Comics Ate My Brain

May 22, 2007

Scenes from the Nativity: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 2:20 am
The first 23 minutes of Revenge of the Sith are made up of very-well-managed action sequences which flow naturally into each other, leading the viewer from the great orbital Battle of Coruscant into the rescue of Palpatine and the crash of Grievous’ battleship. Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship is portrayed much more effectively here than in Attack of the Clones, mainly because they have moved past being master and student. They are more appealing as equals and colleagues, which of course makes the rupture of their relationship more painful.

ROTS follows its bravura opening with an unfortunate scene on Padme’s balcony which appears to confirm that bad romantic dialogue isn’t Anakin’s exclusive province. The movie slows down for several minutes of exposition after that, and the tension between Anakin and Obi-Wan rolls them back to AOTC mode.

Before going too further, I have to make up for the deficiencies in my coverage of Ewan McGregor. He’s a constant highlight of both this movie and AOTC, having taken over the viewer-guide role from Qui-Gon. The other actors all appear to have at least brief moments of fun with their roles, but McGregor seems to be the most consistently playful. Sir Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan did so much heavy lifting, especially in the original Star Wars, that it’s easy to forget the twinkle in his eye — again, especially in the original.

Even throughout the exposition, Revenge of the Sith never exactly explains its title. Obviously it’s a reference to Darth Maul’s line from Phantom Menace, and dialogue from that movie and AOTC indicates that the Republic’s formation is tied to the Jedi’s obliteration of the Sith, but piecing that together requires some attention. Palpatine’s opera-night speech to Anakin also suggests that he killed his Sith master Darth Plagueis. I take this to mean that the Sith never truly went away, just underground for a thousand years’ worth of masters and apprentii.

Speaking of which, Anakin’s eventual descent into darkness is a pretty chilling scene that presents no easy answers. Indeed, Anakin’s intervention in the Mace Windu-Palpatine battle is perfectly in keeping with his reluctance to kill Dooku at the beginning of the movie. In fact, Mace may have been close enough to his own dark-side triggers that one way or another, a Sith would have ended up ruling the Republic. That gives the scene an extra oomph which makes the movie’s apocalyptic last hour virtually inevitable.

Up to that point the movie has been a sprawling action-adventure with maybe a hint of doom, but then it takes that last turn into tragedy. The purge montage is heartbreaking, because whatever one’s feelings about the prequels as movies, the Jedi are still the good guys, and it hurts to see them cut down mercilessly. I said earlier that neither trilogy does a whole lot to convince us of the Empire’s evil, but I stand somewhat corrected: the purge, including Anakin’s butchery of the younglings, goes a long way towards fulfilling that requirement. Sith reverses Clones‘ wonderful/terrible juxtapositions very effectively.

I went into this movie thinking that it functioned better as the last movie in the series, not the end of the first half, but I think a lot of that is based on ROTS‘s final Tatooine-sunset scene. Viewing the scene in context, I think it works fairly well as the lead-in to intermission. It’s an homage, sure, but it also indicates a glimmer of hope, and that’s the point, isn’t it?

The question then becomes whether Revenge of the Sith works as well if you don’t know there will be an Episode IV. It clearly indicates a sequel’s basic outlines, with Anakin’s twins poised to fight him and Padme’s dying words that there is still good in him. Sith‘s heroes aren’t complete failures, either: by crippling Anakin, they reduced Vader’s potential power level.

A couple of final notes: Anakin turns to the Dark Side to learn powers ostensibly exclusive to it, but the end of the movie reveals that Qui-Gon has learned a similar power. This might just be covering a nitpick from Phantom Menace, but it provides a neat counterpoint. Also, I have to note that the end of the “Frankenstein’s Lab” scene is truly a moment of melodrama worthy of the great Calculon himself.

Revenge of the Sith is clearly the best of the prequels, and not just because it comes closest in spirit to the best of the originals. It builds on its predecessors, introduces the requisite number of new characters and gewgaws, and keeps everything moving. Lucas is more active with the camera than in any of the films he directed — at least, I noticed the camerawork more — but unlike, say, Attack of the Clones or even A New Hope, the camera moves actually do their job, enhancing the viewer’s involvement in the scene. This is the one prequel that tells me George Lucas actually learned something in the twenty-eight years since he directed the original Star Wars, so it’s a peculiar notion that the next movie will be the one that made it all possible.

Next: A long time ago…

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