Doomed to be forever referenced as the least offensive Star Wars movie of the prequel trilogy Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith is a visually delicious film filled with ostensibly crowd pleasing (read boring) lightsaber battles that escort Anakin Skywalker’s violent transition into the persona of Darth Vader after he opts for the dark side’s unlimited power in an attempt to circumvent a predicted death of his first offspring by his clandestine wife Padme (Natalie Portman). Inane dialogue, a wretched performance by Samuel L. Jackson and indulgent pacing hamper George Lucas’ already clunky plot that finally brings closure to a story that didn’t need 20 years to tell.
“Popcorn movies have always ruled. Why do people go see them? Why is the public so stupid? That’s not my fault.” Since Lucas spoke those inciting words he’s gone on to become one of the world’s richest directors alongside his cohort Steven Spielberg.
It’s a cruel irony that Lucas says he wants to make art films along the lines of Koyaanisqati now that he’s finally finished his career-building monolith. It’s sad because it was his and Spielberg’s 1970s blockbuster “popcorn” movies that obliterated Hollywood’s pathway for socially conscious “art films” and left audiences in an abyss of commercially driven lowest common denominator movies designed to appeal to the inner child in adult audiences. You don’t have to repeat the words “Sith” or “Dooku” very many times to feel your IQ drop like a skydiver jumping from 15,000 feet.
An interesting aspect of Lucas’ Star Wars chronicle is how much it tells about the director’s own assent/descent toward the dark side of greed. Lucas’ famously shy personality aligns as an alter ego to the passive Anakin Skywalker who memorably adopted a queasy subservient role in his initial romance with Padme that found him picking at his own navel until it bled.
In Revenge of the Sith Anakin is haunted by nightmares about the death of Padme’s firstborn, and it’s not a far stretch to read that narrative thread as reflecting George Lucas’ own fears about birthing yet another stillborn Star Wars movie.
Anakin’s undisclosed marriage to Senator Padme Amidala raises a significant complication that puts Anakin in a superficially dead-end situation. If their marriage is discovered then Anakin will be expelled from the Jedi priesthood and since Padme’s imminent child makes that disclosure probable Anakin adopts a passive route to gaining power by falling under the evil tutelage of the Republic’s Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (well played by Ian McDiarmid).
The obvious responsible choice would be to boldly announce his marriage to Padme and devote himself to his family rather than continue going through life as a Jedi leader. Anakin’s story would have been much more complex if he had attempted to come publicly clean about his marriage to Padme and would have demanded more of Portman’s underused character.
However, just as Lucas was drawn to a greed for power that excluded him from acting as a mature filmmaker, Anakin takes an easy way out and abandons his moral precepts. If you doubt that Lucas ever had ethical principles as regards to filmmaking, see THX-1138, which is an art film in the purest sense of the word. Regrettably, the abuse that Lucas suffered in Hollywood with THX-1138 convinced him to dumb down his approach to cinema in favor of popcorn profits.
But does Revenge of the Sith accomplish what the limited constraints of the overall six-film narrative promise? I think that it does, but the film doesn’t come close to matching its visual color spectrum to that of its attempted dramatic and emotional content.
It’s a top-heavy children’s film that tries to overcompensate for its childishness by ending with an overtly dark and violent finale meant to convince the viewer that dramatic satisfaction has been reached.
It is always the filmmakers’ job to establish, in the opening moments of a film, the exact or even greater degree of violence that the audience can expect so that people put off by such an intensity of content can leave. Lucas doesn’t do that in here and even if for only that singular reason, Revenge of the Sith is an inferior movie. MTW