Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padme), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Frank Oz (Yoda), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Silas Carson (Nute Gunray), Matthew Wood (General Greivous)
“Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. War. The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere. In a stunning move, the fiendish droid leader, General Grievous, has swept into the Republic capital and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, leader of the Galactic Senate. As the Separatist Droid Army attempts to flee the besieged capital with their valuable hostage, two Jedi Knights lead a desperate mission to rescue the captive Chancellor… “ – opening text crawl.
Revenge of the Sith is much like its predecessor Return of the Jedi in that it has a lot of ground to tread and not a whole lot of time to do it. While the machinations of the Empire’s rise to power have been in play, Anakin isn’t really evil just kind of a whiny shithead. We need to sell that this guy becomes Darth Vader and we need to do it quick. The biggest problem with doing the prequels was how do you make a satisfying ending to a trilogy where we already know that the bad guys win? George Lucas apparently shrugged, said “Wookies! Later nerds!” and moonwalked out of the room giving the finger with both hands and farting loudly.
Now, to be fair, this movie starts off just fine. We open on maybe the most visually impressive space battle I have ever seen as Obi-Wan and Anakin’s fighter ships (which are clearly prototype TIE fighters) accompanied by Clone fighters (which are clearly prototype X-Wing) zoom in and out of a massive fight between prototype star destroyers and droid control ships. Anakin and Obi-Wan are going to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from General Grievous and Count Dooku.
Who is General Grievous you ask? Well, between episode 2 and 3 Samurai Jack’s creator Genndy Tartakovsky was compelled to stop making his wonderful animated serious (which was closer to the spirit of what Star Wars originally represented than Star Wars has been since 1977) to make a series of ten-minute episodes of The Clone Wars, a companion series which fleshed out characters, added depth, and introduced us to General Grievous. Grievous, aside from being a stone-cold badass and an incredibly toyetic creation, is meant to be foreshadowing to Anakin’s fate as Darth Vader. The character is an alien who was badly injured and has essentially been reduced to a head and a sack of organs in a droid exoskeleton. At the series’ culmination, Mace Windu used telekinesis to crush the chest-plate of Grievous’ exoskeleton which is why he’s coughing so much.
Obi-Wan and Anakin make it into Grievous’ ship, fight Count Dooku whom Anakin kills. (Christopher Lee is in this movie for less than three minutes after all that build-up) and R2-D2 has a moronic scene with some super battle droids. It looks like the opening to the MTV movie awards or a joke outtake that should be running on a small screen next to the credits as Jerry Reed’s Eastbound and Down plays. In an hour we’re going to be murdering children, but right now we’re doing slapstick.
Anakin is now sitting on the Jedi Council, but he hasn’t been promoted to Master because Mace Windu doesn’t trust him. Padme has become pregnant and in telling Anakin the news more or less announces that Natalie Portman will only be crying or looking scared for the rest of the film. Goodbye Attack of the Clones Padme, you’ll always be out of the refrigerator in my heart.
We get some atrocious Anakin/Padme lines and even though Hayden Christensen has vastly improved in his performance (it’s merely poor now) and Natalie Portman is too talented for what she is doing, the lines are cringe-worthy and awful. What I find strange is that in this first 45 minutes of the movie, Anakin is actually rather likable and for the most part fills the lawful good role. He’s certainly a better person than he was last time.
Anakin begins having dreams about Padme dying in childbirth, recalling how his dreams were premonitions of his mother’s death in the previous film. How much do you want to bet that this is going to be a case of a character causing a premonition to come try by attempting to stop it? A big fat No-Prize for you because that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
In the process of hanging with Palpatine, the obvious Sith Lord lets drop a hint that the master Darth Plagueis had found the secret to bringing people back to life and that his apprentice had killed him after he had learned this secret. He later reveals himself to be a Sith to Anakin but lures him in with the promise of the secret to saving Padme. And Anakin buys it, it’s not as if Palpatine shows him proof that he can raise the dead, he just tells him that he can and Anakin puts forth the machinations that will bring about the end of the Jedi order.
Obi-Wan kills General Grievous after a long drawn out action sequence that alters between really cool and incredibly stupid. He shoots the general to death with a blaster and then throws it on the ground declaring it as “uncivilized” before he picks up the laser sword he’s going to use to de-limb his best friend and leave him to burn to death on the banks of a molten lava river later. Basically everyone that’s not in the original trilogy dies. All the Jedi die, including the small children we saw in the previous film who are killed by Anakin because of course they are.
Yoda is saved by Chewbacca (he and the wookies serve basically no purpose and are just here to sell action figures) who joins Obi-wan and Senator Bail Organa (adoptive father of Leia in the original trilogy) to formulate a plan. Yoda sends Obi-Wan to go take out Anakin while he goes to the senate to fight Palpatine, we know that neither of these characters are going to die so it’s just a big pointless CG waste of time. We just get to see two decrepit old dues (one of whom is a two-foot frog elf) fight with laser swords and throw shit at each other. Somehow Palpatine looks more ridiculous in action than Yoda, whose fight motions admittedly are a bit less hokey looking this time around.
Meanwhile Obi-Wan and Padme head to the planet where Anakin has been sent to murder all the separatist leaders (so as to explain why they aren’t in the original trilogy either), which is a base located over a river of lava A.K.A. the perfect place for a climactic showdown. Anakin force-chokes Padme when she realizes he’s a stupid asshole and then he and Obi-Wan have the longest lightsaber duel ever. It is occasionally thrilling, then dull, then thrilling again, and then stupid. Finally we find Obi-Wan standing above his apprentice on a river bank stating “It’s over Anakin, I have the high ground.” I can’t imagine the double-meaning was unintentional here but either way it made me laugh at the film’s idiocy. And Anakin gets removed of all his robotic limbs and set on fire, Obi-Wan tells him that he loved him like a brother but then doesn’t double-tap or try and mercy kill him, even though that’s something Obi-Wan would totally do, because if he dies he can’t become Darth Vader.
Obi-Wan takes Padme to a medical facility where a droid tells him that though there is nothing physically wrong with Padme, she is dying. She’s dying of a broken heart, you guys! One of the most celebrated film-makers of all time has written in the kind of trope that we’d find in a Hallmark movie into his dramatic space opera. Padme lives long enough to pump out her kids and then dies, because she’s not alive in the original trilogy (starting to notice a trend here?) We then see Anakin outfitted with Vader’s iconic attire and James Earl Jones, sounding like someone called him at three in the morning, waking him from a deep sleep, to record his lines for the film stumbles through about 4 atrocious lines of dialogue culminating in the much maligned “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Strangely that line (and it is the same recording) worked a lot better in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi where it sounded like a genuine outburst of anger rather than the weak attempt at anguish it’s meant to be here.
Bail takes baby Leia to Alderaan to be raised as his own, Obi-Wan takes baby Luke to his step-uncle Lars (played by Joel Edgerton of all people), and Senator Organa orders C-3PO’s memory erased but not R2’s explaining why R2 knows every fucking thing but C-3PO doesn’t even recognize all his old friends.
As I said, Hayden Christensen is much better this time, but he’s still pretty bad. Admittedly much of this is down to the character but his lines are still a bit wooden. Admittedly we never get anything quite so awful as “I killed them. And not just the men. But the women. And the children.” But Anakin’s whole descent into the dark side is not properly handled and really makes no sense. He has ample opportunities to kill Palpatine even after he’s done awful things and just doesn’t. Why wouldn’t he kill him after he gets the Vader suit? Part of this is in explaining the Force. Why can a Jedi come to the dark side but a Sith can’t be reformed? Why is losing your temper the thing that makes you evil and why does it keep you that way? Are we operating on some pen-and-paper-esque alignment system? I’m sure there’s literature that explains all this but it really should explain the rules in the movie.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is this film’s saving grace, Ewan McGregor brings more life to the character than he has in the prior films combined and there’s a certain swashbuckling Errol Flynn spirit about the character that I really love. The way he cockily jumps down amongst an entire hangar of battles droids to engage General Grievous in battle or his goofy lizard mount. Even the way he treats Anakin like a stupid kid when he tells him, in the midst of their lava battle, “The Emperor is evil!” in the same tone that George Clooney hilariously uses in Batman and Robin when he tells his sidekick “She’s going to kill you, Dick.” Still, this story is supposed to be Anakin’s and I feel like there is and has been far too much Obi-Wan.
Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu has a big important role in the plot this time but somehow still feels like a cameo. R2 and C-3PO still fail to justify why they’re in these movies at all, and Chewbacca and the wookies in general serve no purpose to the plot other than to make people go “Hey look, wookies!”
Ian McDiarmid is back in full comment troll mode as Palpatine and he’s a fucking ham about it. Remember how I mentioned that the character belonged in a much stupider movie than Return of the Jedi? Well, ta-da! Palpatine is just ridiculously over-the-top and I’m still taken aback that somebody decided this would be our big bad. Make no mistake, the man is not a bad actor but he is a goofball at playing menacing characters. I will admit that the intricate brilliance of Palpatine’s plan still impresses me and the scaremongering way that he gets the Republic to let him be their evil overlord hits a little close to home for me right now.
On the technical side of things this is both the best and worst of what George Lucas and company can accomplish. The battle scenes are amazing, like something out of Saving Private Ryan but in space. The only problem is that they’re short, disconnected, and feature random stupid shit like Obi-Wan’s lizard mount ramming a motorcycle-droid riding General Grievous or Wookies swinging around on vines making Tarzan noises. This is also rendered annoying by some awful editing that interrupts fight scenes in the middle to go have a talky scene and then come pick up back where we left off. The CG is the best it has been in the series and while that’s usually a good thing it has a weird slick look to it that makes all the special effects look like really good claymation.
While this series as a whole has been dismemberment happy (every film save The Phantom Menace involves at least one person/alien getting their arm chopped off with a lightsaber and the one hold-out featured a man cut in half at the waist), Revenge of the Sith practically rains bloodless disembodied legs, arms, hands, heads, you name it. This movie just doubles down on the darkness creeping at the edges of previous films, which should be tonally appropriate bust just comes off as immature and atonal. It feels like all these dark beats are happening not because they have been foreshadowed and built up to, but simply because they have to happen to get us where we need to be for Episode 4.
It feels like no-one has any real motivations and are all just rushing to fill some predestined role, which could be interpreted as the message of the film if it weren’t obviously down to bad writing. No one thing would fix these movies but I feel like the story could’ve been more cohesive if we had focused more on Anakin as the protagonist and less one Obi-Wan, keep him in sort of sidekick role. There would be no count Dooku, his role could be split up between Darth Maul and General Grievous who are both far better villains that deserve more screen time. Let it be Grievous who kills the Younglings. Obi-Wan can kill Grievous as before, hopefully in a much more interesting way, as Anakin comes face to face with Palpatine. Palpatine simply wishes to talk and spins his various lies and provocations as the rage within Anakin’s heart grows. Finally he decides to end the Emperor here and now only for Darth Maul to appear and step in like Vader did with Luke. They fight and just like his son, Anakin loses his temper and gains the upper hand on Maul, Palpatine urges him to finish the job and Anakin gives in, accepting his place on the dark side if it brings peace to the galaxy.
Anakin goes to retrieve Padme but she’s unwilling to go with him if he is a servant of the empire, he tells her that the Jedi have lost and that it’s thier only hope. She tries to leave but he won’t allow her and that’s when Obi-Wan intervenes, they have a discourse on the merits of giving in or fighting and then a less flashy lightsaber battle with roughly the same outcome (somebody else can figure out how he gets face burns) and Obi-Wan takes Padme and flees as the clone troopers descend on their location. Padme, Yoda, and Obi-Wan meet and decide to go into hiding, in this version of the story Anakin has not been told that Padme is pregnant. She hides out on Alderaan, living under the false identity of Senator Organa’s seldom-seen wife, when she gives birth it is decided that one of the twins will be hidden elsewhere to minimize the chance of Vader and Palpatine finding them both, Padme agrees but is visibly sorrowed by it (explaining Leia’s memories.) At this point Obi-Wan takes Luke to Owen and Beru and hides out close by so he can watch the young Skywalker grow. Roll credits. Now, I admit there’s probably plenty of problems with that idea, it’s fan fictiony and obviously a first draft taken off the top of my head but, and this is important, that’s exactly how this trilogy feels.
The prequels feel like George Lucas just sat down one night and said “I wanna do a Star War” and then wrote out a script in a week, turned it in, and never looked back. His assertion of “it’s like poetry, they rhyme” feels like he only half remembers what the films were about to begin with. Though I will admit that one main “rhyme” about the two trilogies is that I would order the films in each from favorite to least in the exact same order. The prequels are analogues to their original trilogy counterparts, just worse.
Yet, after all that, I didn’t hate the latter two films as much as I could have. They are a hot mess and an embarrassment when put up to the original trilogy, but as space opera films they’re actually fairly proficient. I suppose one could argue that there’s more originality to Jupiter’s Ascending but it’s not nearly as watchable, I’m aware that Ender’s Game has a better literary pedigree but the movie is horribly realized, I’m aware that Avatar is a much more carefully crafted movie but its plot is as poorly assembled if not worse than this and twice as derivative. I know I’m damning the films with faint praise here but if one takes them at face value they’re pretty okay. There is a some ambition to them and I can understand why people who maybe aren’t so hot on the original trilogy don’t really get why these are treated like the worst thing in the universe.
These weren’t the Star Wars prequels you were looking for, but they’re still not as horrible as sand.
Revenge of the Sith is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Amazon Instant. Or you can just grab the whole sextet on Blu-Ray.
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