The Citizen Kane of Awful: Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith

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It’s the one you’ve all been waiting for… Anakin turns to the dark side. But what prompts his change of heart? Hormones? Midichlorians? The god-awful dialogue he has to read?

After three years of fighting in the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker falls prey to Darth Sidious’s lies, turning against those he loves and concluding his journey to the Dark Side. There’s huge promise in the premise, but does Revenge of the Sith deliver the goods?

The Good

The opening shot

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Hats off to George Lucas, this film starts with style. Two nondescript space-pods drift over a huge cruiser before diving over the edge to reveal a vast panorama of aerial warfare. The volcanic red sky above Coruscant is full of exploding ships and zipping laser fire and we zoom through this chaos before settling on that one character we can always rely on, no matter how grim things get in the prequels: R2-D2. It’s a beautiful beginning and an instant upping of the stakes from pretty much anything we saw in Episodes I and II.

Count Dooku’s execution

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Probably the best thing Anakin does in the entire prequel trilogy. Following a gripping battle, Anakin disarms Dooku – in both senses of the word – and holds the two lightsabers to his throat. The visual metaphor is perfect: a red and blue lightsaber mark the crossroads in Anakin’s path, representing the light and dark sides of the force. Ian McDiarmid reveals Palpatine’s true nature with a hissed instruction of: “Do it!” And off with his head.

John Williams’s score

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Where would Star Wars be without John Williams? So much of the films’ legend is established with his unmistakable music and in Revenge of the Sith his work is less well-known but no less effective. His biggest contribution is in doing a lot of the emotional heavy lifting for the dreary Hayden Christensen without ever becoming unsubtle. Elsewhere he’s clearly having a ball with General Grievous’s OTT, theatrical themes. Things are never dull when John Williams is your composer.

Darth Sidious revealed

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Hot damn, Ian McDiarmid is stunning in Revenge of the Sith. Mace Windu arrives with three other Jedi to arrest Palpatine and with a screeching reptilian battle cry, the Sith Lord launches into battle and coolly dispatches Windu’s three colleagues in a matter of seconds. We’re immediately left under no illusions – Darth Sidious is not to be fucked with.

Windu has him on the verge of surrender, telling a defenceless Palpatine that he has lost. The reply is heart-stopping. Palpatine’s rasping, hellish voice strangles his words: “No. NO! You have lost”. He blasts Windu with Force lightning, draining his own energy and wrinkling his face to the sorry state we see in the original trilogy. Then just as Windu is about to execute Sidious, Anakin steps in and slices off Windu’s arm, demanding justice and driven by Sidious’s promise of saving Padmé’s life. Game over. Palpatine blasts Windu to an electrifying plummet out of the window. “What have I done?” indeed, Anakin. Or should I say Darth Vader.

Darth Vader

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Anakin lies on an operating table, smouldering from his wounds, as a team of medical droids replace his severed limbs with robotic parts. His body is restored as a black helmet is lowered over his face. That black helmet of a thousand childhood nightmares. It fastens into place. Silence. Breathe in. Breathe out. A legend is born.

Order 66

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Two mediocre films lead up to this moment – the execution of Sidious’s final plan. With one simple command, the entire Republic army turns on the Jedi, fighting so nobly across the galaxy. One by one they are betrayed and slaughtered in a powerful montage, with only Yoda and Obi-Wan wily enough to survive. It’s a heartbreaking moment, but does it justify two films’ worth of boring build-up? I’ll let you decide that.

The final battle

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One word: epic. Anakin’s showdown with his master Obi-Wan lasts for about twenty minutes and is paced brilliantly, each clash complementing the battle of wills as Obi-Wan makes a last ditch effort to stop his apprentice’s descent into the Dark Side. The volcanic backdrop is spectacular and adds a dangerous element to the battle in its own right. Things fall apart with Obi-Wan’s slightly pathetic gambit of ‘having the high ground’, but as Anakin lays legless and on fire you can’t help but feel for both characters. Anakin seems on the verge of meeting a fiery end, seduced by Darth Sidious and defeated by his master, while Obi-Wan has no choice but to abandon the apprentice he loved like a brother. A fitting end to the prequels that leads in perfectly to the original trilogy.

The Bad

Obi-Wan

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Obi-Wan Kenobi, the hippy James Bond. On one hand he’s got the cool, acrobatic fighting skills and a lightsaber; on the other hand, he’s condescending to Anakin and goes around desperately quipping after he kills people. It’s a strange one because he’s probably the most developed and human Jedi on display in the prequels, but he’s also so straight-laced and archaic it all becomes a little suffocating. Everything about Obi-Wan is pretty much summed up after he triumphs over the formidable General Grievous then quips: “So uncivilised”.

The Awful

Anakin and Padmé

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It’s the most unconvincing romance I’ve ever seen on screen. Half Hayden Christensen’s delivery; half terrible writing; all cringeworthy. I’m just going to quote this section and retreat honourably:

Anakin: “You’re so…beautiful.”

Padmé: “It’s only because I’m so in love.”

Anakin: “No. [Laughs] It’s only because I’m so in love with you.”

Padmé: “So love has blinded you?”

Anakin: “[Laughs] That’s not exactly what I meant.”

Padmé: “But it’s probably true.”

END SCENE. KILL ME.

The biggest plothole in the history of plotholes

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Padmé has given birth to a boy and a girl – Luke and Leia – but dies in childbirth. Obi-Wan, Yoda and Bail Organa are left to decide their fate. Organa is generous enough to offer to adopt Leia – he and his wife have always wanted to adopt a girl. What a nice guy! So you’ll obviously take Luke as well, right? Er, no. Don’t fancy it mate. Thanks for the offer though. So where will Obi-Wan and Yoda send Luke? Somewhere the Empire and Darth Vader will never think of looking for him? I know. How about Vader’s home planet? Yeah. I don’t see any flaws in that plan. None. At. All.

Conclusion

Star Rating: 5/5

Kane Rating: 1/5

Was it worth it? Was it heck. Revenge of the Sith reveals the real problems with the prequel trilogy: all the stuff people care about happens in this film. And I mean ALL the stuff. Palpatine becomes Sidious, Anakin becomes Vader, Padmé gives birth to Luke and Leia – everything leading up to it just feels like filler. You can’t have a trilogy without three films, more’s the pity.

Revenge of the Sith provides countless stunning battles and meaningful deaths that are paced beautifully into a truly great blockbuster. The deaths of Dooku, Windu, Grievous and basically every Jedi alive all add up to one of the greatest masterplans in the history of film. In the space of an hour’s screen time, Palpatine seizes control of the galaxy and defeats the entire Jedi order in a stunning performance from Ian McDiarmid. Evil’s never tasted so good.

There are flaws, sure: Hayden Christensen is still embarrassingly wooden and sulky, a mood that only feels appropriate in the final half an hour. Obi-Wan is weirdly formal and stilted in many ways and the central love story is largely unbelievable. But despite all that, Revenge of the Sith delivers bombastic plot twists and legendary moments from the word go. If this had been the only prequel film, then Star Wars would have a nearly untouchable legacy.

 

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