George Lucas’s film, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (released in 2005), is a gripping space opera and rich in emotional depth. It is a significant improvement over the previous two installments in the prequel trilogy, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Revenge of the Sith goes farther in exploring the complex factors that led to Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader.
The storyline in Revenge of the Sith is truly what captures the viewer’s attention. Its themes of the battle between good and evil, and the struggle to find oneself, are universal. It is heartbreaking that, in spite of his attempts to do good, Anakin is wooed to the Dark Side. Revenge of the Sith raises moral questions about how far we will go in our quest for recognition, and offers a lot of opportunities for discussion after the movie is over. Was Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader fate, or destiny? How easy is it to resist peer pressure, especially from those in authority?
The film, like Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, has been criticized for having weak dialogue and poor acting, especially from Hayden Christiansen, who plays Anakin. But as the central character in the story, Christiansen does a good job of portraying Anakin’s feelings about the Dark Side and how they change over time. Revenge of the Sith is easily the darkest film in the prequel trilogy, and he illustrates Anakin’s descent with convincing weight. It’s also hard to criticize Natalie Portman, whose breakout role in Leon: The Professional was easily one of the most hard-hitting action roles of the 90s, for being a bad actress. Ewan McGregor’s role as Obi-Wan Kenobi is actually my favorite portrayal of that character. In the prequel trilogy, Obi-Wan is given both the backstory and emotional depth that are only alluded to in the original trilogy. His pride in Anakin, and then his growing fear about Anakin’s attraction to evil, are laced with pathos and no small amount of biting humor.
In addition to the dialogue, Padmé and Anakin’s romance has been critiqued for seeming wooden and unconvincing. But it is clear from the outset that Anakin loves his wife and is concerned for her safety, especially after he begins to receive prophetic visions that she will die in childbirth. The viewer becomes invested in their lives, and wants to see her survive. It is truly tragic that he ends up being the one who kills her.
This is one of the aspects of Anakin’s storylines that is always so moving to me. He chose to join the Dark Side in order to save Padmé, but ended up hurting her instead. Her death could have been averted, as Obi-Wan tells Anakin before their climactic battle: Anakin accuses Obi-Wan of turning Padmé against him, but Obi-Wan reminds Anakin that he did that himself. Looked at in this way, the innocent love between Padmé and Anakin that began in Phantom Menace, and blossomed in Attack of the Clones, seems even more bittersweet.
The high-stakes action in Revenge of the Sith are one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The lightsaber duels, especially the climactic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin that leaves Anakin burned and mutilated, are heart-pounding. That scene is easily one of the best in the movie for its music, composition, and heightened tension. It also makes Obi-Wan’s death in A New Hope even more moving: he sacrificed himself at the hands of his former friend in order to let Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO escape.
Revenge of the Sith is also compelling when viewed as a political film: in conversation with Anakin, Obi-Wan insists that his own allegiance is to the Galactic Republic and democracy, while the Galactic Empire, under the direction of Palpatine, represents a dictatorship. Yet both the Jedi and the Sith believe that they are doing the right thing for the good of the people.
Palpatine is rightly critiqued as a one-sided character – a stereotypical villain. As many villains do, he spots an opportunity in Anakin to groom a successor, and uses Anakin’s fear about Padmé dying to manipulate him. But it’s how Anakin chooses to respond to this coercion that drives home the story. Rather than resisting, which would be a predictable response, Anakin gives in because he is so blinded by concern about Padmé.
While Revenge of the Sith has its weak points, it is an entertaining movie that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because a few moments seem forced or one or two characters seem one-sided. Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, arguably one of the greatest movie villains of all time, is what gives the movie its emotional heft, and makes it well worth watching.