The circle was set to be complete, and in May 2005 Star Wars-Episode III:Revenge of the Sith blasted its way into theatres, bringing us to the brink of A New Hope, and leaving us with imagery that would hint at and pave the way for what had been the first released Star Wars movie, but now the fourth chronologically.
Coming on the heels of the massive box office success of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, it goes without saying that many were expecting Revenge of the Sith to be a massive blockbuster yet again, but this time the question was whether or not the film would be better regarded artistically and critically than its two predecessors.
Right away, the signs were good. Many reviewers commented that the film was a marked improvement over Episodes I and II, and the film would, in the end, score 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, a good twenty-four per cent increase over The Phantom Menace and fourteen per cent more than Attack of the Clones.
From its opening moments, with a nicely worded opening crawl to a superbly staged space battle and a resolution to Count Dooku’s part in the story, there is a confidence to Revenge of the Sith, as if the film knows it has a lot to prove and is more than happy to prove it.
Of the three prequels, it is definitely the one with the least problems. Yes, there are still issues with dialogue, but then again there always has been a little with Lucas scripted Star Wars movies, but the movie flows more beautifully, the tragic overtones of the story hit home in a powerful way, while Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are finally allowed to deliver substantially better performances meaning that the tragedy of Anakin and Padme is genuinely felt, although the movie would in the end be stolen by Ian McDiarmid, finally unleashed and given his biggest role to date as Palaptine/Sidious, a wonderfully over the top performance that the actor runs with.
After bringing on Jonathan Hales to help co-write Clones, Lucas goes it alone for what would be his final contribution to the Star Wars saga. The man who started it all would make his final contribution to his famed saga with a darkly fatalistic tragedy, as grim as A New Hope is light.
There is little joy to be had, but that doesn’t mean the film is not a great one to watch. Far from it, in fact it is truly the best of the three prequels. Even though we all know what is going to happen because we’ve seen the other end of the story, the inevitability of many things take on a sadistically brilliant quality when one indeed knows how the story is going to play out.
After two movies worth of build-up, the prequel trilogy finally allows the audience to see Anakin Skywalker’s descent to the dark side. Whilst Attack of the Clones ended with the beginning of the Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith begins with the war in its final stages. Whilst this did become the source of some criticism at the time, we would see it more in full via The Clone Wars animated movie and television series, allowing the movie to maintain Lucas’ philosophy that the prequel trilogy was truly the tragedy of Anakin, his descent to The Dark Side mirroring his own son’s eventual rise as a Jedi in the three episodes that would follow.
The film follows Anakin as he is slowly manipulated by Palpatine and eventually coerced emotionally into betraying everyone and everything he knows and loves. Although his performances in the series has often been the source of much derision and fun (sand, anyone?), here Hayden Christensen delivers a superbly crafted performance, his eventual descent to villainy not in any way hammy or over the top, at least not until he gets his costume, but that’s more down to the stupidity of the dialogue than anything else, but throughout his emotional torture and conflicted nature is brilliantly portrayed by the young actor that he actually deserves more credit than he is usually given for this film alone.
Portman also does fine work. I’ve often like Portman in many things, and it’s true that she is an Oscar-winning performer, and of course was recently nominated for Jackie, but the Star Wars prequels have never been her finest hours, but, like Christensen, she is allowed to blossom more in her range and line delivery, and the scenes between herself and Christensen hammer home the tragic nature of Padme and Anakin’s relationship. Some of Lucas’ dialogue does sometime dip into melodrama, but at least it’s decently written melodrama.
More importantly, there are no references to sand.
Like Attack of the Clones, production of the movie was based primarily in Australia, making it one of only two Star Wars film thus far not to have filmed predominantly based in the UK, although some reshoots were done at Elstree Studios in late-2004. On top of Christensen and Portman, Ewan McGregor would return as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Samuel L Jackson as Mace Windu, Jimmy Smits as Senator Organa and Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda.
Genevieve O’Reilly would also film scenes as Mon Mothma, however her scenes would end up on the cutting room floor. The Irish actress would get her chance to show her range in the role in 2016 when she would reprise the character, and not end up on the cutting room floor, in Gareth Evans wonderful Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Even more pleasing, the film also brought back Chewbacca, with some of the action taking place on the planet of Kashyyyk, the planet of the Wookiee’s and the first time we had seen Chewie’s home planet since the derided Star Wars Holiday Special. Thankfully there was no singing or long scenes of Wookiee’s talking with no subtitles, but it was a nod to the now infamous part of the Star Wars series and actually brought it into the continuity to an extent.
Once again, the film, like Attack of the Clones, would utilise a lot of green screen work as opposed to actual locations, but in some cases this even works in the film’s favour, particularly in the final confrontation (until A New Hope) of Anakin and Obi-Wan which takes place on the planet of Mustafar.
The lightsaber battle is without doubt one of the best in the entire Star Wars cannon. Itself the subject of a wonderful exchange of dialogue on the television series Gilmore Girls about high ground, Obi-Wan and the newly christened Darth Vader’s final battle in the prequel trilogy is perhaps the darkest and most violent Star Wars had ever been. The film would in the end gain a PG-13 rating in the US, the first for a Star Wars movie, while in the UK it would also be the first to gain a 12A rating, coming after many films in the series had been rated PG or even lower. The imagery is truly dark and the damage that Anakin takes that will eventually lead to THAT costume and breathing equipment must surely rank as some of the most violent imagery in a Star Wars film to date.
The film was a massive hit, although by the end of the year it would be outgrossed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but with a box office total of $849 million dollars and some excellent reviews, it brought the series to a triumphant close. Many more were positive and it seemed as if Lucas had brought the live action series to a wonderful, albeit dark and tragic end, with the series and the circle now complete leaving fans with six movies that they could debate with themselves over what order to watch them in.
Being lumped in with the prequel trilogy means that some fans don’t rank it very well, certainly it sometimes does feel that fan and audience reaction to the film has fallen over the last twelve years, and whilst this reviewer and Star Wars fan is more than quick in pointing out that there are indeed some issues with the staging of certain scenes and the way some of the dialogue is written, I have to say I always find the film incredibly enjoyable and, for such a dark narrative, of the three prequel movies it is a damn entertaining watch.
When we left theatres and headed home and several months later bought the film on DVD, it seemed as if it would be the last time we’d ever get to see a live action film from the franchise. Animation and video games seemed to the future direction of the series, and whilst there was talk of a live action television series, rumours and talk of the latter always seemed to be needed to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, seven years after the release of Revenge of the Sith, in a move that was a complete surprise, George Lucas would sell Lucasfilm to Disney and the House of Mouse made no attempt to hide the fact that they planned to get into the Star Wars business. Ten years after the release of Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars would return, with new talent behind the camera and with many familiar faces in front of it.
On top of producing new instalments of the series, Disney also announced their intention to produce stand alone anthology films, the first of which would, of course, be Rogue One, a film that would fill in the gap between this film and the one that follows it. It would also mean that Revenge of the Sith would be the last time a Star Wars movie would bear the name of George Lucas on it as a writer, or director or even executive producer, and also the last live action Star Wars movie to have the famed 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare on the front of it.
For all the controversies and anger about him, his last Star Wars movie is a wonderful end to his involvement in the series. Yes, there are one or two moments that strike a false note (“Noooooooooooooooo” especially), but the film’s intense themes, intricate character development and all round better quality over the last two movies ensure that it is a great film and best of all it ends with a final image that beautifully hints at the next episode to come and brings it all beautifully full circle.