Why the Star Wars prequels are good. (Part 3)

[Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and as always, spoilers!]

The last of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, is not hated quite so much as its two predecessors. No doubt it is hated by many, but there are those who admit it has its good qualities.

I, of course, go even further. It’s not only my favorite Star Wars film,  it’s one of my favorite films ever. The first shot of a Republic battleship crawling along against a background sound of big guns, then swooping down into a frantic battle scene, is one of the most memorable intros I have ever seen.

And the beginning is the film’s weak point.

There are so many things I like about this film, from the clever echoing and foreshadowing in the opening sequence, to the brilliant performances of Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson,(Jackson’s sarcastically addressing Palpatine as “My Lord” is but one example) to the subtle but effective political commentary spread throughout the film.

Of course, the best performance is that of Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Darth Sidious. He dominates Revenge with a subtle, charming temptation in the first half, and with an insanely malevolent ecstasy in the second. It is awesome to behold, and here I must say that while Darth Vader gets the headlines, Darth Sidious is a far more terrifying–and, in some ways, plausible–villain. The scene in which he tells the tragedy of Darth Plagueis is the deepest scene in the saga, and McDiarmid carries it off masterfully. “Not from a Jedi” is a simple line, but the delivery lends it tremendous power.

It is fitting that the catalyst for the rise of Darth Vader is so splendidly handled.  Because in the end, it is all the story of Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Revenge is the absolute blackest hour for Anakin, it is his destruction and spiritual annihilation. And this forms the core of the story.

The depths of this fall, the darkness into which he is plunged, cannot be overstated. When critics nowadays say “darkness”, they mean “violence” or “suspense” or “the macabre”. That is not “darkness”. “Darkness” is the idea of flawed men and of Destiny. “Darkness” is good intentions gone awry. “Darkness” is a philosophical concept–a state of mind.

The entire saga culminates in the unutterably grim scene upon the landing pad on Mustafar. Anakin’s betrayal is completed in this scene, and his descent into depravity is laid bare to the horror of his wife and his friend. It is a scene of immense power, and one with a power quite foreign to the typical action/adventure viewer.

Surely, most audiences would be shocked at such an ending unless first primed for it by the knowledge that better days were ahead in the fictional universe. If you watched Revenge of the Sith without knowing what happens next in the series, it is almost as dark as Chinatown. It is about as much bleak tragedy as one could imagine in a summer blockbuster.

The essence of the classic tragedies is that the Hero has a fatal flaw which destroys him. You could interpret Revenge this way; that Anakin’s arrogance destroyed him.

But I look at it another way: Anakin’s flaws did not destroy him.

His virtues did.

This is why the original trilogy had to come first. Vader needed to be built up as the iconic villain before it could revealed that this most terrible of galactic evildoers became such because he loved his family. He loved his wife. He loved his friends. And it destroyed them all. “The road to Hell…”

That is “darkness.”

I could go on. I could say that I think the “Order 66” sequence is excellent. Critics rightly compare it to a similar scene in The Godfather, but neglect to note that it is carried out more successfully by Lucas than by Coppola. I could add that I think the music for Revenge is some of the best ever in cinema. Or I could explore my belief that the entire series can be interpreted differently from the mainstream approach, in that the Jedi order can be seen as a failed institution that the Sith are right to eradicate.

But after all, it’s up to you to decide. These posts have been my own opinion, and if yours, and all the world’s, are different then that is simply the case. It changes nothing for me or you. But I thought it might be interesting even to those who hate the films to hear the rationale of one who likes them.

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