Let’s face it, I’ll admit it: “Revenge of the Sith” is not a fun movie to sit through. It’s a terribly sad story, full of misery and despair and heartache and pain. Yet, I must say, I don’t see that as a fault. The nature of the story of the rise and fall of Darth Vader, how he betrayed the Jedi and the Republic and became the scourge of the galaxy is, by its very nature, a sad story. I give credit to George Lucas that despite all of the glaring problems with this movie; at least he kept the tone appropriately grim. A lighter touch might have sunk this movie like a stone.
Many, including myself, regard this as the best of the prequel trilogy, and that’s just about right because this is where the meat of the story can be found. The conflicts come to a boil and the story of the decimation of Anakin’s soul carries a lot of weight. What he has to deal with is the foreknowledge that Padme will die and he basically sells out the entire galaxy to attain a power that he thinks will stop it from happening. I like the idea of Lucas borrowing elements of Faust – the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil to keep his loved ones from dying of the plague – and wraps those themes around Anakin’s story.
Plus, it’s also refreshing to see the Hellish world of the Sith. In the original we saw the Sith but only from the outside, only from Luke’s point of view. Here we get an inside look at how the relationship works between master and apprentice. We get to see the Sith Lord at the peak of his power and we understand what the Jedi are up against. It is interesting, and a little scary, how seductive the dark side can be when the apprentice is willing to submit. My favorite scene in the movie takes place at the opera when Palpatine tells Anakin the story of Darth Plaegus The Wise. It’s a brilliant scene because it’s something we haven’t seen before. It is offering the idea that a mythology exists inside something that is already a mythology. That’s something we didn’t get from the other movies.
Yet, as much as I give this movie credit, I must admit that it is problematic. It still suffers under the weight of Lucas’ impulses. It still suffers from his dusty, boilerplate dialogue (the exchanges between Anakin and Padme make you envy the deaf). It suffers from some structural problems, unnecessary characters, and an ending that basically paints itself into a corner. There are two lightsaber battles going on between four people that we know are all going to survive. As epic as they are, the drama of those two battles are undercut by the fact that we know that all of the participants are going to survive. That doesn’t make them unwatchable, but knowing the destination makes those scenes feel kind of long.
“Revenge of the Sith” is not the first movie I grab when I want to watch a Star Wars movie. It’s too grim, too sad, too heavy for just an evening’s viewings. I have to make it part of the journey, working my way through the series in order to fully appreciate it. It’s not a perfect movie, it’s not a great movie, but I can admire the artistry and the drama. I think this is the prequel movie that came closest to really hitting the mark.