Rose Tico once said that we’re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love. That wisdom is pertinent for Star Wars fans; amidst seemingly incessant criticism, I want to spend time actually liking Star Wars. I love all Star Wars, so in this series, I’ll walk through each of the films identifying five things I love about it. That’s not to say there are only five, but I’m limiting myself to five here. One note: because I think John Williams’ work on every Star Wars film is fantastic, I’m going to essentially assume that would make every list, thus I’m leaving it out intentionally. But without Williams’ music, we don’t have Star Wars as we know and love it.
We continue today with Revenge of the Sith.
1. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker
This movie wraps up the prequel trilogy and connects to the original trilogy, and it cements Anakin’s fall to the dark side. That’s a story that has been set up throughout the prequels, and even though we already knew his fate, it doesn’t make his fall any less tragic. In this film (and the two before it), we see a young, good-hearted Jedi wanting to help others, but who fears loss. In The Phantom Menace, he must part with his mother and loses Qui-Gon Jinn, a father-like figure. Then in Attack of the Clones, he actually does lose his mother. And in this film, then, he is haunted by dreams just like those he had before his mother passed – only this time, it’s about his wife. Remember in Clones how after Shmi died, Anakin lamented the fact that he hadn’t been strong enough to save her, but one day he would? That carries over to this film, as Anakin is desperate to become strong enough to save Padmé from dying. Anakin has an anger and a fear about him – something that, according to Yoda, leads to the dark side.
But Anakin hasn’t turned; not yet. He’s confused and scared, but not evil. And yet the Jedi don’t give him any help. The Jedi Council denies him the rank of Master despite his prodigious abilities, angering Skywalker. The Council decides to not send him to hunt down Grievous – or even to go with Obi-Wan Kenobi – but instead assign him to secretly spy on the Chancellor, a friend and mentor. And when he goes to Yoda for help about his dreams with Padmé, the Grand Master tells him to train himself to let go of everything he fears to lose. That’s what the Jedi believed, but Anakin doesn’t buy it. And even if he did, he can’t follow it; he loves Padmé, and he doesn’t want to lose her the way he lost his mother. So we see all of these factors coming together: Anakin is prone to anger and fear, and he’s looking for a way to save Padmé from death; the Jedi Council is stubborn and arrogant in their ways, slighting Skywalker and failing to give him the help he needs; the Council assigns him the task to commit treason and betray against his friend; at a point of inner crisis for the young Jedi, his Master and brother is away on assignment; etc. And so Anakin is left open to other ways…
Enter Palpatine. His masterful manipulation finally comes to fruition, seizing the opportunity by luring Anakin to the dark side with the promise of saving those he loved from dying. Once Anakin discovers Palpatine’s secret, he is conflicted. He shares it with Mace Windu but is ordered to stay behind, with nowhere to turn for council. And when he shows up in Palpatine’s office uninvited, he sees Windu about to kill the Chancellor. Earlier in the film, Anakin killed the unarmed Count Dooku because he was too dangerous to be kept alive, but here he can’t stand the thought of Windu killing the unarmed Palpatine because he is too dangerous to be kept alive. “I need him,” Anakin shouts, and his ensuing actions cement his fall to the dark side. From there on, he carries out his dark deeds in connection with Order 66, and by the end of the film, he has lost everything – his wife, his kids, his limbs, his ability to survive outside a suit. As Yoda said, the hate and anger leads to suffering. And suffering becomes the defining characteristic of Darth Vader.
So this film truly is a tragedy as we witness the fall of Anakin Skywalker, who becomes Darth Vader. Motivated by an understandable fear of loss, the situation converges to where Skywalker feels rejected by the Jedi and welcomed by Palpatine, who promises him exactly what he wants. But tragically, it doesn’t fulfill it’s promise, but once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Anakin becomes Vader, filled with fear and anger and hatred and suffering for the next two decades.
The prequels introduce us to Anakin Skywalker as a person. As a young boy with a good heart; as a dear friend to Obi-Wan Kenobi; as the heroic Jedi Knight; as one who deals with the devastating loss of his mother; as one who falls madly in love with Padmé. The more we get to know him, the more heartbreaking his fall becomes.
As the greatest movie novelization ever written, Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith, puts it:
“It is in this blazing moment that you finally understand the trap of the dark side, the final cruelty of the Sith – Because now your self is all you will ever have. And you rage and scream and reach through the Force to crush the shadow who has destroyed you, … and in the end, you cannot touch the shadow. In the end, you do not even want to. In the end, the shadow is all you have left. Because the shadow understands you, the shadow forgives you, the shadow gathers you unto itself – And within your furnace heart, you burn in your own flame. This is how it feels to be Anakin Skywalker. Forever…”
2. Palpatine’s time to shine
The central villain of the Star Wars saga, though often in the shadows, is Sheev Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious. But this film is without any doubt his biggest role, and Ian McDiarmid is absolutely fantastic. I mean, he’s so, so good. The opera scene is one of my absolute favorites in this film, and it’s because of McDiarmid’s perfect delivery of the conversation as he tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise. He’s so calculating and calm, meticulously drawing Anakin along continually. He doesn’t give away too much too soon, but is beginning to reel in his catch. And he’s manipulating Anakin just enough by telling him the story of Plagueis, luring him in with the promise of what Anakin truly longs for. It’s one of the best scenes of the prequels. McDiarmid considers it the most evil moment in Star Wars, period, and said it’s some of the best writing George Lucas ever did. It’s rare for Star Wars to stay with a a dialogue scene for so long, but that only serves to underscore just how important it is. While it’s not quite Anakin’s fall to the dark side, it’s the most brazen attempt by Palpatine at getting him to do so, and it can be seen as helping seal Skywalker’s fate. The closing line, when Anakin asks”Is it possible to learn this power?”, is met with a perfectly-written and perfectly-delivered, “Not from a Jedi.”
I could keep writing about just that one scene, but I’ve chosen here to include not just that singular scene from Palpatine but to include the entirety of his role here. McDiarmid perfectly portrays Palpatine as the Chancellor-turned-Emperor, as the hidden Sith Lord comes out of hiding. It’s his largest role, and it’s his best role. And for the first time ever (and only time, in live-action), we get to see Sidious fighting with a lightsaber! He doesn’t just have the ability to use Force lightning, though he certainly makes use of that again in this film, but he also is quite capable with a lightsaber. He duels four members of the Jedi High Council at once – Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Saesee Tiin, and Agen Kolar – and quickly strikes down three of them; then, after a lengthy lightsaber duel and thanks to Anakin’s help, he kills Windu too. And in the final act, he duels Master Yoda in a lightsaber fight in the Senate building, as these two supremely powerful Force users fight for the fate of the galaxy. It’s an epic fight, and it’s very cool to see the Sith Lord in action. Throughout the course of this film, Palpatine kills four members of the Jedi High Council, duels another one (forcing Yoda to retreat), and seduces another to the dark side. In other words, Palpatine deals with half of the Council in the span of days in this film.
Plus, he’s played the long game so much that the Senators willingly go along with him declaring himself Emperor of the first Galactic Empire, seemingly without much thought. That’s only possible because he’s been the Chancellor for so long, earning the trust and favor of the people – all the while the Jedi are falling out of favor with the people. And that too is all part of Palpatine’s master plan. He didn’t make them lose their way, as they didn’t need any help with that, but he used it. As Palpatine worked to manipulate things behind the scenes, he orchestrated a clone army that the Jedi were eventually cornered and tricked into leading. The Jedi never should have been the generals of the Grand Army of the Republic, since that is against their nature, but that’s the brilliant nature of the Dark Lord’s plan. And as Anakin grew to know Palpatine as a friend and mentor, he also grew to see some of the errors of the Jedi. All of this fed right into the plan of Darth Sidious, one that led to the downfall of the Jedi and of the Republic.
As Stover puts it,
“The Clone Wars have always been, in and of themselves, from their very inception, the revenge of the Sith. … The Clone Wars were the perfect Jedi trap. By fighting at all, the Jedi lost.”
3. Hello there, General Kenobi
Maybe the biggest star of the prequel trilogy, and of this film, is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. McGregor had the unenviable role of playing the character made famous by Sir Alec Guinness in the original trilogy, only this time as a younger Jedi during the height of the Republic. McGregor not only lived up to the task, however, but also turned in the definite performance as the character, cementing him as a fan-favorite. And while Anakin Skywalker is the main character of the prequels, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the main hero of the prequels – a truth never more evident than in this film. Think about it: Anakin is a heroic Jedi whom we come to know and care for, but the prequel trilogy ends with him turning to the dark side and becoming Darth Vader. But the character who is a beacon of light all the way throughout, especially in this one, is Kenobi.
In my opinion, Revenge of the Sith is the definitive film for Obi-Wan Kenobi. He’s at the height of his power, and throughout the course of this film we see that he’s a smart military tactician (the Battle of Coruscant was his idea), is respected by the Jedi Council (seen in them commissioning him to hunt down General Grievous), is a wise mentor (seen in his being on the Council and various other points in the film), is a skilled fighter (he defeats Grievous and Anakin), shows a concern for the wellbeing of other Jedi (he’s the one who wants to return to the Temple to warn the surviving Jedi), is compassionate (to both Anakin and Padmé), doesn’t fall into the same hubris of the Council in their arrogance (he doesn’t want to put Anakin in the position to spy on Palpatine), and remains committed to the light even in the midst of tragedy and darkness (evident basically throughout the entire film). He is one of the wisest Jedi to ever live.
He’s the main hero of both this film and the prequels, and McGregor absolutely nails it. Stover casts the perfect picture of the heroic Jedi Master:
“This is Obi-Wan Kenobi: A phenomenal pilot who doesn’t like to fly. A devastating warrior who’d rather not fight. A negotiator without peer who frankly prefers to sit alone in a quiet cave and meditate. Jedi Master. General in the Grand Army of the Republic. Member of the Jedi Council. And yet, inside, he feels like he’s none of these things. Inside, he still feels like a Padawan. It is a truism of the Jedi Order that a Jedi Knight’s education truly begins only when he becomes a Master: that everything important about being a Master is learned from one’s student. Obi-Wan feels the truth of this every day. … He is respected throughout the Jedi Order for his insight as well as his warrior skill. He has become the hero of the next generation of Padawans; he is the Jedi that Masters hold up as their model. He is the being that the Council assigns to their most important missions. He is modest, centered, and always kind. He is the ultimate Jedi. And he is proud to be Anakin Skywalker’s best friend.”
4. All the lightsaber fights!
No Star Wars film is packed with as much action and as many lightsaber fights as Revenge of the Sith, and it’s not even close. It makes for some of the most thrilling fights in the entire saga, and the sequences are incredible and riveting. The opening crawl is, in my opinion, the best of any of the Star Wars films, and it begins with a single word: “War!” And while the opening of A New Hope is the most iconic and significant in the saga, the opening of this one is my favorite: we see two Jedi starfighters fly directly into a massive space battle already raging. The movie literally throws the viewer right into the Clone Wars, and it never lets up. We see the Battle of Coruscant at the beginning, desperate attempt to rescue the Chancellor taking place in space above the capital, which transitions to a fight aboard Grievous’s flagship. We see the Battle of Utapau (led by Kenobi, Commander Cody, and the 212th) and the Battle of Kashyyyk (led by Yoda, Commander Gree, and the 41st) midway through the film, as some of the final battles of the Clone Wars. We see brief glimpses of the battles on Mygeeto, Felucia, Cato Neimoidia, and Saleucami during the Order 66 sequence. This is a film totally consumed by war; even when we’re not actually seeing a battle, we’re being briefed about the status of fights across the galaxy as the Clone Wars drag on.
And then, of course, there are the lightsaber fights. At the beginning of the film we see Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker get their rematch with Count Dooku, and this time Skywalker gets the upper hand and kills the Sith Lord. It’s kinda crazy that the movie would dispose of what one would figure to be the primary villain so early on, but it actually serves to set the stage for everything that happens later: Dooku has been nothing but a pawn, and he doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. Sidious has been the true villain, and he has a new apprentice in mind. This fight, though shorter than others in the movie, shows Skywalker’s growth and his anger while setting the course for what the rest of the film holds. The main villain of Attack of the Clones, the leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the Sith Lord Darth Tyranus, is dead before the first act ends. The next lightsaber duel doesn’t happen for a little while, but it’s between Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous on Utapau. The cyborg general of the droid army fights in a very intimidating fashion, but Kenobi is up to the task. Grievous attempts to flee, but Kenobi pursues – ultimately killing the general not with a lightsaber but with a blaster. Soon after news of Grievous’s defeat reaches the Jedi Council, Mace Windu takes with him Kit Fisto, Saesee Tiin, and Agen Kolar to confront the Chancellor, learning from Skywalker that he is the Sith Lord they’ve been looking for. Sidious springs into action, fighting with a lightsaber for the first time ever on-screen, and quickly strikes down Fisto, Tiin, and Kolar. A lengthy saber duel between Sidious and Windu ensues, and Windu actually disarms the Chancellor… but then himself is disarmed (literally) by Skywalker, leading to his death.
With the fall of the Jedi carried out by Vader and the clones across the galaxy, two brave masters launch a desperate attempt at defeating the Sith and saving the Republic. Grand Master Yoda heads off to confront Darth Sidious, while Obi-Wan Kenobi hunts down his apprentice and brother, Anakin Skywalker. This leads to a beautiful, stunning, and thrilling final act, as Yoda and Sidious battle in the Senate chamber while Obi-Wan and Anakin battle on the fiery planet of Mustafar, with the fate of the Republic at stake. Both of these fights occur simultaneously and are cut together wonderfully by George Lucas, making for some of the most exciting moments in Star Wars. Ultimately, Yoda loses and must retreat into exile, while Kenobi wins and leaves Skywalker to die. Of course, that doesn’t happen, but Skywalker is consigned to a suit to keep him alive, as Darth Vader. The fights in this film are some of the very best in the Star Wars saga, as they have everything you’d want: exciting action, stunning locations, and tons of emotion. The battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin of course stands atop all of them, because it’s the heartbreaking battle of the heroes, between master and apprentice, between brothers. Everything we’ve watched over the previous two and a half films crumbles as Kenobi and Skywalker fight, and so it’s equal parts amazing and tragic. Kenobi’s address to Anakin as he lay defeated in the sand is so perfectly-delivered, but so crushing. The emotion in that fight can’t be topped anywhere else.
Stover’s take on it is simple:
“This was not Sith against Jedi. This was not light against dark or good against evil; it had nothing to do with duty or philosophy, religion or morals. It was Anakin against Obi-Wan. Personally. Just the two of them, and the damage they had done to each other.”
5. A New Hope
Equal parts tragic and hopeful is the way the movie ends. In my opinion, George Lucas stuck the landing on this one, transitioning perfectly into A New Hope. After their fateful duel on Mustafar, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi head in separate directions. Skywalker is on the verge of death due to his wounds both from Kenobi and from the lava, and Sidious begins the process of immolating him in the iconic and menacing black suit. We literally get to see Vader’s transformation, being placed in this suit. But at the same time, Skywalker’s wife, Padmé, gives birth to twins before dying. Her final words were telling Obi-Wan that there’s still good in Anakin. As we see the birth of Darth Vader (at least as we know him), we also see the birth of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, the twin children of Anakin and Padmé. Bail Organa and his wife take Leia, while Obi-Wan takes Luke to his family on Tatooine. Vader joins Palpatine and Tarkin to observe the early stages of construction on the Death Star, while Kenobi travels to Tatooine as the film ends with the family staring out over the binary sunset.
Some might view this ending as relying too heavily on nostalgia, but I absolutely don’t think so. The entire film is distinct enough that it should be sufficient to oppose that claim, but furthermore Lucas does a masterful job of linking the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy here. In the closing moments of Revenge of the Sith, we see the tragic result of the prequels: Anakin is evil, Padmé is dead, Obi-Wan and Yoda are in exile, Palpatine is the Sith Lord and Emperor, and both the Jedi and Republic are dead. But we also see the hope of the originals: this isn’t the end of the story for Skywalker, Kenobi, or Yoda, as some of their most important moments as Jedi are still ahead of them. And the children born to Anakin and Padmé would, two decades later, rise up to lead a Rebellion against the Empire, topple Palpatine’s tyrannical regime, and bring Anakin Skywalker back to the light.
And so, just like how in A New Hope Luke Skywalker looked out at the binary sunset before his grand adventure began, this film ends with Owen and Beru holding Luke, here just an infant, looking out over that same binary sunset, a reminder to us all that the galaxy is not without hope. The baby sitting in their arms is the new hope the galaxy needs, one who will succeed where the heroes in this film failed: restoring Anakin to the light. The darkest and most tragic of all the Star Wars films ends with an unmistakable sense of hope.
As Stover writes,
“The long night has begun. … But even in the deepest night, there are some who dream of dawn.”