May the Fourth Film Confessional: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Obi-Wan_VS_Anakin_2

Happy Star Wars Day everyone! I have a confession to make…I like STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH. Ten years on and it’s still divisive amongst fans, but for me it’s the best of the Star Wars prequels by a long way, and despite some glaring weaknesses in filmmaking it also boasts some of the high-points of the whole saga.

Finally giving us Anakin Skywalker’s (Hayden Chistensen) transformation into Darth Vader, it’s appropriately dark and operatic in tone. Fittingly, the best scene in the film, and arguably one of the most memorable and important in the series, takes place in a futuristic opera house. It’s a simple premise – two characters, one telling a story to the other. Ian McDiarmid owns the scene as Palpatine with a lucid, amused and subtly menacing oration. “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis” and Anakin’s reaction to the legend tells us more about both characters’ ambition, desires and perspective on the workings of their universe than every other Star Wars film combined. It’s a pretty knockout five minutes of screentime.

There’s a real humanity to the story of Revenge of the Sith as a whole too, even if the Anakin’s relationship with Padme (Natalie Portman) still doesn’t convince. The Order 66 scene is a classic gut-punch of real pathos, and the brutal and graphic conclusion to Anakin’s fiery duel with Obi-wan works as the peak of a crescendo of melodrama despite all the cringeworthy dialogue. The juxtaposition of the unnatural creation of Darth Vader and the natural birth of the Skywalker twins delivers as a memorable moment too. The emotions are as big and brazen as the themes, and it makes for a heady mix with Ben Burt’s flawless sound design and the striking visuals from Industrial Light & Magic.

Visually it wows too, particularly in terms of lighting, digital or otherwise. Just look at when Anakin goes to Yoda (Frank Oz) for advice about his horrible premonitions with that beautiful film noir high-contrast light and shadow, or when he marches through the sole corridor of light in the darkened Jedi temple with his Clone Trooper death squad to carry out his master’s twisted idea of justice. Lucas isn’t one for grabbing attention with his cinematography (it’s all pretty conventional) but his distinctive, classical scene transitions are all present and correct.

The combination of sound design and music especially impress. Next to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK I’d say it was John Williams’ finest Star Wars composition, and among the best scores of his entire career. The painful “Anakin’s Betrayal” and epic “Anakin vs. Obi-wan” alone make it worth buying the soundtrack.

Let’s make one thing clear – yes, the much derided script for the film is pretty terrible, but that’s not especially out of the ordinary for the Star Wars series. George Lucas has never been able to write good dialogue, that’s why the two good Star Wars screenplays, Empire and RETURN OF THE JEDI were written by others. It’s not quite as bad as the script for ATTACK OF THE CLONES (no sand monologues here) but it does have such gems as “My cockpit’s foggy”; “I have seen a security hologram of him…killing younglings” and “Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”/”From my point of view the Jedi are evil!” Lucas also seems to have developed an odd fear of conjunctives that makes all dialogue whether it’s bad in itself or not, sound stilted and robotic. I must confess, Anakin’s “We lost something” when crash landing only the front end of General Grievous’ (Matthew Wood) flagship into Coruscant does always get a laugh from me, and I liked the reprise of Obi-wan’s “Hello there” from A NEW HOPE as a greeting to droids (evil or otherwise).

I tend to watch Revenge of the Sith most years, and I always enjoy it, myriad flaws and all. OK I did once watch it skipping past every scene featuring Anakin’s unconvincing chemistry with Padme, but I still find myself going back time and time again. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. May the Fourth be with you all. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Rian Johnson and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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