Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith rounds out the Prequel Trilogy with a better, more action oriented finale to the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of Darth Vader. Fans have long awaited this moment to be realized onscreen, and in comparison to the first two installments, it delivers a darker, somewhat more meaningful story.
Anakin, Obi-Wan, and R2-D2 are on a rescue mission to save Chancellor Palpatine from the evil General Grievous, continuing a long line of “evil” bad guy sounding names (Maul, Tyranus, Sidious, Plagueis, Grievous). Given the naming conventions, I’m surprised that Lucas never introduced a character that really stepped up the threat factor by introducing a Lord Killius Meaniejerks to canon.
Regardless, Anakin and Obi-Wan at least seem like potential friends in this installment, trading quips as they slice through battle droids to save Palpatine, who was never in any real danger. This setup was a test to push a war wearied Anakin to cross the line, and predictably, Anakin does, killing a rendered defenseless Count Dooku in cold blood.
Having survived (and losing Grievous in the process), the group land on Coruscant, where Anakin and Padme are reunited. While the romantic dialogue never improves, it is revealed that Padme is pregnant with their child. The Clone Wars are also at the verge of ending with the Republic and Jedi convinced that the conflict will cease with the capture of Grievous. Despite Anakin’s service in the war, the Jedi Council still refuses to grant Anakin a proper seat on the council, sowing resentment within him. Yoda sense Anakin’s frustration, but other than advice to move beyond that, no further concern is registered.
Obi-Wan goes on a mission to find Grievous, while Yoda travels to the planet Kashyyk to help the allied Wookiee army. Despite the Jedi’s general mistrust of Palpatine, Anakin is still allowed to spend time with Palpatine, who knows of the Jedi’s secret marriage and Anakin’s recurring fear of losing Padme, while promising hints of being able to prevent death.
Palpatine eventually reveals his true nature to Anakin, and while the Jedi refuses to kill him to the spot, Anakin essentially asks Palpatine to wait while he tells the other Jedi that he has found the true identity of the mysterious “Darth Sidious” who has been controlling everything for decades. If this seems like a bad idea, it truly is.
Palpatine has been toying with everyone for years, and when the Jedi confront him, he kills every single one of them within seconds, save for Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). Its an impressive fight between the two, eventually hampered by Anakin’s meddling, and causes Windu to be hurled out a window to his doom. Despite Palpatine looking like a creepy shriveled raisin after a Force lightning attack gone wrong, Anakin immediately submits to him, pledging to be a Sith Lord. There’s no conflict, no besting, no humbling, no blackmail. It’s basically “Join me”, and “Okay”.
Darth Vader is born.
Vader has zero conflict shedding his former life, immediately turning on the Jedi, killing his friends, and killing children. There’s no pause, no hesitation, no ties, especially from a character who has been defined by his loyalty and inability to let go of possessions and people.
Obi-Wan and Grievous fight via a lizard and big wheel respectively. Obi-Wan kills Grievous. The Clone Wars are over.
All the while, Palpatine issues Order 66, a command that orders the Clone Troopers to turn on and kill their Jedi allies. Again, no resistance or conflict. Again, this context and repercussions are so better defined within the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series, but as mentioned in my previous review, no story should expect a general audience to explore outside media for sense in a narrative.
Yoda and Obi-Wan are the only survivors of the Jedi Order, each taking on a Sith Lord to stop. Yoda will go after Palpatine. Obi-Wan will go after Vader. Padme realizes something is amiss with Anakin, so she and C-3PO go to look for him. Obi-Wan stows away.
As Vader cleans up the last of the loose ends that Palpatine had controlled both sides of the war. Padme tries to reason with him, but Obi-Wan’s appearance angers Vader, causing him to Force choke Padme. Master and student fight.
The volcano fight scene was first hinted at in the novelization of Return of the Jedi, and has been a scene that fans have long been waiting for. It’s an intense, personal, and angry battle between two former friends and brothers for the fate of the galaxy. In the meantime, Yoda and Palpatine battle, and that fight is satisfying as well. Ian McDiarmid clearly relishes the sheer evil of Palpatine, and is still a fun watch, especially his plan having finally allowed him to “win”.
Yoda loses, and escapes. Obi-Wan tries to reason with his former pupil, but Vader’s anger has made him reckless and sloppy, falling into a bad position that not only allows him to lose all of his remaining limbs, but his torso rests by the side of a lava river, burning his remaining body.
Anakin, Padme, and the droids escape to reunite with Bail Organa and Yoda. Padme lives long enough to deliver not one baby, but two: Luke and Leia Skywalker. Padme doesn’t die from her wounds. She simply loses the will to live.
We also see the rescue and creation of the black-suited Darth Vader, one of cinema’s greatest villains of all time. While his questioning of the whereabouts of Padme is expected, his response is a laughably ridiculous and often memed “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”
Yoda goes to live in isolation on Dagobah. Luke is taken to Tatooine to be raised by the Lars and watched over by Obi-Wan. Leia is adopted by Bail Organa and taken to Alderaan to live as a princess, setting in motion the events of the Original Trilogy.
Revenge of the Sith is not a bad film in the sense of the other Prequel installments. What holds the film back is both delivery of lines and the dialogue itself. Directed and written by George Lucas, his style is best described as tone deaf. Lucas again proves incapable of writing romantic/relationship based dialogue, and some scenes would be more effective if nothing was said at all. The Mustafar battle is the only place in the film where the actors felt like they had a chance to project more to their characters than simply line recitation.
The movie also suffers from the “checkbox syndrome” that the previous films struggled with. The audience knows that Anakin Skywalker is destined to become Darth Vader, but we are never allowed to understand or sympathize with Anakin. It becomes a series of moments and not growth. When looking at a premise of a “good person gone bad” Breaking Bad, is a good character study. Walter While regrets his decisions. His compromises. His failings. And the “wins” that cost him parts of his soul. Until one day… he doesn’t.
Anakin’s real story is told through an animated series that shows us he is more than a creepy and disloyal murderer that is somehow also a “great hero” that Obi-Wan looks fondly back on as he reminisces about their friendship with Luke. You don’t see the whittling away of Anakin’s morality because it’s barely depicted in these films. Instead we get set pieces and CG spectacles from a director that once said “A special effect is a tool, a means of telling a story. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”
Three movies and seven years later, we finally see the fight alluded to in a movie novelization. One that has tantalized fan imagination for years, but this trilogy should have focused more on the journey and less on the destination. I’ve often wondered if nostalgia blinded me to be more gracious and forgiving to the Original Trilogy, but those stories felt more enthusiastic, and the characters both possess charisma, drive, and a sharp wit.
While the Prequel Trilogy has an excellent cast, it’s hard to convey a sense of urgency and wonder when choking out mediocre dialogue with nothing to act against but a green screen on a soundstage. The actors deserved more.
Instead, it takes us returning to the beginning. The real beginning to see where the magic that makes up Star Wars truly comes from.