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‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 6: ‘Revenge of the Sith’

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Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: “Revenge of the Sith” is my go-to movie whenever people dismiss the entirety of the Star Wars prequels. It completes Anakin’s transition from Jedi hero to Sith tyrant in dramatically compelling and logical fashion, it shows us the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, the cast is finally comfortable in their parts, and we get some great payoffs, including Obi-Wan and Anakin’s showdown and the birth of Luke and Leia. George Lucas’ struggle in “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” was to find and tell a compelling story to go along with his knack for world-building and grand set piece moments, and in “Revenge of the Sith” he rediscovered the heart of Star Wars just in time to break our hearts as we witness Darth Vader’s birth. Before we can find our new hope, we have to see our chosen one fall. Revenge is nigh.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- This is the final Star Wars movie with direct involvement from George Lucas. It’s still weird to think of a post-Lucas Star Wars world.
  • 1:30- Kidnapping the chancellor is indeed a big move by Dooku and the Separatist forces, though I’m not sure exactly how it fits with Palpatine’s ultimate plan since he’s the one who’s been behind the war all long.
  • 2:30- The opening shot of Obi-Wan and Anakin joining the battle above Coruscant is definitely Lucas showing off, but it’s still a pretty incredible sequence. Star wars, indeed.
  • 3:15- The long-hair look for Anakin is definitely an improvement, though the facial scar is a bit try-hard. Christensen is noticeably better throughout “Sith”; he’s good with the conflicted loyalties and growing obsession with power stuff, it’s his scenes with Portman where he’s noticeably lacking.
  • 5:00- Anakin is the better pilot of the pair by a long shot, and they both just go with it. It’s an interesting little detail in their dynamic, and Ewan McGregor and Christensen are much more comfortable with each other.
  • 6:30- Obi-Wan and Anakin are good partners, and their camaraderie is believable. It’s sad to see their relationship fall apart, much more so than the relationship between Anakin and Padme.
  • 7:30- Obi-Wan’s got style, leaping out of his ship into immediate ass-kicking. He lives up to his later reputation as a war hero by the time of “A New Hope.”
  • 8:45- General Grievous is a great addition to our roster of villains. His wheezing cough is almost too close to Vader’s, but he’s got a great visual design, and it’s a great voice performance as well. He’s an upgrade over Jango Fett as far as secondary villains go.
  • 12:00- Count Dooku’s entrance is suitably intimidating, especially since he beat Obi-Wan and Anakin pretty handily in “Attack of the Clones.” Palpatine even makes a remark about it. And Christopher Lee continues to excel in the part.
  • 13:45- Anakin with a pretty brutal move to beat Dooku; he cuts off the guy’s hands. Jedi combat can get messy.
  • 14:00- Palpatine orders his future apprentice to kill his former apprentice. Ruthless. And McDiarmid is all snakelike evil. He even manages to give Anakin an easy out with “He was too dangerous to be kept alive.”
  • 15:00- Palpatine knows Anakin slaughtered the Sand People. It’s unclear if Obi-Wan does, but either way Palpatine has clearly been growing closer to Anakin for some time.
  • 16:15- Moments like Grievous’ ship nearly crashing with Palpatine still aboard illustrate that his plan as shown in the movie doesn’t totally hold together. He doesn’t want to die aboard the ship, otherwise he doesn’t get to rule.
  • 19:30- Grievous collects the lightsabers of fallen Jedi, a grisly touch for his character. Nice payoff to it later on, though.
  • 20:45- Grievous escapes by blowing out a window and then climbing along the outside of his ship. But he still needs to breathe, otherwise he can’t cough, so he shouldn’t really be able to survive in space. Minor thing, but still.
  • 22:30- Anakin successfully lands the falling ship, a pretty genuinely impressive feat.
  • 23:00- “We’re coming in too hot.” Christensen’s delivery here is…not good.
  • 24:30- Obi-Wan gives Anakin a moment in the spotlight, and he’s proud to do it. Again, these two are close. It’s sad to see them torn apart.
  • 26:00- Padme and Anakin’s reunion on Coruscant is actually pretty well done. A couple awkward lines, but they both sell the right emotions and seem to really care for one another. And Anakin’s terror at the prospect of being a father fits naturally; it’s more for him to potentially lose, which is the root of what drives him to the dark side.
  • 29:00- Palpatine writes off Dooku as a necessary loss. Getting to Anakin is clearly his long game, and seeing it come to fruition is tragic.
  • 31:00- We don’t know if Anakin’s visions are 100 percent prophetic or not; Yoda tells us “always in motion, is the future” in “Empire,” but so far all of Anakin’s dreams have come true. More importantly, it’s the fear of losing another loved one that powers his downfall. Yoda spelled it out in “Phantom Menace”: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Yoda called it, but Anakin was allowed to train anyway, and the Jedi’s blindness proves to be their undoing.
  • 31:45- Padme is still wearing the necklace Anakin gave to her in “Phantom Menace.”
  • 32:00- Padme knows firsthand that Anakin’s dreams shouldn’t be taken lightly, because she knows about the dreams he had about his mother prior to her death. Yet she maintains an optimistic outlook and tries to get Anakin not to worry. Anakin isn’t willing to go to Obi-Wan or the others with the truth, though, giving Palpatine an opening.
  • 34:15- Yoda tries to help Anakin as best he can, but Anakin needs a more empathetic, grounded response than “Everybody dies, get over it.” This is where Obi-Wan could and should step in.
  • 35:30- Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council are suspicious of Palpatine, as they should be; politicians ignoring term limits and accruing more power to themselves unchecked is generally shady.
  • 36:15- Palpatine playing off Anakin’s good nature and then ordering him to have a seat on the Council, which Anakin has always wanted, is a masterstroke. He knows exactly how to push Anakin’s buttons to make him feel betrayed by the Jedi while feeding his desire for power.
  • 37:30- The Council giving Anakin a seat while not naming him a master is actually a pretty fair compromise. But Anakin feels cheated. His greed is growing.
  • 39:00- The Council ordering Anakin to spy on Palpatine is a bad move for several reasons. One, he’s clearly close to Palpatine, and two, it’s trusting someone with a history of instability to carry out an assignment requiring the ability to operate in moral shades of grey, which doesn’t fit Anakin’s nature. It plays right into Palpatine’s game, because it’s more evidence of the Jedi conspiring like the Sith.
  • 40:00- The scene where Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan discuss Anakin’s assignment and the prophecy spells out another key theme. Clearly there were reservations about giving Anakin the gig, and yet they did it anyway, in part because of what Obi-Wan says about Anakin supposedly being the Chosen One. The Jedi rely on prophecy instead of looking at what’s right in front of them.
  • 42:30- The scene where Anakin meets Palpatine at the concert, or whatever it is (it looks awesome), is fantastic. Here’s where we see Palpatine really reel Anakin in with his tale of the Sith Lord who conquered death. And he’s right that the Jedi are plotting against him, even when the council is actually right to distrust Palpatine. Palpatine expertly plays Anakin’s insecurities against him. And both actors step up, especially Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. His slithering, slippery evil is positively unnerving.
  • 47:30- John Williams is really the anchor of this whole franchise. No matter the scene, he’s there with the right music to make sure the right emotional tone is set. Here we get some great use of strings to sell the creeping dread.
  • 47:45- “Not…from a Jedi.” This is the first time Palpatine drops the mask, if only for a moment.
  • 49:15- The council gives Obi-Wan the assignment to kill Grievous, another slight against Anakin, in his eyes anyway.
  • 50:00- The battle on the Wookiee home world is really cool, even if it exists mostly to get Yoda off of Coruscant.
  • 51:00- Obi-Wan tries to give Anakin one last lesson before heading off to face Grievous, and it’s a lesson in patience. Anakin’s too far gone, though.
  • 55:00- The planet where Obi-Wan finds Grievous, with its sinkhole-covered landscape, is another really inventive world. You can always count on Star Wars to take you interesting places.
  • 56:50- The internet tells me the creature Obi-Wan rides as he tracks down Grievous is called a Boga. It’s a fun design.
  • 57:30- Obi-Wan just dropping into the middle of the group of droids is a pretty bold move. But to his credit, it turns out pretty well.
  • 58:30- The reveal of Grievous’ extra arms and that he also uses lightsabers is a great, fun reveal. Makes him into a formidable physical threat.
  • 1:00:45- Obi-Wan loses his lightsaber chasing after Grievous. Bad form.
  • 1:02:30- Palpatine continues play off Anakin’s ego. Their scenes together are all fantastic.
  • 1:04:00- Finally, after three movies, our real villain reveals himself. It’s not a great surprise, as Lucas doesn’t really do a great job of hiding it, nor is it meant to really be a surprise for the audience, I think. The prequels make much more sense when you view them as Lucas’ thematic response to the first three movies, even if they take place earlier in the series timeline. And really, that makes sense for Lucas, because he knows that basically everyone knows the end point for Anakin. So the focus shifts to making sure we understand the tragedy of Anakin’s fall along with the broader downfall of the Jedi.
  • 1:07:30- “So uncivilized.” Obi-Wan has to get creative and kill Grievous with a blaster, to his distaste. It’s a good moment.
  • 1:08:30- Keeping Anakin away from the Emperor as the Council goes to make their arrest is probably the smart move, but it plays into Anakin’s doubts of about the Jedi nurtured by Palpatine. Really, by this point it’s too late. We’ve been primed for Anakin’s fall, and now the inevitable happens.
  • 1:10:30- Anakin and Padem’s silent exchange across the Coruscant skyline is well done. And it’s gorgeous.
  • 1:11:00- Samuel L. Jackson finally earns his paycheck with his work as Mace Windu in “Sith.” He’s good, and he’s fun to watch opposite McDiarmid.
  • 1:12:45- The fight between Mace and Palpatine isn’t great, no doubt because of McDiarmid’s age making it difficult to do a lot of intense stuntwork.
  • 1:13:30- Palpatine unleashing the lightning is a nice nod for the fans and an impressive display of his power. And finding out that Palpatine is responsible for his own scarred appearance is another good bit, giving us his transformation into his appearance from “Empire” and “Jedi.”
  • 1:14:30- “He’s too dangerous to be kept alive.” Good callback to Palpatine’s line from earlier when Anakin killed Dooku.
  • 1:15:15- “What have I done?” Christensen gets this scene exactly right, to his credit. This is where Vader is born, as evidenced by Palpatine giving him the name in this moment.
  • 1:17:00- “Rise.” The Imperial March returns as Vader rises.
  • 1:17:45- The moment when Palpatine puts on his hood really cements his transformation. It’s uncanny.
  • 1:19:15- Things get dark in a hurry here. Vader leads an army of clone troopers into the Jedi Temple to wipe them out. The Emperor’s plan is ruthlessly efficient, though if some of the mechanics of said plan are a little murky.
  • 1:21:30- The music during the montage of all of the Jedi being slaughtered is gut-wrenching. The whole scene packs a punch, especially the bits of Yoda grieving as he feels all of the deaths through the Force.
  • 1:23:15- Yoda isn’t caught off guard. Granted, we know (sort of) that he lives, but it’s a pretty good fake-out.
  • 1:23:45- Anakin slaughtering the younglings (Jedi trainees) is brutal. Lucas didn’t hold back with showing the depths to which Anakin has fallen.
  • 1:25:55- Brief appearance from Chewie. The fan nods are mostly pretty subtle, or at least, unobtrusive in “Sith,” unlike the walking pile of fan service that is Jango Fett.
  • 1:27:45- The exception to the unobtrusive fan nods is Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, whose significance is only really justified if you make the connection that he is Leia’s adoptive father (Leia grew up as Leia Organa on Alderaan).
  • 1:30:45- Going back to Coruscant to alter the signal urging the Jedi to come home is a brave move from Obi-Wan and Yoda, even if it’s also dramatically necessary so Yoda can fight the Emperor and Obi-Wan can find his way to Anakin on Mustafar. Nice bit of plotting from Lucas.
  • 1:32:30- Lucas makes subtext text with Mustafar. Anakin has sold his soul to the devil and finds damnation on the lava planet. Subtle it isn’t, but damn if it doesn’t work.
  • 1:34:30- Obi-Wan and Yoda touring the carnage in the Jedi temple is very well done. It’s sad without being melodramatic, and we get bodies without buckets of blood. “Sith” is the only Star Wars movie with violence that’s really questionable for younger audiences. I think it’s justified narratively, and it’s not exploitative, but I’d question letting someone 10 or younger see it.
  • 1:34:45- The hard cut from Obi-Wan saying “Who could’ve done this?” to Anakin mowing down the separatist leaders is a really nice bit of editing.
  • 1:36:15- “So this is how liberty dies: With thunderous applause.” Lucas, you were 11 years too early.
  • 1:37:45- Obi-Wan’s grief as he realizes what Anakin has done is palpable. Ewan McGregor really grew into this role as the prequels went along.
  • 1:38:00- Of course Yoda goes to fight the Emperor while sending Obi-Wan after Anakin. It has to be Obi-Wan and Anakin. It’s so inevitable. Lucas does a great job of playing off our knowledge of what has to happen with these characters. “Sith” is an excellent story on its own, but as the final piece of the long history of Darth Vader it gains an extra element of inevitable tragedy.
  • 1:41:00- The tour of Mustafar culminating in Anakin weeping on the bridge is an elegant sequence. And Williams’ score is perfect. Anakin is no more; Vader has taken over.
  • 1:42:00- The showdown between Palpatine and the Emperor is cool and necessary, but the real drama is on Mustafar. The emotional stakes are so much higher. We get the dissolution of Anakin and Padme’s relationship and Obi-Wan and Anakin’s inevitable showdown, both of which are more personal than the battle of the Force wizards.
  • 1:44:30- The cinematography is noticeably better in “Sith.” Lucas finds the shadows again, often literally, and the compositions are generally a lot better too. What makes “Sith” the best prequel is relatively simple: It’s the best story told in the best fashion. Lucas had finally found his footing again, but he’ll likely never make another movie in the universe he begot.
  • 1:45:15- Vader is already plotting against the Emperor. The power’s gone to his head.
  • 1:45:45- “You’re breaking my heart.” Portman brings it here.
  • 1:46:30- Anakin lets Padme live, and thus Vader will eventually lose. Fitting he’s brought down by his last of mercy as Anakin.
  • 1:47:15- “Your new empire?!” Obi-Wan, incredulous at Anakin’s lust for power.
  • 1:47:30- “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” It’s a clumsy line, and yes, it is an absolute, but you can see what Lucas and Obi-Wan are getting at.
  • 1:48:00- The music throughout the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin fight is stellar.
  • 1:51:30- Yoda and the Emperor fighting as the spire slowly rises into the empty Senate chamber is a great visual. And the soaring choral voices make the moment stand out.
  • 1:52:30- The gradual escalation as the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel goes on is pretty incredible, building to the great final fight on the lava river.
  • 1:53:00- Reprise of “Duel of the Fates.” Nice callback to the earlier battles between Sith and Jedi throughout the trilogy.
  • 1:54:00- The end of the Yoda/Palpatine fight is a little anticlimactic because they both have to live and Yoda has to escape to later train Luke. The Obi-Wan/Vader fight dodges this because their relationship has more stakes and doesn’t essentially change once the fight ends, even when they meet again in “A New Hope.” Plus we get the physical emergence of Darth Vader as we know commonly know him, which is a nice little bow on their arc. Anakin is essentially dead at that point.
  • 1:55:30- Some nice visual flourishes as Obi-Wan and Vader fight against the backdrop of a lava planet. And modern stunt techniques and CGI make it so they can have a battle between two young Jedi at the height of their powers in a way the original trilogy couldn’t.
  • 1:57:45- Vader managing to escape the collapsing bridge as it goes over the lava waterfall is a genuinely impressive feat.
  • 1:59:30- Obi-Wan tries to talk Vader into not making the leap.
  • 1:59:50- “You were the Chosen One!” Ugh. McGregor sells how hurt he is, and Christensen’s animal rage as he bellows out “I hate you!” is a genuine shock.
  • 2:00:00- Waching Vader burn is rough. You want Obi-Wan to put him out of his misery. And maybe he should have.
  • 2:02:15- Vader manages to survive long enough for the Emperor to arrive and “save” him. Hate leads to suffering, indeed.
  • 2:03:30- Padme’s death feels a little cheap. It’s hard to think of another way for her arc to end since we know she has to be dead before the original trilogy, but still, something feels off. She does get to name the kids, though.
  • 2:05:30- The contrast of Padme giving birth as Vader is fitted with his new limbs and mechanical enhancements is harsh, enhancing the small moments of joy amid the harrowing agony Vader is in and his tragic downfall.
  • 2:06:49- The first breath after Vader puts on the mask is haunting. And we only get one before cutting back to Padme.
  • 2:08:01- James Earl Jones’ familiar baritone is a welcome return, even if only for a few lines.
  • 2:08:45- The “Nooooooo!” gets a lot of grief, but it’s fine. You try expressing the grief and anger of killing the mother of your unborn children immediately after betraying everyone and everything you loved for power, only to have your body mutilated.
  • 2:10:15- Yoda teaches Obi-Wan about Force ghosts so we can have them in later movies.
  • 2:11:15- Padme is holding the necklace she got from Anakin during her funeral.
  • 2:11:30- Nice shot of Vader and the Emperor overlooking the construction of the Death Star.
  • 2:12:00- Leia lucks out and gets to live the life of a princess on Alderaan. Though I guess her planet does end up destroyed. Requisite snippet of Leia’s theme from the original trilogy.
  • 2:12:45- Obi-Wan takes Luke to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, where he’ll watch over Luke. As Luke’s theme plays, we get Owen and Beru standing on the same spot with Luke where Luke will one day look out over the Tatooine sunset, reminding us that hope remains.

Wrap-up: “Revenge of the Sith” makes up for many of the weaker moments in the prequel trilogy. When it came time to show us how Anakin became Darth Vader and took the Republic with him, Lucas showed us he could still tell a Star Wars story with a rich emotional experience along with the requisite action beats. Furthermore, watching “Sith” again only seems to confirm my hypothesis that, for better or worse, the prequels gain much by being viewed as thematic responses to Lucas’ earlier works and as parts of a larger whole rather than standalone stories. Lucas sets up a series of moments wherein Anakin might just pull back from the blink even when we know he won’t, but we still see how it all ties into his fear of loss. It gives the whole movie a feeling of inevitable tragedy, giving it a heft the series sometimes lacks. Lucas may have taken a beating over the prequels, but I hope he’s proud of what he and his team accomplished with this movie.

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