I remember being in Fifth Grade when Revenge of the Sith made its way into theaters. It was before you could get your tickets off an app and it was before seat choosing and you didn’t have to stand in line outside a movie to guarantee prime seating. A simpler time if you ask me. I remember begging my father for his credit card so I could call the movie theater to reserve two tickets for us on opening night. My Dad eventually complied, because that is something that Star Wars has always done – brought families together.
When Revenge of the Sith was released, there was absolutely no indication that Disney would buy the property and expand the universe a decade later, so there was a ubiquitous combination of bittersweetness and hype as the world prepared for supposedly the last Star Wars installment ever: the bridge between the prequels and the original trilogy. Expectations were high, and the movie certainly goes all-out to end on a meaningful and hopeful note, but notable self-inflicted stumbles keep Revenge of the Sith from being a great film.
The opening shot is nothing short of incredible as Anakin and Obi-Wan soar through an epic space battle over Coruscant in an attempt to rescue Chancellor Palpatine. The sequence is beautiful and exciting, and shows Anakin and Obi-Wan in what could be called the best of times despite the circumstances of the Clone Wars. It’s just a shame that the end result is Count Dooku’s death (it’s significantly sadder rewatching these prequels now that Christopher Lee has passed). What rubs salt in the Dooku wound is that he is replaced by General Grievous, a droid/alien hybrid called a Kaleesh who sounds like he took the biggest dab rip of the mid-2000s, whose main selling point is four arms and mediocre lightsaber skills taught to him by an actual swordsman – Dooku – which tells me Dooku didn’t care or George Lucas doesn’t know the canon of his own franchise (definitely the latter).
While the movie doesn’t find any real footing until well into the second act, rewatching the seeds planted for Anakin’s downfall brought out a sympathy I didn’t feel before. Yoda is a sociopath, telling Anakin to shut out and disconnect all emotions in order to avoid the Dark Side. That doesn’t sound like the Yoda you’ll find in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Empire-Yoda would tell Anakin to confront his feelings head-on; that’s what it means to be a Jedi. Anakin also has a right to doubt the Jedi after they request he spy on Chancellor Palpatine. The writing dilemma here arises from George Lucas’s inability to decide who should play surrogate father to Anakin throughout the prequels. In The Phantom Menace (1999) it’s Qui-Gon Jinn; in Attack of the Clones (2002) it’s Obi-Wan; and in Revenge of the Sith it’s Palpatine. Had it been Palpatine during at least ⅔ of the trilogy, this could have been a very dramatic plot point, but instead two too many one-on-one scenes with Anakin and Palpatine force (pun certainly intended) this father/son dynamic down our throats and completely sidebar Obi-Wan and Anakin’s fallout until the climax. Ultimately, however, none of this compares to the backwards and downright insulting treatment of Padme in this movie.
Flashback to Attack of the Clones and Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the Naboo former-queen-turned-senator. Padme is dedicated to diplomacy and proactive about discovering the assassin behind her attempted murder. She completely side-steps Mace Windu’s orders to remain on Tatooine, embarks to Geonosis to rescue Obi-Wan, and figures as a key fighter in the Battle of Geonosis. She even manages to lazily out-act the rest of the cast and puts up with George Lucas’s fetishizing princess outfits and the fact that she has to have half her shirt torn off in the third act. But in Revenge of the Sith, Padme is reduced down to this weeping and helpless pregnant woman whose only role is to let Anakin verbally/physically abuse her and close down any connection between them in the name of preventing her from dying in childbirth.
Padme’s only purpose in this movie is to give birth to Leia and Luke so that they can be alive for the original trilogy and it’s further testament to the fact that George Lucas is not a good writer. He manages to make the movie feel drawn out with too many Palpatine/Anakin scenes and General Grievous and Obi-Wan killing time together before the third act. Then, when the ball gets rolling, it seems like a grocery list of killing off key characters from this prequel trilogy like they never even mattered. Mace Windu gets a good send off but he brings along Kit Fisto, my favorite Jedi Master/one of the best figures in Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars Miniseries, who is killed off in eight seconds. The remainder of the Jedi Order is dealt with in a melodramatic montage that wastes no time killing off Jedi Masters Ki-Adi-Mundi (the Barristan Selmy of the prequels), Plo Koon, and more that all had a huge impact on the videogame canon and my action figure collection.
This is also a PSA that if you have not watched Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars Miniseries to stop reading this right now, watch Attack of the Clones, and immediately watch that before watching Revenge of the Sith and then coming back to this recap.
While Revenge of the Sith has its issues, there are a lot of great moments that make it all the more discernable that this movie could have been so much more. Ewan McGregor out-acts everyone despite the subpar script he was given and he truly channels the late Alec Guinness to bridge the gap between the two portrayals. The action, as cheesily choreographed as it is, is exciting to watch. You certainly feel emotion resonating with the climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, although a lot of that is only owed to McGregor and Portman’s acting in the setup beforehand (the only instance in the movie where Natalie Portman is allowed to show off her chops) and absolutely not Hayden Christensen’s acting. The emotional beats of this movie can be counted on one hand and they are: 1. The montage of Anakin and Padme looking out into the Coruscant skyline thinking of each other; 2. Obi-Wan’s reveal that he knows Anakin is the father of Padme’s child(ren); 3. Padme’s death/Vader’s rise (despite the circumstances of Padme’s dying of a broken heart… like are you kidding me, Lucas?); and 4. Luke’s send-off to Tatooine because c’mon, it’s Luke. That’s really it and the movie is nearly two-and-a-half hours long. The moments pack an emotional punch but there is just far too much fat on the movie to really appreciate them… also the fact that most of the time the tension is cheaply cut with a lightsaber igniting. Because lightsabers sell toys and that’s all George Lucas cares about.
Overall, I had a very fun time rewatching Revenge of the Sith. Mainly because a lot of prequel-memes have come out in the time between my last rewatch and this one. I found myself laughing endlessly at certain lines because of the 50 memes I have seen dedicated to them. Memes are probably the best thing to happen to the prequels as a whole, as they have somehow enhanced the watching experience for people who grew up on these prequels but have grown to recognize them as not the best demonstration of Hollywood filmmaking. I will say, the visual effects perfectly encapsulate the early-mid-2000s when CGI was becoming a staple in blockbusters because it was cheap enough to render for an entire movie, and the effects toe the line perfectly between believable and cartoonish. I’m happy the GoodBadTaste team decided on running through the prequels first because it can only go up from here as we delve into what makes Star Wars truly special.