Eds note: There are two kinds of Star Wars fans in this world: The ones who appreciate the films for their campy action, swashbuckling adventures and well-worn characters; and the ones who deeply appreciate the epic, allegorical tale within the tale. While
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is a film to more than satisfy both sorts of fans, this review may be best suited for the latter, because the author is an admitted freak about these movies.
Say what you will about George Lucas. Go ahead and say Star Wars was just a kids’ story. Say he writes bad dialogue. Say that episodes I and II were no more than marketing ventures. Then go see Episode III. Only then does a filmgoer truly realize Lucas, over three decades and six films, has created a timeless epic. A story for the ages about the simplest themes of family, duty, religion, politics and above all, mortality. Revenge of the Sith
does so much more than simply tie the two trilogies together; it, in a sense, plays out the theme of the whole story in such a way that it irrevocably changes how one views the other five films. Suddenly, the little tidbits of information in those movies prove themselves to be brilliant foreshadowing, adding some subtle context.
The story picks up in the thick of the war between the Republic and the Separatists. In many ways similar to modern times (Lucas’ nod to the anti-war movement, perhaps), the Senate, in its fear of buckling in time of war, has given nearly absolute power to the duplicitous Chancellor Palpatine. Meanwhile, Anakin Skywalker, now the brightest and best of the Jedi, is struggling to serve both the Republic and his secret relationship with Padme Amidala.
In these twin paths, both the Republic and Anakin are doomed to fall. After all, how stable is a power, no matter how immeasurable, if it is poured into a cause solely out of a fear of loss?
All of the grumps of the first two movies are hardly seen, or at least not as noticeable, in this final chapter. The dialogue is much better, particularly any sentence uttered by Yoda or Palpatine. The acting too, especially on the part of Hayden Christensen (as Anakin), has improved to a point where one finds it difficult to root against anyone. And, of course, the special effects, from an opening space fight scene to the final battle in the volcano, are jaw dropping (admittedly, I’m still geeking out about most of it). The movie, taken by itself in the series, just might be the best (though darkest) of the lot.
But above the quality of the movie itself, the crowning achievement of this film lies in its completion of a story that is a perfect dichotomy to the original trilogy; a chillingly circular story of a father and a son choosing two divergent paths on the same road.
Throughout the original trilogy, Anakin Skywalker is a man who seems more like myth. It’s impossible to believe that a creature as seemingly purely evil as Darth Vader could ever have been good. Then, he proves us wrong. Similarly, in the prequel trilogy, we meet a young man whose heart is so big, his mind so powerful, his future so bright, that it seems impossible to believe that he would be capable of turning into such a monster. He too, proves us wrong… only this time it is heartbreaking as a fan to see how unexpectedly young Anakin was and how pure his intentions were when he met his doom.
In the first trilogy, Luke Skywalker learned through his Jedi learning that hate is a path to the Dark Side. But on the flip side, it seems…so is love, which makes Anakin’s fall so painful for the other characters and the viewer.
It hardly seems fair that Luke had to choose between justice and revenge, whereas his father, decades before, has to find himself choosing between love and duty. Anakin’s love for Padme is rooted deeply in his psyche, going far back into his childhood, so far that he chooses to love, and possibly to lose, than to live life without it as a Jedi. Hate didn’t twist him at all, as we’ve thought all these years…love did, or rather, the fear of losing that love. Note that even as he desired more power, Anakin (as Vader) above all did not want to rule alone. He asked both his wife and son to rule the galaxy with him, but when they both refused, Vader was left to rely on Palpatine to give him the love he desperately craved.
Anyone who has seen the other five movies can feel a sense of foreboding at knowing what is to become of all of the characters, but nothing can emotionally prepare a follower of this story for the death of the Jedi Order, the fall of the Republic and the cruel fate of young Skywalker.
Ironically, that sense of inevitability is the very lesson that holds the entire series together, and makes it such a tragedy to behold. Because as inevitable as all of events of the final three chapters seem, Anakin is the only one to realize, long after it is too late, that inevitability doesn’t exist. All of it: the rise of the Empire, the deaths of the Jedi and Padme, the future that we would all see play out, hinged on a choice. The wrong choice. His choice. And that realization is what completes his fall from grace, but what also harbors the last vestiges of his great humanity (which we see play out in Return of the Jedi
As Anakin assumes the role and the suit of Darth Vader, the epic comes full circle with an overpowering sense of comfort in knowing that The Boy Who Would Be King may fall…but he doesn’t die. It may take him twenty years, but the Chosen One fulfills his destiny and someday, somehow, atones by remembering the lesson learned here…and making the right choice.
So thank you, George Lucas, for showing us humanity in the most unexpected of places and for giving American pop culture your own vision of the universe as a better place.