The light at the end of the tunnel is near as I have reached the end of the much-maligned prequel trilogy. Coming hot off the heels of Attack of the Clones which was a wholly painful experience, Revenge of the Sith felt like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t touch the originally trilogy as far as quality, but as far as the prequels go, it feels like the most Star Wars of them all. Links to past reviews: Rogue One (3.5/5), A New Hope (4.5/5) , The Empire Strikes Back(5/5), The Phantom Menace(2/5) and Attack of the Clones(.5/5).
Revenge works as well as it does, because Lucas finally learned his lesson and started playing to his strengths. Rather than beginning the film with lengthy exposition or political intrigue outright, Revenge opens on a space battle, and a pretty good one at that. The visuals still look good to this day and it’s the first time we’re shown space warfare on a massive scale. Previous films focused on small squadrons of recognizable pilots, but Revenge shows us huge capital ships exchanging cannon-fire (yes, old-timey, naval cannon-fire). Pilots are ripped from their spaceships after they explode, floating into the cold, void of space, and from the outset, it’s clear the film is going for a darker tone.
My biggest issue with the film’s opening is the wooden banter between Obi Wan and Anakin. What I think Lucas was trying to do was demonstrate how calm a Jedi is, even in battle, but it makes the whole scene feel a bit stilted. A little emotion in these lines could have made the banter more playful, but instead, it’s stale. There’s a point in the opening where Obi Wan is on death’s door, and neither Jedi seem particularly disturbed by it. If this was consistent throughout the film, I might mind it less, but feeling too much for family who’s dying is kind of Anakin’s whole thing.
Character inconsistency, ironically, seems to be Anakin’s most enduring trait. Throughout the film, he ping pongs between extremes, playing the part of good Jedi padawan and murderous psychopath without much room in between. Like Clones, none of Anakin’s character decisions feel earned. At the beginning of the film he is conflicted, but on a good path, yet in the course of a fifteen minute interaction with Palpatine, he’s suddenly game to murder younglings and forsake the order that literally freed him from slavery and gave him a home. In my opinion, it would have helped to spread this darkness out across the movies more, which I think Lucas attempted (see Tusken Raider murders in Clones). Unfortunately, there’s no weight to it until suddenly there is, and that makes Anakin’s transformation almost laughable.
The problem is that Sith is so pre-occupied with tying up all the loose ends leading into A New Hope that it doesn’t give any of the plot points time to breathe. The entire back half of the film seems like it’s just there to create plot consistency (and a few holes). If anything, it feels like we could have used another movie to help stretch some of the choices out. In the last thirty minutes, we see the fall of the Jedi almost in their entirety, Anakin’s complete reversal from Jedi to murdering Sith, Padme’s death, Luke and Leia being hidden, Obi Wan and Yoda raiding the temple, the list goes on. I could have used one more movie to dive deeper into Anakin’s turn and watch how the mechanics of that played out, but sadly, I’m sure it would have turned out poorly.
Luckily, Anakin is finally paired with some decent supporting characters, and with their help, his journey is a lot more watchable this time around. Ewan McGregor hits his stride as Obi Wan in Revenge and it’s a joy to watch his take on the character. Likewise, Ian McDiarmid’s return as The Emperor is fantastic and I can’t wait for him to reprise the role in Episode 9. With Obi Wan as the protagonist and The Emperor acting as the antagonist, Anakin is almost relegated to a side character, caught between titans, and that works so much better. If the rest of the films could have focused in the same way, I think we would be left with a different, far better trilogy.
Unfortunately, one character in particular is once again shortchanged and misused. Padme is reduced to crying, pregnant, lady with nothing to do other than weep over Anakin and die. It’s astonishing to me that Lucas created a character arc for her that is so cataclysmically bad. Padme had a ton of interesting directions to go, but it’s like all her traits from Menace were forgotten in favor of servicing Anakin’s dark broodiness. It’s one of the greatest shames of the prequel trilogy, and the creators should truly be ashamed of it. Even worse, Padme’s death at the end of Sith creates a plot hole, because Leia says she remembers her real mother in Return of the Jedi. Having Padme run off to hide the children from Anakin would have been a stronger character decision and might have made her feel just a little bit more valuable in the grand story arc.
Characters aside, the plot of Sith is also marginally better than either of its prequel predecessors. The arc of the film feels focused, and substantially darker than any of the films that came before it. There are more hands chopped off in this film than the rest of the prequel and OG trilogy combined. Don’t believe me? Here’s a chart of hands lost per film. Go ahead, take a look, I’ll wait.
Sith houses some of the darkest scenes in the entire Star Wars franchise. In the two- and half-hour runtime, we get decapitation of beloved villains, mass child murder, and watch Anakin burn alive after Obi Wan cuts both his legs and one of his arms off. Obi Wan straight up stands there and watches Anakin burn to death rather than putting him out of his damn misery. Overall, I think this was the right tone to end the prequels with even if it wasn’t executed right. With a little more thought into why the character decisions had to be so god damned dark, this could have been one of the best films of the lot.
Overall, I like Sith the best out of the prequel trilogy by a mile. For the most part, its supporting cast is excellent, it finally gets its focus right, and Lucas leaned into the things Star Wars does best: saber and space battles. Where the film really stumbles is how it treats Anakin and how rushed his story feels. At the end of the day, the prequels were set up to be Anakin’s story, and as the credits roll, that story is complete, but doesn’t feel satisfying. While I can see the steps Lucas took to make Anakin’s turn to the dark side seem more gradual, it wasn’t enough and the ending still feels sudden. It hurts, because the prequels have so much potential, but they’re just not up to snuff for the rest of the franchise.
As a bonus round, Sith produced some of the best damned memes in the entire franchise, so, head over to r/prequelmemes and treat yourself. It helps get that Attack of the Clones taste out of your mouth.