, these films ushered in a new iteration of Star Wars to show what this world looked like before Luke Skywalker came around.
Fans often criticize these films for their messy CGI, clunky dialogue, and overall bad performances. To be sure, there are plenty of awful performances to point out in the prequels, but there are also some stand-out actors that make these films worth watching.
Here are 8 Performances That Ruined The Prequels (And 8 That Saved Them).
16 Ruined: Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker
Some movies are fortunate enough to have amazing child actors. Unfortunately, Jake Lloyd wasn't one of them when he won the role of young Anakin Skywalker.
Before he was Darth Vader, Anakin was a young slave who lived on Tatooine with his mother. Seeing Anakin's childhood unfold should be exciting. After all, this is the person who grows up to become one of the best villains of all time. However, Lloyd's clunky line delivery and obnoxious demeanor makes Darth Vader retroactively less menacing. It's all down hill the very moment he shouts that cringe-worthy "yippie!"
The best moment Lloyd has is when he podraces, a scene where he barely speaks. Thankfully, Lloyd only appears in one of the Star Wars films — although, his replacement in the later films isn't much better.
15 Saved: Ian McDiarmid as Sheev Palpatine
One of the more compelling things about the prequels is that they flesh out the Emperor's backstory — something that wasn't addressed in The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi.
Ian McDiarmid reprises his role to show Palpatine as a powerful, manipulative politician. While the storylines around him do not serve the character enough justice (like the Trade Federation), McDiarmid commits to his villainous role with a surprising amount of charisma.
It's actually interesting to see how his plan slowly unfolds, especially in Revenge of the Sith, where he sets his sights on turning Anakin to the dark side. He pinpoints Anakin's weaknesses and fears, and twists them to his own advantage. In a less competent actor's hands, this could have fallen completely flat — much like several other performances did.
14 Ruined: Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks
Star Wars fans don't always agree on things, but when it comes to one of the worst characters in the franchise, most people can agree on Jar Jar Binks.
To be fair, Ahmed Best had an uphill battle to climb with Jar Jar, but this portrayal does nothing to overcome that battle. George Lucas wanted the clumsy Gungan to become a comedic-relief character that the kids would enjoy, which already makes him sound one note.
Somehow, Best's performance even falls short of that. His bizarre, annoying voice work coupled with messy CGI motion capture makes the character feel inauthentic and flat.
Best's character features prominently during The Phantom Menace. Due to the character backlash, Jar Jar is featured less prominently in the second two movies. For the sake of the franchise, this was the right move.
13 Saved: Ray Park as Darth Maul
Darth Maul is perhaps the coolest villain with the least amount of character development. While we only receive fleeting glimpses of him during The Phantom Menace, Ray Park's performance as the underused Sith Lord makes this prequel film worth watching.
Regardless of what fans think about The Phantom Menace, few can deny that the lightsaber duel is an exciting, well-choreographed sequence. Park has a background in martial arts, and that shows with the physicality he brings to the role. Not to mention, watching him wield his double-bladed lightsaber against Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn is also pretty fun.
Darth Maul may have only appeared in one of the episodic films, but that was still enough to leave a lasting impression on viewers. Park's menacing presence combined with his physical commitment to the role makes him a highlight of the prequels.
12 Ruined: Brian Blessed as Boss Nass
Including the Gungans in the Prequels was a misfire overall — just look at Jar Jar — and Brian Blessed does nothing to redeem this storyline with his voice work as Boss Nass.
Blessed's character is so forgettable that it's difficult to pinpoint anything he does that is of note — outside of the moment where he bizarrely vibrates his lips after agreeing to help Padme Amidala.
Boss Nass appears in The Phantom Menace as the leader of the Otolla Gungans of Otoh Gunga, the underwater city that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan follow Jar Jar to. Blessed gives Boss Nass a gargled, deep and grading voice that makes the character feel like a caricature and unimposing. For someone who is supposed to be the leader of a whole race of species, that is not a good impression for an actor to give off.
11 Saved: Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa
There's a reason why Jimmy Smits was brought back to reprise his role in Rogue One. His performance as Bail Organa — who would eventually become Princess Leia's father — is understated, but still important to the Star Wars saga.
Organa was a senator and viceroy for his home planet Alderaan, and he served as an ally to Padme and Obi-Wan. Smits is one of the few politically inclined characters in the Prequels who doesn't disappear into the snooze-fest of senate debates or other less engaging storylines. He still conveys Organa's charisma and inner-conflict with the events occurring within the senate, especially during Palpatine's rise.
While his appearances are limited in the prequels, Smits makes the most of what he is given. It isn't too difficult to believe that his character would have a close connection to Leia following the events of these films.
10 Ruined: Andy Secombe as Watto
Watto is a toydarian junk dealer and slaveowner who lives on Tatooine. During The Phantom Menace, he owns Anakin and Shmi Skywalker. This character background already raises some red flags, but Andy Secombe's voice work combined with the character's overall appearance makes him a controversial character in Star Wars.
Watto's overall character design though has been accused by many as being antisemitic due to his stereotypical appearance, particularly his hooked nose. Secombe gives Watto a gritty, raspy voice which does nothing to deter that notion, furthering the problematic portrayal of this character.
Thankfully, Secombe's character only appears in two of the Star Wars films, but that's still two films too many. His offensive voice performance still plagues the prequels, and Watto remains a character that the franchise would have been far better off without.
9 Saved: Christopher Lee as Count Dooku
While Christoper Lee's Count Dooku is somewhat underdeveloped, he is still one of the more interesting parts of Attack of the Clones and plays an important role in Anakin's turn to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith.
Count Dooku was a Jedi Master turned Sith Lord who once trained Qui-Gon in the ways of the Force. That backstory is already more intriguing than the majority of the other prequel characters. Lee builds on that with a calm, but imposing presence. He also proves to be a fairly convincing fighter, given his age at the time. He makes viewers believe in Dooku's skills and strength as a Force-user.
Lee is still a memorable villain, and his character's death means something to the overall story.
8 Ruined: Matthew Wood as General Grievous
Star Wars has plenty of formidable villains — even in the prequels — but Matthew Wood's General Grievous is not one of them.
Grievous was a cyborg general who served and trained under Count Dooku in lightsaber combat. Wood's voice work characterizes Grievous as a generic antagonist. He has a deep and gravelly voice similar to other forgettable Star Wars characters. It even becomes uncomfortable to listen to at times because his speech sounds so gargled and difficult to understand.
Because of this, it's difficult to see Grievous as a serious threat to anyone. Obi-Wan certainly doesn't fear him, and beats him very quickly in their battle during Revenge of the Sith.
Grievous ranks near the bottom of the list when it comes to Star Wars villains, and Woods does very little to change that.
7 Saved: Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn
As unfocused as The Phantom Menace is, Liam Neeson helped to ground certain parts of the film with his performance as Qui-Gon Jinn.
Qui-Gon is a Jedi Knight and Obi-Wan's master, guiding him in the ways of the Force. Neeson provides this character with calm, zen-like qualities that make him feel like a wise, learned Jedi. Qui-Gon is more or less the hero of the first prequel film. Although Neeson isn't given much to go on in terms of the script, his presence is commanding.
Neeson's character also has believable chemistry with Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan. This relationship isn't completely fleshed out, but Qui-Gon's death scene is still compelling regardless. Credit for that goes largely to Neeson, who made the most of his role.
6 Ruined: Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker
Shmi Skywalker really only exists as a character to raise the stakes on Anakin's decision to leave. After all, she stays behind on Tatooine and eventually falls victim to the Tuskin Raiders, dying in Anakin's arms.
That limited role doesn't give Pernilla August much to go on. However, her performance is so wooden and monotone, it feels like she's reading her lines off of a teleprompter. August does nothing with her performance that makes her noteworthy or memorable. Even her death scene feels a little clunky and forced.
August's Shmi has a noticeable accent. This begs the question as to why Anakin doesn't have an accent like her. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for this, but we are never offered one in the films.
Shmi is an underdeveloped character to begin with, and August's acting cements that.
5 Saved: Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Mace Windu was always a character who stood out among the other Jedi, not least because he wielded a purple lightsaber. Samuel L. Jackson, who rarely — if ever — delivers a bad performance, depicts Mace Windu as a powerful, dogmatic character who devotes himself to the Jedi Order.
Throughout the prequels, Jackson proves himself to be a committed performer. Evidently, he also had some sway with George Lucas. Jackson convinced Lucas to give Mace Windu a purple lightsaber so he could stand out from the other Jedi.
Jackson adds depth to his character, and to the Jedi Order as a whole. When Anakin begins to question the Jedi, Mace Windu proves that they are just as capable as the Sith of committing wrongdoing when he tries to kill Palpatine. Jackson's intensity sells this important plot point, making for a gripping ending to his character's arc.
4 Ruined: Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala
Natalie Portman actually comes fairly close to selling her character throughout the prequels. However, her awkward line delivery and overacting makes the character fall short of her potential.
At the beginning of the trilogy, Padme is the Queen of Naboo, and a prominent senator in later films. On the surface, this seems like a dynamic role, but Portman's performance feels so forced and disinterested, it makes the character fall flat.
For instance, the line, "I truly, deeply, love you," sounds so strained when Portman says this to Hayden Christensen's Anakin that it makes viewers believe the opposite of what she says.
She displays flashes of greatness in Attack of the Clones, especially as she fights in the Petranaki Arena on Geonosis. Yet, Portman just doesn't show enough of her tremendous acting talents throughout this saga.
3 Saved: Frank Oz as Yoda
Yoda is one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars franchise, and that wouldn't be the case without Frank Oz. That was true with his work in the Original trilogy, and it's true for the Prequels.
Oz voices and performs the puppeteering for Yoda in The Phantom Menace, allowing viewers to see a younger, more tame Yoda during the heyday of the Jedi Order. Although Yoda is less quirky here than he is in The Empire Strikes Back, Oz adjusts Yoda's characterization appropriately to fit this phase of his life.
Yoda appears as a CGI character in the other two installments, but Oz's voice work still captures the wise Jedi's personality and flare. Oz is one of the few people to reprise their old roles, and for that reason, he will always be a highlight of this trilogy.
2 Ruined: Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker
Hayden Christensen has a pretty face, but that's nowhere near enough to make up for his horrible acting throughout this trilogy.
Christensen takes the reigns from Jake Lloyd — who set the bar pretty low — and portrays Anakin as a young man. From his whiney quips to his wooden line delivery, Christensen takes even more away from Darth Vader's legacy than Lloyd did: "I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere!"
Anakin doesn't seem like a powerful Force user; he seems like an annoying brat. His anti-chemistry with Natalie Portman makes their entire love story feel forced — and entirely pointless, if George Lucas didn't need to include the birth of Luke and Leia in Revenge of the Sith.
There was so much potential in fleshing out Darth Vader's backstory. It's a shame that it fell so flat in Christensen, Lloyd, and Lucas' hands.
1 Saved: Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
No matter how cheesy or boring the prequels got, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi was a bright spot in a sea of mediocre performances.
McGregor proved he had the chops and physicality for the role in The Phantom Menace. He carries a lot of that final lightsaber duel. He built up Obi-Wan's personality in the following two films, delivering Obi-Wan's snappy, sassy one liners. McGregor was one of the few actors who looked like he actually had fun with the role.
As fun as Obi-Wan can be, McGregor also delivers on the emotional weight, particularly with Obi-Wan's final battle against Anakin.
There's a reason why fans keep rooting for McGregor to reprise the role in a stand-alone Star Wars film. He showed range, depth and strength within his role, and his character is the best part of the prequels.
Who's your favorite actor in the Star Wars prequels? Share your thoughts in the comments!