The good, the bad, and the Force: Re-evaluating Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
WE’RE now officially halfway through on our whistle-stop tour of a galaxy far, far away. Since Attack of the Clones has been shortly dealt with (and not short enough it was), it’s time for the third and final instalment in the prequel trilogy to step under SCM’s cosmic magnifying glass. Let’s all have an even-handed juggle at Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Daniel Abbott: My housemates have heard this argument a thousand times before. For the rest of you, here goes.
Watching Episode III in the cinema for the first time was something of a revelation for me. Bright-eyed, puppy-fatted, 12 years old, I was gripped from start to finish. It was spiritual. It was so spiritual I paid another £7 to see it again. I knelt at the altar of the Church of Lucas and I loved it.
But, nine years later, beyond the mists of nostalgia lies a tragedy with heft, weight and depth; a film of such latent quality that its two rubbish forebears wilt in its shadow. All the shattered promise that the other prequels failed to live up to is fulfilled in Episode III. Finally, we have actual characters that act like real people. We have a narrative that has power, precision and operatic scope. We have lightsaber fights with purpose and high stakes. The greatest success of Episode III is that it feels like a Star Wars film again. No trade disputes, no insipid love plot. Just Star Wars.
A lot of credit for this has to go to three central performances: Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid and, yes, Hayden Christensen. McGregor and McDiarmid as Obi-Wan and Palpatine are the two shining lights of the other prequel films and they are on top form again. McDiarmid’s metamorphosis from benevolent mentor to POWAHHHH-crazy Emperor is wonderful, while Obi-Wan’s inner turmoil is masterfully handled by McGregor.
Christensen is the surprise package – after a nightmare-inducing performance in Clones, Christensen manages to grasp the anguish and conflict of Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side with real power and, after the fall, chilling intensity. The culmination of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s incredible duel to end all duels is heartbreaking, with both actors unleashing all of their emotional range in the final exchange.
There’s also a consistent tone, unlike its predecessors. Revenge of the Sith starts dark and it only gets darker from there. Did it need to be this dark? Yes. If you’re going to tell the story of a Miltonic hero falling from grace, of a grand Republic being torn apart, of death and betrayal and hubris then yes, quite frankly, it does need to be this dark.
Sure, General Grievous is lame. Yes, Samuel L. Jackson is still woefully miscast. I agree that Lucas’ script is pretty clunky in places. But in a film where even Yoda ninja-flipping and brandishing a lightsaber – one of the most shocking missteps of Clones – can look as if it always belonged, these things melt away. For my money, it’s second only to Empire Strikes Back; in some instances, it’s even better. I am dead serious.
Andrew Noel: The internet may call me a hypocrite, but here I am submitting a negative view on Revenge of the Sith. The 2005 film caught me at the height of my Star Wars obsession, so of course I loved the film. Looking back on it though, there are some issues. And by some, I mean a lot.
Let’s start with the dialogue. Of course, the prequel trilogy is by no means Shakespeare, but some of the language used is very, very basic. The worst, the worst, has to come from Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman during those ridiculous love scenes:
Anakin: “You’re so… beautiful.”
Padmé: “It’s 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* “Well, that’s not exactly what I meant…”
My God! It’s the equivalent of banging two rocks together. “OOH I LOVE YOU” – “OOH I LOVE YOU MORE.”
At least with The Phantom Menace we didn’t have to cringe our way through it. At least with Han Solo he was funny! Hayden Christensen is the root of a lot of the issues in this film. Sure, he can stare like nobody’s business, but when it comes to dialogue it’s just bad. Even Anakin’s anger-filled cry of “I hate you” sounds ridiculous. Of course, the writing by no means helps him, but still.
Next: I have an issue with the Jedi themselves. Now, we all know how great the battle between Yoda and Palpatine is, but that’s the best it gets. Obi-Wan vs Anakin is a bland, boring, sequence. Even the fiery atmosphere of Mustafar can’t spice it up a bit. The arrest of Palpatine is also disappointing. Mace Windu and three other Jedi (namely: Kit Fisto, Saesee Tinn and Agen Kolar) are sent to arrest Palpatine, only for him to strike down them all bar Windu in the first minute. These are JEDI MASTERS, who survived being shot at by a tonne of droids in the last film; they should last longer than that!
Finally, two words: General. Grevious. That character had so much potential; the four armed cyborg that kills Jedi and collects their lightsabers? What’s not to like? Well, everything except the two dimensional nature of the character himself. Unless you’re familiar with backstory from the Clone Wars series, you’re really not going to get much of an idea of who this guy is, or what he’s doing. How disappointing.
So there you have it. Revenge of the Sith: A disappointing finale to a disappointing trilogy.