By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by George Lucas
- Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid
Welcome to Star Wars Wednesdays! Every Wednesday I’ll be talking about/looking at a new piece of Star Wars media, starting with the movies and going onwards into the shows, games, and maybe even comics and books if people are interested. These will work differently from my normal reviews as they will be also discussing the piece as it works within the canon of Star Wars as a whole.
Looking at Revenge of the Sith as both a standalone film and a trilogy wrap up is fascinating. The prequel trilogy, up to this point, was running on fumes in the public eye and while there was anticipation surrounding Episode III just in general for it being the story that people signed up for back in 1999 originally – the origin of Darth Vader – you could tell that was also a sigh of relief that the entire ordeal was over and done with. Even George Lucas in his commentary and BTS features seemed happy to just be done with the whole thing, never to worry about it again and move on to other projects.
So when looking at it from that angle, it’s actually somewhat of a miracle that Revenge of the Sith turned out as well as it did, let only as good as it did. Even beyond the comparison of “well it’s better then the last two at least”, Revenge of Sith is genuinely fantastic and worthy of re-appraisal as one of the better blockbusters of it’s decade. It’s clear that this is the story that Lucas really wanted to be told, and the groundwork laid before hand was simply necessary, if somewhat lackluster, context for this particular tragedy.
And a tragedy it is. One of the great things about Episode III is that it’s framed like a classic Shakespearean tragedy in every sense of the word. From it’s grand opening act to the turn to it’s bloody, bittersweet conclusion, Sith makes no qualms about going into darker territory and descending it’s characters into the maws of death. The opening 20 minutes over Coruscant, which sees the Clone Wars in full force and fulfilling the promises from the original trilogy about “fighting side by side in the Clone Wars”, is a wild, widely fun ride but also deftly shows the themes of the film immediately and without question – the slow corruption of power and those that wield it.
Anakin Skywalker was always going to turn. It was not the Jedi Order that did it (though their arrogance blinded them to much of what was happening), it wasn’t the fear of losing his wife (even if it was the straw that broke the camel’s back), it was simply the fact that he got a small taste of power and latched onto it. While other media have expanded on his turn after complaints of it feeling “too rushed” in this film, I still feel the simple fact of him getting a small bit of a rush from killing Count Dooku at the start is all that was really needed. The turn there was simply a matter of seduction and slow convincing. Palpatine feels much like the modern day alt-right pipeline in that regard, like an omen of things to come in a world where a ton of Anakins feel much more emboldened then they ever have before.
Despite using the same tech as Clones, Sith looks and sounds much better mainly due to the advancement of technology. There is still a bit of wonkiness but it’s less noticeable and Lucas clearly knows how to work around it now, with the camera mainly focusing in on the effects that are better composed, more wides, and greater usage of physical actors in shots. Such a small change but it fixes a lot, and makes Revenge of the Sith overall a more polished, better looking affair. John Williams’s score is also the best it’s been since the original trilogy, though his work on Star Wars is always exceptional so it’s not necessary to mention – I do think the drum opening is one of his more inspired choices, however.
The only thing that Revenge of the Sith ends up being wonky in is, once again, it’s central romance, which continues to be half-baked and uninteresting. Most of this is leftover from Clones, but Sith does very little to actually improve on it. Christensen is giving a much stronger performance then before, yes, but Portman has very little to do here and feels like she’s done with it all and here for the paycheck. The rest of the cast thankfully pulls their own weight, though, and the greater focus on character actions and less on heavy dialogue like on Clones allows for Lucas’ more matter of fact dialogue and direction style to actually enhance the narrative rather then take away from it.
It also manages to simply be a well paced, good time. Even though it’s one of the darkest films in the franchise, it feels the most quintessentially Star Wars of the bunch from it’s setup and even it’s scenarios. Most of the people who have fond memories of the prequels (like myself) usually find that most of the stuff we love about the prequel era are in this film and this film alone, and while that does somewhat alter our perception of the first two films a bit there is some truth to the fact that Revenge of the Sith is a good enough film to be able to do that.
And when is all said and done, it’s probably the best trilogy ender of the series by a good margin, which is saying something considering the prequels as a whole are rather weak as a trilogy, lacking a throughline and covering too long a period of time to really fully be cohesive. But as a standalone film, Revenge of the Sith is not only effective but it’s so exceptionally made, and proves that when Lucas nails it he absolutely nails it.