{Pop Culturally Insensitive will now be co-hosting (De)Constructing the Ion Canon, an ongoing blog surveying the entire official Star Wars canon according to its timeline. Check back every week for the next installment.}

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The year is 2005. Future Star Wars director JJ. Abrams gets an Emmy for Lost, everybody was plugging plastic guitars into their PS2s to master “Ace of Spades”, and a strange little video site called Youtube came into being; sci-fi and fantasy dominated the box office, with now classic films like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Batman Begins, and others that haven’t…really aged…all that well (I’m looking at you Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. And I’m the only person that’s looked at either of you in years); and I was 14 years old. I really should just stop there, honestly. 14 is the age where looking back stops being whimsical nostalgia and just starts being constant cringing. Nonetheless, this was a big year, my friends and I all knew. This was the end of the Star Wars saga. The final film. Never to be another (so we thought). Finality was in the wind, and that wind swept up our hype like a plastic bag on the breeze. The other films be damned, they said (I didn’t because you have to remember, at that point I swore by Episode I and apathetically recalled Episode II, so I liked the vitriol others so gleefully had). We were gonna embrace this. I lined up outside my local Toys R Us for the “final” midnight madness, I met up with my friends after school in the park outside and dueled with the cheapest plastic lightsabers available (which would break very easily, creating jagged edges and very real wounds, in perhaps the lamest way to get scars). It was all anyone could talk about, and when the big night came, I was lined up outside my local multiplex in full Luke on Dagobah costume (complete with plush Yoda in backpack) awaiting the midnight screening.

When the credits rolled, I remember my row of friends all freaking out, shouting and cheering. My father turned and asked me what I thought, and with a certain “Noooooooooo” still swirling around in my head, I gave an opinion I’d maintained until this rewatch: “What a piece of s**t”. I’d never looked back since, never viewed it in its entirety again, avoided it on cable. Loathed it like I’d loathed no other for what I saw as such squandered potential. Of course, even then there were moments I remembered fondly, mainly the performances of Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid, but those couldn’t outweigh atrocities like “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” I get that it’s meant to mirror Obi-Wan’s later “from a certain point of view”, but come on, it’s like McGregor was going to respond with “Well, I hope you should reconsider. I have some flowcharts here…” So after 7 weeks without a prequel, spent taking in some inconsistent but entertaining stories, I was dreading taking on the only Star Wars film I ever hated.

Well, enough forbidding and loathing, let’s talk about Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, shall we?

Obviously, from here on out it’s gonna get pretty spoiler-heavy if you haven’t seen Revenge of the Sith (or indeed any of the previous installments), so if such a thing worries you, now may be the time to turn back.

Well, I’m getting ready for a steep decline in readership moving forward for what I am about to say, but I need to say it: this is a good movie. It’s not without its faults, but its a damn fine piece of entertainment all the same, and actually contains not only some of the best acting of the prequels, but one of my favorite moments of the franchise. It honestly makes me sad George didn’t make a film after this, as you really see him come into his own visually, shake off the cobwebs and create some delightful and engaging scenes. McGregor is at his best, McDiarmid nails it even when hamming it up, and even the much maligned Christensen, while not as good as Matt Lanter from Clone Wars, does his damnedest with the material he’s given, and hey, at least he’s not as bad as that kid from Episode I, what vacuous black hole who stole all joy and momentum from any scene he was in. Nothing could be as bad as that kid…or so I thought.

Yes, there is one truly dreadful part of Revenge of the Sith, and while you can forgive Jake Lloyd for his age and simple lack of talent, this problem can only be blamed on someone’s lack of giving a single solitary ****. And I mean that, I have several notes from across the film’s runtime just commenting on how little of a s**t this person could be bothered to give, and those who’ve seen the film and aren’t part of the anti-Hayden dog pile know exactly who I mean.

Look, I loved Garden State. I think she acted the hell out of Leon, the Professional, I think she nailed V For Vendetta, and I think she damn well deserved that Oscar for Black Swan. Hell, I thought she was even fine in the first two prequel films. But here it;s clear she checked out well before the cameras started rolling. Go out, rent Closer, rent My Blueberry Nights. We know she can do better than this when she cares, and perhaps some of the blame can be put on George, but at least he’s trying. The same for Christensen. As rough as some of that dialogue gets, there’s at least some sense of purpose, some desire to do god and failing. At 14, “phoning it in” wasn’t really a phrase that had entered into my critical arsenal, but I’d heard it so often rightfully applied to Portman’s performance in this film that its now become the benchmark for me, the standard by which all others are compared before I apply the label to them. However, for the first 20 minutes, before Portman takes the wind out of the sails, we’re given a film that’s not only good, it’s exceptional.

Following an opening scroll explaining that Palpatine was kidnapped by General Grievous (which makes me desperately wish that was how they wrapped up the canon Clone Wars series, the way the original non-canon Star Wars: Clone Warsdid), we’re treated to a thrilling space battle, with tracking shots, chaotic choreography, great banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan on their way to rescue the Chancellor. They fend off buzzdroids, they dodge vulture droid missiles, their ships skid across the docking bay of Grievous’ vessel, with the Jedi leaping out and brilliantly slaying the awaiting droid army. It’s exciting, it’s enthralling, and when we’re introduced to the gorgeously designed General Grievous, the film immediately hooks you with the kind of fanciful space operatics that so came to define the original trilogy, reminiscent of the Flash Gordon stories which inspired it. And inspired is the right word here, since this is the first time in a while Lucas feels inspired. Everything comes together here brilliantly, even the shot choices and the color seem the work of a passionate artist. When the duo finally find Palpatine, and Count Dooku (a sorely underused but excellent Christopher Lee) arrives with a swelling score, you can’t help but get excited as he battles the Jedi, eventually knocking Obi-Wan unconscious, leaving Anakin to fight him alone. After being chided, we see Anakin feed into his hate, eventually besting Dooku and trapping his head between two saber blades (Dooku’s and his own). Palatine, seeing his opportunity, implores Anakin to kill Dooku, but casually. Almost off-handed, regal. He knows Anakin is susceptible to the dark side, he’s seen it, all he needs is the smallest push; and it works. It’s a great scene and the subsequent escape scene, while a little long, as exciting and full of a fresh energy that lasts right up until they land back on Corsucant.

As they leave the ship, Obi-Wan seems surprisingly cool with Anakin killing Dooku (I know he himself killed Darth Maul, but still, shouldn’t we be worried a little, since Anakin’s had a lot of anger issues throughout the Clone Wars?), and they debate just how many times Anakin’s saved him, including an incident on Cato Neimoidia, which of the two episodes that occurred on the planet in Clone Wars, we never see. Anakin has a brief liaison with his secret wife (who’s basically reduced to a crying mess in this film, as opposed to the confident, take no s**t woman of the first two films and Clone Wars). She tells him she’s pregnant, and honestly, just skip to the 1:24 mark below.

Their faces are perfect. The acting is sharp, and honest. When she reveals her pregnancy, look at Anakin, he’s scared, happy, angry. He doesn’t know what to feel, and she searches his face to see what not just that moment but their entire future holds. We’ve got six films, two TV series and an ever growing number of novels and comics, all telling fairy tales, archetypes over complex characters, but here is the closest we’ve ever come in any of them to honest humanity, to raw human emotion. Its a brilliant scene, and for one shining moment in this film, the two of them are believable. Sadly, it never reaches this height again, and some may attribute it to the proverbial stopped clock being right twice, but I think if nothing else this scene shows what a great film was lurking beneath all the missteps and miscasting.

Anakin becomes plagues with dreams of Padme dying in childbirth (which is the closest we get to payoff on his mom’s “he can see things before they happen” stuff from Episode I), which he explains to her in a scene she’s in but barely present, half-assedly delivering some of the worst dialogue in the series. Basically, from here on out, she’s check out, and the film’s momentum hits a snag any time we see her. Hayden handles the clunky script with a sense of purpose, to his credit, but its not enough to salvage these painful moments.

Meanwhile, Palpatine has received further emergency powers, allowing him control of the Jedi Order, and he appoints Anakin as his representative to the Jedi Council. However, while the Council concedes to allow Anakin in, they deny him the title of Master, and Christensen and Sam Jackson have a great bit of tension as Anakin petulantly disputes the decision, cut off by Windu’s forceful command of “Take a seat, young Skywalker”. Obi-Wan takes Anakin aside afterwards and asks him to spy on Palpatine on behalf of the council, which Anakin reluctantly agrees to (the dialogue and acting in this scene are actually exceptional). Obi-Wan departs for Utapau to hunt down General Grievous and while Yoda leaves for the Wookie planet of Kashyyk for…reasons.

Ok, there’s a vague necessity to having Obi-Wan on Utapau, since Grievous needs to be dealt with (the other Separatist leaders have been moved to Mustafa on Darth Sidious’ command), but Yoda’s arrival on Kashyyk is utterly pointless beyond just not anting Yoda there at the temple when Anakin goes on his rampage (and a painfully forced fan-service cameo from Chewbacca, which adds a really weird layer to the next trilogy, since Han doesn’t believe in the Force, yet his long-time partner straight up fought alongside a Jedi). While its nice seeing the clone trooper armor essentially become speeder bike trooper attire on Kashyyk, and there’s some thrills on Utapau, its hard not to feel as though everything from Grievous’ wheel-bike to Obi-Wan’s weird lizard mount were all specifically and meticulously crafted to sell toys, to the detriment of a scene with too many set-pieces and not enough purpose (or in the case of Kashyyk, no purpose at all). Eventually, Obi-Wan manages to kill Grievous with a few blaster shots to the chest, which is a surprisingly simple and effective kill, considering how immortal Grievous seemed in Clone Wars. I mean, why didn’t anybody try that before?

In condensing the painfully spaced out Utapau and Kashyyk sequences, however, I skipped over the best scene in the entire film. Everything from the lighting, the score, the dialogue, the acting. It’s flawless, and is easily one of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise.

Palpatine, the master manipulator, convinces Anakin of a plot by the Jedi to overthrow the Republic, but then preys on Anakin’s vulnerability, his fear of losing those he loves. But he doesn’t do it directly. He doesn’t say “Join the dark side, and I will teach you…”. He tells him a story, spins a myth, and in doing so expands the Star Wars mythology, both in the literal and figurative sense. The scene contains an immense and exquisite subtlety, an artistry of writing like we’ve never seen from Lucas before, and for me it eclipses even the best action sequences in the film, standing out at the finest thing about the entire prequel trilogy (besides perhaps the very existence of “Duel of the Fates”).

Later, when Anakin goes to Palpatine’s office to tell him of the discovery of General Grievous, Palpatine much more bluntly (and with sloppier writing) reveals himself to be the Sith Lord, and Anakin fights the temptation to kill him, of once behaving in line with the Jedi principles, and goes to report Palpatine to the Council. Meanwhile, news of Grievous’ defeat has reached Windu, who is determined to ensure Palpatine relinquish his emergency powers under threat of arrest. Anakin arrives in time to inform Windu of Palpatine’s secret, and Windu insist Anakin stay behind lest his clouded judgement prevent the from arresting him. However, tortured by the idea that without Palpatine, Padme may die, he soon follows.

We’re treated to a swift but fantastic fight when the Jedi arrive at Palpatine’s office, with the Sith Lord quickly executing every Jedi besides Windu, who holds his own. Anakin arrives just as Windu has Palpatine cornered and is using his lightsaber to deflect Palpatine’s own force lighting back at him, giving him that famous disfigurement. Wind is ready to kill Palpatine, who dramatically pleads for his life (McDiarmid gets really theatrical and hams it up here, but still pulls it off in my book). Anakin, once again behaving in line with the true way of the Jedi, demands that Palpatine stand trial, but Windu’s rage has taken over, and he claims Palpatine is too dangerous to live. Ready to strike the death blow, Windu is stopped by Skywalker cutting off his hand, before Palpatine uses his force lightning to launch Windu from the window, killing him (while inexplicably screaming “unlimited power”). Swiftly, identifying all Jedi as enemy of the Republic, with Anakin finally in agreement, he orders all the clones to “execute Order 66”, which some of you may recall from the final Fives arc of Clone Wars as being the code to deactivate the inhibitor chip in the clone brains, causing them to kill all of the Jedi. Taking Anakin in as his new Sith apprentice, and renames him, dubbing him Darth Vader.

As a younger man, it always troubled me, that name. Of course, it strikes fear into everyone who grew up with the original trilogy’s hearts, the Voldemort before their was a Voldemort in terms of names. But I always found it silly that Lucas gave all the other names such purpose. Sure, “vader” is the Dutch word for father, and Lucas was cleverly telegraphing The Empire Strikes Back‘s big twist (one of the most famous in all of cinema) in the first film, but instead of imbuing the other Sith with seemingly meaningless names, he goes out of his way to give them dark connotations. Darth Tyrannous, Darth Sidious, Darth Plagueis, Darth Maul; Tyranny, Insidious, Plague…and Maul. Why do they all get such menacing names, yet Anakin gets “Vader”? But upon this viewing, I felt like I understood, even if it took a leap of logic. If one assumes that as English is to Galactic Basic, other global languages have a parallel within the Star Wars universe, than Vader could well be the word for father, or similar sounding to it, in one of those languages, and that could be why he earned the name; essentially, it could be that Sith earn their new name based on what initially turned them to the dark side. For example, Maul was a Dathomir male, and we’ve seen that once the ancient magics are within them, they become animalistic, vicious. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine the type of massacre we see Savage Oppress exhibit to earn the admiration of Dooku in Clone Wars is similar to what feats of skill Maul demonstrated to Palpatine, and so it is his rage, his animal fury that brought him to the Sith, making Maul a fitting name. Similarly, the rich, aristocratic Dooku had aspirations to use his dark power to rule, to be a leader, to oppress the lower classes from his palaces, so his tyrannical aspirations bringing him to the dark ways earned him his title. From what we’ve seen of Palpatine’s machinations, and what we learn in brief flickers about his past in the later canon novels (I know, I know, I’m jumping the gun a little to make my point), he’s power hungry in a different way. He’s Machiavellian, he’s subtle, he’s the snake in the grass quietly pulling strings. He’s by definition insidious, and therefor earned his title thusly. It stands to reason that given Padme’s death is the impetus for Anakin’s desperate need for the powers of the dark side, rather than a need for power or glory, his Sith name wouldn’t be one of overthrow or fear, but one of paternity.

Vader leads an assault on the Jedi temple in a truly gorgeous and all too brief sequence, with the utterly chilling scene of the children pleading with Skywalker for help before he reveals his saber blade. Meanwhile, Lucas gives us his version of the famous “Godfather Christening” as we get a montage of Jedi being mercilessly slaughtered by clone troopers, with only Obi-Wan and Yoda seemingly escaping with their lives (there may be a certain Padawan who survived too, but we won’t get to him until our next installment). Bail Organa witnesses the Temple massacre firsthand, and sets out to find surviving Jedi. Obi-Wan, Organa and Yoda convene, and agree to recalibrate the emergency beacon that was calling all Jedi back to the temple to instead warn them to stay away. Vader returns to Padme, and tells her the Jedi plan to overthrow the Republic, and that he must go to Mustafa to end the war, and its right around here that the film loses all momentum.

Yes, we get one final great sequence of Vader on Mustafar, trapping all of the Separatists by shutting the doors with the Force and slaughtering them as they plead for their lives, but we then waste too much time watching the Jedi do a whodunnit over the corpses of dead Jedi children, trying to make suspenseful a reveal we already knew as we watched the massacre happen ourselves. The Jedi recalibrate the message while Palpatine calls an emergency Senate meeting to speak about the Jedi’s attempted rebellion, and to declare the Republic the new Galactic Empire, which is a pretty good scene that could have been capped off brilliantly, as it has one of the best written lines in the prequels: “So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause”, which is both topical and universal, political and proverbial, yet its unfortunately a line being delivered by Portman, who practically tosses it off while waiting for her paycheck.

There’s a great moment where Obi-Wan pleads with Yoda to go after Sidious himself so that he wouldn’t have to kill his former apprentice, but Yoda tells him he’s not powerful enough, and the two agree to their separate fates. Obi-Wan seeks out Padme and tells her of her husband’s crimes (while figuring out Anakin fathered her unborn children), and while she refuses to reveal where Anakin went, Obi-Wan knows she’ll go to him, and stows away on her ship. She goes to Mustafar, and Vader, sensing Obi-Wan’s presence, lashes out at her, ultimately force-choking her near-death before being interrupted by Kenobi, who for some reason stands atop the ship’s ramp with his hands on his hips like 1930’s Robin. Meanwhile, Yoda has tracked down Darth Sidious to his office, and after dispatching his Imperial guards with the wave of his hand like the tiny badass he is, and an awkward shot were the actor playing Mas Amedda seems to glance at a boom or something while Palpatine is talking, the classic moment occurs.

Lets face it, if you remember one part of Revenge of the Sith, this is the part you remember. The “dual duel” as it were, where Yoda and Sidious engage in over the top acrobatics through the Senate Hall while Vader and Obi-Wan battle it out amongst the magma of Mustafar. Everybody has one they prefer over the other (I prefer the Mustafar fight), but these scenes are as iconic as anything gets out of the prequels outside of Darth Maul’s lightsaber, and for good reason: They’re well shot, well-choreographed, and short of some painfully laughable dialogue (re: “From my point of view…”), they’re utterly captivating.

Anybody who can watch the above 14 minutes and claim this movie doesn’t at least have some great moments is just being an insufferable Amblin kid. Admittedly, these fights are the last high note of the film, and it screeches to a halt of “Holy s**t how much longer does this have?” after that, but damn if it isn’t a fun ride getting there. Ultimately, Vader foolishly leaps toward Obi-Wan, who has the high ground (which he awkwardly states), and Obi-Wan somehow manages to cut off all three of Vader’s remaining limbs (somebody please chime in in the comments or message me to explain how in the hell that could possibly work). Here, you gotta give these two credit, especially McGregor: these guys act the hell out of this scene. McGregor seems on the verge of actual tears as Hayden devolves into a creature of pure rage. It’s a great scene, and Vader burning alive while Obi-Wan watches is so brutal. Quite frankly, if it weren’t for the bit of pipe-laying involving the metal suit and the twins being necessary, that movie really could have stopped with Obi-Wan walking away, and it would have ended brilliantly.

But that bit of pipe-laying, setting up the original films, is necessary, that work needs to be done. However, it doesn’t need to be done at a snail’s pace. The much maligned birth scene deserves all of the malign. Portman is at her worst here, and it doesn’t help that “dying of a broken heart” is a direction not even Meryl Streep could do anything with. That said, Padme’s flicker of pain and middle-school drama class tears before immediately naming each child as sonar they’re out of her is just awkward and uncomfortable, somehow being the slowest scene in history to ever feel rushed. Yes, it’s great watching Vader be worked on by droids (the lighting in that sequence is stellar, and the truly inspired idea to have all of those droids move statically, almost stop-motion-esque gives the scene a great tone), but that’s soon undone by the quite-frankly nauseating Frankstein pseudo-homage of Vader breaking free of his bindings to atrociously yell “Noooooooooooo!” after Palpatine tells him he killed Padme (which makes way more sense than a broken ****ing heart anyway). We’re then dragged through a tedious Jedi custody battle as Organa eventually agrees to take in Leia, and Yoda decides Luke should be with his family on Tatooine because…reasons? I mean, he says the child should be with his family, but a) No, he shouldn’t since Vader could find him, and b) if he should be with his family, shouldn’t that mean Leia too? You’re already taking one of his family away, and basically keeping her away from all her family. Why doesn’t Leia need to be with her family, huh, Yoda? What kinda sexist s**t is that? Yoda also tells Obi-Wan that he shall stay on Tatooine and confer with his old master Qui-Gon to learn the ways of living after death, which is a nice piece of dialogue not just because it partly explains why Obi-Wan stayed, but also validates the final arc of Clone WarsSeason 6, giving it more of a connection to the saga as a whole.

So while Vader and Palpatine watch over the construction of the Death Star, and Senator Organa asks to have C-3PO’s mind wiped (but not R2) because…reasons, Obi-Wan delivers Luke to Beru on Tatooine, and Owen stands atop a familiar piece of homestead, gazing out at a familiar set of twin suns, aaaaaaaaaaaand credits wipe!

So there you have it. The prequel trilogy is concluded, the little slave boy from Tatooine is now the most feared villain in the galaxy, the Republic is now the Empire, and I’m now itching to get to the next set of films (though two more weeks to go before that). Admittedly, Revenge of the Sith isn’t a perfect film, but its also not nearly as awful as people make it out to be. There’s some cool action, some great performances, a good amount of world building (Quinlan Vos is even referenced by name), and certain moments like seeing the Imperials all in their uniforms give jolts and chills. It’s not expertly crafted, but there are some truly inspired moments that show Lucas returning to his THX-1138 and American Graffitiform, which makes it a genuine shame we all sorta abused him out of the director’s chair (though I think his heart was never really in it as it is for producing). It’s easily the best of the prequels, and I’ll be curious to see where it compares to, say, Return of the Jedi which doesn’t really have the love the other two do outside of the fawning Amblin generation. That said, in response to is it worth watching, the answer is absolutely yes. It’s genuinely a good film, mostly enjoyable, and whose faults are scene specific and mostly singular (but she’s so good in other things), so as long as you have your skip button ready, the film is well worth a rewatch. As for the whole of the prequel trilogy? Even though I’d said Phantom Menace itself isn’t worth your time, and I stand by it, the whole prequel trilogy is. There’s enough good in these films to outweigh the bad, especially with Clone Wars existing to fill in some of the faults in the films (like explaining why the clones act on Order 66, how Qui-Gon can still be around but never appears as a force ghost, etc.). If someone offers you the chance to watch the full prequel trilogy, don’t pass it up just because of Jar Jar Binks and some bad romance scenes. Overall, these films don’t deserve the vitriol that’s hurled at them, and indeed deserves praise for some portions. Combined with Clone Wars, its a pretty good saga so far, and the stage is set for the epic battle of good vs. evil.

We’re scheduled to talk about A New Dawn next week, but I’m going to try and broaden it out and tackle everything in the canon between Revenge of the Sith and Rebels, which means three novels, some comics, some short films…its a lot of stuff, basically. I’ll keep it as spoiler-free as possible, akin to how I did the Clone Wars Legacy post, as opposed to digging in deep with A New Dawn as I’d originally intended. After that, it’s one season of Rebels, and then we’re on to the original trilogy. We’re almost at the end now, guys, but we’ve got miles to go before we sleep, and I look forward to hearing from you every step of the way.

7 thoughts on “(De)Constructing the Ion Canon: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

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