May the Fourth Special - Why Revenge of the Sith is underrated
It’s always a challenge sticking up for the Star Wars prequels when such a stigma has grown around them for so long. Certainly, the mixed success of the Disney-era entries has improved the prequels’ standing in fans’ minds and overall rankings. But they’ll never be as revered as the originals are and always will be.
I believe there’s a gem in the three, one that is widely considered the best, but never considered a great movie: I believe Revenge of the Sith is a great Star Wars movie and for this May the Fourth, I want to argue why.
Pleasing the Plot and the Fans
The immediate plus for Revenge of the Sith is that, unlike The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, it gives us exactly what we wanted: the turn of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, feeding directly into and benefitting our feelings towards the character in the original movies.
First and foremost, Revenge of the Sith does away with the moody teenager that inhabited the screen in Attack of the Clones - while he is given to inner torment, Hayden Christensen is allowed to play around with the occasional banter and the brotherly relationship intended for Anakin with his master, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor remains a fan favourite).
What this achieves is fleshing out the camaraderie between the two that not only intensifies the breakdown of the relationship in the latter half of the movie, but imbues a sense of tragic failure in their final confrontation on the Death Star, in A New Hope. Before, its significance came from it being our first experience of a lightsaber battle; now, it’s a scene where two once inseparable friends attempt to destroy each other once and for all.
But even the more morose parts of the story are told with gusto and occasional gratuitousness. Vader was always a cool villain in the original three, both visually and in terms of temperament: choking Imperial officers got a psychotic chuckle out of all of us.
Yet, Lucas bravely reminds us that Vader is, at his core, evil until those last moments in Return of the Jedi. His slaughter of younglings; helping Palpatine murder Mace Windu; his rampage through Mustafar, killing all of the separatists that Palpatine (falsely) promised to protect.
Revenge of the Sith does not shy away from the dark side: it welcomes it in, granting us another perspective and a counterpart to the hope of the originals, while giving us the murkier tone that we hoped for with a Vader origin story. Yes, he screams ‘NOOOOO’ rather wetly when he dons the mask and suit. But, it’s inspired by a death that he caused: everything is grounded in unusual darkness.
Putting the War in Star Wars
The use of effects has always been a point of contention for Star Wars fans: many argue for practical over visual, while some see the benefits of CGI in world-building and scene-setting.
Regardless of which side you’re on, Revenge of the Sith looks gorgeous, wielding the technological capabilities of Industrial Lights & Magic (Lucas’ visual effects company) to deliver vistas and sequences that we’ve either expected or never knew we needed.
The first that springs to mind is the opening scene: a space battle over Coruscant. It might seem like yet another aerial dogfight in a franchise made famous with them. But this is a little different, considering the scope and the context: this is the first time we actually see and more importantly feel like a war is taking place, thanks to the capabilities of CGI to enhance complex sequences.
The use of the camera, following our heroes through this broad battle space, emanates a sense of scale that not even the originals could accomplish. Certainly, Revenge of the Sith has a bigger budget and better equipment to build the end product. But it honours the heart of Star Wars - an epic space opera, inspired by the war films that Lucas grew up with.
It’s the Little Things
Revenge of the Sith is a true Star Wars film for faithfully following the space opera traditions. But, I’d like to end this analysis by pointing out that the third film touches on some dramatic intimacy that’s unlike any of the deliberately over-the-top drama from previous entries. These moments are forgotten because they’re not what we expect from a Star Wars movie. Nevertheless, they make the difference for Revenge of the Sith.
There’s the opera sequence, where Anakin and Palpatine have an in-depth discussion on power, which teases a more complicated dynamic than a simple light versus dark binary (a development that the film doesn’t follow through with completely). But there is another, to quote Yoda, just before Anakin intervenes with Mace Windu’s arrest of Palpatine.
As the sun begins to set, Anakin is seen ruminating in the Jedi council, while Padme is seen gazing out across the metropolis, similarly reflective. As the camera cuts between the two in close-up, we see Anakin begin to tear up, conflicted at the decision he has to make. Padme looks unsure, even melancholy, almost like she’s sensing this conflict. This scene carries a simple sensibility that’s communicated without dialogue: Lucas tries to connect us to the characters in a way that we don’t expect from a Star Wars movie.
This, ultimately, builds on an already strong argument for Revenge of the Sith as a great Star Wars movie: for all of its flaws, it uses visuals, characters and concepts from the original films, and clever camerawork to deliver more emotional moments, setting up a trilogy that already exists. The dialogue can be wooden and certain reveals don’t payoff. But Revenge of the Sith gets more right than it does wrong and as such, deserves more respect.
How do you feel about Revenge of the Sith? Do you dare prefer one of the other prequels? Leave some feedback and let me know! If you liked the article, subscribe to the website! I'll keep you updated on all of the latest posts. And follow The Film Foyer on social media! All of the links can be found in the feedback form at the bottom of the page.