The Breakdown: Is Revenge of the Sith really as bad as we remember?
The saga continues: here is Part 3 of our critical breakdown of the Star Wars prequels, this week focussing on Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
It’s at this point that I usually stop to admire the positive aspects of the film, typically in an attempt to make light of exceptionally good pieces of narrative in a series of movies that are often panned for their shitness. This time however I have to start off thinking negatively, because like Hannibal leading his army through the interior of a tightly packed McDonald’s restaurant, there’s an exceptionally large elephant in the room.
This movie really isn’t any good.
I only pause to make mention of this because the overwhelming belief is that Episode III is not only the best of the Star Wars prequels, but it’s actually just a pretty great film in general.
It’s a turd. A slightly less pungent turd, sure, but in the streaming cascades of the sewer known as the Star Wars prequels nothing but turds exist – and down here, they all float.
Look, there are some positives. With improved computer generated graphics the battles seem less like computer game cut scenes and more like what we’ve come to expect in modern cinema. Also, just like Episode I and II, Lucas’ narrative writing hits the nail on the head as he’s able to lead us expertly from one story element to the next. The interconnectivity between Anakin’s premonitions and his desire to turn the galaxy upside down to save his beloved Padme actually paints effective reasoning behind Anakin’s decision to turn to the Dark Side and become Lord Vader. All of this plays well with my previous assessment of the two prior movies, Episode I and Episode II.
But beyond that we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that a movie that was filmed hot on the heels of Episode II was, like a shot in the dark, hit on the head by the gods of quality and saw a dramatic spike in production value.
Episode III is still plagued with the same cringe-worthy dialogue that beset Attack of the Clones, the same bizarre universe gear changes that smeared themselves over Episode I and the very same pointless exposition that ruined any Star Wars movie that came before.
To be honest it feels as if Lucas doesn’t really know his audience. More to the point, it feels as though he’s never really quite grasped how the overly critical Star Wars fandom has actually consumed his movies over the past four decades. You see, with Episode III Lucas got the tone all wrong.
Let’s think for a second how we all approach the Star Wars prequels, or just the Star Wars saga in general. There is scant one of us that considers these movies a straight collection of 6 (now 7) consecutive films. Star Wars is not an array of episodes that are meant to be viewed from Episode I to VI, they are in fact two separate trilogies of movies that are set in the same universe. George Lucas’ inability to recognize this has seriously affected the tone of the prequel trilogy and had a negative impact on how we view Episode III in particular.
You see, I genuinely believe that Lucas missed his shot at recreating the vibe of the original trilogy. Episode II, which potentially had all the hallmarks of being the prequel trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back, instead decides to end itself with a wedding. Happy days, I guess. Not only that, the beginning of the Clone War actually seemed quite positive for the Republic; they now had the army they needed to fight the CIS separatist movement, they were strengthening their position within the galactic senate and Anakin had proven his effectiveness as a competent Jedi operative in the field.
Instead, it fell on the shoulders of Episode III to be Empire Strikes Back – the Senate was enslaved by Palpatine, the Jedi order lay smashed into pieces, Anakin had turned to the Dark Side, and Padme was dead (I’ll get to that later on. This moment provided the most infuriating Star Wars dialogue of all). It’s not exactly cause for dancing Ewoks or opportunities to avoid giving Chewbacca a medal.
Lucas probably believed that, being a series of 6 films, ending Revenge of the Sith on a downer was the right course of action. As far as the saga was concerned, Episode III was the middle of his six movies and the turning point that created the Galactic Empire and saw the creation of the Death Star.
Moving from Episode VI to VII and now from VII to VIII, this idea that Star Wars is actually a series of trilogies is more overt than ever. VII, VIII and IX represent dramatic gear changes from the series’ that preceded them; we’re introduced to new characters, a whole new protagonist and new directors and writers are giving us a completely different set of visuals that regular Star Wars audiences possibly haven’t acclimatized to yet.
Star Wars IS and always WILL BE consecutive sets of trilogies.
That is why Episode III was so out of place. It was meant to provide a bookend but instead it was like a calculation to find the value of Pi – open ended, unsatisfying and without boundaries.
George, we don’t watch the movies in a row. We watch them in the order they were released.
Here’s a more accurate breakdown of some of the elements of Episode III:
The shifting morality of the Jedi Council
Episode III saw a dramatic shift on how the audience views the Jedi, but even more so a shift on how we view the strange flip flopping morals of the ‘Light’ side of the force in general. There are a few moments that bring this to light, however none is more revealing than Anakin’s meeting with Yoda. Dialogue from the movie:
Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you that transform into the force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.
Holy shit, that’s dark dude. This isn’t a direct opposite to the Dark Side, in fact, this philosophy sounds more conducive to the Dark Side of the force than what we’d gleaned about the Jedi previously. What Yoda is actually espousing here is Chaos. It seems to tell us that consequence means nothing when it comes to the Light Side of the force and protecting innocent people from death is pointless. I mean, why do the Jedi bother to do anything? What’s the point of maintaining balance when it seems that Sith going around killing people isn’t a problem. Aren’t they just transforming people into the force?
The direction of the Jedi’s moral compass in episodes IV, V and VI was clear – they are the protectors of peace in the galaxy and exist to stop the inequality that is being forced on every sentient being by the evil emperor and his henchman Darth Vader. What the prequels give us is something that’s more akin to a frustrated Baptist shrugging their shoulders and smugly exclaiming, “Meh, it’s God’s will”.
My theory is that Lucas was trying to give Anakin pause when examining the Jedi’s teaching. He couldn’t just un-attach himself from the death of Padme, because he loved her dearly. It’s probably why Anakin sat with resting bitch face while listening to Yoda go off on his hippie rant. Either that or that is Christensen’s normal face. In this moment Anakin looks like the guy in a sci-fi movie that gets infected with the deadly alien virus but doesn’t tell anyone. He looks like he’s just chonked about 20 cones.
The Jedi Council and Anakin are so stupid
I don’t want to point fingers, but at this point it’s worthwhile to note that the fall of the Jedi temple (and the galaxy as a whole, really) rests solely on the shoulders of the Jedi Council. Oh man are they dummies. Big time. Frustratingly so.
At one point Samuel L Jackson pricks up his ears, stops and exclaims “I sense a plot to destroy the Jedi”.
Sorry, what? You sense that? Soooooo, what are you going to do about it?
Oh, nothing? Ok. Sure. That sounds like it’ll work out.
GO FUCK YOURSELF GEORGE LUCAS. This comment came hot on the heels of Anakin being summoned to see Chancellor Palpatine, someone that the Jedi have long suspected of having ulterior motives. So what’s their response? Let’s send the kid that we think is possibly open to influence into a meeting with a guy that we think is possibly trying to destroy the Jedi. This is the equivalent of WWII British High Command exclaiming, “We need someone to infiltrate the German Chancellery. It’s highly dangerous, we need to send our most incorruptible man. Fritz? Are you up for it?”
“Ja. I vill accomplish zis mission mein Fuhrer”.
At the very least send someone else to spy on Anakin. You have an entire temple of Jedi at your disposal eagerly waiting on your orders. The Jedi are incredibly frustrating in this movie, they’ve sensed ‘something’ as far back as Episode II and have seemingly been 10 steps ahead of knowing what’s coming around the corner. However they did absolutely nothing about it and marched themselves willingly into the jaws of death, even when something as clear as a “plot to destroy the Jedi” presented itself in front of them.
The parade of astonishing gormlessness continues when Anakin, upon Palpatine revealing himself to be a Sith, is still torn about the true intentions of the Jedi Council. Well Anakin, surely you just discovered their true intentions. They think Palpatine is up to no good and you just proved it yourself with a firsthand confession straight from the Chancellor’s mouth. Surely all this does is vindicate the Jedi and make all of their cautiousness valid, right? However Anakin still has doubts. HE JUST FUCKING CONFESSED BRO. GO FUCK YOURSELF ANAKIN. THIS IS ANOTHER REASON WHY NOBODY LIKES YOU AND WHY EVERYONE THINKS YOU CAN’T BE TRUSTED. Geezus you are so fucking stupid brah. You deserve to lose your legs.
There’s no real antagonist or urgency
Being a prequel, Episode III and even episodes I and II were always going to be an uphill battle when it came to surprising audiences with fresh spins on the prequel timeline. I think The Phantom Menace did a pretty good job in giving us an interesting antagonist; for the first time we saw that there were other Sith operatives out there in the galaxy beyond just Darth Vader. Darth Maul’s brief stint as Sith apprentice painted a picture of potential volume - we now understood that there was more of them, they had numbers and that the Sith were more like an underground army than a universal rarity.
Revenge of the Sith was surprisingly light on ‘Sith’. The revenge seemed to come in the form of their re-emergence as a dominant power in the galaxy and as such it was Palpatine that played the role of auspicious antagonist. I guess the negative in going down that path is that while Palpatine was the master of puppets pulling the Galactic Senate’s strings, we already knew that was the case. There was no major ‘reveal’, no “I am your father” moment that really gave us any surprises. One could argue that Return of the Jedi was constructed in a similar way, but ROTJ culminated in Darth Vader’s redemption with him toppling the Galactic Empire when finally coming to grips with his own humanity. In being forced by his master to battle to the death with his own son, Vader realized the true intention of the Emperor was both to replace him and to usurp Luke, whom he had spent the last two movies trying to spare by having him join the Dark Side.
Episode VI’s ‘reveal’ was that Vader had finally rejected the Dark Side.
For this reason Episode III felt like a movie that we’d already seen before, even on our first viewing.
R2D2 is a sadist
I don’t know how else to describe this character. Only C-3PO had his mind wiped, which makes R2 the gatekeeper of the entire Star Wars universe, plus he’s the only regular character beyond Obi-Wan, Anakin and the Emperor that takes with them the knowledge of the Star Wars prequels into the original trilogy.
R2 knew that Luke and Leia were related and probably could have stepped in at any time to be like, “Hey, Luke, you know that bird you just frenched in front of everyone? That was your sister bro”.
My feeling is that by having C-3PO’s mind wiped and not R2’s, Lucas could adequately explain why R2 knew where to find Obi-Wan on Tatooine. It also explained 3PO’s ignorance of the entire situation and gave him more precedent to wander around and exclaim “Oh dear” for hours on end. Seriously, 90% of 3PO’s dialogue is “Oh dear”.
Of course while Lucas was able to explain that little anomaly away, it opens the door for even more questions surrounding why R2 didn’t step in numerous times and drop his knowledge on everyone.
He’s a sadist. That’s why. He loved seeing people squirm.
- With that hair, Anakin looks like he’s about to drop a hot rap verse about his college fraternity.
- Palpatine has a pretty great apprentice already, so why does he have such a hard on for Anakin? Also, Dooku knows how the Sith operate, why was he on board with capturing his own master and luring Anakin aboard? He knew how it would go down.
- Only TWO Jedi are going to infiltrate Grievous’ ship? Not much of a plan is it. You’ve got a whole god damned temple full of them on the planet below, but you send TWO to re-capture the most important man in the entire Galactic Republic?
- Grievous’ ship is “Dead ahead” and we can even see it, however it takes another 10 minutes of flying to get there. I could have run there faster. Also, if your ship is crawling with Buzzdroids, use your force powers to fling them off. You’re a fucking Jedi. What’s with the laser shit?
- R2 is a droid. Yet he carries around a “communicator” like a cell phone. Just strap it to his face.
- Why do the enemy battle droids keep asking for their enemies to “Put their hands up”? You’re at war. They could have killed Obi-Wan and Anakin 100 times over.
- When Anakin executes Dooku he instantly has remorse. “He was an unarmed prisoner”. I’LL SAY!
Cough. He cut his arms off.
- In the previous movie Yoda could feel Anakin’s feelings from afar and knew he “was in pain”, yet in this movie he seems to have no idea that Anakin and Padme have been boning for the last 3 years. While on this subject, it becomes clear that Anakin lives in Padme’s apartment. Doesn’t he have a dorm or something? Surely no one knows he’s there, right? I mean, they married in secret. Why is no one suspicious of them?
- “No, it’s because I’m so in love with YOU”. Ugh. Did Lucas think he was writing Shakespeare or something? This is not something worthy of the bard.
- Anakin goes to meet Chancellor Palpatine. We’re brought into the scene presumably after they’ve already greeted each other and made their pleasantries. However when we join them they’re wandering aimlessly around the room in silence, with Anakin looking around awkwardly not knowing what to say. At what part of the conversation was this? Just show us the meeting from the start, this just seems unnecessarily awkward. The first words out of Palpatine’s mouth are, “I hope you trust me, Anakin”. What’s not to trust with an old man that constantly requests the presence of a teenage boy?
- As Mace Windu looms over Palpatine in his office, Anakin cries out, “It’s not the Jedi way. He must live!” That’s not what you thought when you cut Dooku’s head off bro.
- After forcing Windu out of the window, Anakin immediately expresses deep remorse and drops to his knees screaming, “What have I done??”
5 seconds later he pledges his allegiance to the Sith.
“I pledge myself to your teachings”. Shit, this was quick dude. That’s not so much a directional change in your moral compass as it is a fish haphazardly flapping around on a shoreline suffocating to death.
- Who is Order 66 being sent to? Commanders or grunts? At one point we see the Emperor addressing what appears to be a random fighter pilot. Was it the same message being broadcast at once, or was Palpatine messaging everyone individually? This bothered me for some reason.
- While Padme is giving birth, the medical droid says to Obi-Wan, “She has lost the will to live”. Oh fuck off. HOW ABOUT THE BABIES PADME? IS THAT ENOUGH REASON? You know, those two humans you’re currently pushing out of your uterus. Is “Losing the will to live” official medical terminology? Diagnose something dummy. If a coroner diagnosed someone’s cause of death as “Lost the will to live” they’d be struck off and would never work in this town again. This is probably the worst piece of dialogue in the entire Star Wars universe.
So what’s the verdict? Is Episode III really as bad as people remember? Well in this case I have to pose a different question: Is it really as good as people claim it to be?
No. Absolutely not. Is it as bad as people remember? I’d have to say no to that question too. It sits in the middle of a unique Venn diagram between ‘Palatable’ and ‘Somewhat interesting’.
Running close to 3 hours long it’s also a pretty difficult watch – what started out as a keen desire to sit and patiently make notes quickly deteriorated into a tortuous death spiral that kept me staring at the clock constantly.
Coming into my review I’d always remembered this being the strongest of the three prequel movies; however after critically breaking down all three films I no longer believe this to be the case. This will probably instigate a lot of head scratching and lead to claims that I’m purposefully trying to be a troll, but I genuinely 100% believe that The Phantom Menace is the strongest of the prequel movies.
Episode III was a foregone conclusion. Revenge of the Sith was nothing more than watching the last few Domino tiles fall effortlessly into place after you’ve observed them click around a huge circular path for minutes on end. The Phantom Menace however genuinely felt new. It was the most ‘Star Warsey’ of the Star Wars prequels and was more conducive to the nature of adventure and fun that Episode IV has become known for. It was the closest thing we had to a genuine Star Wars movie experience outside of the original trilogy. Yes, even with Jar Jar in it.
ROTS is miles ahead of Episode II in terms of quality and it gives us the best action sequences of all of the prequel movies, but Lucas’ attempt to lower the tone and the frustratingly annoying lack of good antagonists or any sense of adventure doesn’t make it a memorable viewing experience. At the end of the movie I wanted to slit my wrist with a blunt spoon.
I implore people to go back and re-watch it, especially if you haven’t seen it in a long time. I feel that there’s something genuinely blocking our ability to spot its flaws, some sort of ‘reverse George Lucas syndrome’ (see my breakdown on Episode II).
However if you do make sure you pack a picnic lunch, because you’re in for the long haul on this movie. Trust me.
- Andrew Archer