Thursday, 14 January 2016

What Do You Mean You Hate Revenge Of The Sith?

At the beginning of January, I was featured indirectly on the excellent Talk Star Wars Podcast, where they read out one of my fan letters and posed my fan question to the cast, of whom I am a fan. With me so far? Fantastic. Sorry, last one, I promise. As a podcast host myself, I was pleased to see a group that engaged with their fans like that, especially being so kind about my question and giving it a good answer.

One thing they also did, to my amusement, was give me a good old-fashioned ribbing about my ranking of the Star Wars series, in particular the movie that occupies my second place position. For reference, my ordering goes thusly, from favourite to least favourite:

5, 3, 6, 4, 7, 1, 2.

So defensive was I about my enjoyment of Revenge of the Sith (your guess is as good as mine as to why I felt so defensive of my own preferences, but those are my issues to deal with) that I half-jokingly offered to break out the writing gear and pen a short piece explaining what it is I enjoy about the movie. However, the fine chaps at Talk Star Wars were kind enough to offer to host it once done, so I thought it would be a fun exercise in articulating my point of view on the movie. Obviously, being able to watch one of my favourites is always a plus as well (which goes for all the movies in the Star Wars series, by the way).

Let me start by saying that my objective here is not necessarily to change your point of view on Revenge of the Sith. If there's one thing I try to respect above all others, it's the right to hold differing opinions, as it's one of the things that makes life so interesting. Imagine the dreariness of a world where everyone agreed on everything all the time. The objective here is a simple one really: best case scenario, I hope to give you insight into what gives me joy when watching a movie, and demonstrate what it is about Revenge that elevates it in my mind. Worst case scenario, you'll read it, not agree with any, and nobody's the worse off for the experience. With that said, "this is where the fun begins".

Now, I'll happily admit that there are no perfect movies, and that even Empire has bits about it that I'm not wild about, though a much shorter list than Attack of the Clones. It's no surprise, then, that I am conscious of some of the complaints around the movie. What's more, even if I might not agree with them or dislike them to the same degree as others, I do see the arguments. For instance, I've heard it said that the CGI use overall in the prequels is excessive, and on that point I agree. Whether for cost reasons or the sake of ease, there are points in the prequel trilogy where the CGI feels unnecessary.

However, of the three prequels, my feeling is that Revenge does at least make use of it to deliver some stunning visuals, particularly the various planets visited over the course of the movie. From the extreme climate of Mustafar (putting it mildly!) to the stunning colour palettes of Felucia, there are some beautiful locations with immense scale in the movie. I get that if someone is violently opposed to the CGI, things like this could become lost in the mix, but this is certainly something I noticed on what I would call my "verification" watch while assembling this piece.

That said, I didn't take this opportunity purely to point out that the film has moments where it's awful purdy. My core reasoning behind my enjoyment of Revenge of the Sith is that it has some wonderful subtleties. Now, in some minds there, I can almost hear the squeal of the brakes on the mental train. "Subtlety?! From the movie that brought us 'Noooooooooooo'?!"

I get what you're saying. That line, while it sort of fits with Anakin's character over the prequels, doesn't really fit the ultimate badass Darth Vader we'd come to know and love, who doesn't laugh once in the entire original trilogy by the way. He makes a joke, but to the corpse of a bloke he's just killed with his mind. But I digress. The subtlety portrayed in the movie is what drives it for me. It's a movie about the struggles of Anakin Skywalker to reconcile what he has always come to believe (that the Jedi are just and pure), and what he is being told (that there is a way to save his wife which the Jedi will not teach him). Indeed, it should be pointed out that Anakin falls to the Dark Side out of desperation for the one he loves, not purely for the purposes of possessing power for power's sake. That's kind of cool, if you ask me, but mileage may vary.

The movie seeds this really early on, with Anakin's struggles to reconcile what he should do with what he must. He feels he *should* go back and save the Clone ships from Buzz droids, but he can't because he *must* reach the ship and rescue the Chancellor. What's great about the opening bit is that we start to see certain things bleeding through. Palpatine lets just the slightest hint of Sidious creep in when telling Anakin to kill Count Dooku to help end the war, which is audible in his voice when he growls "Do it!" Anakin obeys but backpedals on reflection because he knows that what he has just done isn't what he *should* do. There's a lot to like about the scene in general really, as the lightsaber battle between Anakin and Dooku is short and sweet, and shows just the slightest hint of anger and Dark Side energy working its way into Anakin's style as Dooku taunts him.

This subtle manipulation of Anakin by Darth Sidious is a key point throughout, and this movie does a wonderful job of showing just what a devious and indeed insidious (clever how they did that, eh?) Palpatine/Sidious is capable of being, with him constantly working in secrecy to unsettle Anakin's faith in the Jedi Order. He'll only speak of Darth Plagueis when they're alone. He'll only talk of offering Dark Side teachings when they're alone. What's more, he only reveals all the cards when he knows that Anakin has nowhere else to turn, and when he can strike. The smile alone makes the scene, but the dialogue, with the way he softly-softly implores Anakin to use his teachings and save his wife is superb.

Besides, it's not difficult to see why he is capable of succeeding, either, as in this prequel trilogy we see another side to the Jedi than the pure heroism of the original trilogy. We see a more dogmatic, rigid, stricter code of ethics to the Jedi. Yoda flat-out tells Anakin that the solution to his troubling visions of someone close to him dying is to learn not to fear loss. So much perfectly reasonable human reaction is a path to the Dark Side, and one could argue that if you have to start training them that young, you might be indoctrinating them. When you have one side offering that as a solution, it's not hard to see why "I can probably sort it, if you're willing to learn" became such an attractive prospect!

The movie, though, does a great job of showing Anakin being pulled from pillar to post by everyone from the Jedi, to Sidious, to even his loving wife. Here's another thing, and this might be the most contested thing you read in this piece, so consider yourself warned. Although Hayden Christensen's acting is often derided over the course of the prequels, I think it's fair to say that a lot of the issues center around the dialogue. A lot of the facial expressions are sufficiently well done to convey emotion, but then accompanied by a clunky line they can lose a certain lustre. However much easier it is to believe that a crappy line in a movie is down to poor delivery, often the line itself can be equally restrictive for an actor. Name one actor who could make lines about his distaste for the texture of sand a non-stop thrill ride. Maybe Di Caprio at a push, but he made his decision and we have to respect that.

And in the end, the longest lightsaber battle in the history of Star Wars is, in many ways, one of the most important (second, in my eyes, only to the second Luke/Vader battle on board the second Death Star). Throughout this movie, Lucas gives us plenty of evidence that Obi-Wan and Anakin have become accustomed to working together as a team when out on missions for the Jedi Council. From the earliest entrance of the characters in the film, flying in tandem to the capital ship followed by their tag-team destruction of several battle droids with minimal effort, the clear indication is that the pair is an effective team. What's more, some of Anakin's angst is caused by wanting to support Obi-Wan on his campaign to flush out and destroy General Grievous (who I'll concede, much like Boba Fett and Captain Phasma, is a cool-looking character that doesn't really get a lot of use).

One of the great things about the lightsaber battle is that there are a number of occasions where you can see the two engage in similar, if not identical, move patterns. To me, this battle feels like a fight between two powerful warriors, both of whom know each other inside out. As a result, they both look for openings in the other's patterns only to find that aside from environmental factors, there are none. However, the best part for me is the climax of the battle. Obi-Wan's experience gives him the upper hand in the duel, but Anakin's impetuous arrogance results in him coming off significantly worse than he would've had he just licked his wounds and come back stronger next time. At this point, it seems like all the adrenaline drains from Obi-Wan and he is faced with the reality of what has happened. He then delivers his wonderfully emotive speech, a speech full of despair and anguish at the fate of the galaxy. If only someone could've told him it'd work out in the end, eh? Well, not for him, but he strikes me as a "greater good" kind of chap.

So there you have it. Those are my reasons, and for these reasons I consider Episode III to be a stronger film than others might think. If reading any of these points that have changed your mind on the film, or made you want to watch it again to see if you see what I enjoy from the movie, then that's awesome. If not...Well then, you are lost! Nah, just kidding. Each to their own and all that. Thanks for reading.

4 comments:

  1. A bad film well discussed. But, as one of the people who mocked/mock your choice of order i can give you a few examples why, in my opinion, Phantom Menace is the better prequel.
    The Pod Race is in it.
    Darth Maul is in it.
    Liam Neeson is in it.
    The Dual of fates is in it, and its a better duel.
    Jake Lloyd has a better chemistry with Padme, and acts better than Hayden.
    I feel that this discussion could go on a while, i'll put the kettle on.
    Jeremy

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    1. I can totally see those reasons as good ones mate. As I've said in the past, these films have a special place in my heart regardless of some of the elements I don't care for as much.

      We can both agree that Attack of the Clones is the weakest prequel right? ;)

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  2. "Sith" is, to me, the best of the prequels. Back in 2005, I rated "Clones" as my least favourite, though now, I'm thinking "Phantom" is actually the weak link in the saga. In terms of over-all story, I think it contributes the least. I wish Maul had been the villain of Clones and Sith, lose Grevious, and have Dooku and Maul as Sidious's pawns.

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    1. I'd have totally been cool with that.

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