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REVIEW: Revenge of the Sith is the final chapter in the second trilogy, bringing to an end the origin story of Darth Vader. The better of the three parts, the film features far more depth than the other entries and caters to a more mature audience, abandoning almost all of the silliness that was so prevalent before. In comparison, Episode I: The Phantom Menace seems made for an entirely different fan in mind, and the choice to go darker is a good one. While the protracted and exceedingly long lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader on the volcanic planet of Mustafar is over-indulgent, the conclusion is at least satisfying and ties together the ends enough to make some reasonable connection to the original trilogy. Hayden Christensen, playing Anakin, is less wooden, and manages to convey a bit more humanity in his character, though a lot of the dialogue remains rather flat. He has a big job in this movie, as he is the focus throughout and we can see a lot of growth from the second movie. George Lucas can’t seem to pull back the reigns though, continuing to stuff the screen with more and more unnecessary and distracting imagery. It’s dizzying at times and yet, sometimes, we have to admit, it works well, especially in some of the nighttime city scene transitions over Coruscant. I’ve never been happy with Yoda as a fighter, skipping about like a leap frog on steroids. It just doesn’t seem right and feels totally out of character, but some fans feel entirely opposite. At least his dual with the Emperor feels worthy.
Written and directed by George Lucas, the story begins with Anakin and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) on a mission to rescue the kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from Separatist commander General Grievous in a battle that shows Anakin revealing some of his more attuned powers and even a hint of the darkness coming. Palpatine appoints Anakin as his representative in the Jedi Council though Yoda and the others members decline his admission as a Jedi Knight, preferring to wait until his training is complete. This embitters Anakin, who is plagued by visions of Padmé death. The revelation that follows is the final step in turning the young but powerful padawan to the dark side.
While weighted down by the disappointment of the first two, the third film manages to bring back some of the classic Star Wars charm and end on a higher note. Still, the series as a whole is a frustrating collection of poor decisions, given the creative force behind it all, but is redeemed by the darker tone and attention to characters in the third installment.
Scene Setup: With the war in full swing, the clone army is under the rule of the Republic, and by extension, the Chancellor, and by further extension, the Emperor. He has seen much potential in young Anakin Skywalker and realizes that he is too consumed with emotions to be a successful Jedi, especially over the loss of his mother and now with the haunting dreams of his wife’s death. These are powerful weaknesses that the Emperor can exploit and believes that the boy could easily become a lord with the Sith, where such things make them even stronger. By appointing Anakin his representative in the Jedi Council, he puts Anakin in an awkward place, as he doesn’t know how to say no, Anakin accepts and brings some doubt to his role as a Jedi in the eyes of the Jedi masters. Still, they see some advantage to this move and use the same tactic, asking him to be a spy for them. The Chancellor, sensing time is of the essence, tells Anakin of a tempting secret–the power to prevent death, something the young Jedi is obsessed with now that his premonitions grow so strong. The Chancellor further reveals that he is in fact a Sith lord, able to teach him all he needs to be the most powerful master of the Force anyone has ever known. Torn by his allegiance to the Jedi, he at first is tempted to strike down the Emperor, but is too weak to do so and rushes off to tell Mace Windu, a leader of the Jedi Council. Windu is shocked and with a few other Jedi, head over to arrest the Chancellor, but is met by a challenge as the Emperor raises his lightsaber for attack. The weaker Jedi fall fast, leaving only Windu and the now revealed Darth Sidious to fight.
At an impasse, the two struggle to defeat the other as Anakin rushes into the room. He is overcome by the fear of losing Padmé and their unborn child and is confident that the Sith lord is her only hope, but is also devoted to the Jedi and master Windu, but in the end, of course, Sidious manipulates the young Jedi and with a terrible strike, cuts Windu’s arm off, allowing the Sith lord to deal the final blow. Out the window he goes and with it, the last of the Jedi strength on Coruscant. Sidious, now scarred by the battle, has Anakin at his feet, pledging his life to the Dark Side. To prevent any further uprising by the remaining Jedi, the Emperor contacts the commanders of the Clone Army all across the galaxy: Execute Order 66
That Moment: The order is simple: Kill all Jedi. And as the clones are all a collective working for the Republic, the actions come swift. All around the galaxy, the clones have been fighting along side the Jedi as they defend against General Grievous and his Separatists. We have seen them in transports, in formation and in battle, all in service of the alliance, and so, with the Jedi. Out on Mustafar, where Grievous is in hiding, Obi-Wan has tracked him down and confronted him all the while as clones approach to join him. Of course we know that the clone troopers are the precursors to the dreaded Stormtroopers of the Empire. We know they will become the bad guys, but throughout this film, they have been shown as friends of the Jedi. One particular clone commander named Cody even assists Obi-Wan by recovering and returning his lightsaber, lost in the battle with Grievous. But with one order, everything changes, and we recall what Lama Su, the Prime Minister of Kamino and the one overseeing the production of the clones told Obi-Wan in the previous movie about controlling their minds. Without warning, the clones turn on the Jedi and one-by-one, they begin to fall. The tone shifts, led by John Williams suddenly mournful score as a montage begins of Jedi being taken down. The first, after a failed attempt on Obi-Wan send him hurling off a cliff into a small body of water, is a Jedi on a bridge flanked by clone troopers fighting back a squadron of droids. In a wonderful bit of direction, the Jedi leaps into the front and epically calls his compadres to follow. The camera swings down to the troopers armored feet as they suddenly stop and without a word we know they have received the order.
More die and as the music swells, there is a real sense of defeat. These are the good guys, faces we’ve seen throughout the trilogy and suddenly they are all dying. It’s a bold step by Lucas and further illustrates how far removed this film is from the previous two. Most terrifying of all though is the actions of Anakin himself, now officially Darth Vader. He goes to the Jedi temple where trainees are hunkered down trying to defend the site. In the Jedi Council Chamber, a group of very young children, just beginning their training, are in hiding. He enters and the youngsters feel relieved at first, asking the master for help. Vader peers from under his cloak, his eyes narrow and filled with menace. He draws his saber and the implication is clear.
It’s a harrowing, thoroughly unexpected moment, not because we can’t accept the death of children in film, though that’s never easy to watch, but because we love Darth Vader. We know he’s the bad guy, but he’s also always been so cool. We’ve never really known why he is bad, just that we loved that he was. In Episode 1, he was a witness to the destruction of Alderaan. He didn’t do it. Yes, he Force choked a few guys, but they were either military men or members of the Empire. He tortured Han Solo, but that was it. He didn’t kill him. He’s just been Vader and we loved to watch him. We just accepted that he joined the Dark Side and was comfortable with that, never needing to know just how bad he was. Killing these children makes him the monster he needs to be and reminds us that indeed, Darth Vader is the bad guy, a weak-minded, tortured wreck of a man that suffered his entire life. In an instant, we changed a little too. Darth was no longer cool, but he was, ironically, more human. It wasn’t about being a Jedi or a Sith lord. It wasn’t about winning Obi-Wan’s respect or that of the Council. It wasn’t about defending good or joining evil, and it wasn’t about the powers of the Force. It was, from the moment he met her, about Padmé. About her. That’s why, just before he decides to go back to the Emperor and ultimately help defeat Mace Windu, he stood in that window and looked out over the city toward his pregnant wife as she did the same, searching the night skyline for him. There’s is a connection that transcends whatever powers and forces are at play around them, and for him, all that matters in this world, in this galaxy far, far away, is love.