“Revenge of the Sith” is the final chapter in the prequel trilogy, and it’s also the darkest and best of the first three Star Wars films. After years of resisting, Anakin Skywalker finally surrenders to the dark side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, the Sith lord we all knew and feared from the original trilogy. We witness the fall of the Republic, and of the Jedi Order, but not all hope is lost. Although Anakin rejects his destiny as the “Chosen One,” his children, Luke and Leia, will one day return balance to the Force.
Historically, “Revenge of the Sith” has been my favorite of the prequel trilogy. Did my thoughts change after watching it again?
- The darker tone. “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” struggle to recapture the original trilogy’s sense of fun and grand adventure while also foreshadowing the prequels’ ultimately tragic ending. However, “Revenge of the Sith” fully embraces its darker tone, and it’s a better film for it. There’s some pretty heavy stuff here, from Anakin’s massacre at the Jedi Temple to Chancellor Palpatine’s “Order 66,” where the clone troopers turn on their Jedi commanders. John Williams’ haunting score makes these scenes even more gut-wrenching.
- Overall improvement. On this go-around, I’ve been tougher on the prequel trilogy than I’ve been in the past, and it’s been a little harder to look past some of the faults. So I feel it’s only fair to dish out some praise this time, because I feel “Revenge of the Sith” is a level above its predecessors. Sure, this movie still has some of the same issues as the previous prequel films, such as sections with clunky dialogue and flat acting. But overall, “Revenge of the Sith” is a much stronger film. This film gives us a better view of the epic scope of the war between the Republic and the Separatists, transporting us to a variety of unique worlds. Although Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in “Attack of the Clones” is a little rough, I think he really does do a better job here. He gives us a better sense of the war between light and dark within the character, and he does a good job showing the character’s dangerous rage once he fully gives himself to the dark side. I wonder what he might have been able to do with the role if he’d had stronger direction and a stronger script. And speaking of scripts… The script for “Attack of the Clones” also had Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting with and complaining about each other way too much; this film does a better job conveying their friendship (though not as well as some of the Expanded Universe novels or the “Clone Wars” TV series). Overall, “Revenge of the Sith” is the prequel film that’s the most even in tone and makes the greatest emotional impact.
- Opening space battle sequence. Although it takes a while for “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” to get going, the opening sequence of “Revenge of the Sith” drops us right into the middle of the action: an epic, complex space battle. I have no complaints about the CGI here; the battle looks and feels real, with layers of combat between the hundreds of ships crowding the skies above Coruscant. The space battle transitions quickly into a rescue as Anakin and Obi-Wan board a Separatist ship to free the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, and also duel with Count Dooku and General Grievous.
- Anakin vs. Obi-Wan lightsaber duel. I know earlier I said the Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul duel was my favorite lightsaber fight in the Star Wars saga, but I think it’s actually this one. This duel is intense and deeply personal, pitting two former friends and powerful Jedi against each other. Again, despite some of the acting issues in the prequel trilogy, the actors do convey sincere emotion during this fight: Anakin’s misplaced rage and Obi-Wan’s ultimate sorrow at having to destroy his best friend.
- Deeper, more interesting themes. I’m a “Star Wars” super fan, and even I have a hard time explaining some of the convoluted politics in “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” Thankfully, the conflict in “Revenge of the Sith” is more simple and straightforward—Chancellor Palpatine is actually a Sith lord and is planning to turn the Republic into an evil empire that he will control. The Jedi and the Republic Senators have become too complacent, and they don’t recognize the warning signs until it’s too late. Nobody but Obi-Wan seems to appreciate just how dangerous the conflict within Anakin is, and by the time everyone else realizes this, it’s far too late to save the broken Jedi. This film is a reminder of what happens when people—and societies—turn a blind eye for too long.
What doesn’t work
- Very cool but very underused villains. The Star Wars prequels have some really cool but underused villains (here’s looking at you, Darth Maul and Jango Fett). “Revenge of the Sith” is no exception. I wish we would have gotten another scene with Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku at the beginning of the film; by this point, everyone already knows Chancellor Palpatine is the Sith lord, so why not let him and Dooku have a discussion before Anakin and Obi-Wan barge in for a rescue? When Palpatine almost gleefully orders Anakin to off Dooku after the Count’s duel with the two Jedi, you can see the shock in Dooku’s eyes. How was he actually expecting this scene to play out? What might Palpatine have told him beforehand? People also don’t always sing the praises of General Grievous, but if you’ve read some of the Expanded Universe novels and seen the “Clone Wars” series, you know just how cool he is. I wish they would have taken out the character’s distracting coughing and given him a lot more screen time, maybe even introducing him in “Attack of the Clones.”
- The Padmé problem. I know keep picking on Natalie Portman, and I’m not even sure how much of this is actually her fault, and how much can actually be blamed on the direction or the script. Although Portman is a fine actress, her character is, sadly, one of the weaker parts of the trilogy. Her performance is flat, and the character is ultimately a missed opportunity. She’s Leia’s mother and (possibly) Rey’s grandmother—we want to see her as a strong leader and a warrior. However, she’s sidelined for most of the plot of “Revenge of the Sith” and ignores Anakin’s obvious struggle with the dark side.
As I mentioned before, while “Revenge of the Sith” still has some issues with acting and dialogue, I really do feel like it’s a pretty solid film overall. Maybe I like it a lot more than I should, but I have to be honest: I actually really enjoy this film. Although it’s often tossed out with the other prequel films, it’s better than people give it credit for, especially if you’ve seen the “Clone Wars” series, which fleshes out the story between the films (I really mean it—if you haven’t watched the “Clone Wars” series, you need to!) 😉
Well, that wraps up the Star Wars prequel trilogy! I’m planning to check back in later this week with a post about the prequels as a whole. Thanks again to Bradscribe, who joined me in the prequel blog-a-thon!