Revenge of the Sith also came along at an important time in my life. I don’t talk about it, few know about it and I have no desire ever, under any circumstances, to relive it. As always, George Lucas was there to offer the salve on my wounds.
So the natural inclination is to think that I can’t be detached in my assessment of this film. Untrue, I say. Untrue. It happens to be a fact that not only does this film have a special place in my heart, I think that it’s the most perfect film Lucas has ever created. It’s both integral to the story and completely independent, similar to the original film, but it’s also a work created by a filmmaker far more sure of his skills.
Coming of Age
Just about everything having to do with the technical construction of this film is perfect. There are moments, to this day, that blow my mind from exactly how much better the process got in so short an amount of time. Actors shot on a set matted into a model, being attacked by digital figures such as General Grievous.
The cuts are quick, the action is breathless and the musical cues are the most operatic of the series. My joy at the fact that Williams brings in more pronounced string arrangements—even giving my favorite instrument, the violin, a highlighted role—can’t be overstated. It breathes new life into old themes. The newer themes, especially for General Grievous, bring a sense of military bravado to match the much-loved Imperial March.
Death, Destruction and Grievous
As far as digital characters go, General Grievous is a bull’s eye. He’s diabolical fun, quirky in the way that some of the best ancillary characters of the series are, and has a real personality that sells him as real. While the effects are fantastic with him, it’s the voice work of Matthew Wood that closes the deal.
Whereas Dooku is an obvious thematic echo of the man Anakin will become, Grievous is a subtle shout of the nightmare mechanical non-life he’ll be forced to live. He’s also got a twisted sense of humor and the type of laugh that tells you that if he had a mustache, he’d twirl it. Maybe it’s thanks to the sense of humor I got from my father, but I’ll get a chuckle out of Grievous every time.
In a way Lucas comes full circle to his more abstract roots (seriously, watch the original THX-1138 sometime), though with much more polish. Dialogue is only part of the way to tell the story here; Lucas realizes he has a full visual and aural arsenal to unleash. He utilizes it like a Buck Turgid on the Pentagon budget team.
Some may knock him for it, but he gets the balancing act spot-on this time; the music cues, surrounding warfare and a quick shot of Anakin stating he wants to go back and save the clone fliers (all played by Temeura Morrison), followed by Obi-Wan’s quick order not to do so, is all that’s necessary to establish Anakin’s desire always to be the hero. Later, when Anakin puts himself and the newly-rescued Chancellor in danger for the sake of saving Obi-Wan, we see his difficulty in letting go. Like a symphony, we just need ‘hits’ to cue us. This character has a hard time knowing when he isn’t in control.
It’s also reminiscent of the original film in this series, which spends just long enough on important deaths and events to let the music swell and move us along in the story. It allows for a lot of story to be told in a little over 2 hours.
And of course, there’s the love story. This time it’s much more tragic and subtle. The theme of love developing into a desire to control comes to fruition.
Most importantly, we find out two important things about Darth Vader, the iconoclastic villain of our childhoods, whom we turned into an anti-hero of sorts. The first is that he was, in fact, a monster. He didn’t just kill the incompetent or those who wronged him. He killed as a means to an end.
The second was that he had good intentions. At least, ones with which anyone who’s lost a loved one can identify.
The Vader plotline also takes on an interesting personal note from Lucas, but not one I’m sure he’s aware of. The English majors out there can start buzzing about unintentional subtext. It makes this film his most personal since American Graffiti.
Revenge of the Sith is an apology poem written to his ex-wife. If you follow the track of Lucas’ life, he was a wunderkind kid who struggled with his identity in the context of his father, who was eager and came into success much earlier in his chosen career than he probably anticipated. He fell in love with a competent and talented woman.
They got divorced around the time Return of the Jedi was finished. I think that if you look over the prequel trilogy, but Sith especially, you see some reflection on his life as to how his own obsessions—ironically, with technology—claimed his love when he couldn’t reconcile the two. He then became trapped, if you will, by Star Wars as everything he ever did or will do since then will be measured by it. A victim of his own powers, if you will.
I think you’d be crazy to say you don’t see a parallel in this film.
The Final Analysis
I know that this review winds up being exactly the way anyone who knows me expected it to be for at least one of these films. But I’m being truly honest when I say, Revenge of the Sith is as close to perfect as any film of its kind needs to be.
Are there fanboy things that I “wish” had been left in? Sure. But the pacing of this film, something for which I take four of the remaining five to task for, is so spot-on it would be hard to imagine it being improved by changing the editing choices. Of course, given his penchant for Special Editions, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Blu Ray set. But I will point out that to date, this is the only one of the six that he hasn’t altered in any way when released to DVD. Maybe that says something in and of itself.