Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith is the greatest of the later (earlier) Star Wars films because it lacks the tedious politics of Attack Of The Clones (2002), and reduces Jar Jar Binks of The Phantom Menace (1999) to a singular non-speaking cameo. Praise be to the heavens. Instead, it focuses on the whimsical joy that carried the Original Trilogy aloft and lets all sorts of action sequences and semi-philosophical platitudes fly forward at breakneck speed. It’s how Star Wars is meant to be seen.
Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is no longer a Jedi apprentice. He’s a knight now, all grown up, retrofitted with broad shoulders and a tasty six-pack. As he opens the movie, he’s halfway between childhood and Vaderhood, and has a menacing scar running down his right cheek, which could be a sly nod by George Lucas to The Lion King (1994). Or not. The only movies I think Lucas nods to are ones he has made before, particularly, in this instance, other Star Wars films.
Being the one between Episodes II and IV, certain unravellings must happen to tie them both together. Anakin must give himself over to the dark side and become Darth Vader. His twin children, Luke and Leia, must be born and go their separate ways, growing up not as siblings but as sociopolitical opposites. Yoda (Frank Oz) must fail in whatever it is he’s trying to accomplish, so that he can banish himself to Dagobah and live amongst swamp mist. An answer must be found for the Jedi’s sudden dwindle — in Attack Of The Clones we see maybe a hundred Jedi; in Star Wars (1977), two, maybe three. Where did they all go? I was also hoping to see more of Boba Fett maturing as a bounty hunter, but no luck.
All this Lucas delivers with much delight. He films Revenge as if it were a shopping list with every single tie-in to Episode IV being checked off dutifully. You can see it in the little details too, the ones that really make this movie sparkle a little extra: Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the conniving chancellor of the Republic, undergoes extensive facial reconstruction to look less like a human being and more like the disfigured grotesque we see in Return Of The Jedi (1983). And the Clonetroopers’ helmet design looks awfully similar to the Stormtroopers of later (earlier) years. It’s the kind of detail that ignites fanboy orgasms.
The plot is self-explanatory, so I will cut it short. Anakin has dark visions of his wife Padmé (Natalie Portman) dying during childbirth. After the death of his mother in the previous film, he is determined not to lose another woman in his life. He seeks the help of his mentor, Chancellor Palpatine — A.K.A. Darth Sidious, the bad guy whom every Jedi this side of Tatooine should have sensed was a Sith Lord — who introduces a taboo power that can save people from death. Anakin wants this power. Palpatine wants Anakin. It’s a trade off that works well for the duo but not so well for every other living being, as Episodes IV, V and VI will later demonstrate.
All leads to parallel lightsaber showdowns, one between Anakin and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), one between Yoda and Palpatine. Both these fights begin as entertainment and end as overdrawn isometrics, especially the one that takes place on a volcanic planet. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that modern blockbusters cater to the hot-blooded male population in the audience, and if Lucas had no choice but to end it all with swashbuckling swordplay, at least he spares no expense doing it.
That’s about all that can be said about this film. To touch on the scripting and the acting would be like cracking a divorce joke at a wedding; the crowd would just get up and leave. I will stick to what Revenge does well. The ebb and flow of the narrative, observing with genuine heartache the gradual implosion of Anakin and the destruction of his relationship with Obi-Wan. The visual effects (plentiful, often unmerited, always riveting). The ease with which Episode IV is roped in. The audacity of the action sequences, no matter how implausible they might seem. Darth Vader breathing again.
As I celebrated the lack thereof of Jar Jar Binks in this film, I must also lament some of the miscalculations Lucas brings back from his earlier (later) ones. Most of them revolve around the stunted love (if it can be called love) between Anakin and Padmé, proving once again that Lucas can write space opera lore but not deep-rooted romance. I will leave with this exchange, which I strongly believe deserves recognition by some film body, any body, for its profundity:
Anakin: You’re so… beautiful.
Padmé: Only because I’m so in love.
Anakin: No. It’s because I’m so in love with you.
Padmé: So love has blinded you?
Anakin: (chuckles) That’s not what I meant.
Padmé: But it’s probably true.
Best Moment | The entire epilogue. It’s the most nostalgic.
Worst Moment | NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! (yeah, the Vader line)