(I thought I’d already post this review just before The Force Awakens came out…but I couldn’t find it in my blog history!)
“I sense a trap”
‘Revenge of the Sith’ is a film some consider to be the best Star Wars prequel. That’s not difficult. After ‘Attack of the Clones,’ anything would be an improvement. I saw ‘ROTS’ at the cinema a whopping three times! Yes, I was one of those people who loved it on first viewing (but less and less each subsequent time). Maybe it was the knowledge that this was (at the time) the last Star Wars film to be released (now that Disney have the licence, we will probably see a new Star Wars film out every week…). Maybe my expectations were so low, and my eagerness to appreciate the film so high, that I convinced myself I was watching a good film. After several rewatches later, however, I have come to my senses. Yes, it may be the best film of the prequel trilogy. There are some promising scenes. Lucas seems to try really hard to end his saga on a high note. However, it retains most of the flaws of the first two prequels, and creates a few of its own…
‘ROTS’ starts off promising. The space battle that opens the film is the greatest battle scene in the prequels. Again, there isn’t much competition, but there’s a feeling of depth and character to the sequence. It also provides the first on-screen proof that Anakin and Obi-Wan are best friends (without the need for trite dialogue!). They almost dance in their Starfighters, showing, not telling, that they know each other inside out. The prequels needed to show that Anakin and Obi-Wan were best friends; otherwise Obi-Wan sounds like a liar in ‘A New Hope.’ The first two prequels failed to do that. During the opening of ‘ROTS,’ however, there’s a sense that they have grown to be best buddies, which is the emotional depth we need to invest ourselves in the storyline.
Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the flaws of the other prequels rear their ugly heads. Count Dooku? Yes, he’s back, and less evil that ever before! The second lightsabre duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan and Dooku is a little better than the poor duel in ‘AOTC,’ but there are still no emotional stakes. Not only that, but yet another disposable villain is added to the mix, in the form of droid General Grievous. Who is it? Why does it cough and splutter, if it is a robot? These questions were answered in the ‘Clone Wars’ animated series, but a line or two to explain Grievous was necessary. In a trilogy of wordy films, it’s a wonder why we didn’t get a brief background history of Grievous. We shouldn’t have had to watch a form of media outside of the films to understand something. Grievous is about as evil as Dooku, as well. I guess he does have a collection of lightsabres, which does imply that he killed Jedi to procure them. But he could have easily have bought them…Not only that, but he’s portrayed as a coward by Mace Windu. Why should we see him as a worthy opponent for our heroes if he runs from battle a lot?
“Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo”
It’s not long before the risible love story between Anakin and Padme comes to the fore, complete with blunt and laughable dialogue. Here’s an example:
Padme: It’s only because I’m so in love.
Anakin: No, it’s only because I’m so in love with you.
Obviously, the dialogue doesn’t help matters, but Anakin and Padme still fail to have any chemistry. They look vaguely bored together. I must say that the scene where they are separate, but both staring out of windows, is the most effective scene between the two in the entire prequel trilogy. It shows us what they are feeling, without forcing laughable sentences out of their mouths. The haunting music played over the separate scenes is also another masterstroke. It’s moments like these that convince you that you are watching something better than average. They hint at how the prequels could have rivalled the original trilogy for quality. But the next sequence slaps you around and wakes you up to the reality that these very good scenes are too few and far between to make much of a difference to the overall quality of ‘ROTS.’
The only performance worthy of note is that of Ian McDiarmid, who fully immerses himself in his role. The prequels are lacking in a great villain like Darth Vader, but McDiarmid plays Chancellor Palpatine with aplomb. Of particular note is the scene in front of the bubbles when Palpatine talks to Anakin about the good side of the Dark Side. I’ll always find time to quote Palpatine when he hams up the sentences “The Dark Side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural,” or “Not from a Jedi!” (also, does Palpatine hint that Darth Plagueis created Anakin? Palpatine says that Plagueis could manipulate the midichlorians to create life. Anakin was a case of immaculate conception…coincidence?) As great as McDiarmid is, however, he can’t convince us that Palpatine seduces Anakin to the Dark Side. The story, rather than McDiarmid, is at fault for that .
“From my point of view, it is the Jedi who are evil.”
In ‘A New Hope,’ there are mere hints of how Darth Vader became Darth Vader. Obi-Wan gives us scant information about what happened “before the dark times, before the Empire.” In ‘Return of the Jedi,’ Obi-Wan tells Luke that Anakin/Vader was a “good friend.” He excites our imagination about how Vader turned to the Dark Side. Everyone who has watched Star Wars will have imagined many different scenarios to explain Vader’s turn. It was up to Lucas to match or even exceed our imaginations. He shot himself in the foot. He quite simply failed in his ordeal. He concocted the worst cinematic love story in history as the basis for Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. Anakin has premonitions that Padme will die in childbirth (she’s pregnant!), and Palpatine tells him that the Dark Side can keep people alive. In essence, that’s why Anakin Skywalker turned to Darth Vader. Consider me, and many others, unsatisfied!
The confrontation between Obi-Wan and Anakin should be an overwhelming experience, in terms of emotion. However, apart from that initial opening battle, we don’t feel that there is a history of great friendship between them. Obi-Wan’s wail that Anakin was his “brother, I loved you!” sounds false, because we have been given scant evidence for it. There are pros and cons about their lightsabre battle. The most common negative is that is looks more like a dance that a fight. It’s forgivable, because it’s two Jedi at their respective peaks in a fight. The first five minutes or so are genuinely thrilling.
However, the duel lasts for far too long. Boredom sets in after both Jedi try to Force Push each other. Not only that, but ‘ROTS’ is full to bursting with lightsabre duels. Anakin and Obi-Wan vs Dooku, Windu vs Palpatine, and Obi-Wan vs Grievous (who, with four lightsabres, fails to put up much of a fight!) all dull our excitement for the inevitable Obi-Wan vs Anakin duel. Not only that, but the clash is interrupted by a parallel lightsabre battle between Yoda and Palpatine! If you weren’t convinced by the Yoda vs Dooku battle that Yoda should never have been seen wielding a lightsabre, the terrible duel between Yoda and Palpatine should wake you up to reality (not only that, but Yoda concedes defeat all too easy). Yoda vs Palpatine serves to dilute the impact of the Anakin vs Obi-Wan duel, which is what we all paid to see! What should be the climactic battle to end the trilogy becomes lost in an attempt to create the biggest and best lightsabre duel in Star Wars and the story of Yoda and Palpatine.
After suiting up to become Darth Vader, Palpatine tells his new apprentice that Padme died during childbirth. Vader erupts in anger, using the Force to destroy stuff. Of course, for Lucas, that’s not enough: James Earl Jones has to scream “Noooooo!” so that we truly understand Vader’s emotions. Show, don’t tell, Lucas! And that’s the problem not only with ‘ROTS,’ but with the entire prequel trilogy. Lucas constantly tells us what is happening, how the characters are feelings, etc. But he rarely shows us, and rarely do we empathise with the characters. There are glimmers of hope in ‘ROTS,’ where Lucas neglects dialogue in place of visual storytelling. There is, at least, a half-decent film to be found in ‘ROTS.’ That cannot be said for the other prequels. However, it’s hard to find. ‘ROTS’ was Lucas’ last chance to redeem the prequels, and he failed. He tried his best, but in the end, it didn’t make a jot of difference. All we are left with are numerous plot holes between the originals and the prequels, cringeworthy dialogue aplently, Jar Jar Binks, and the fact that Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader because of love. I’d rather use my imagination, Lucas!
VERDICT: 4/10. There are blips of promise through the film, but it ends an awful trilogy with a barely acceptable film. It may be the best film of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but only because the other two are awful. For the prequels, unlike Darth Vader, there was no redemption.
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