“You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!”
Reflections on Episode III …
In 2005, we had good reason to think Revenge of the Sith would be the last time we’d be lining up to see a movie in the Star Wars Saga. Then came the CGI-animated movie The Clone Wars, which was really a pilot for the Cartoon Network TV series of the same name boosted to big-screen status at nearly the last minute, and Disney’s multibillion-dollar deal for Lucasfilm that brought us to the new cinematic universe of Star Wars kicking off with The Force Awakens.
By the time the Prequel Trilogy concluded in 2005 with Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, I had achieved a career, married, lost my mother and fathered a son of my own. I had come a long way in my life, and so had Star Wars grown and changed.
Welcome to Episode VII Days of the Force, a daily series of Star Wars reflections counting down to the release of The Force Awakens!
Episode III appeased a lot of the Star Wars fans, like me, who had mostly grown up with the sacred Original Trilogy but felt let down by the first couple of prequels, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Revenge of the Sith was closer in many ways to the original Star Wars, by now known as Episode IV: A New Hope — and, of course, that is the point. The creation myth comes full circle with Episode III, and the stage is set for the hero’s journey of Luke Skywalker in the next generation.
Since childhood, spurred on only by a cryptic reference in the Return of the Jedi novelization, I’d known that Anakin Skywalker was scarred and maimed in what I only knew as a “volcano battle” with his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, leading to his transformation into Darth Vader. If there’s one thing to fire a young boy’s imagination, it’s the combination of lightsabers, Jedi powers and flowing lava.
Revenge of the Sith delivered.
Episode III was the first time I actually checked in with an organized Star Wars lineup operation, this time at the Cine Capri Scottsdale. It wasn’t as miserable as “camping out” for a movie sounds – most participants spent whatever time they could in line, and that time was logged and in the end was all tallied up and the total determined your final place “in line” to get in for the show. By then it was super-organized and I remember playing video games with friends under pop-up canopies and sitting in comfortable folding camp chairs. I also recall more than a few lightsaber duels outside the theater, to which my stepson, nephew and I may or may not have been a party.
If you think of The Phantom Menace as what George Lucas has always said it is – a kids’ movie – you begin to see the prequels in a different light. If you were, say, 6 years old when the first one came out, then by the time Episode II rolled around you were around 9, and that makes you about 12 when Episode III came out. If you were 9 when you saw Episode I, that makes you a slightly hormonal 12 when Anakin and Padme flirt, fall in love and marry in Episode II and 15 when tragedy struck them in Episode III. So there’s a darkening progression in the prequels, very much like the Harry Potter books and moves are meant to track with development within a generation. They grow with you even as they grown on you.
I teach community college students – some of them actually advanced high-schoolers – and several have remarked that, for them, Star Wars comprises mainly the prequels. They respect and enjoy the Original Trilogy, and they’re excited for The Force Awakens and what comes after that, but they aren’t their Star Wars movies; the prequels are. Many even admit that Jar Jar Binks is a beloved part of that, and we need to remember that as we laugh him off (or worse). Generationally, he’s these kids’ Ewoks – an essential but odd part of something they love as a whole.
Revenge of the Sith has its own oddities.
General Grievous is fascinating, but much like Count Dooku’s introduction in Attack of the Clones, he comes out of nowhere – even with an ominous introduction in Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated Clone Wars tales, which don’t even seem to be regarded as “canon” anymore. We never really get an origin story for this bionically enhanced humanoid – and the inevitable cyborg-ing of Darth Vader is too much of a coincidence. There’s a missing link there somewhere, no matter what George says.
The adjective that comes to mind for Revenge of the Sith, for me, is “operatic.” Not because there’s an actual opera scene – although there is, and it’s one of the film’s finest, where Anakin meets clandestinely with Chancellor Palpatine – but also because of the overall tone and pacing. This is space opera, indeed. The most operatic moment for me is the long-awaited fiery, climactic showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar, yes – but juxtaposed with Yoda’s confrontation with Darth Sidious in the empty Galactic Senate chamber. In this grand set piece, the fate of the galaxy is decided, but not by the politicians who think they’re in charge. The titanic hall stands empty, but for the little green Jedi Master and his little green lightsaber, bouncing and whirling to hold his ground against the cunning, snarling Sith Master and his furious red blade.
Another vital element of Episode III, the actual fraying of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship, all happens too fast, as indeed does the deterioration of the Republic really. We needed The Clone Wars to flesh out the conflict behind the conflict, and while the TV series does that well, that’s sorely lacking when you just take the movies into account. Anakin didn’t just turn on his master when Darth Sidious flips a switch, like the Clones do when Order 66 is issued commanding to wipe out the other Jedi. Anakin is damaged goods, a very low-key recurring theme throughout the prequels and Clone Wars.
I also felt massively let-down that we never learned the answer to the mystery of who erased Kamino from the Jedi Archives in Attack of the Clones. Was it Dooku? The late Sify-Dyas? The Chancellor himself? Anakin, on some seemingly innocent errand for Palpatine, who was obviously playing the long game in grooming the brash young man as a future Sith apprentice? Even with the Clone Wars series years later delving into the mystery of Sifo-Dyas and his commissioning of the Clone Army, this thread was left dangling. It glares at me.
More than anything, John Williams’ wonderful music brings Revenge of the Sith together with the greatest parts of the Star Wars Saga. “Battle of Heroes” is this film’s soundtrack’s major contribution, and it’s pulse-pounding rhythm drives you headlong into Obi-Wan and Anakin’s fateful duel, willing or no. “Duel of the Fates” returns, after being they key them from The Phantom Menace and resurfacing only briefly in Attack of the Clones as traveling music while Anakin scours Tatooine for his kidnapped mother — and here, “Duel of the Fates” reaches its full potential, as Yoda and Sidious square off simultaneously with their pupils far, far away. Most surprisingly, Princess Leia’s gentle theme from A New Hope — a motif largely forgotten after that movie and Empire’s more dominant, sweeping love theme — returns here, and provides a natural linkage to Episode IV, which of course begins with Leia’s doomed delivery run of the Death Star plans.
It’s enormously satisfying when the classic “Binary Sunset” plays as the Lars family takes their adopted “son” Luke up in their arms and stares off into the same twin sunset he will look to, many years later, just before taking his first step into a larger world in that galaxy far, far away.