Of the many alleged failings of the prequels, the dearth of memorable bad guys is often bandied about. There’s merit to components of the argument, but too many critics test the limits of hyperbole in their complaints. But, in this case, the original trilogy legitimately outclasses the prequels which makes this particular criticism more difficult to dismiss.
First and foremost, the original films featured the 1927 Yankees of movie villains. Darth Vader, Boba Fett (at least until he became a useless joke in Return of the Jedi), and Emperor Palpatine cornered the market on iconic evil. By comparison, the lineup of Darth Maul, Count Dooku, and General Grievous don’t measure up.
Some have theorized that the prequels would have benefitted from excising Dooku and Grievous in favor of keeping Maul around. This might have improved continuity and character motivation, but it’s important to not lose sight of Palpatine’s lurking presence behind these glorified underlings. While Maul certainly captured the essence of evil and, dare I say, challenged Vader for intrinsic coolness, he was a pretty shallow character. Prequel critics breathlessly protest the films as superficial and puddle-deep, yet a chief complaint is ripping Lucas for killing off Darth Maul (at least as far as the films are concerned). It’s yet another red flag that their crusade against George Lucas is a façade for their inner emotional turmoil.
The films make do just fine with their roster of villains. While Maul could have provided more believable misdirection from Palpatine, given Obi-Wan his own evil temptation to contrast with Anakin’s, and lent more weight to the chain of events that led to Anakin becoming a Sith apprentice, the characters and events featured in the prequels are incredibly compelling. In fact, this argument neatly demarcates pondering interesting hypotheticals and trying to “fix” the prequels that separate Lucas’ most incendiary critics.
Searching for incongruities in films can be fun, but it should never be taken so seriously. When someone presents an alternative story structure as a legitimate improvement, it takes some gall. It’s kind of like the guy who pulls a guitar out at a party. Even if it’s not halfway bad, the principle of the idea is annoying.