May 19th, 2005, saw the release of the last entry in George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. Of all the films in this new trilogy, this one was, by far, the most anticipated. Lucas had already touched upon the main themes of this new trilogy; the introduction of Anakin Skywalker, his training as a Jedi Knight and friendship with Master Obi-wan Kenobi, Senator Palpatine/ Darth Sidious’s machinations to tear the Republic apart, and provoke a Galactic Civil War, Anakin and Padmé’s love story, and the beginning of the Clone Wars. There was just one more piece to finish the puzzle of Lucas’s vision and for the complete story arc to be fulfilled; that of the turning of Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side, and his final reveal as Darth Vader.
Here we go again
Pretty much everyone, from the technical crew to the cast, who had been involved in the previous two movies, came back. The bulk of the production was, once again, shot in Fox Studios in Sydney, Australia, and some additional pick up scenes and reshoots were done in Shepperton and Elstree Studios, England. It was once again shot with digital cameras and by then, the crew had grown quite adept at using the new format.
As this last movie was going to be the darkest of all three, the cast and crew, and especially George Lucas, would have to take it up a notch to really convey the sense of loss and desperation into which The Republic would fall once the Empire takes over. I’ve already talked about the technical merits of these movies in my previous reviews. There’s nothing new here. The Conceptual Design department came up with some nice ideas for Creature and Planet Design; the aliens we can see on the planet Utapau; a brand new planet on which the inhabitants live in a kind of sink holes, into which buildings are constructed, the home planet of the Wookies, Kashyyyk ( for which a second Unit travelled to Thailand, to shoot some footage, and take some pictures of the landscape to use as background plates), the volcanic planet Mustafar, where the fateful lightsabre duel between Anakin and Obi-wan takes place; for which another filming crew went to Mount Etna, Italy, to shoot images of the erupting volcano, and last, but not least, they came up with the design for a new villain, General Grievious. His appereance, half robot-half alien, was a clear precursor of what Darth Vader would come to be. A being that needed artificial assistance to live via cybernetic implements ( his coughing resembled Vader’s mechanical breathing).
Lucas also wanted to boost the lightsabre fight scenes in the movie in both choreography and speed, especially for the last duel between Anakin and Obi-wan. With the assistance of Stunt Coordinator Nick Gillard, who had worked in the two previous movies, the actors underwent months of rigorous swordfight training. With the help of a small crew, and in a very crude way, Gillard would record these sessions following Lucas’s storyboards for the Mustafar duel scenes and, apparently some behind the scenes suggestions by filmmaker Steven Spielberg. This recorded material would then be delivered to the Editing and Animation departments to be better refined and turned into Pre-viz footage, that would be later used as a visual guide by Lucas and the editors to, not only, plan out the sequences, but also use as reference for the editing of the scenes later on.
Journey to the Dark Side
This time around, Lucas delivered a much stronger script to work with, and even though there’s still the feeling that there’s still too much stuff crammed into it, the overall pacing and character development is way better than in the previous movies. There seems to be a better sense of direction by Lucas of his actors, the dialogue is much better and the movie is, in the whole, jam packed with very strong scenes and action set pieces.
On the acting side, Hayden Christensen really delivers when it comes to showing Anakin’s frustration and resentment with the Jedi Council, his fear of losing Padmé, and his Fall into the Dark Side, justified as a means of saving her, and a consequent lust for power, when he realises that he has the power to rule the Galaxy. The scenes between Anakin and Padmé, with a few exceptions, don’t come off as cheesy and cringe worthy as on the previous film, and the scenes in which they discuss the state of affairs in the Republic, and the effect the Clone Wars has had on it, and Padmé’s overall sense that things are taking a turn for the worse, are really revealing of the ideological rift that’s being created between them, and that the influence of Chancellor Palpatine is really beginning to takes its toll on Anakin.
Ewan MacGregor does a superb job as Obi-wan Kenobi. He’s fully embraced the role and made it his own. At this point, his physical resemblance with Alec Guinness is uncanny. He’s got the voice and the mannerisms of a young Obi-wan down to a tee. He oozes with the wisdom, confidence and wholesome nature of the character.
But who really goes to town with his performance is Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine/The Emperor. The English stage actor is having the time of his life, and on this movie he really has a chance to shine. The different scenes in which he tries to seduce Anakin, and bring him to the Dark Side, are superbly shot and executed. Chief among them, is the one that takes place in The Opera House of Coruscant. The eerie atmosphere of the place, coupled with the weird nature of the Calamarian Water dancing play they’re watching, makes for a perfect setting for the legend that Palpatine tells Anakin about an all powerful Sith Lord, who had the ability to keep those closest to him from dying, and the not so different nature of the Jedi compared to the Sith. This piece of dialogue is fascinating, and both actors performances are perfect. The subtlety with which Palpatine tells the story, knowing, as he does, the profound effect it will have on Anakin, is brilliant. Preying on his fear of losing Padmé, as he did his mother. You can see how, little by little, Palpatine starts, first; undermining Anakin’s confidence in the Jedi, then; hinting at them being unable or unwilling to teach him everything that there is to know about the Force, and also; appealing to his vanity to become more than he is, what he’s meant to be; the most powerful Jedi in the Galaxy. All these elements combined make for very enticing reasons for Anakin to heed Palpatine’s advice and teachings. But, as seductive as these things can be, Anakin still struggles between choosing a Power, however dark it may be, that can ultimately save Padmé from dying, or listen to his conscience and do the right thing. Once the true nature of Palpatine is revealed to Anakin, he decides right away to turn him in, and tells Master Dooku about it. He’s forced to remain behind, in the Jedi Temple, while Mace Windu and a group of Jedi go to the Senate to place Palpatine under arrest. Palpatine is playing a dangerous game, but he knows that the wedge between Anakin and the Jedi Council has already been placed, and once Anakin is confronted with the possibility of Palpatine dying at the hands of Windu, he gives in and makes the ultimate choice; to turn to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader. All the scenes leading up to his decision, be it his conversations with Padmé or Palpatine, the refusal of the Jedi Council to grant him the rank of Jedi Master, his jealousy and mistrust of Obi-wan, are all very well placed in the narrative structure, and Hayden Christensen makes the most of them exhibiting a wide range of emotions throughout; anger,resentment, mistrust, doubts, concern, hopelessness and desperation. He conveys all of this and more. One of the most beautiful, and sad scenes in the movie, is when he’s waiting in the Jedi Temple for news of Palpatine’s arrest, and he can see, on the other side of Coruscant, Padmé’s apartment. He’s observing her from a distance. The shot is repeated in the reverse order, and now is Padmé who is observing Anakin. There’s a sense of longing and desperation in that scene, helped in no small measure by a haunting cue by John Williams. That scene sums up beautifully what both Padmé and, especially, Anakin are feeling, and what he ultimately has to sacrifice; his Soul, to save her. Even after he’s helped kill Windu, he’s still tormented by his decision.
What happens afterwards; the destruction of the Jedi Temple, the slaughtering of all the Jedi Knighs by Anakin and the Clone Troopers, and the execution by order of the Emperor of Order 66; the Galaxywide destruction of all Jedi Knights, is one of the saddest moments in all of the Star Wars movies.
This episode is, in my opinion, the best in the prequel trilogy. It delivers in spades everything that we ever wanted to see regarding the end of the Clone Wars, The Rise of the Empire, and Fall of the Republic, and the Downfall of Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into Darth Vader. Visual and Special Effects, as per usual, are top of the line, the performances are solid (especially Ian McDiarmid; he’s having a field day), the music is brilliant (special mention to Battle of the Heroes), Cinematography, Sound Design by Ben Burtt, Conceptual Design, Costume and Production Design…all the usual suspects, are top notch. And the action set pieces are amazing and brilliantly executed; the Space Battle over Coruscant, the lightsabre duel between Obi-wan, Anakin and Dooku, the rescue of Chancellor Palpatine, the battle scenes in both Utapau and Kashyyyk, the duel between Obi-wan and Grievous, Mace and Palpatine’s lightsabre duel, Yoda vs Palpatine, and most of all, the top set piece of the movie; the lightsabre duel between Anakin/Vader and Obi-wan on the volcanic planet of Mustafar; brilliantly choreographed, shot and edited. For some strange reason, this movie seems to flow better than the other two. No much chance for respite. No dead spaces. No unnecessary scenes. It only took him three movies to do it this time, but Revenge of the Sith is one of the better Star wars movies, and definitely, the best in this trilogy. One minor complaint, though. When we finally get to see Vader in the suit, he asks about Padmé and upon learning of her death, he yells: Nooooooo!!. That’s a big no,no, for me. Lucas should have never included that dialogue, and that emotional outburst. It goes against everything that we know about the character. But, that being said, what follows brilliantly connects the new trilogy with the old one, with a brilliantly assembled montage of scenes that will tug at your heartstrings. That’s the way I see it.
Thanks for reading.