Star Wars: 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: Attack of the Clones
Next: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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50 comments on this review

Del_Duio
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 9:54am (UTC -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
Great film. So very rewatchable.
John TY
Thu, Feb 18, 2016, 3:28am (UTC -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
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 -5)
@ 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.
SlackerInc
Sun, Mar 18, 2018, 5:42am (UTC -5)
For me, this is not only the only good movie of "the prequels" (although "Rogue One" is good too, but generally not what people mean when they say that), it's one of only four of the SW films I like at all (the remaining two being the first two films, released in 1977 and 1980).

But the "NOOOO!" is incredibly hokey. I can't believe Lucas didn't realize how cheesy that was.
NCC-1701-Z
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 9:16am (UTC -5)
I have to admit I'm more than a little surprised at how the prequels, bashed constantly since their release, have taken on a new life in the last few years. I think part of it is that the younger generation which grew up on the prequels is coming of age (much like how some Trek fans grew up on TOS vs TNG), and part of it (at least in recent years) is fueled by backlash against Last Jedi which in the eyes of some makes the prequels look better by comparison.

If you want to see evidence of the prequels experiencing a resurgence of popularity, look up "Prequel Memes" on Reddit...most are cheesy but some of them are quite hilarious. Laugh at them all you want but I think the memes are a major part of why the prequels are becoming more popular among young people, and why it's no longer an automatic badge of shame to say you're a prequels fan. (The Clone Wars TV series probably helped too)

Anyone else observe this? Is this strictly a generational thing? I mean I'm part of the generation that grew up on the prequels, but I watched the original trilogy first so that what I will always think of as "Star Wars" (although I have come to grudgingly respect the prequels overall). Similar to how when one mentions "Star Trek" some people instantly think TOS while others think TNG - just a reflection on how one got started on the train.
Jason R.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 9:37am (UTC -5)
NCC what I realize in retrospect about the prequels is that whatever their faults, they were world building stories that contributed to a larger Star Wars mythos. The Disney era movies, are not.

To be clear I am not even commenting on the quality of the storytelling or the acting, but rather on that quality which I think is the mortar that helps build franchises that churn out $2 billion dollar movies.

Interestingly, I caught an episode of the animated show Star Wars Rebels recently. Funny that this struck me as having that quality I mentioned, so Disney is clearly capable of producing such content. Also interesting though that the show takes place just before Episode IV and therefore has nothing to do with the new characters or the movies.

In many ways the Clone Wars TV show was a brilliant move for Lucasfilm, a franchise building property that probably played a significant role in paving the way for Episode VII's success. That property might be part of the reason some are looking to the prequels with renewed nostalgia.
Peter G.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 10:52am (UTC -5)
I've always thought the prequels were very good films, even if certain flaws (Jar-Jar, sand is coarse, I'm beautiful because I'm in love, etc) are obviously glaring. But there was so much in there besides you could hate 10 big things in one of them and still have another 20 that are good or great.

The current meming about the Darth Plagueis speech always has me laughing, but I think the resurgence of the prequels isn't just retro-nostalgia now that people are disappointed. Truthfully I think most people actually enjoyed the prequels when they came out, and only subsequently jumped on a hate bandwagon that cause people to claim they had always hated them. I think that general attitude was largely untrue, and now the sequels seem to be giving people license to drop the crap and admit the prequels were pretty good without backlash. It's all about expected peer opinions, like "What!? How could you say Episode 1 was good??" Most people aren't willing to stand by an opinion in the face of many people reacting like this. But now the act is maybe being dropped a bit and their real and original opinions of the films can be shared.

I remember when Episode 1 came out, and most people loved it, seeing it multiple times. These are the same people who, 10 years later, would claim that it was a terrible film and irredeemable. Even Jar-Jar, though viewed as a failed concept, didn't actively aggravate people so much as he is now notorious for. I mean, there was backlash, which is why he was dialed back in Ep 2, but things got exaggerated retroactively.
Elliott
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 11:01am (UTC -5)
Allow me to be state unequivocally that I think the prequels are hot garbage. I thought that when they came out, and I still think so today.

The Force Awakens was mediocre, but blissfully competent by comparison.
The Last Jedi was actually quite good--superior to Return of the Jedi.
Jason R.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 11:52am (UTC -5)
The prequels were lots of garbage mixed together with lots of gold, a 50/50 proportion I would say.

The Abrams era movies are pure garbage, gold plated.

I know which one I preferred.
Chrome
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 12:04pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.

“Truthfully I think most people actually enjoyed the prequels when they came out”

I may be revealing my age a bit here, but let me go ahead and point out this was absolutely not the case. Everything negative being said about the new Star Wars movies on the internet now is practically history repeating itself - just replace Abrams’ name with Lucas. The one big difference between the two trilogies in terms of audience reactions is there’s more *critical acclaim* for the new Star Wars movies (see Jammer’s reviews, for example).

Personally, like Jason R. said, I think the world-building is great, but the execution of it ranges from cliché to groan-inducing.
Elliott
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 12:13pm (UTC -5)
Aside from the music and the special effects (which obviously, the new films possess in equal or greater measure), I can't think of anything in the Prequels which I would label "gold." The world building is completely at odds with the politics and ethos of original trilogy, the characters have no logical arcs, the mystic/mythic nature of the Force is completely ignored AND the execution of things like acting, blocking, and scripting is complete dreck. Seriously, somebody help me out. Don't mention Jar-Jar--that's incidental. I'm talking about the fact that suddenly, the Force is about people having little sci-fi lifeforms in their cells. I'm talking about the fact that the Clone wars didn't involve life and death stakes for any regular people--just for clones and robots. I'm talking about the fact that conceit of the whole prequel trilogy, the tragic fall of Anakin Skywalker, is completely undermined by the fact that Anakin is only ever portrayed as a terrible person with few redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Jason R.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 12:14pm (UTC -5)
For what it is worth nobody I knew hated PM or talked about hating it. We didn't talk about Jar Jar at all if I am recalling correctly. I do recall raging a bit against the bad romance dialogue in AOTC mind you.

I have watched Phantom Menace and the other prequels more recently and I stand by my 50/50 ratio. The highs were high. Palpatine was a spkendid villain and for me it was his story. The world building was beautiful.

On the topic of Clone Wars, it is an irony that Asohka Tano, a character that never even appeared in film, became a more popular character than Anakin, the ostensible star of the prequel trilogy. I didn't watch the show at the time but having seen it recently on Netflix, I think Lucasfilm really caught lightning in a bottle there. It really did pay them (and Disney) fantastic dividends for what I presume was a relatively tiny investment.
Jason R.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 12:18pm (UTC -5)
"Aside from the music and the special effects (which obviously, the new films possess in equal or greater measure), I can't think of anything in the Prequels which I would label "gold."

Every scene with Ian McDermitt in it.
Elliott
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
Ian McDermitt is a fine actor and I admit that Palpatine is the only character who seems...oh what's the word?...alive in most of the films. But his plan is ridiculous, relying on the flimsiest of coincidences and contrivances. The Emperor being a quiet menace lurking behind the scenes in episodes V and VI was effective. Demonstrating that his mastery of the Dark Side was so great he could harness its power and kill Luke without even manifesting a weapon was a genius bit of storytelling. In the prequels, Force Lighting is just a video game power-up that Siths get to do. He and Yoda--fucking YODA--fight with lightsabers which is insulting on multiple levels.
Jason R.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 12:54pm (UTC -5)
Elliott in a universe where Sith can see the future and manipulate minds with the force Sidius's plan seems almost mundane frankly. They are completely plausible in that context.

Actually, not only do I love what McDermitt does with the chatacter on-screen I think the overrarching story around him is nothing short of brilliant. He makes the Jedi look like fools over three movies. I essentially consider him to be the protagonist of the prequels.
Peter G.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 1:05pm (UTC -5)
I don't really want to rehash what parts of the prequels were good or bad. I agree, Elliott, that much of it was disappointing, an example of which is the Sidious/Yoda fight which I think is ridiculous. But my main point is that I knew dozens of people who saw it, none of whom hated or even outright disliked it. Zero of them. In fact I saw it on opening day with a group of like 30 people, and everyone was excited overall coming out, even though there were some head-scratchy parts in the film. The overall buzz in the coming weeks was that Jar-Jar was a major misstep, and that the Darth Maul reveal was underwhelming because of how little he did in the film. The Darth Maul point was overwhemingly the major critique of the film after the *enormous* hype being put out promotionally about him for the film. Based on the marketing you'd think he was going to be one of the main stars of the picture. People also griped about midichlorians, it's true. But people loved the actors, especially Liam Neeson and Ewan, and they loved the podrace (which actually I didn't), and everyone said it was gorgeous and imaginative. Obviously my sample size was only people who I knew IRL, but there wasn't much room for confirmation bias because a lot of them were people I barely knew or were friends of friends.

I think there was a lot more consternation over AOTC, as Jason R. points out, as the romance scenes in that one are the worst part of the trilogy by far, and the horrible humor (what a drag) was the pits. The general consensus also seemed to be that ROTS redeemed the faults of AOTC and made for a strong finish.

I'll stand by my assertion that the "these movies are garbage" hate train started later on.
Peter G.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
Just a clarification; I began my past post responding to Elliott's point but without notification returned to my comment about Phantom Menace being praised when it came out. Sorry for the confusion...
Chrome
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 1:59pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.

I don’t know if it’s unbiased to judge audience reception just on people’s initial feelings from your buddies for the first film. After all, it was first new Star Wars we had on screen in over 15 years so naturally everyone was elated and were probably still expecting good things to come. It was similar to how a lot of people felt when Star Trek: Generations arrived - because the film’s appearance represented more than its content alone.
Sean Hagins
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 7:01pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G

I know you said you don't want to rehash, but why do you think the Yoda/SIdious fight was rubbish. It was actually my favourite duel of the movie! Sidious killed the other 3 Jedi Masters too easily (the book has a better way for them to be beaten) and it appears he threw the fight against Windu to draw Anakin in. Yoda and Sidious seemed evenly matched. If Sidious was closer to the edge of the platform, it could just have easily been he who fell after the bubble of lightning burst (That is going to sound really weird if you don't know what I mean)
Sean Hagins
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 7:05pm (UTC -5)
@Jason

When the prequels came out, I always had an alternative idea for Sidious/Palpatine. A plot twist that to me would have been on par with the "I am your father" reveal in the original trilogy would have been if Palpatine was a clone that was a dupe of Sidious (hence why the Jedi couldn't sense evil in him) This would have been a GREAT twist since by even the Phantom Menace, everyone knew Palpatine was the bad guy (When he said at the end of the movie to Anakin "We will watch your career with great interest", everyone laughed in the theater since they were "in" on the joke. So, what a way to turn things on their head if Palpatine was a clone of Sidious that had no force talent and no evil!
Elliott
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 8:49pm (UTC -5)
Lightsaber battles are *not* about the lightsabers, they are about the characters.

In ep. IV, Obi Wan was proving to Vader that he could transcend the earthly tether of his body, that he could be beaten and yet still remain, through the Force, a beacon of the light side. It didn't matter that it was an old man and a a stunt double who couldn't see well enough through his mask to convincingly wave his sword around.

In ep. V, Vader is toying with Luke, demonstrating how futile his resistance to the dark side is. Luke realises that he should have listened to Yoda's warning as Vader literally disarms him and leaves him almost no avenue to escape.

In ep. VI, Palpatine is showing Luke how, if he allows himself to feel rage, to submit to the immediate rewards of the dark side, he can harness enough sheer power to defeat the man who mutilated him, and best his father.

There's no fancy CGI flipping about or highly-choreographed kung-fu--the best moments on the battle are when the characters are TALKING, or when Luke abandons all pretence and just starts beating his father with his lightsaber in hatred. Duels are window dressing for character interaction.

This is something completely misunderstood in the Prequels and that the new films get right. The WORST of all the lightsaber duels in the canon is the Palpatine/Yoda fight in RotS. These two are masters of the Force, avatars for their sides. Palpatine could have killed Luke with a flick of his wrist, but he wanted to make Luke suffer, hence the lightning. Yoda chose to live in a hovel even though he possessed enormous power. Giving these two characters glowing swords and having the the Emperor hurl frisbees and all that shit is just vacuous nonsense. It doesn't mean anything. It isn't about anything. It's just action for action's sake.
Peter G.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 8:51pm (UTC -5)
@ Sean Hagins,

I don't like the Yoda/Palpatine fight because it's highly unimaginative and is scarcely more interesting than if they had bashed each other with clubs, only instead of clubs it was anime blasts. These are supposed to be force wizards, so where was our wizard fight? As with the rest of the prequels, the Jedi battles are lacking in flavor because the only powers anyone ever uses are athletic enhancement, force push, and lightsabers. How bland. The initial Clone Wars cartoons did much more interesting things, showing unique powers for each powerful Jedi, and it's not like the FX budget couldn't afford this. In the case of Yoda/Sidious it was little more than an arm-wrestling match about who could throw the biggest blast or object, yawn. And while I think it's ok to have them duel with lightsabers, the original script was superior, which had a pure force battle wage until Sidious couldn't hold his own any more and resorted to attacking with lightsaber, which Yoda was all to happy to oblige, and then finally lost.

The version they ended up with seemed to me obsessed mostly with set design and scenery, much like the Mustafar fight. I would have liked it better if they had been in an empty room and had a real wizard's duel.
Peter G.
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 8:57pm (UTC -5)
Sorry, I forgot to mention:

"Sidious killed the other 3 Jedi Masters too easily (the book has a better way for them to be beaten) and it appears he threw the fight against Windu to draw Anakin in."

I also preferred by far the descriptions in the book, which honestly were achievable in the film. But I personally never felt Sidious threw the fight, and to be clear Lucas has stated definitively that Windu straight-up defeated him in a contest of pure might. He lost, however, in the greater contest, because the fight was never about physical power but about persuading Anakin.

I agree with Elliott that the fights have to be about the characters. That's why I like the Dooku fights so much, because I love how Christopher Lee acts in them. I also think the Jedi vs Maul fight gives us quite a lot of character depth through the action, even though it lacks dialogue. That's a different kind of genius, though, to tell a story without words. That fight did have some action just for action's sake, but much of it was character-driven. I agree that Yoda/Sidious is the worst fight in the prequels, although I still like it better than the sequel fights because at least it's aesthetically interesting in some ways despite my brain turning off. The choreography in the new fights didn't interest me (I'm a Jacky Chan fan).
Elliott
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 9:11pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G

There are moments that work in the other Prequel fights, like Obi Wan's quiet rage after witnessing his master's death, or the beginning of the Obi Wan/Anakin fight in RotS, but those are largely overshadowed by the endless monotonous flashiness that comprises 95% of the scenes. The character to action mix is way, way off.

I find the battle in Force Awakens pretty good--Rey is discovering that she doesn't need to be afraid of the Force and Kylo is witnessing the tenuousness of his own arrogance, being bested by a novice. The battle in The Last Jedi is very good--it is a catharsis for the relationship that has developed between Rey and Kylo, a release of the energy which has bound them together and broken the heretofore presumed immutable light/dark dichotomy of the Force. The choreography of a fight should always be telegraphing character motivation, not attractive for its own sake. That feels cheap to me.
methane
Thu, Oct 18, 2018, 10:42pm (UTC -5)
I'll say my disenchantment with new Star Wars started with the "remastered" new edition of Star Wars that came out when I was in college. I remember leaving the theater wondering "why?" It wasn't just that Han didn't shoot first. The new effects made the screen a visual mess, and I don't think there was one case where the rearranging & reediting of the story made it better. Of course, I can accept that I was perhaps too attached to the original, but I've never felt any need to re-watch that version or to see the other remastered versions of the original trilogy. I will say that the people I went with to see the remastered version seemed to enjoy it at the time.

I was overseas when the first prequel came out. I remember going to see it some months later with some other Americans (having heard nothing about the movie). I remember talking to a friend after the movie & we both were disappointed. A bunch of us went out later that night, and I suppose it was telling that nobody brought up the movie in conversation.

I saw the next two movies when they came out in video in the US. I will say that each one was better, and the third one was much better than the first. I still wouldn't recommend it.

The 2 movies of the new trilogy (which I only saw when they came out on Netflix) have been drastically better visually. But they weren't good movies (I'd say the last one in the prequel trilogy is better than either of them).

Rogue 1 was decent. But my Star Wars fandom, which was so huge in my youth, has been completely defeated. I might check out the Han Solo movie when it comes on Netflix (it got OK reviews, and it should be disconnected from anything but the first trilogy), but I have no interest in the third movie of this new trilogy.
Jason R.
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 5:49am (UTC -5)
"Lightsaber battles are *not* about the lightsabers, they are about the characters."

Agreed. And I will give props to Force Awakens for focusing on character rather than choreography in the final Ren / Rey fight. Too bad the characters were such a failure for me that I just didn't care about them by that point.

Not sure what fight in TLJ you were referencing - There were no memorable ones for me. To be fair I only saw TLJ once, on my 15 inch kitchen tv while cooking a meal for a large dinner party. Since most of the film (including pretty much every scene with Finn and Rose) scarcely required any attention I felt I was giving the film its due. But I'll rewatch the Ren / Luke duel and the Ren / Rey versus red shirts one just to make sure I didn't miss anything good. God I love Netflix.

Regarding Palpatine versus Yoda it's ironic that the high point of the whole mess was when Yoda thumped those two red guard guys - that got the whole theatre every time. Plus I loved the little exchange of force powers with the "little green friend" line which was awesome. As you said, it's about the characters. Once Sidius started flinging senate seats at Yoda I was just not as engaged.

By the way Sean, cool idea!
Elliott
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 10:18am (UTC -5)
@Jason R

I'm really confused by your reply. In what way was "my little green friend" a reference to anything we had seen prior? What exactly was the relationship between Palpatine and Yoda? Did he ever refer to him as his "little green friend" during their political meetings? I don't get it.

As far as TLJ, there are two lightsaber battles and both are, in my view, quite wonderful because they have almost nothing to do with choreography and showing off and everything to do with the story. The fight between Kylo and Rey on Snoke's ship culminates with Anakin's lightsaber being rent in two, a powerful thematic moment for the film. There is a "fight" between Luke and Kylo as well which is *entirely* about the dialogue as Luke is not physically present for the fight. This one feels the most like the the New Hope fight for this reason.

I sense your extreme snark regarding this film and you know, to each his own, but this was the first film since RotJ in the canon that actually felt like it was trying to do something interesting with the universe and not just cash in on nostalgia or sell toys.
Peter G.
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 10:43am (UTC -5)
There's no point arguing over which battle is cooler than the other, but I think there's a more objective way to look at this point:

"this was the first film since RotJ in the canon that actually felt like it was trying to do something interesting with the universe and not just cash in on nostalgia or sell toys."

Write out a rough plot synopsis of each prequel film, and then each sequel film, and see what it looks like on paper. This is perhaps a thought experiment, but I believe you'll find that there's too much to write in the prequels and you'll actually have trouble condensing it, whereas for the sequels you'll have difficulty finding that much to write. Or if you want a variant on this experiment, try to write down all the in-universe things we learn about things for the prequels vs the sequels; i.e. what are politics like, what's going on in the hierarchy of the good or bad guys, what do we learn about problems in various quarters (can be anything ranging from corruption to slavery, inefficiency, apathy, etc.). And then see how much there is to write about each.

I suppose even this won't be easily objective because there's the problem of scaling, where you can always make a list a mile long if you're listing smallish things. I believe it's fairly evident, however, that the quantity of world-building and detailing in the prequels is so vastly above that of the sequels that you'll likely even find the sequels' greatest proponents accepting this particular proposition. Even people who love TLJ seem to agree that the sequels don't explain much of anything or give a broader perspective on the context of all these events.
Jason R.
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 10:53am (UTC -5)
"I'm really confused by your reply. In what way was "my little green friend" a reference to anything we had seen prior? What exactly was the relationship between Palpatine and Yoda? Did he ever refer to him as his "little green friend" during their political meetings? I don't get it."

I'm confused by your confusion. Did I suggest this one comment was about their prior relationship? I just thought it was a fun quip punctuating a moment between two great characters. I love how in that scene after putting Yoda on his green ass with a bolt of lightning Palpatine just raises up his arms in total joy, as if mugging for an applause. It's just a moment of tremendous satisfaction and a rare glimpse of hubris in a character who previously was all business and didn't really express a ton of emotion or egotism.

But you know, scratch that - I think this line (and the scene) was about their relationship after all.

Palpatine did have a pretty significant relationship with Yoda. The two were political colleagues for years. We did have scenes where Palpatine and Yoda are together and Palpatine even defers to him. Yoda was the grandmaster of the Jedi, the wisest, the strongest and Palpatine just knocked him on his green ass, after outwitting him, killing most of his friends and taking over the government. For Palpatine, this had to be the cherry on the sundae. Yoda even saw the lightning bolt coming and couldn't even block it.

Yeah, I'd say this was extremely personal for these two characters. But even if you ignore that subtext and just call it a fun quip, it's a great scene because McDiarmitt just oozes personality and character. He sells it.

On the topic of TLJ I don't really recall much about the battle with Kylo and Luke so I can't say if it was good or bad. I just remember being so disappointed that Luke wasn't even there, and that he just died - arbitrarily. I didn't much care about the Resistance at this point because their survival meant nothing to me so his "sacrifice" (why did he die again?) was a pointless diversion of little consequence. They should have just had Rey fight him at that point. Who needs a Jedi Master anyway when Rey could just do it herself?

I didn't care about the First Order either because apart from Ren, they were just a bunch of clowns whose leader was played as a buffoon (General Nazi or whatshisname)

Yeah, again, no idea what was so appealing about any of those battles.
Chrome
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 10:56am (UTC -5)
It scarcely matters how big the world built is when you can’t get the characters right. Star Wars is more about small-scale personal relationships than galactic intrigue.

If you really want to see world-building, go read the books or play the games (Knights of the Old Republic is fantastic in this regard). They explain more about the geo-politics and history of Star Wars than the films ever attempt to.
Peter G.
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 11:06am (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

Elliott's claim was that the prequels didn't try to do anything interesting with the universe. I was answering that point only, but I wasn't addressing whether the way in which they did it created great characters or supported a good story structure.
Jason R.
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 11:14am (UTC -5)
I agree with Peter about world-building but I wanted to hone in on that point. What is world-building? What does it mean? I think it refers to a kind of storytelling that implies that things are going on in the background, that this universe has a vitality beyond just what is shown on the screen. That even if something is left unexplained on screen, it is *explicable* on its own terms.

Little details about how big or small an operation Bespin was in ESB, the Huts being described as gangsters and criminals outside of imperial control in PM, or slavery being illegal in the Republic but practiced out on the rim in TPM, the Senate being dissolved in ANH, the great library in AOTC, droids not being allowed in bars, Mos Eisley being a hive of scum and villainy...

None of these references are even necessary to the story in their respective movies and are at best tangental to the plot, but they contribute to the sense that stuff is happening behind the scenes, that not everything that matters in the universe is on camera.

In TFA I can scarcely think of a single plot element or reference that isn't directly a part of the main plot. Hell even basic elements of the universe that are fundamental to the plot are sketched in the most rudimentary detail. What the hell is the First Order? What is Hosnian Prime, the planet that gets destroyed? What happened to the Republic fleet? Who or what is Snope?

I guess the closest we get is the casino planet in TLJ which seems to have *no connection* to the plot at all. Even there, I can't even understand what I was watching - it felt like a half-assed social statement about income inequality awkwardly grafted into Star Wars. It had nothing to do with anything that had come before and I doubt we'll see or hear about it again.
Chrome
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 11:19am (UTC -5)
@Peter G.

I think Elliott just said he wouldn’t call what the prequels did “gold”. I don’t think anyone is denying that the prequels were very ambitious in scale. It makes me wonder if spending so much time making elaborate backdrops and political subtext didn’t make them forget to push the actors to make better deliveries. I think only Empire gets things just right with both world-building and good character interactions.
Peter G.
Fri, Oct 19, 2018, 11:38am (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

My takeaway from Empire and then the prequels is that Lucas needed to be in charge but not be the writer or director. He has a brilliant mind for ideas, broader landscape, FX and technical things, and integrating those into a visual message. What he sucks at is writing and directing actors, and the difference there between Empire and AOTC shows big-time. I think the dream team would have been bringing back Kasdan under Lucas' helm. It's evident to me how useless Kasdan was under J.J.'s guidance.

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