Here’s a little something I wrote on 22nd May 2005, three days after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith came out. I’m reproducing it partly because I think it stands up rather better than certain other contemporary reviews, but also partly as context for what I want to say next time. Enjoy!
Revenge of the Sith is a perplexing film — full of wonderful moments, but making up a whole that is much less than the sum of its parts. Again and again it delivers smack-in-the-gob visual wonders, including a much more awesome vision of Coruscant, a beautiful Kashyyyk, and whatever the planet is where Obi-Wan hunts and kills General Grievous. Best of all is the opening sequence’s space battle, which delivers a sense of scale, of enormous forces at work, that none of the previous films attained. And yet the story is ultimately no more convincing than that of Attack of the Clones (hereafter AotC), the acting is a wooden as ever — perhaps more so — and there is none of the sense of closure that I had hoped for.
Maybe the top problem of them all is that George Lucas still can’t write scripts. It’s tragic but true. Someone should have told him. There were an enormous number of points in the film where I thought “if only this person had said that instead”. One example: having set up the heartbreaking scenario where Obi-Wan has to persuade Padme to tell him where Anakin is, Lucus has her say to Obi-Wan, “You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?” The brutal answer would have been “yes”: a powerful watershed moment that would have put Padme on the spot and nailed down the nature of the conflict. Instead, Obi-Wan delivers some cruddy line about “He has become a great threat”.
Much of the film feels rushed. General Grievous is the new Darth Maul — an interesting character who was clearly created only for Obi-Wan to have someone to kill. His use of four lightsabres devalues what was once the characteristic weapon of the Jedi — now everyone seems to have one (or more). And how disappointing that he is, eventually, killed with a blaster. Nice work, Obi.
Speaking of lightsabres, it seems totally wrong that Palpatine suddenly turns out to be a whiz with one. How did he learn? When does he practice? How did no-one know. Surely the Dark Lord of the Sith should have been able to use different and subtler powers to achieve his ends. Instead, we are treated to a depressingly unimaginative sequence of lightsabre fighting with Yoda, who surprised and delighted us with his unanticipated prowess in AotC, but who now merely goes through the motions.
Palpatine disappoints because he never really sells the Dark Side to Anakin. He basically just says “How ’bout I teach you some dark side stuff, so Padme will survive” and Anakin replies “OK, then”. Weak weak weak. Much more is required — more cunning, more deviousness, more Mandelson-like spin. I expected him to slowly lead Anakin down a path of “realising” that the so-called Dark Side is not really dark, merely different. Ben promised me in Episode IV that Vader was “seduced by the Dark Side”, but there was no seduction here: just a sordid quickie up against the wall in an alley.
What makes this even worse is that AotC established, in a crucial test, that Anakin’s character was not so easily corruptible. When Padme falls from the gunship during the pursuit of Dooku, Anakin wants to turn back and rescue her at the cost of abandoning their mission; but Obi-Wan is able to persuade him to continue. “What would Padme do?” he asks; and Anakin replies “She would do her duty”, and so returns to his own. So we know that Anakin is wise enough to see that his broader duty overrides his attachment to Padme, and that he clearly sees that this is what she would want, too. Yet when the choice comes between murdering children and allowing Padme maybe to die, he almost immediately chooses the former. It doesn’t ring true. The whole arc of Anakin’s transition to the Dark Side through three films is therefore shown to have been badly bodged.
In previous films, Ian McDiarmid (as Palpatine) has been head and shoulders above all the other actors in the subtlety of his delivery, the ambiguity of his portrayal. What went wrong this time? He succumbs to the temptation to overact dreadfully. Sad. In the end, the most convincing performance of them all (which is not saying much) is Yoda’s. His expression of grim determination mixed with simple sadness is a masterpiece that the human actors would have done well to study. While Hayden Chrisensen’s Anakin is (to give credit where it’s due) less wooden and more persuasive than previously, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan is painful to watch, and could hardly be farther removed from the gentle, wise and insightful Obi-Wan we know from Alec Guinness’s nuanced performance in A New Hope.
Finally, there is the problem that we know where the story is going. I don’t know how Lucas could have avoided this, but — crucially — neither did he. Padme must become pregnant and give birth to twins; all the Jedi but Obi-Wan and Yoda must be killed; Anakin must fall into a volcano and become Vader. There is some interest in seeing how this is all played out, but no sense of invention and precious little surprise. The perfunctoriness with which the Skywalker twins’ adoption is handled is an insult to the broad sweep of the plot:
Yoda: “Separated they must be.”
Yoda: “Adopted the daughter must be”
Bail Organa: “Yo!”
Yoda: “Into exile Obi-Wan must go, the son to watch over”
Obi-Wan: “Oh, alright.”
Exeunt, pursued by a bear.
In summary: it was awesome, and I loved it.