Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
My last two reviews may have given off the impression, despite my insistent protestations to the contrary, that I really dislike the Prequels. I hope with this final review of the Prequel Trilogy that I can make clear how I feel about them as a whole since I can and do hold them in high regard while still criticising them.
Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Prequels and even fans who hate them agree this one had the least problems. The story, while still having its own flaws, proves to be an excellent culmination of the entire trilogy and a riveting climax to all the events that were built up in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
As Episode III closes we can see the full extent of the subtle machinations of Palpatine as he rose to power. People complain how the Prequels had too much politics in them, but when you really think about it the integral theme and point of the Star Wars Prequels was to be a political commentary. While I agree the pacing of The Phantom Menace could have been improved by cutting some of the slower sequences, much of the Senate scenes and political dialogue are crucial plot points which enhance the story of how the Sith and the Dark Side ate at the Republic’s core, weakening it to the point that it was ripe for the taking. It had to be slower and less exciting, because having the Sith simply storm the Galactic Senate and conquer the Galaxy all at once would not have made sense. If certain things did not happen first the people would not have gone along with it and no Empire would have arisen. Slowly, but surely, we see Chancellor Palpatine create an environment within the Senate that isfriendly and open to reorganising the government into a Galactic Empire. When Senator Padme observed that “liberty dies…with thunderous applause” she knew she was in a room full of people who were scared. They endured a nearly three year long war with billions of losses across multiple worlds. The Jedi, who were supposedlyt keepers of the peace had been suddenly converted to generals and war leaders eventually causing them be not as popular as they had been. Much of this is why it was not difficult for Palpatine to turn others against the Jedi under the pretense that they were plotting to overthrow the senate. The senators and citizenry of the Republic felt threatened and they gave up their freedom for security. The “thunderous applause” was not for the death of liberty, but for a sense of safety after years of war, economic disasters, and massive loss of lives and resources.
Anakin was another victim of Palpatine’s machinations. The Sith for over a thousand years were plotting how to overthrow the Republic and the Jedi Order. The Rule of Two (that is there being only a single master and apprentice at any given time) helped keep the Sith hidden for centuries as they bided their time setting in motion the events that eventually led to Palpatine’s rise. Anakin had a natural desire for power and emotional insecurities and weaknesses that left him vulnerable to suggestion. When Anakin first met Palpatine he was a Senator from Naboo which was the same planet that Padme was from. He was also the only person who seemed to sympathise with Padme’s cause. In addition to Obi-Wan Palpatine became a second mentor who encouraged his feelings, pretended to empathise with them, and patted his ego. Palpatine would frequently tell him how he envisioned him becoming more powerful than even Master Yoda and that he did not need much guidance. This was followed by Palpatine’s continual interference with Jedi affairs such as recommending Anakin a seat on the Jedi Council and suggesting him to be the one to defeat General Grievous on Utapau. The Chancellor predicted that the Council would grant the request while withholding title of Master from Anakin which would naturally offend and anger him further contributing to his distrust and disillusionment with the Jedi Order. And if Palpatine had his way and got Skywalker on Utapau the defeat of Grievous would have left Anakin in the eyes of the people a war hero who effectively ended the Clone Wars. Anakin was one of the few Jedi popular with the Republic populace (no doubt encouraged by Palpatine) and this would have further ingratiated Anakin to the people prior to Palpatine becoming Emperor with Anakin at his side.
Unfortunately that side of Palpatine’s plan failed and the consequences may very well have contributed to the Emperor’s downfall in the end. As we know Anakin never defeated Grievous, but Obi-Wan did instead. And when Anakin and Obi-Wan fought on Mustafar Anakin was left so badly injured that he was required to wear the Darth Vader suit for the rest of his life. Anakin was thought by the people to have been killed during Order 66 and the emergent figure of Darth Vader was assumed to be a separate entity.
I believe that if Anakin was not injured on Mustafar and not subjected to the limiting and uncomfortable rigours of the suit he would have been more powerful than even Palpatine could have imagined. And the citizens of the Empire would still have had their war hero supporting the Empire making the Rebel Alliance less likely to gain any support.
Anakin’s growing distrust and disillusionment with the Jedi was not the only thing Palpatine preyed on. His fear of loss which was exacerbated by the death of his mother was probably Anakin Skywalker’s weakest point. Anakin’s attachment to Padme was such an important priority for him that his reverence for the Light Side and loyalty to the Republic were expendable. Yoda tried to warn him by saying that he needed to let go of what he feared to lose, however, Padme dominated Anakin’s thoughts and the advice was unheeded. So when Palpatine revealed to him that he was in fact Darth Sidious his following actions became confused and misguided. He attempted to do the right thing at first by informing Mace Windu of what he learned. Unfortunately, Anakin was too concerned with the possibility that Sidious might actually be able to teach him to save Padme from death which led him to interfering with the Chancellor’s arrest, causing Master Windu’s death, and ending with his conversion to the Dark Side of the Force.
Convinced the Jedi were the enemy Anakin proceeded to commit heinous acts of violence within the Jedi Temple including the murder of helpless children. Elsewhere Order 66 was executed and the majority of the Jedi throughout the Galaxy were extinguished. The Clone Army that was initially commissioned to fight tyranny became the military arm of the tyrant. It becomes evident very quickly that the Clone Wars and the formation of the Clone Army had been intentionally orchestrated by Palpatine and Count Dooku as a means to cripple the Republic, make it open to becoming an Empire, and providing a strong loyal military force to enforce the change in government.
In the end Anakin’s own motivations fail completely. His body is all but destroyed, Padme dies in childbirth, and all those he once called friends are either dead or left him. Anakin failed to learn the lesson he should have learned on Tatooine when his mother died. Anakin refused to acknowledge that death is a natural and inevitable thing and instead desired to find a way to stop it. At his mother’s grave he expresses self-loathing at his perceived failure to save her. Seeing power as the only solution to anything Anakin thinks every failure or every event that displeases him happens because of a lack of power. Wishing to avoid losing Padme he seeks more power and ironically it is that very power that kills her in the end. And once again in The Empire Strikes Back it is with power that he tries to seduce his son to the Dark Side. Craving power is a Sith trait and it is for that reason that I believe that Anakin was unconsciously partway converted to the Dark Side since Episode II already. His final initiation into the Sith Order and taking on of the Darth Vader mantle was achieved only when Anakin finally admitted that everything including the Light Side and his own conscience were expendable if Padme was saved. He only regretted Windu’s death for a moment before declaring “I will do whatever you ask…Just help me save Padme’s life. I can’t live without her.”
Yoda’s statement about fear (“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”) in The Phantom Menace was prophetic. Anakin feared losing Padme and the resultant anger caused him to hate the Jedi enough to cause the suffering of not only them but also of himself when Padme died and he was disfigured on Mustafar. All his hope was gone and he found himself wholly loyal to Darth Sidious the only friend he believed he had left.
Unlike seeking power, hope is not a Sith trait. But it is a Jedi one. And it was that hope that led Yoda and Obi-Wan to have Anakin’s twins, Luke and Leia, sequestered. Bail Organa took Leia and adopted her into his family. Eventually she became a senator like her mother and served the Rebellion in secret and later openly following the Battle of Yavin.
And Luke was the titular New Hope itself. On Tatooine living with his aunt and uncle Obi-Wan kept a close eye on Luke until he was ready to learn the ways of the Force, revive the Jedi Order, and defeat the Empire.
Now that is a fairly good story. But like the previous two films it had problems in its execution. While, I do appreciate how Palpatine subtly manipulated Anakin to join the Sith I do think there are some things that happened too quickly and are ergo less believable. Killing Younglings is such an evil, despicable thing to do that it bothers me that Anakin does it without any misgivings. His motivation isn’t supposed to be evil at this point. He is trying to save the woman he loves. While I do believe that if he was fully convinced that killing Younglings would somehow save her he would probably do so it would still stand to reason that he would do it with some reluctance and remorse afterwards. I also think he would question the decision initially since Younglings are hardly a fit scapegoat for his complaints against the Jedi. No one could reasonably accuse Younglings of trying to take over the Senate. And Younglings did not tell Anakin to spy on the Chancellor. And Younglings did not refuse to grant him the rank of master. Anakin isn’t a cruel brute like Darth Malak or someone trying to devote himself to the Dark Side by intentionally doing bad things like Kylo Ren. He is at this point a good guy trying to achieve a good thing by doing bad things. Killing Younglings should have bothered a man in his position.
I am also severely miffed at Padme’s treatment in this film. In the first two Prequels she was fierce, independent, and a strong leader who was setting the template for who her daughter would become in the future. But in Episode III she is none of that. She cries a lot, blindly defends Anakin to her friends, becomes an emotional train wreck, and dies of a broken heart.
They softened her up. Dying of a broken heart is such an undignified way to make her character go and I would rather have had George Lucas write that Anakin killed her accidentally in anger. That would have made more sense.
I also wish the film had done a bit more to emphasise that one of Anakin’s motivations for turning to the Dark Side was a lust for power. In the Original Trilogy Darth Vader dominated every scene he was in, showcasing his power of intimidation as well as his mastery of the Force. He was bad in a cool way.
In Revenge of the Sith a lot of this becomes lost and the story opts instead to make Anakin come across as naive and pathetic. He whines too much, gets choked up on dreams he is having, and becomes a Dark Lord of the Sith as a response more to heartbreak than power lust. Some viewers complained that this ruins the badass-ness of Darth Vader; and while I won’t go that far, I do see some fundamental flaws in how his character is portrayed in the film.
Some of the best points of Episode III are the soundtrack and special effects. John Williams creates another beautiful score for Revenge of the Sith with many of the vocal pieces being some of the best tracks he has ever composed for the Star Wars saga.
And of course the sound effects and sound design are top notch. It does suffer a bit from the same blue screen problems that Attack of the Clones had, but overall the effects and sound are great. The opening battle over Coruscant is really cool and some of my favourite shots are the city scenes at night. The exterior shot of the opera house looks absolutely amazing and there are many other shots that are just breathtaking.
The Star Wars Prequels are good movies. And, yes, I am saying that with a straight face. I legitimately think they are good movies. They have some severe problems and they are very much far from perfect, and I have harshly dealt all the criticism I can dole out in these past reviews. But leaving all of those criticisms on the table I must add that I like these movies. I even like Episode II.
Episodes I, II, and III tell a great story that is sums up to a crucial part of the Star Wars Saga. We see the Republic and Jedi at their prime. We see the rise of Emperor Palpatine and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. It’s an epic tale that continues to show that George Lucas is a national treasure and one of America’s greatest storytellers. And, again, I say all that with a straight face.
Problems like Jar Jar, the execution of some of the plot points, the awkward dialogue, and bad acting among other things were never enough to make me call these bad movies. If you wanna see something bad in Star Wars go watch The Holiday Special, one of the Ewok Saturday morning cartoons, or play Masters of the Teras Kasi. Believe me, the Prequels are no where close to the bottom of the barrel. I, for one, think they are pretty great.
Tune in tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and may the Force be with you.