Note: Continuing the reviews of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, this post, too, will have spoilers. Even though The Revenge of the Sith has a 79% Tomatometer score from critics, it still gets bunched together with the “prequels,” thus making it necessary to go over its relative merits.
Revenge of the Sith sees Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) stray completely to the Dark Side following the successful persuasion by Chancellor Palpatine, later revealed to be Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid). It sets the stage for the original trilogies, putting events in motion for the near annihilation of the Jedi and the creation of the Empire.
For starters, it seems appropriate to quickly summarize some of the faults of the film and bury them sooner rather than later.
- The dialogue keeps being an issue, despite it improving somewhat. Anakin and Padme (Natalie Portman) suffer the most from this, continuing to paint their romance as a cringe-worthy love story. This carries forth with Anakin’s other interactions as well. In one scene, he feels the need to say, “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy,” to Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor). No need to state the obvious, guys.
- The political angle sours with the heavy-handed exposition. In the first two films, it was somewhat specific and meaningful, but this time around it’s handled in broad strokes and we don’t necessarily see how the Chancellor consolidates so much power.
- Too much exposition. “Show, don’t tell,” they say. But Lucas decides otherwise in plenty of instances. Once again, the victims are primarily Anakin and Padme.
With the rotten out of the way, let’s get to the Not So Rotten elements. The central arc of the film that follows Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side is very compelling when you look at the individual events and the synergistic sum of its parts. We have an all-powerful Jedi, prophesized as the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force. His exponential growth in his use of the Force is stymied by the Jedi Council’s fears and doubts. Masters Yoda (Frank Oz) and Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) keep him at arm’s length so to speak, giving Emperor Palpatine enough room to do his magic.
We then have Anakin’s kryptonite (stealing that phrase from DC), being his love for Padme. He has already seen his mother die after being tortured, so a potential premonition of Padme’s death and their unborn child forces him to look to the Dark Side’s power. Palpatine’s promise of being able to save Padme from death is a distinct and powerful call to Anakin. It’s this turn to the Dark Side to save the woman he loves that ultimately leads to the death of the woman he loves. Cruel, irony is.
What Revenge capitalizes on is something called “Tragic Inevitability.” It was described in a Hollywood Reporter review of the film perfectly and goes to say that knowing where things stand in the original trilogy almost certainly cements the fates of some of the characters in the prequels. How does Anakin Skywalker end up being Darth Vader, trapped in a suit of armor? How is it that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda find themselves in exile? How or why are Mace Windu and Padme absent from A New Hope or the films that follow? The audience knows what will happen to them in some way, but it’s the “how” that carries with it a heightened level of suspense. The latter half of the film is a definite pick up from the first and manages to answer the audience’s questions on all these fronts. The treatment of some characters is quite brutal, Anakin most of all, and the performance would have been outstanding if serviced by better dialogue … and possibly an acting coach.
Revenge didn’t fall into the trap of “just tying up loose ends.” The overall vision of the prequel trilogy gets realized in this film by following the transformation of a force-sensitive child into becoming the most powerful Sith Lord in the Star Wars Universe. And it becomes instrumental in explaining much of what happens in the originals. The original trilogy reveals the family ties between Vader, Luke, and Leia, but it never truly gets to how the Skywalkers got separated. The prequels, and finally Revenge, service the entire Star Wars franchise by filling in pieces of the puzzle and chronicling the story of the family right at the center of it.
Other aspects of the film come together much better than they did with the two installments before. The cinematography seems on point, with Lucas and David Tattersall utilizing symmetry and wide shots to capture the grandeur of some moments. Anakin leading the Stormtroopers to the Jedi Temple is one such example, followed by another when Obi-Wan hands over Luke to Anakin’s remaining kin when the film ends on a shot of the Twin Suns of Tattooine in the background. These moments were largely absent from Phantom and also Clones, where the shot choices and transitions were choppy and underwhelming.
The action sequences are tauter and better-choreographed, starting in the first act itself with a space battle that ultimately culminates in Count Dooku’s (Christopher Lee) death. The use of lightsabers becomes more creative and ingenious with each passing second, and reaches a climax with the fateful encounter between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, leaving one man damaged beyond recognition.
Revenge of the Sith is a solid conclusion to the prequel trilogy and does more than enough to enrich the universe we call Star Wars.
- Compelling narrative arc for individual characters, especially Anakin Skywalker, when you condone some of the dialogue.
- Heartbreaking use of tragic inevitability for almost all the characters, knowing what is to come later through the original trilogy.
- Action sequences, both in space and land, along with the lightsaber battles are much better than in the previous entries.
- CGI usage blends in better with the live action set pieces, but it’s still clunky.
- g. the lava on Mustafar for the final scene between Anakin and Obi-Wan.
- Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan is such a delight. Time for his own standalone film, I’d say.
Now than you know why you should watch Revenge of the Sith, you could revisit our other Sci-Fi posts.
Movie Info (From IMDb)
Production Company: Lucasfilm
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: George Lucas
Screenplay: George Lucas
Producers: George Lucas, Rick McCallum
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee
Music: John Williams
Cinematography: David Tattersall
Casting: Christine King
Production Design: Gavin Bocquet