Last weekend, our intrepid Star Wars rewatch team—Ian, Gretchen, and Zach—made their way through Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (RotS). With TPM and AotC under their belts, they have now officially survived the Prequel trilogy (PT). Two of us made it through with snarky comments on Twitter; one of us actually enjoyed themselves.
What were your feelings on the movie going in?
Zach: (covers himself in a poncho in anticipation of the storm of rotten tomatoes) After Empire Strikes Back, RotS is my favorite movie in the Star Wars series. I must admit that much of my current affection for this movie stems from the five seasons of damage control that was Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Moreover, as an adult I can really dig into the themes present in the narrative. Am I overanalyzing? Yes. Am I honey-potting? Probably. Almost certainly. But this movie still holds a special place in my heart that nothing can destroy.
Ian: I never thought I’d be laughing at the reveal of Darth Vader in the black armor, but there it is. When I saw this movie in the theater, I was already pretty jaded. Episode II ruined any enjoyment I might have had from it. Subsequent viewings haven’t really endeared me to it. A lot of cool ideas that don’t quite pan out. Missed opportunities everywhere. I don’t have hope that this viewing will move me in any meaningful direction.
Gretchen: My most lasting impression of RotS was how utterly flat the ending fell for me even when I first saw it. To me, it’s a low point in a franchise when the origin story for arguably the coolest (at the very least most beloved) villain feels both idiotic and unearned. Needless to say, my bar was quite low going in.
What did you think of the characters?
Gretchen: Wait…there were characters? Not just flat entities that moved from plot point to plot point with wooden dialogue?
Zach: For me, for the first time in the prequels, the characters actually seem to be in character. Padmé is the only exception to this rule, and I’m sure Gretchen will get into that soon. But for everyone else who appears in the OT, their personalities have fallen in line with their future selves.
Ian: With a few notable exceptions, no one seems to care about anything. Walking and talking. Sitting and talking. So much… talking. “Hey, Mace, I think Palpatine is the Sith we’ve been looking for!” “Really? Well then there is no time to lose! Let us casually stroll through this cavernous room while we discuss it further.”
Gretchen: As Zach rightly pointed out, I’m going to talk about Padmé. Oh Padmé. My favorite character from TPM and AotC, became a non-entity in RotS. As I live-tweeted on Friday, once she gets pregnant, she lost any and all compelling characterization and even her character arc.
You’re telling me a pregnant woman can’t be a politician? Or that she would get punished for marrying Anakin when he is the only one who broke his vows? And what is this bullshit about her ‘losing the will to live’? Was No Longer Plot Necessary and Needed to Be Fridged for Whiny White Boy’s Manpain, you mean. Ugh..
Ian: Poor Padmé. Any competence or agency she had in AotC has disappeared.
Zach: Yes, Padmé really did get the short end of the stick. In a disturbing rehash of AotC, all of Padmé’s scenes wherein she behaves as the political powerhouse she is were cut. Like the scene where she, Bail Organa, and Mon Mothma basically kickstarted the Rebel Alliance. In one version of the draft, she even stabs Anakin when she realizes he’s corrupted. Basically, Padmé was almost the badass we all knew her to be, but for some reason *cough* GEORGE LUCAS *cough* these scenes never made it to the final drafts.
Gretchen: Gee, these would have been excellent scenes to have for my favorite character. She’s more than an incubator, she’s the one who started the goddamn Rebel Alliance and we saw none of that on screen!
Zach: Right? I agree Padmé’s death by “Losing the Will to Live” was complete bullshit. Padmé Amidala had a fuckton left to live for. She and her BFFs had a rebellion to orchestrate. She had two beautiful, healthy children to raise. She had vengeance to fulfill! Padmé should have survived, not just on a continuity level, but on a thematic level. All the emotional heft that her character packed was callously discarded by this awful script.
All that having been said, I still like Padmé in RotS. The scene where she and Anakin tenderly plan out the idyllic future that they want for each other, highlighted by John William’s incredible score, really moves me. They both want so much to be happy, but they want to be happy together. All those deleted scenes from AotC with Padmé’s family show just how loving and tender she is, and while her badassery is wonderful, I thought it was nice to see a female character in an action movie who was not punished for wanting to be a mother. I get emotional every time I watch that scene.
Gretchen: My struggle is that she was punished for being a mother; she died once her role in birthing was complete. If that isn’t the ultimate punishment for wanting to have babies, I don’t know what is.
Ian: Wow, Zach, all of that would have been cool. I have a fundamental problem though with judging a piece of work for what it could be, though. The fact that scenes were written and never filmed, or filmed and cut out, means that someone, be it the writer, director, or editor, felt that it didn’t belong or didn’t work. Those scenes are cool to read about, and interesting to think about, but ultimately I feel like the movie needs to be judged for what it is. We’ll see what happens in Episode IV when a scene that didn’t work was added back in. It still doesn’t work.
Gretchen: So what about the other characters?
Zach: Yoda has finally become the Yoda we know and love from Empire Strikes Back. As the movie goes on, he seems to realize just how wrong he was about involving the Jedi. After all that he loses in the war it adds a lot of heft to the line “Wars not make one great.”
Gretchen: I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right.
Zach: Hayden Christiansen was given an infinitely better script this time around (although it still sucked). You can see him really emoting in certain scenes. Foremost in my mind is the moment where Padmé reveals that she is pregnant. The moment she says it you can see all the thoughts running through Anakin’s mind, all the fear, the anxiety, the happiness, it all comes flooding in at once and you can see him trying to process it.
Ian: Anakin is… marginally better. Either Hayden Christiansen was directed more, or he took some acting classes in the interim, but he’s slightly better in this movie. Too bad Anakin is still a whiny emo edgelord who is easily duped. Yoda is nothing. Dooku is barely in it. Grievous… I don’t even know. The only real characters we’re left with are Obi-Wan and Palps.
Gretchen: While I admit Christiansen did a better job acting his role this time, his dialogue was so thin he didn’t have much to work with. I think RotS might have the lowest word count script-wise of the prequels.
Zach: Speaking of Anakin, his script should have been handled much better. Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are supposed to be different characters, but GL seems hell-bent to make it look like Anakin is trying to become a villain through ham-handed exposition and tell-not-show writing. We are supposed to be able to sympathize with him, but all that we get to see of him is whining about how the Council does not trust him and will not make him a Master.
The Clone Wars fleshes out how the Council tries to screw him over at every given opportunity. However, we never get this context within RotS itself, so his anger makes less sense.
Gretchen: Speaking of making little sense, Count Dooku.
Zach: Alas, poor Dooku. He is an awesome villain in TCW, but the movies really do him a disservice. Sir Christopher Lee still knocks it out of the park, though. He was originally supposed to beg for his life after his fight with Anakin, but Lee convinced Lucas that it was beneath his dignity to beg. I must agree. Lee’s face when Dooku realizes that, this whole time has been a means to an end, is priceless and sheer acting genius. It is easily one of the best moments of the show.
Gretchen: Christopher Lee is too good for this role, as are so many of the other actors. Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu is another actor I think of who could have done so much more with the role if the writing had been more in depth.
Zach: Mace Windu. I loved his character, but he was a really awful person. He was self-righteous, pompous, and arrogant even more than he said Anakin was. His dismissive behavior to Anakin in the light of all that Anakin has done for the Council (including but not limited to treason and betraying close friends) is probably one of the only things that the movie does right to justify Anakin’s disillusionment with the Jedi.
Gretchen: Speaking of the Jedi, Obi-wan, or rather, Obi-wan memes are really the saving grace of this movie. Other than Ian McDiarmid’s flawless portrayal of Palpatine, that is.
Zach: OBI-WAN IS ACTING LIKE HE MIGHT BECOME BEN KENOBI. Seriously, he is calm and collected, he throws shade like Alec Guiness’ Ben Kenobi. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan in this movie was flawless. Obi-Wan is trying his damnedest to preserve the Jedi Code, but the corruption of the Council and the Republic even catches up to him. As hard as Obi-Wan tries to overcome the encroaching darkness, it is inescapable.
Another interesting contrast can be seen between Obi-Wan and Anakin, here. While Anakin is willing to do anything to save the people he loves, Obi-Wan blindly serves. If Obi-Wan had been corrupted, and Yoda had told Anakin to kill him, Anakin would have refused. Obi-Wan manipulates Padmé and does not try to bring Anakin back to the light, aside from a few half-hearted yellings that Anakin has become lost. He says it himself: “Only the Sith deal in absolutes; I will do what I must.” Even in his exile on Tatooine, Obi-Wan refuses to think that he might have done anything wrong and yearns for a return of the Jedi and their orthodoxy.
Gretchen: It’s interesting to think about, but I’m not sure how well that was translated on screen. So much focus was put on Palpatine’s evil that we don’t spend a lot of time in the nuances of Jedi orthodoxy or how Obi-Wan feels about it all.
Ian: Palpatine really is evil-ing it up this mvie. He probably had to have his stomach pumped when they were done from all the scenery he was chewing on, but it’s totally worth it.
Zach: This really is Palpatine’s movie. People give him crap for being over the top and hammy in this movie, but you know what? If the plan I had been laying for 50+ years all came together flawlessly over a couple of days, you can bet I would be cackling my ass off too.
Gretchen: Totally! I love Palps in this movie. I have less love for Anakin’s turn, though. His fall isn’t unmotivated, but it is entirely unearned. Every time he talks about the council, I hear only petulant entitlement. And the cognitive dissonance involved in having someone who wanted to save his wife and unborn child from death slaughter children beggars belief. The seeds of an amazing villain story are here, and throughout the prequel trilogy, but the execution is utterly lacking.
Ian: He’s not showing any real agency of his own. He’s just kind of doing what he’s told, and then griping about it later to poor put-upon Padmé who would rather be nesting because that’s what pregnant women do. Isn’t it?
Zach: That is a theme I pick up on throughout the series is that both Anakin and Vader never really escaped from slavery on Tatooine. It was Anakin’s “choice” to leave, but what was the alternative? Then every day of his life was orders from Obi-Wan or the Council, putting down insurrections and keeping the peace. Then he was a general and did what was asked of him again, taking star systems and destroying ships in the name of the Republic. His next “choice” is to join Palpatine, and he does it unflinchingly to save the life of the woman he loves. After that, he becomes a slave to Sidious. He was a slave all his life until Luke offered him freedom.
Gretchen: I believe by “theme” here you mean significantly more meaningful fan theory than the level of thought Lucas actually put into making these films. As much as I love that idea and think it works well, I do not actually think it was intentional on the part of the writers. I suppose we can call it a meaningful and significant reverse honeypot, a story they unintentionally told that actually means a hell of a lot more than the one they actually did.
Whose story is this? (who is the main character?)
Gretchen: TPM felt like Padmé’s story, and AotC felt like Obi-Wan’s, but it’s neither of their stories this time.
Ian: It’s supposed to be Anakin’s. I can tell they want it to be Anakin’s, but he’s really just a passenger.
Zach: It is definitely supposed to be Anakin’s, given how much time is devoted to Lucas’s attempt at writing a compelling character arc. All of Padmé’s scenes were removed, Obi-Wan remains steadfastly stuck in his ways, Palpatine is … Palpatine.
Gretchen: I honestly think it might have been Palpatine’s movie. He’s the only one with a true arc aside from Anakin’s poorly executed and unearned ‘fall’. We watch him enact and accomplish his ultimate goal: gaining sole control over the intergalactic government. He meets opposition in the form of the Jedi, borderline amoral assholes, and overcomes it through his own cleverness and Anakin’s desperation for validation from a father figure who admires his talents instead of holding him back. The more I think about it, the more he is actually an excellent villain protagonist. At least from a certain point of view.
Ian: Palpatine’s rise and the fall of the Republic is the real story here. I mean, Vader is really just his lackey in A New Hope. Even Tarkin pushes him around.
Are the themes present enough to redeem the other, poorly done aspects?
Gretchen: For me? Absolutely not. The themes are the sloppiest part, aside from poor and inconsistent characterization, weak dialogue, sloppy worldbuilding (especially with the Jedi), and a thin plot of only loosely connected action scenes. What even is the theme? That trying to save a loved one from death/suffering won’t work? That good intentions become child massacre? I mean, they’re not bad themes at all. But they’re neither novel enough or presented in a distinct and compelling enough way to overcome the obvious flaws in the film.
Ian: Everything you said. I’m baffled why this movie even exists. It’s just kind of a bunch of things that happen because they more or less had to happen. It’s a lot like that Pearl Harbor movie. Stuff happens. Some people are involved. Some of them die. Some don’t. The end.
Zach: The themes are, in my opinion, the only saving grace for this movie. The overall theme is fear and what it drives people to do. Anakin is afraid of losing Padmé, so he commits horrendous atrocities to save her. The whole galaxy is afraid of the war and all the damage it is causing, so they name Sheev Palpatine the Emperor and become hostile to anyone who might disrupt the order he has established. These themes are especially poignant in our times, especially what fear drove the people of America to do last year.
What worked for you?
Ian: There are some cool action scenes here. The cold open with the space battle and siege on Greivous’s ship. The fight with Grievous later. But they are all just kind of there. The battle scenes on Kashyyyk are fun but ultimately meaningless. The saber duel to end all saber duels is overwrought and goes on too long. It’s kind of fun seeing Anakin cut down the Separatist leaders, but his fall is so hollow that it has no weight to it. (Though seeing Nute Gunray finally buy the farm is totes worth it). It’s really hard to find good things in this for me.
Gretchen: As with the previous films, the cinematography and camera work were well done. The color scheme may have been a bit too on the nose toward the end of the film—it’s red because Anakin is Evuhl, get it?—but it worked well. The entire prequel trilogy feels visually indulgent in an aesthetically pleasing way. They’re true eye candy in the best sense.
Zach: The scene where Anakin makes his decision to go after Mace Windu. In the score the music is called “Padmé’s Ruminations,” and it is perfect in every way. The red sunlight, the haunting music, the expressions on the characters’ faces come together for an unforgettable and unsettling moment. The distance between Anakin and Padmé, and Anakin’s lack of emotional support are beautifully and wordlessly shown in this one scene. If the whole movie could have been like this, it might have been Oscar worthy. Alas, it was not.
What didn’t work?
Gretchen: Just about everything else.
Ian: Gawd, all of it. So much wasted potential. Grievous was so close to being a cool character, but he’s such a dummy. He looks neat, but he has no sense in his tin head.
Zach: The opening crawl says that there are “heroes on both sides,” and Grievous is implied to be a hardened badass. I mean, he managed a sneak-attack on the capital of the enemy and stole the head of government in one fell swoop. Yet, throughout the movie Grievous busies himself by getting the hell out of Dodge anytime things do not go his way. We should have seen him whack a couple of Jedi or maybe even act as a morally grey, Robert E. Lee-esque figure. Instead we got asthma attacks and nonsense. It was a major disappointment.
Gretchen: Why does he even have asthma?? He’s a droid!
Ian: Anakin’s fall feels like a soap opera, and a bad one. Pretty much at every moment of this film, I’d rather be watching The Clone Wars, or reading the Kanan comic book. It reminds me how disappointing it is at every turn by making me think about media that did these things better. And that fucking scene where he finally wears the black armor, and the melodramatic “NOOOOOO”. I didn’t watch anything Star Wars for YEARS after I saw this the first time. It sucks.
Zach: The fight between Palpatine and Yoda. Neither of them should have had a lightsaber to begin with. Both are very cerebral characters. Moreover, they are functionally Force gods. Yoda lifts massive objects with relative ease, and Sidious can shoot lightning from his palms. I think a confrontation between them was a good addition, but it should have focused more on their Force powers, ala the second half of their fight, where Sidious throws whole Senate booths at Yoda like a kid throwing soda-cans. Seeing those two really let loose in a battle of pure Force powers would have been stunning, especially if the duel had completely destroyed the Senate dome.
Gretchen: Agreed. I never enjoy seeing Yoda fighting with a lightsaber. He’s much more compelling when he’s throwing things around with the Force.
Zach: Oh, and why could they not drop some cash and get actual people in the trooper armor?
Gretchen: Where I could ironically enjoy AotC because it’s ‘plot’ and ‘romance’ were delightfully ridiculous, I had only genuine sarcastic disdain for RotC upon rewatch. Action scenes clearly drove the writing more than any other of the prequel films. The dialogue was thin, clumsy, and felt more like filler in between action scenes. Ian and I joked about it in our live tweet, but there were at least a half dozen “ship flying into planet’s atmosphere” shots, if not more. As much as I like the visual elements, it was too much. All flash and no bang, imo.
More than anything, the treatment of Padmé character infuriates me (#JusticeForPadmé). They had the opportunity to explore an intelligent, strategic, well rounded female character with a gift for leadership and politics and instead, stuck her with a pregnancy that ended her life. In order to advance the story of the white male lead whose ‘arc’ was ham-fisted and over-wrought. She went from having more agency than almost any other character to zero. Just…
Ian: I can’t. I’m done. The OT is next, let’s just look forward to that. This isn’t the worst movie of the PT, but it’s the biggest letdown.
Zach: Come at me brah, all of these legit grievances with the movie are super true and valid, but Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith knocks most of it out of the park with complex themes, characters, and grey morality. With the proper context of super-deep analysis, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and rose-tinted nostalgia goggles, this movie is easily the best of the PT and can at least stand up against the OT.
Ian’s score: 4 – Watchable: If you are bored, give it a looksee. Does not leave the viewer with any significant emotions other than sadness that there was nothing better to do.
Zach’s Score: 7 – Satisfying: Fantastic! Entertaining! I would be willing to watch it again. It isn’t perfect, but it hits an emotional or thematic sweet spot that leaves you glad you spent time on it.
Gretchen’s Score: 1 – Abhorrent: Time in my life that I will never get back. Leaves the viewer with confusion as to why this was greenlit for production.