Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Jimmy Smits, Christpher Lee and Boba Fett
Directed by George Lucas
I know how you feel, I thought as I watched Anakin Skywalker struggle against the tempation to turn to the Dark Side. I feel it, too. Luckily for the family of five seated behind Laura and me, I am stronger than Anakin was. I was able to find patience within me and resist the siren call. I did not take the easier, more seductive path. Lucky for them I was able to calm the molten hot rage building inside me, rage fueled by the jostling of the back of my chair, popcorn thrown at the back of my head, and the general unruliness of the children. In the final moments of Revenge of the Sith, I was a paragon of restraint as behind me an argument over whether someone did or did not have to use the restroom completely distracted me from the scene laid out before me, in which Yoda was imparting some final bit of wisdom upon Obi-Wan Kenobi. A lesser man would have taken up his weapon and struck them down with all of his hatred. It is fortunate for them, then, that I am not a lesser man.
Revenge of the Sith isn’t about a man who triumphs over temptation, but one who succumbs to it. Anakin Skywalker’s ultimate triumph over anger, fear and hatred is another story, one that is old and familiar. The story of his downfall has — until now — been merely speculation built on vague references. But is the latter worthy of the former?
(Caution: Spoilers follow.)
I’m not a fan of the first and second of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, so I didn’t have much hope that the third and final episode would rise above the shortcomings of its predecessors. Lucas had clearly geared The Phantom Menace toward a much younger audience than the original trilogy appealed to, and the story he told in that film was a slap in the face to many fans. Attack of the Clones, with its awkward and unconvincing love story, juvenile attempts at humor and story elements that seemed to contradict the original trilogy, only made things worse. The final installment of the prequel trilogy was thus burdened with an unfortunate task: redeeming its predecessors.
Revenge of the Sith doesn’t redeem The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones so much as it makes them seem largely unnecessary. Granted, there are some plot elements in the first two prequels that set the stage of the third, but elements such as how and where Obi-Wan Kenobi meets Anakin Skywalker are inconsequential (and yet elements such as this provide the most contention between Lucas’ final vision and some of the expectations the original trilogy set for the fans).
All the necessary elements are here: Palpatine reveals himself to Anakin and offers to train him in the ways of the Dark Side. A confused Anakin struggles with his loyalties, ultimately siding with the Sith Lord and betraying the Jedi. Anakin and Palpatine destroy all the Jedi, save Obi-Wan and Yoda. Obi-Wan Kenobi is forced to battle his pupil, a battle that leaves Anakin scarred and crippled, with only his hatred left to keep him alive. As Skywalker’s twin children are born (and the woman he loves dies), he is reborn, destined to live the remainder of his days in the familiar black armor. Yoda goes into exile, Bail Organa takes Leia to Alderaan, and Obi-Wan takes Luke to Owen and Beru Lars on Tattooine. R2-D2 and C-3PO are turned over to Captain Antilles (presumably aboard the Tantive IV) and Organa instructs Antilles to “wipe the protocol droid’s memory.”
Anakin Skywalker is given the name Darth Vader by Emperor Palpatine not when he dons the armor, but earlier, after Anakin turns the tide in a crucial battle between Palpatine and Mace Windu, thus enabling the Sith Lord to kill the Jedi Master. This pivotal moment marks the turning point for Anakin, and when he embraces the Dark Side he does so absolutely. When Palpatine orders his new apprentice to wipe out the Jedi, Anakin does so without mercy, returning to the Jedi Temple and killing everyone there, including (as Obi-Wan calls them) the younglings, pre-adolescent Jedi trainees.
It is this commitment to showing just how far Anakin has fallen that I appreciate. Lucas could have opted to sugarcoat this, but instead he puts it right out there for everyone to see: Darth Vader is so twisted and evil (even before his body was scarred and he became “more machine … than man”) that he will murder children without so much as a second thought. Vader needs to be this evil, for any weakness or hesitation makes his descent into the Dark Side — and thus his ultimate redemption — less complete.
Revenge of the Sith isn’t without its own unnecessary elements, nor is it able to escape some of the problems that plagued its predecessors. The dialogue is still clunky, especially in scenes between Padme and Anakin. There’s an improvement in the way they interact, but it’s far from perfect. The scenes on Kashyyk, the Wookiee home planet, seemed largely extraneous. Perhaps just a way to include another familiar face (Chewbacca) in the story.
In a similar vein, General Grievous was (like Darth Maul) pretty much a throwaway villian. Very flashy and fun to look at but ultimately not all he was cracked up to be. Grievous’ voice and mannerisms didn’t appeal to me, either, but the latter may be due to the fact that we really have no idea where he came from or why he has sided with Darth Sidious. The same could be said of Darth Maul, as well.
Still, Lucas doesn’t let things slow down too much. The opening space battle is quite the spectacle, as are the lightsaber battles throughout. Lucas has also managed to fill some of the action sequences with emotion, too. The Jedi massacre montage is sinister and powerful, and shows just how thoroughly Palpatine has orchestrated his rise to power. Likewise, the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan is powerful on an emotional level as well as being a visual treat.
The transformation of a crippled, scarred Anakin Skywalker to the dark, ominous Lord Vader was impressive. I was especially glad to see that a change had been made in the final reveal. In the trailer, when the platform rotates to show the Dark Lord of the Sith, Vader’s arms are bound to the table at shoulder level. This made Vader look, quite frankly, like a wimp. In the film, Vader’s arms are restrained at his side, and the effect is much more satisfying.
Despite an overall sense of fulfillment, a couple of things still remain incongruous to me. I don’t recall, for example, Obi-Wan Kenobi being aware that Palpatine has given Anakin a new name, yet Kenobi is very familiar with the moniker in A New Hope, and uses the name as though he has used it before. Also, Owen and Beru Lars seem far too young to become the faces we see in A New Hope. Only 18 years separate the end of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV, yet the Larses seem to have aged at least 30. The same is true for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Finally, the death of Padme in childbirth doesn’t make sense in light of what Leia claims to remember about her “real mother” when speaking to Luke on the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. One theory is that Leia had a connection with her mother through the Force and her memories are affected by it, but that doesn’t sit well with me.
Overall, I was quite pleased with Episode III. Much more so than I could have hoped to be. It helps that I have been unrelenting in my criticism of Episodes I and II, using my dislike for them to drive my expectations for the final chapter into a deep, dark chasm. Through it all, though, I kept a glimmer of hope buried where I would let no one see it. I’m not exactly doing cartwheels after seeing Revenge of the Sith, but my inner fanboy certainly is.