With Solo: A Star Wars Story premiering at the Cannes Film Festival last week, it was noted that the last Star Wars film to do so was in fact 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was released on May 19, 2005 and brought to an end George Lucas’ prequel trilogy in a very big and dramatic way. The end results, while perhaps not perfect, contained way more good than bad and were often times poignant, highly imaginative and quite incredible to watch.
Themed appropriately, it says it all in the first paragraph of the opening crawl which starts with the word, “War!” and ends with, “Evil is everywhere.” With a title like “Revenge of the Sith” and a crawl like that, you had a pretty good idea of what was about to happen once you sat down. The question remained however, could Lucas balance storytelling with special effects in a way he couldn’t for the previous two entries?
While Episode’s I and II are often maligned and find themselves at the bottom of most people’s lists, Episode III was and is received much more warmly. It has aged well over the years and as Lucasfilm has explored more territory around that time period, a new appreciation for it has emerged. For that to happen the film still needs to be good however and Revenge of the Sith is good, very good in fact.
While the first half of the film is a much improved version of the previous two episodes, the final act is downright stunning and a marvelous display of imagination meets execution. Every aspect of this trilogy is firing on all cylinders in the last 30-40 minutes and I would go as far to say that it might be one of the top 3 final acts of the entire franchise. As if almost on cue Lucas seemed to find that sweet spot where good storytelling meets modern day technology.
Your enjoyment of this film may depend on what kind of Star Wars fan you are and how you view certain aspects of the saga. This film, and Rogue One to a degree, says more about you as a fan than the quality of the film itself. If you look at what’s at stake and how the decisions made by certain characters affect the greater universe as a whole, you have to appreciate what’s going on here, don’t you? I mean, if there’s a more important date than 19 BBY in the new canon, I’d love to hear it. And yes, that includes 0 BBY. People always say, "a good Star Wars film", well, this is a good Star Wars film.
The performances, the direction, the script, the musical score, all rises to new heights as if the players involved seem to understand the levity and importance of what’s being depicted on screen. From the start where we see the end of Count Dooku, Anakin further cementing his dissent into evil, to the depiction of easily the best space battle of the series (buzz droids!), everything about this film is amped up from the very get go. Even Obi-Wan’s entrance into the hanger of General Grievous’ Flagship, where they’re holding an imprisoned Palpatine, is dazzling and communicates to the audience, buckle up, this is not “Attack of the Clones”.
Speaking of Episode II, one of the biggest slights was the performances of its two leads, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Both actors’ portrayals, and not coincidently the script along with them, are vastly improved this time around especially during the quieter moments between Anakin and Padme. Christensen in particular has dropped his emo-driven pantomime in favor of a more straightforward tormented soul approach and likewise for Portman, who seemed somewhat glossy in Clones, now is strong and confident through heartbreak and betrayal. And although she isn’t given much to do beyond fretting, pacing and giving birth, she does it well. I just wish there had have been more of the strong Padme we see in the Senate arena predicting the downfall of the Republic and the rise of tyranny.
And as the brutal and violent Clone Wars are nearing the end and the Jedi are learning of Palpatine’s devilish plot to rule the entire galaxy, we are blessed with two remarkable scenes and a sequence of events that change the galaxy and the Star Wars universe for good.
First, as Sheev Palpatine continues to grow in power politically and pulls the strings behind the scenes as Sith Lord Darth Sidious, we get a fantastic scene known as the “opera scene” between him and Anakin Skywalker. At the Galaxies Opera House, while watching a weird Mon Calamari show, they speak of ending the war and the difference between the Jedi and the Sith, one of which is the Sith’s willingness to dabble in the black arts. He told Anakin the story of “Dark Plagueis the Wise” and how he could use the Force to save the people he cared about, even from death, but that only Sith would use such power. Foreseeing Padme’s death earlier has expedited Anakin’s path to the Dark Side and it’s here Palpatine offers him the final piece of forbidden fruit.
It’s in the is scene Ian McDiarmid really speaks to the audience here, almost winking at us as Palpatine sinks his claws further and further into Anakin. He's almost Willy Wonka like in his approach as he’s offering golden tickets to Anakin knowing full well the outcome. Ian is wonderful in this scene as the ultimate trickster archetype and we know from interviews it was his favorite scene to shoot, and it shows.
Not to be forgotten, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi sticks the landing in the final act as he takes care of General Grievous in spectacular fashion on Utapau, gets betrayed by his Clone army (Cody!) and has to come to terms with his friend and former Padawan turning to the Dark Side. Obi-Wan, second only to Padme, was particularly wounded by Anakin’s heel turn and McGregor does a fine job exploring that betrayal. You really feel his pain and loss during that final battle on Mustafar.
As the Emperor’s true nature is revealed and Order 66 is enacted, we are witness to a series of amazingly dreadful and traumatic scenes as one by one we see the Jedi being picked off across the galaxy including favorites Plo Koon, Aayla Secura and Ki-Adi-Mundi . This of course fails in comparison to the sight of younglings being slayed at the hands of Anakin himself and the 501st.
What’s astonishing is that through all of this, there’s a showdown between Yoda and the Emperor in the senate arena that hardly gets mentioned because the events surrounding it are so grand and impactful, they overshadow this once in a lifetime encounter. This is even preceded by a great scene on the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk, where Yoda and the Clones have been helping Chewbacca fight separatists on his home planet.
With all this going on, any other film would’ve buckled under the sheer weight and gravitas of the moment, but Lucas manages to balance all these events perfectly. It's reminiscent of the final act in Return of the Jedi where three major events are happening congruently. He didn’t do it alone however as he had the help of John Williams, who’s score is spot on (Duel of the Fates), and the skillful editing of Ben Burtt and Roger Barton who pieced together a wonderful final act.
This all leads to the big showdown between Anakin, now Darth Vader, and Obi-Wan Kenobi on Mustafar. The backdrop of the molten planet with the refinery falling apart around them is of course symbolic of not only their relationship, but the Republic as well, as the Imperial reign is about to begin. It’s a wonderful duel that takes them all over the place ending with Anakin’s eventual defeat thanks to some poor choices (high ground?) and anger clouding his mind. It’s quite graphic as we get a good look at what Vader looks like underneath the famous armor, missing limbs and burnt skin.
The final moments are familiar to any Star Wars fan as the twins, Luke and Leia, are born then separated, Leia going with Bail Organa to Alderaan and Luke going to Tatooine with Kenobi. And after Vader is imprisoned in his black armor, he along with The Emperor, are standing on the bridge of a Star Destroyer watching the early stages of the Death Star being built.
Other than a less than perfect “Nooooooooo!” from Vader (James Earl Jones) as he discovers Padme is dead, it’s a more than fitting conclusion to the trilogy as it ends on a particularly dark tone. But as all things Star Wars, there is a glimmer of hope as we see an infant Luke being cradled with the twin Suns of Tatooine in the backdrop. The familiar Williams “A New Hope” track cues and we are whisked away…wonderful.
Revenge of the Sith ends in an “I told you” sort of way as if Lucas knew he was saving the best for last. Patience is something I mention often when talking about Star Wars as it truly does reward those that are willing to stick it out. Does Revenge of the Sith erase the crimes committed in Episodes I and II? I’ll leave that up to the individual to decide, I personally think it does. This film ranks high for me on my personal list and I thoroughly enjoy it each time I watch it.
Till next time…MTFBWY.
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