Of all the six Star Wars movies, the one that I find myself watching over and over again is Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. As far as multi-million dollar blockbusters go, it’s a relatively unassuming film, both a link and a post script to the over-hyped Episodes I and II and the almost sacred original movies. So why then is it the episode that I keep returning to?
One reason may be that it is the most visually accomplished of the Star Wars movies. The war scenes are spectacularly dense, from the layers of battleships in the chaotic opening scenes, to the montage of world-wide conflicts in which the various Jedi meet their ends. Elsewhere, we have snapshots of a grand and beautiful, but ultimately sterile, civilization in the last throes of its ascendancy, such as the expanse of buildings beyond the Skywalkers’ balcony and the chilling, darkened theatre in which Palpatine tries to seduce Anakin to the Dark Side of the Force. And of course there is the raging, fiery landscape of the lava planet Mustafar, in which Obi-Wan and Anakin carry out their emotion-charged battle.
Second, there is the story, which is a complete reversal of all of the other movies in the series (The Empire Strikes Back being the exception). In Episode IV the Empire was in total control, and we were given flickers of hope until victory arrived in the form of the exploding Death Star. In Episode III, it is the flames of menace that are flickering, and it is a shock to see things suddenly go off the rails and our heroes end the day in abject defeat. Yet because we already know before the movie starts that the Dark Side will take control, there is a similar sense of inevitability about the Jedi’s fall as there usually is in their triumph. And defeat, like victory, hangs on a single action; in this case, whether Anakin chooses to let Mace Windu kill Palpatine or save the Chancellor, thereby letting his schemes come to fruition. From there Anakin grows into the role of villainous Sith Lord as his son Luke will one day gradually become a selfless Jedi. The story is essentially a tragedy, with Anakin’s human frailties irrevocably leading to disaster for all that he cares for. But tragedies are not common in the realm of the popcorn-guzzling blockbuster.
Finally, while Anakin is the protagonist of the piece, there are two characters that are more compelling in their reactions to the turn of events. Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidius) is unseemly but reserved throughout the first third of the film, but reveals himself in a shattering burst of power when we get to the movie’s centre. (‘Un-liiimited POWER!’ he bellows madly as he dispatches Windu.) He becomes then the embodiment of hate, with the pretense of compassion no longer required. On the flipside, we have Obi-Wan Kenobi who, despite his occasional cynical quips, remains accepting of all things, retaining his faith and fondness in Anakin even to the end. Obi-Wan hopes for the best, but he is always prepared for the worst. His response to the rise of the Dark Side is one of disappointment and sadness, but never one of fear; he will deal with whatever the universe throws at him. Obi-Wan shows that a hero is not defined by victory of defeat, which is a point that his protégé is unwilling to accept.
Not everything proceeds smoothly in Revenge of the Sith – the love scenes still make one long for the whirr of a Tie Fighter and the transformation of the boyish Anakin into the dark-suited, deep-throated Darth Vader is a bit jarring. However, it is, I think, the most atmospheric of all the Star Wars movies, and the one in which the scenes, the backdrops and the characters are the most directed towards a particular end. Does it outdo then the swagger and banter of Luke, Han, Leia and company? Maybe, maybe not, but it is the chapter that most invites contemplation about the nature of good and evil, life and death, the light and the dark.
For a review of Revenge of the Sith that I don't agree with, but is still kind of amusing to read (especially for you Jedi haters), check out this link.