The Star Wars prequel trilogy is a series of epic space-opera films written and directed by George Lucas. It was produced by Lucasfilm Ltd. and distributed by 20th Century Fox.
The trilogy was released from 1999 to 2005 and is a prequel to the Star Wars original trilogy (1977-1983). It consists of:
- Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999);
- Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002); and
- Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005).
It is the second of the three trilogies in the Skywalker saga in terms of release order, but chronologically is the first act.
The trilogy follows the training of the powerful youth Anakin Skywalker (the father of the original trilogy protagonists Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa) as a Jedi under the tutelage of Jedi Masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, his fall to the dark side of the Force and birth as Darth Vader.
The trilogy also depicts the corruption of the Galactic Republic, the annihilation of the Jedi Order, and rise of the Empire under Sith Lord Darth Sidious.
The first two films received mixed reviews, while the third received positive reviews.
According to original trilogy producer Gary Kurtz, loose plans for a prequel trilogy were developed during the outlining of the original two films. In 1980, Lucas confirmed that he had the nine-film series plotted, but due to the stress of producing the original trilogy and pressure from his wife to settle down, he had decided to cancel further sequels by 1981. However, technical advances in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, including the ability to create computer-generated imagery, inspired Lucas to consider that it might be possible to revisit his saga. In 1989, Lucas stated that the prequel trilogy would be “unbelievably expensive.” After viewing an early CGI test created by Industrial Light & Magic for Jurassic Park, Lucas said:
“We did a test for Steven Spielberg; and when we put them up on the screen I had tears in my eyes. It was like one of those moments in history, like the invention of the lightbulb or the first telephone call. A major gap had been crossed and things were never going to be the same.”
In 1992, Lucas acknowledged that he had plans to create the prequel trilogy in the Lucasfilm Fan Club magazine, and announced this to Variety in late 1993. Producer Rick McCallum reached out to Frank Darabont, who had previously written The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and The Shawshank Redemption, for possible future writing duties. He was considered until at least 1995, but as time went on, Lucas continued writing the screenplays himself. Before Lucas chose to direct the prequels, Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand earlier expressed interest on directing one of the prequel films, but his death in 1987 precluded him from do so. The popularity of the franchise had been prolonged by the Star Wars Expanded Universe, so that it still had a large audience. A theatrical re-release of the original trilogy in 1997 ‘updated’ the 20-year-old films with the style of CGI envisioned for the new episodes.
Having been significantly anticipated by fans, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released on 19 May 1999. It sees the Jedi coming into contact with the young Anakin Skywalker and the corruption of the Galactic Senate by Palpatine (Darth Sidious). Episode II – Attack of the Clones was released on 16 May 2002. The story jumps ahead 10 years and finds Anakin – now a Jedi apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi – pursuing a forbidden romance, as well as the outbreak of the Clone Wars. Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the first PG-13 film in the franchise, was released on 19 May 2005. It depicts Anakin’s fall to the dark side of the Force and his rebirth as Darth Vader.
32 years before the events of the original film, two Jedi Knights – Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi – discover that the corrupt Trade Federation has formed a blockade around the planet Naboo. Naboo’s senator Palpatine – secretly the Sith Lord Darth Sidious – has covertly engineered the blockade as a pretext to become Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic. With the help of Naboo’s queen, Padmé Amidala, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape the blockade. They land on Tatooine to repair their starship, and meet a nine-year-old slave named Anakin Skywalker. Believing him to be the prophesied “Chosen One”, Qui-Gon takes Anakin to be trained as a Jedi.
The prequels were originally planned to fill in history tangential to the original trilogy, but Lucas realised that they could form the first half of one long story focusing on Anakin. This would shape the film series into a self-contained saga. In 1994, Lucas began writing the screenplay for the first prequel, initially titled Episode I: The Beginning. Following the film’s release, Lucas announced that he would be directing the next two.
10 years later, an assassination attempt is made on Padmé Amidala, who is now serving as Naboo’s senator. Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice, Anakin, are assigned to protect her; Obi-Wan tracks the assassin, while Anakin and Padmé secretly fall in love. Meanwhile, Chancellor Palpatine schemes to draw the galaxy into the Clone Wars between the Republic army of clone troopers led by the Jedi, and the Confederacy of Independent Systems led by Palpatine’s Sith apprentice, Count Dooku.
The first draft of Episode II was completed just weeks before principal photography, and Lucas hired Jonathan Hales, a writer from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, to polish it. Unsure of a title, Lucas had jokingly called the film “Jar Jar’s Great Adventure”. In writing The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas initially considered that Lando Calrissian was a clone from a planet of clones which caused the Clone Wars mentioned in A New Hope. He later came up with the concept of an army of clone shock troopers from a remote planet which attacked the Republic and were resisted by the Jedi.
Three years into the Clone Wars, Anakin becomes disillusioned with the Jedi Council and begins to have visions of Padmé dying in childbirth. Palpatine convinces Anakin that the dark side of the Force holds the power to save Padmé’s life. Desperate, Anakin submits to Palpatine and is renamed Darth Vader. Palpatine orders the extermination of the Jedi and declares the former Republic an Empire. Vader engages in a lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan on the volcanic planet Mustafar, while Padmé dies after giving birth to twins.
Work on Episode III began before Episode II was released, with one scene shot during the earlier film’s production. Lucas originally told concept artists that the film would open with a montage of the Clone Wars, and included a scene of Palpatine revealing to Anakin that he had willed his conception through the Force. Lucas reviewed and radically reorganised the plot, having Anakin execute Dooku in the first act to foreshadow his fall to the dark side. After principal photography was completed in 2003, Lucas made more changes, rewriting Anakin’s arc. He would now primarily turn to the dark side in a quest to save Padmé, rather than just believing that the Jedi are plotting to take over the Republic. The rewrite was accomplished both through editing principal footage, and filming new and revised scenes during pick-ups in 2004.
Lucas made a conscious effort to parallel scenes and dialogue between the prequel and original trilogy, especially concerning the journey of Anakin Skywalker in the prequels and that of his son Luke in the older films. Together with the original trilogy, Lucas has collectively referred to the first six episodic films of the franchise as “the tragedy of Darth Vader”. According to Lucas, the correct order to watch the films is by episode order.
There are many references to Christianity in the prequel trilogy, such as the appearance of Darth Maul, whose design draws heavily from traditional depictions of the devil, complete with red skin and horns. The Star Wars film cycle features a similar Christian narrative involving Anakin Skywalker; he is the “Chosen One” – the individual prophesied to bring balance to the Force – who was conceived of a virgin birth. However, unlike Jesus, Anakin falls from grace and seemingly fails to fulfil his destiny (until the prophecy comes true in Return of the Jedi). The saga draws heavily from the hero’s journey, an archetypical template developed by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell.
Political science has been an important element of Star Wars since the franchise launched in 1977, focusing on a struggle between democracy and dictatorship. Palpatine being a chancellor before becoming the Emperor in the prequel trilogy alludes to Adolf Hitler’s role as chancellor before appointing himself Führer. Lucas has also drawn parallels between Palpatine and historical dictators such as Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as former president of the United States Richard Nixon. The Great Jedi Purge depicted in Revenge of the Sith mirrors the events of the Night of the Long Knives. The corruption of the Galactic Republic is modelled after the fall of the democratic Roman Republic and the formation of an empire.
- Liam Neeson (Episode I).
- Ewan McGregor.
- Natalie Portman.
- Jake Lloyd (Episode I).
- Ian McDiarmid.
- Anthony Daniels.
- Kenny Baker.
- Pernilla August (Episodes I and II).
- Frank Oz.
- Hayden Christensen (Episodes II and III).
- Samuel L. Jackson.
- Christopher Lee (Episodes II and III).
- In 2011, box sets of the original and prequel trilogy were released on Blu-ray, all including alterations. 3D releases were planned for the then-six-film franchise, but after the financially unsuccessful 2012 3D release of The Phantom Menace, the rest were cancelled to focus on the sequels.
- On 11 April 2019, it was announced that the prequel trilogy would be available upon the launch of streaming service Disney+.
Star Wars Series
- Overview of the Star Wars Franchise.
- Overview of Star Wars Films.
- Prequel Trilogy Overview (1999-2005).
- Original Trilogy Overview (1977-1983).
- Sequel Trilogy Overview (2015-2019).
- Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).
- Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984).
- Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985).
- The Clone Wars (2008).
- Rouge One: A Star Wars Story (2016).
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018).
- Overview of Star Wars Parodies.
- Overview of Star Wars TV Series.
- Overview of Star Wars Documentary Series.
- Overview of LEGO Star Wars.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): George Lucas.
- Producer(s): Rick McCallum.
- Writer(s): George Lucas and Jonathan Hales (Episode II).
- Music: John Williams.
- Cinematography: David Tattersall.
- Editor(s): Ben Burt, Paul Martin Smith (Episode I), and Roger Barton (Episode III).
- Production: Lucasfilm Ltd.
- Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox (1999 to 2019) and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (2019 to Present).
- Release Date: 19 May 1999 (Episode I), 16 May 2002 (Episode II), and 19 May 2005 (Episode III).
- Running time: 133 minutes (Episode I), 142 minutes (Episode II), and 140 minutes (Episode III).
- Country: US.
- Language: English.