Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith

3 stars

Theatrical release: 5/19/2005
PG-13; 140 minutes
Produced by Rick McCallum
Written and directed by George Lucas

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

January 19, 2016

How did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? What sent a promising young Jedi down the path of the Dark Side? That is the central question at the heart of the prequel trilogy. The question is answered fairly powerfully in Revenge of the Sith, which (like all the prequels) has its issues with some clunky execution but also has plenty of awesome stuff. At the end of the day it tells the story, completes the journey, and gets the job done, especially considering its need to engineer a predetermined outcome.

Anakin's tale is ultimately a tragedy, because he didn't intend to go to the Dark Side. He wasn't evil because he liked it or wanted power for its own sake, the way Darth Sidious clearly does. Anakin was manipulated into evil after a series of bad or blind choices and desperate moves. The battle between ostensible good and evil is grayer here than one might have expected. The opening crawl succinctly distills the complexity of the war itself: "There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere." Sith continues the idea from Clones that the war is a complicated political situation, where being on either side is not to be on the side of angels. Indeed, since both sides have been engineered by Palpatine, there are only losers, except for Palpatine, who won't get his comeuppance for decades.

What's interesting is how Anakin finds himself backed into a corner until his only way out is the Dark Side, which corrupts him with the evil that will become Darth Vader only after he's started down its path. Much like when he foresaw his mother's death, he now foresees the (recently pregnant) Padme's death in childbirth. Determined to stop it, and because Palpatine is such a master of manipulation, Anakin is receptive to ideas he might not be otherwise. The scene where Palpatine explains the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise — who could allegedly stop people from dying by using the Dark Side of the Force — is a haunting piece of storytelling that's a million miles from the terse exposition of The Phantom Menace. It might all be a lie (though it might not, given how Palpatine tells how it ended), but the point is it's exactly what Anakin needs to hear to be pointed in a direction that most benefits Palpatine's scheme to recruit his apprentice. This scene is what this movie is actually about, and what the entire trilogy has been building toward.

I still marvel at Palpatine's long game and how he's able to twist every development to his advantage. When the Jedi Council asks Anakin to spy on him, it's just the sort of thing Palpatine can sniff out and exploit, by raising questions in Anakin's mind about whose motives should be distrusted. It's a testament to Lucas' screenplay that it uses so many layers of motivation and pushes all the buttons in Anakin's character flaws — pride, impatience, fear, jealousy, misplaced loyalty — and then uses them to move Anakin along this path. Ultimately, once Anakin realizes Palpatine is the Sith Lord and turns him over to Mace Windu, Palpatine is still able to manipulate the situation until Anakin finds himself siding against Mace (who gets an adequately spectacular demise). Anakin's final turn to the Dark Side happens because he made the wrong choice and now thinks he has no other option but to commit.

The downside of all this is that it makes Anakin — and by extension Darth Vader — into a pawn whose identity was built on a series of personal failures and rapidly compounded bad decisions. And behind all that is Hayden Christiansen, whose performance isn't quite awful but also cannot be called good. The portrayal of Anakin is still too much of a young, whiny, jilted man who didn't get what he felt he deserved and was exploited as a result. Is that an interesting character arc? I would say so. Is it the one we wanted for Darth Vader? I'm not so sure.

That said, given the parameters I do think Christiansen could've been better than he was in this trilogy. He never owns the part — and merely seems to be playing it — and considering he's the central character, that's a major problem. His scenes with Padme, even here, don't work. Natalie Portman is a good actress, but you wouldn't know it from a lot of her work in this trilogy. This is a supposed to be a tragic love story we care about, but the performances never rise to the occasion to make it credible. I think this goes back to George Lucas and his apparent limitations as a director. He's a master visual storyteller but only mediocre when it comes to his actors.

And that's too bad, because Lucas has the material on his side this time. Alongside Anakin's fall, this is a dark and powerful story about the death of democracy, the rise of fascism, the pre-planned destruction of the Jedi with Order 66, and the triumph of evil. The moment when Palpatine dissolves the senate and forms the Empire (promising security) is met with applause, because people are so sick of the war. And later, when Yoda attempts to defeat the newly self-appointed Emperor, their fight appropriately takes place in the senate chamber, where they use the Force to hurl massive senate-seat pods at each other — literally destroying the instruments of the Republic's democracy. It makes for some truly epic, operatic drama.

As a sci-fi adventure, there's plenty here of course, including the showdown with the separatists and the droid army led by General Grievous, who is an intriguing creation blending creature with robot (I love the metallic cough) and at one point pulls out four lightsabers at once. The opening battle over Coruscant is massive in scale, and we later get to see Yoda overseeing the charge on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Of course, all of that pales in comparison to the final emotional showdown between Obi-Wan and Anakin amid the volcanoes of Mustafar. Again, epic and operatic. The whole trilogy has been leading up to this showdown, where Anakin's betrayal must be challenged in the most personal of confrontations. Setting this within a fiery hellscape is the only real choice. Ultimately, it's Anakin's overconfidence that ultimately leads him to lose. When we later see the horribly disfigured Anakin actually transformed into the Darth Vader of Episode IV, it's a potently horrifying picture. Even in this moment the Emperor twists the knife to seal Anakin's fate as Vader: When Vader asks about Padme, the Emperor lies and says Vader killed her. (Vader's "Nooooooo!" seems to be one of those things that divides fans and is often ridiculed, but for me it was an effectively operatic way of completing this story.)

The real reason for Padme's death is unfortunately quite inane. After she gives birth to Luke and Leia, she dies, not in childbirth or because of a medical reason, but because "she has lost the will to live." It's a real groaner of a moment — a lame excuse that betrays the script's gears turning to manufacture an outcome at all costs. I understand the reason why Padme had to die in service of Anakin's final arc, but couldn't Lucas have come up with a better way than this?

So it goes. Revenge of the Sith — the best of the prequels — falls short of greatness because of too many clunky moments like that. But this is a solid and satisfying conclusion to a flawed epic. My position (and it's just, like, my opinion, man) is that anyone who writes off the prequels as terrible isn't looking hard enough at what's there or is unwilling to balance the scales considering them as a whole. I've seen a lot of prequel derision in the weeks since the release of The Force Awakens, and to me it feels a bit like revisionist history. Greedo didn't actually shoot first.

Previous: Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones
Next: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens

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19 comments on this review

Del_Duio
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 9:54am (UTC -6)
The best prequel movie BY FAR, yet most of the first 2/3 of this are pretty boring.

By the time things start to look like they did in the original Star Wars towards the end it's become too late.

P.S: Way, way, way too much CGI!!! Nobody's going to buy fight scenes that are very obviously actors swinging sticks at thin air all the time. Boo!
Jason R.
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 12:11pm (UTC -6)
This is by far the best of the prequels and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine is the reason, end of story. He simply steals every scene he's in. While the original trilogy had Vader, this one had Sidius / Palpatine, and if I may make a confession - I kind of liked Palpatine more (ducks for cover). He really is such a superb villain, using subtle manipulation, deception and (when needed) force such as the infamous scene where he puts Yoda on his green butt with a bolt of lightning, or the Order 66 scene where he engineers the death of the Jedi order.

People obsess over Anakin's journey to the dark side and how he becomes Vader, but to me that really was the second string story in this film.
NCC-1701-Z
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 10:36pm (UTC -6)
I was hoping that sometime in this movie, Samuel L Jackson would go "Enough is ENOUGH! I have had it with these motherf***ing Sith Lords in this motherf***ing galaxy!" (Although in one Star Wars video game he did say "I have had it with these blaster firing droids on this droid making planet!)

That said, I agree with the consensus here; this is the best of the prequels. True, there is some cringeworthy dialogue ("From my point of view the Jedi are evil!" Ugh! *cringes*). But the visuals are spectacular (especially the opening tracking shot across the bow of the Republic cruiser, and of course, the final lightsaber duel). And the closing montage connecting everything to the orginal trilogy, as well as the depiction of Order 66, is very well done. It makes up for a lot of TPM's and AOTC's problems.
Paul M.
Wed, Jan 20, 2016, 4:01pm (UTC -6)
Yeah, I too think it's the best of the prequels, the only one actually I'd call a good movie. Three stars seems just about right.

A couple years before this movie came out, I played a very cool RTS game Warcraft 3. I remember noting how much Anakin's/proto-Vader's march up the steps of the Jedi temple looks like Arthas approaching the throne room to kill his father.
Latex Zebra
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 6:48am (UTC -6)
This is at least the equal of RoTJ.
Maybe even a touch better. Dark as you like though. Not sure how long I leave it before my 7 year old sees it... A couple more years at least.
Zoticus
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 10:42am (UTC -6)
If the real reason for Padme's death is quite inane, that's only part of a larger pattern wherein nearly everything that happens in the Star Wars universe is inane, implausible, annoyingly arbitrary or insultingly contrived. In essence, these movies are all written to appeal to 5th graders. They are as hollow as cheap chocolate Easter eggs.
Robert
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 11:38am (UTC -6)
The biggest issue with this movie is that with a few minor tweaks it could have been done so much better.

#1 - There was no need for Anakin to get THAT dark. Obviously I mean the younglings. There's a lot of years between 3 and 4 and he could have gotten most of the way there in this movie and that would have been fine.

#2 - He doesn't actually kill Mace, but he's the cause and that would have been a GREAT way to start off his descent. In an impulsive moment he makes a stupid decision he can't take back.

#3 - Skip the whole nonsense with the younglings and have Padme confront him about what happened with Mace. Jedi aren't supposed to take wives for a reason. They get into a screaming match (of course the actors would have needed to actually have chemistry to pull that off effectively) and in a BRIEF flash of anger Anakin loses control of his abilities and force slams her head into the wall, effectively killing her. Vegetables can still give birth after all.

#4 - After accidentally siding with the emperor (who ordered all the other Jedi's dead) against Mace and braining Padme, he's confronted by Obi-Wan. They fight, same as in the movie.

#5 - The emperor tells him that Padme is dead, he's confined to a life support suit and his kids died too when he wakes up.

Ok... so betraying the Jedi order, killing your wife/kids and being bi-sected by your best friend could probably break somebody. And then we don't have to see Anakin do anything horrible other than make 2 brief stupid emotional choices. That would have been quite enough descent into darkness for me and truthfully would have put him in a place where you could EASILY believe he spent the next 20 years becoming what you see in Episode 4. His instant conversion into a DEMON after accidentally causing Mace Windu's death was waaaaaay too much, and it wasn't necessary.

I don't care how emotional he was.... would you really kill an entire kindergarten class for a small chance to save your dying wife??!
Joseph B
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 1:36pm (UTC -6)
I see a lot of comments here regarding the "inane" death of Padme.

There is actually almost overwhelming evidence that Palpatine killed Padme.

Check out this YouTube video for the presentation of the evidence:
https://youtu.be/XiftMcW2rWM

Alternatively, there is also a theory that her death and funeral were faked, and that she actually lived long enough to help organize the Rebel Alliance. There are rumors that this latter theory could be cannon by, say, December 16th of 2016!

Andrew Taylor-Cairns
Tue, Jan 26, 2016, 10:50am (UTC -6)
I think 3 out of 4 is fair for this one. I'd actually rate it just above the also flawed, but also entertaining ROTJ.

The lack of chemistry between Anakin and Padme again hurts the film but there is so much other stuff happening that your attention is diverted. There was a general sense of everything going to hell in this film.

I think Palpatine/Sidious's rise to power was the one truly interesting theme that ran through the trilogy, and I feel that Ian McDiarmid steals the film.

Lucas's big problem with the prequels was that he only had enough of a story to make one good film. It would have been interesting to let other directors and writers in on the process like he did with the original trilogy.
Jack Bauer
Fri, Jan 29, 2016, 7:12pm (UTC -6)
To say this movie was the of the triology wouldnt be saying something untruthful, but that doesnt make it good. This movie was horrendous. A real piece of shit. For the prequels I would rate 1 star, 2 stars, 1.5 stars in order.

"Vader's "Nooooooo!" seems to be one of those things that divides fans and is often ridiculed, but for me it was an effectively operatic way of completing this story."

I disagree. I think the most effective way of completing that story would have Vader go on a kill crazy rampage when he hears the news of his wife's "death". Kill some attendants or whatnot. NOOOOOOOOO just doesnt cut it.

"I understand the reason why Padme had to die in service of Anakin's final arc, but couldn't Lucas have come up with a better way than this?"

Yeah, he could of, and its real real real real easy. Actually have Vader kill her. When she steps off the ship on Mustafar and he tosses her around because he feels she betrayed him, you could have Anikan snap her neck and then have some sort of thing where the kids were saved and she died due to her injuries. But no, they didnt do that, and what they did sucked.

"I think this goes back to George Lucas and his apparent limitations as a director."

No. Its his apparent limitations as a writer and frankly, as a human being. He wrote this pile of crap, and the dialogue he wrote makes you think the guy has never ever had sex with a girl in his entire life. It was awful.

"The downside of all this is that it makes Anakin — and by extension Darth Vader — into a pawn whose identity was built on a series of personal failures and rapidly compounded bad decisions"

This movie/trilogy did a horrible job of converting Anakin to Darth Vader. In the span of 20 mins he went from a petulant horny teenager Jedi to someone capable of slaughtering kids by the dozens. It didnt work. A lot of it was the acting, but a lot of it was the setup, and it didnt fit.

And of course we have the Jedi. This movie makes them out to be imbeciles. Like, complete idiots. Why would the Jedi sent Anakin to spy on Palpatine, if they think Anakin is being manipulated by Palaptine??!?!? The way the two Jedi paired with Mace Window meet their doom at the hands of Palpatine was laughable. And when the Emperor executes order 66, how these Jedi just crumble like cotton candy in water. These are the mighty Jedi? Yeah right.

R2D2 being able to fly? God help us.

The prequel movies had to take every cliche nad nuance that people liked about the original trilogy and amplify them by 10000x. Yoda's speech, Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3P0, CGI.

I did like how the Galatic Empire came to be. That was decent story telling albeit you didnt need three movies to tell the story.

"There is actually almost overwhelming evidence that Palpatine killed Padme."

The same "evidence" that Jar Jar Binks is actually Grand Master Snook? That would be giving the prequels too much credit. People come up with these theories because they want to believe the prequels were meant to be something greater than they actually are.
Caleb
Sat, Feb 6, 2016, 11:04am (UTC -6)
Anakin's actions are senselessly extreme and never supported by writing, acting, directing - anything!

This is not a 'good' film. Aside from the complete lack of plausible and well-presented character development (there is none), there is in general just a terrible lack of subtlety about everything here. Best of the three just makes it the least worst.
Other Chris
Sun, Feb 14, 2016, 5:45pm (UTC -6)
Great film. So very rewatchable.
John TY
Thu, Feb 18, 2016, 3:28am (UTC -6)
91 Reasons to Hate Episode III... This guys says it better than I can:

www.chefelf.com/starwars/ep3.php
Skywalker
Mon, May 9, 2016, 4:20pm (UTC -6)
Just because a movie is "darker" does not mean it is better. This is why Star Trek: First Contact (and also Nemesis!) is more of a flawed movie than it appears; there are significant problems with that story that make it harder to enjoy.

Blame for the flaws of these prequels is often laid at the feet of Hayden Christiansen, but that's just because he is (sort of) the main character and stands out. However, all of the characters are bad! because the writing is bad. Take Liam Neason, a superb actor in any other film, but unable to make Qui-Gon good because, again, the writing is just too poor.

And the story doesn't make any sense. All of this sound and fury was just to accomplish the masking of Darth Vader? And even that transition was awkward and not credible? The only interesting character is Palpatine, but not because he is such a master of deception, Jammer -- the notion that *everyone* is being deluded by the Dark Side means none of the characters have any control and therefore are just automatons. That's so boring! The reason that Palpatine is enjoyable is because he is just so freaking evil, and he loves it! This is the only redeeming aspect of the prequels. The visual effects, as I mentioned in the Clones review's comments, while dazzling, are not used to tell the story, and are actually a hindrance to the story because they detract from visceral story telling that we would otherwise care about.

Sith is *not* the best of the sequels. It's easily the worst. And so is Clones, and Phantom. All three are the worst! They form a continuum of nonsensicalness that bores and confuses and blinds with pretty lights. It is plain that these scripts were rushed and not thought out.

Anyone who wants to take a really close look at these films must watch the RedLetter Media reviews, which truly dissect the awfulness and let you really ponder how unavoidably dumb the writing is.

Zero stars for all three. I will raise it to maybe 1/2 star for the great John Williams scores and the colorful images.
Poindexter G
Sun, Jun 26, 2016, 1:15pm (UTC -6)
I think Vaders "Nooooooo!" moment suffers more from poor execution than from being a bad idea (I think that is true of the prequel trilogy as a whole). If you were to read that whole scene to me from the script, I'd probably love it. But something about how it was done on screen is... off. I'm not even sure what it is, it's nothing I can put my finger on. It just isn't quite right.
Ca$hback
Fri, Jul 1, 2016, 11:44pm (UTC -6)
This movie has many of the same things going for it that the other prequels had: Ewan McGreggor and Ian McDiarmid.
The prequels had me rooting for Sidous. His climb to power, the politics and the fumbling, complacent, cardboard jedi getting killed wholesale.
I thought the end fight had some good, to the point, action and lots of flashy "watch me spin my lightsaber behind my back" pointlessness. "Oh yeah? Watch me spin MY lightsaber behind my..." - *chop*.
And from my point of view the younglings are evil.
mark
Mon, Aug 8, 2016, 8:33pm (UTC -6)
Jammer, will you review "backstroke of the west" the chinese machine translation of the english dialogue, translated back to english again?
Goudneo
Fri, Feb 9, 2018, 5:56pm (UTC -6)
I think Anakin was responsible for Padme's death. He thought Obi-Wan turned her against him, so after been defeated by Obi-Wan he was in such an anger that he could have used the force (dark side of) to remotely harm Padme until her death. And Darth Sidious may have perceived this use of the force to say: "It seems in your anger, you killed her"
Peter G.
Fri, Feb 9, 2018, 9:57pm (UTC -6)
@ Goudneo,

I heard a fan theory the other day that Padme died because Sidious used Plagueis' dark knowledge to siphon Padme's life energy into Anakin to save him. They claim is that there's a sound effect during the scene with Vader on the table which is her being killed by Sidious. This would square with the fact that Sidious actually does know some of Plagueis' secrets but only some, and refuses to share them with Vader later.

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