9 'Star Wars' Prequel Trilogy Actresses Worth Remembering Even In The Age Of Rey

Looking past all the most prominent flaws of the Star Wars prequel trilogy — past the Midi-chlorians, past precocious baby Anakin Skywalker, past computer-generated Yoda, and way past Jar Jar Binks — we can highlight one thing that the second string of Star Wars pictures did better than the original trilogy. Unlike A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, the oft-criticized films released between 1999 and 2005 actually had more women in the Star Wars cast than the films that came before them. We may champion Princess Leia as a time-tested icon of feminist agency in blockbuster filmmaking, but her majesty alone can't excuse this lack of female characters, or even extras, in the original three movies — something the prequels took measures to correct.

While males of varied species and Sith ranking did actually command most of the action and intrigue in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, the turn-of-the-century films were lined nonetheless at the forefront and the backdrop alike with numerous actresses and female characters I'm now glad to remember. To that end, I think it's time that we take a moment to pay due grace to prequel pictures for bringing these untapped performers and unknown creatures to our attention for the long haul.

Sally Hawkins

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Before Star Wars: Hawkins made her acting debut in The Phantom Menace, and, as such, was but a fabric of the netherworld beforehand.

In Star Wars: She had a non-speaking part as a Tatooine villager.

After Star Wars: Along with starring in Mike Leigh's All or Nothing, Vera Drake, and Happy-Go-Lucky, Hawkins has done wonders in films like Jane Eyre and Blue Jasmine.

Keira Knightley

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Before Star Wars: The young Knightly had made a few paltry TV appearances, as well as a turn in the thriller Innocent Lies.

In Star Wars: Knightley's facial similarities to Natalie Portman would come in handy in Phantom Menace, as she played the role of Queen Amidala's handmaiden and decoy Sabé.

After Star Wars: The actress' bona fide breakout would come a few years later by way of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which would launch her to prominence in all corners of the Hollywood realm.

Pernilla August

Before Star Wars: August was no stranger to the imagination of George Lucas before joining the cast of Phantom Menace; she had appeared in two episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1993. Otherwise, August's filmography was principally foreign work.

In Star Wars: As Shmi Skywalker — mother of Anakin, stepmother of Owen Lars, and paternal grandmother of Luke and Leia — August played a mighty important, if not a bit underwritten, role in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

After Star Wars: August's focus returned to foreign-language work, though she did revive the character of Shmi for a part in The Clone Wars.

Sofia Coppola

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Before Star Wars: Under the credit of "Domino," Coppola spent the '80s appearing in films like The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, before making a somewhat regrettable appearance in her father's likewise regrettable The Godfather Part III.

In Star Wars: Coppola plays Saché, another one of Amidala's handmaidens, in Phantom Menace.

After Star Wars: She hasn't acted since, save for a quick appearance in 2001's CQ, but went on to direct the wonderful Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, and the pretty good Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, and The Bling Ring.

Rose Byrne

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Before Star Wars: Before Attack of the Clones, Byrne made fleeting appearances in TV shows like Wildside and Heartbreak High, and in movies like Two Hands and My Mother Frank.

In Star Wars: Once again, we have an Amidala handmaiden. (This one's name was Dormé.)

After Star Wars: After Troy and the aforementioned Marie Antoinette, Byrne launched to ubiquity in the dramatic and comedic film circuits. Next year, she'll costar in the comedy film Neighbors 2 and the superhero movie X-Men: Apocalypse.

Keisha Castle-Hughes

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Before Star Wars: Castle-Hughes had only one screen credit before appearing in Revenge of the Sith: she was the star of Whale Rider.

In Star Wars: "Queen of Naboo" is none too shabby a title for a newcomer to the acting game.

After Star Wars: Where can you go after Star Wars? How about Game of Thrones? Castle-Hughes joined the series in Season 5 as Obara Sand.

Bai Ling

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Before Star Wars: Ling entered Revenge of the Sith with a few noteworthy credits to her name: The Crow, Nixon, Anna and the King, and She Hate Me among them.

In Star Wars: It's no "Queen of Naboo," but "Senator Bana Breemu" ain't too shabby either.

After Star Wars: Unfortunately, Ling hasn't turned up in much of repute since 2005, though has indeed kept busy with a large swath of under-the-radar projects.

Natalie Portman

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Before Star Wars: How could we leave out Queen Amidala herself? Portman's pre-Phantom Menace roles are well-documented, as her young turns in Leon the Professional and Beautiful Girls are what helped make her a star.

In Star Wars: Queen of Naboo, merchant for justice, mother of Luke and Leia, wife of Anakin Skywalker, employer of innumerable handmaidens... She's got quite a legacy.

After Star Wars: Do we even need to get into this one? Portman has starred in Oscar-winning pictures, Marvel movies, bawdy comedies, and whatever I'm Still Here is considered. In 2016, she'll made her Terrence Malick debut in Knight of Cups and get her first taste of the Western genre in Jane Got a Gun.

Yaddle

Before, in, and after Star Wars: Now, technically speaking, Yaddle isn't an actress, but a fictional machination of the Star Wars universe. And technically speaking, Yaddle isn't even portrayed by an actress, but by male voice actor Phil Easton. So why include Yaddle on this list at all? Simply, Yaddle is the greatest character — gender, species, and Jedi denomination notwithstanding — to come out of the Star Wars canon. Yaddle's glory must be preached at all opportunities. Praise be Yaddle!

While we can celebrate the many great actresses (and Yaddles) to come out of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, there is a good deal of progress yet to be made. Luckily, The Force Awakens looks to improve the platform for its female characters with Daisy Ridley playing the hero as Rey. Even though we've only caught a few glimpses of what she'll be up to in the next chapter, we can say this: It beats handmaidenin'!

Images: 20th Century Fox/Disney (4)