Out of excitement over the release of Rogue One, Travail Journal is doing a breakdown of every Star Wars film in chronological order.
Watching Episode III: Revenge of the Sith must be what it’s like for a cat in a bathtub. One has some vague awareness that a small benefit might be derived from the act, but one really needs a forceful coercion to go against powerful instincts that scream get out, get out, you will hate it, and it will be cold and painful for hours upon hours that will feel like years upon years. The task of repairing the damage done by Episode II requires nothing short of once in a lifetime inspiration. The kind of inspiration most fans were certain Lucas exhausted making the original Star Wars trilogy. Those fans were right.
The mistakes begin with the very first word in the opening title crawl: “War!” It’s a Saturday morning cartoon. The crawl should have followed up with a parenthetical (Yes, you’re at the right theater screen. This is Star Wars, not the live action G.I. Joe.).
The visual spectacle of the opening space battle is admittedly something to behold and it’s nice to see the fighters looking like precursors to X-Wings and Tie-Fighters. It’s also nice to see R2-D2 get a duel of sorts with mini-droids attempting to eat holes through Anakin’s fighter. However, the pure CG shots, the colors of the ship thrusters and lasers are so bright and random, the scene looks more like something out of Halo than Star Wars.
A large opening portion of the film is dedicated to Obi-Wan and Anakin making their way through a battle ship called the Invisible Hand, to save the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine. Along the way they do the usual Jedi thing, slicing through useless battle droids like butter. As if said droids weren’t pathetic enough, this film completely utilizes them as comic relief. They bumble around delivering stupid lines in a series of mini Three Stooges style skits. When the Jedi reach their destination, they encounter Count Dooku and essentially finish the duel that started at the end of Episode II. It’s unclear why this could not have been wrapped up the first time around. At least the film is still doing good work from a soundtrack standpoint. The entire scene is shot free of music, giving the duel a respectably empty and eerie feeling.
After an epic crash landing, the Jedi make their way to the Jedi temple. When they arrive, the iconic Millennium Falcon can be seen in the background of the landing shot, a cool nod to the original trilogy.
Padme Amidala’s character is completely ruined in this film. She has been changed from an integral, active, lead woman role, to the cliché romantic interest waiting helplessly at home as the men sort out the future of the galaxy. She is no longer assertive in her idealistic, quick decision making. Instead she regularly turns to Anakin for advice in fearful tears. The dialogue between the lovers has no chemistry or originality. Nothing unique distinguishes it. They are teenagers arguing over who loves who more:
Anakin (expressionless): You’re so beautiful.
Padme (smiling wistfully): It’s only because I’m so in love.
Anakin (Laughing. Because he can’t help it?): No. No it’s because I’m so in love with you.
At least the film still has Yoda, who, despite all the destructive force the prequel trilogy has on Star Wars characters, manages to find a few shining moments. He continues to deliver the occasional great line filled with wisdom derived from real world presence and meditation based spirituality: “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
The Boga that Obi Wan rides on the planet Utapau is something I would describe as a giant peacock lizard. It’s cool. What’s not cool is when Obi Wan intentionally leaps into the middle of a bunch of hostile battle droids, and instead of shooting him they all take a page out of the James Bond Villain Handbook and stand by to watch him lightsaber duel General Grievous. How did Obi Wan know they would be so kind? Or so stupid? The duel itself is great, with grievous wielding a ton of lightsabers at the same time.
On the dark side of the things, Episode III has one or two flashes of something Star Wars fans might have hoped for when the prequel trilogy was announced. Anakin joins Chancellor Palpatine to watch some strange live performance, which is never shown on screen in a way that fully explains what the spectacle is about. It looks like a space version of Cirque du Soleil, except the performers are seemingly swimming (In a bubble?). Palpatine anticipates that the Jedi have asked Anakin to spy on him, then proceeds to tell Anakin the eerie tragedy of Darth Plagueis. All the while a deep droning chant rolls through the score without pause. Another good dark side scene is Anakin meditating on whether or not to betray the Jedi as Padme can sense this from a distance. There is a long silence and silent tears from both parties. Additionally, the very first Darth Vader breath when Anakin is masked is spot on. These scenes feel like something appropriate to the development of Darth Vader, but they are buried in a mountain of laughable and awkward Anakin scenes.
Nothing of much note happens outside the aforementioned scenes as the film disintegrates. When the obligatory space battles rev up, one of them features the Wookie army. This is something Lucas had been interested in doing since the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy, as the Ewoks were originally intended to be Wookies. Here is a good continuity question: Why in Episode IV does Chewie not recognize Obi Wan? In Episode III, Chewie is good friends with Yoda and watches many of Yoda’s conversations with the Jedi council, which include Obi Wan.
Anakin does things in complete contradiction to his motivations, suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere. He pledges loyalty to his new master, Palpatine with ease. The whole allure of the dark side is that it might give him the power to save Padme from his visions, yet he’s willing to kill a bunch of youngling Jedi to obtain that power. He has to know how Padme would feel about that. Then, after all the ado about saving her, he essentially force chokes her to death. I’m not saying the once good can’t tragically fall. That is indeed what this trilogy is supposed to be about. The problem is the makers had three films to develop this fall, step by believable step, but they smash the whole journey from light side to dark into the final minutes of the last film. Even the symbolism is clunky and heavy handed. The order to kill the Jedi is “order 66.” A cliché symbol for evil, but satanic evil, as in the number of the beast. Where’s Iron Maiden in the soundtrack?
At least the final duel is visually epic and entertaining. Obi Wan and Anakin balance precariously on debris floating through a lava flow as the cross sabers. However, it’s not very Jedi of Obi-Wan to leave his long time padawan, who is essentially his responsibility, to burn on the edge of the flow.
Vader’s final word in the trilogy do an excellent job of summarizing what the audience likely feels about the entire affair. It’s a long giant cheesy cliché “Nooooooooooooooooooo!”