I can’t say enough about the style and the vast world-building of these films, but even those aside, everything just seems better in this movie. The directing is better, the writing is better, the cinematography is better (the opening shot as we follow Anakin and Obi-Wan’s fighters through the space battle in one long shot is terrific). Even Hayden Christensen’s performance was better. Without dramatically changing or deleting anything, this one just manages to stand above the other two.
Despite my defense, I’ve made it clear that I found the first film to be a little unfocused and the second film to have a lot of filler. This film is much more focused and felt like it was building to something dramatic. All the plotlines come to a head and things just start getting worse and worse for everyone. As the film goes on, you start to feel the drama build and the tragedy unfold, making you wish that things would get better even with all you know about the original trilogy.
And that feeling is very important because this film is very tragic and very dark, possibly the darkest in the whole saga; perhaps even darker than Empire (calm yourself, I didn’t say this movie was better than Empire. What, do you think I’m some brainless mynock?). Everything from the rise of the Empire, the fall of the Jedi, the execution of Order 66, Yoda going into hiding, and of course everything with Anakin. Obi-Wan learning of Padme and Anakin’s union and their child and still having to go take him down; Anakin causing Padme’s death almost like some self-fulfilling prophecy, Anakin killing younglings (stupid word), etc. It’s all kind of a bummer for a movie that came with tie-in coloring books.
As for Anakin’s actual turn to the dark side though, that’s up for some debate. All the elements were there, his recklessness and selfishness, his overwhelming fear of losing his loved ones, the manipulation of the Sith, everything you need. It’s just that maybe the execution or rather the order of events was a little off. To see Anakin go from unsure to murdering Jedi Masters and children all in the name of stopping something that may never happen was a little extreme. Perhaps if Padme had died earlier and he either still caused it or wasn’t there and blamed the Jedi, his quick turn to the Dark Side may have been more understandable. And perhaps if they had touched upon his political views like they did in the previous film where he talked about his view of an ideal government, one that closely resembled a dictatorship, it would make more sense. You get a glimpse of that when he talks to Padme about ruling the galaxy, but the actual moment of the turn seems a little dramatic.
Also Palpatine seems to give Anakin the name of Vader very quickly and seemingly without reason. Does he have a list of names he has laying around that he wants to use like a book of baby names?
But one of his strong suits is his chemistry with Obi-Wan which is better in this film (it would have to be, it was non-existent in the last film). Which leads me to Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi… He is, possibly, the best part of these films. The way he channels Alec Guinness without copying him, bringing a new depth and charm to Obi-Wan that we never really got with Guinness. It was mostly through him that the tragedy of the third act came through. His sorrow and regret as he leaves Padme to go take down Anakin after he discovers he is the father of her baby is quite sad. But nothing tops his heartbreaking, pleading farewell to Anakin after their duel. To call someone their brother and say they love them after the other has yelled, “I hate you” with such disdain is really powerful.
Their fight as well, while maybe a little over the top, is still an emotional battle bolstered by John Williams’ breathtaking score. It’s funny that so much went into making this extraordinary fight scene though, when my favorite moment is one that required no special effects. The moment where they both Force push into each other’s hands gives me chills every time. Plus the fight between Yoda and Palpatine was something to behold. I don’t love the idea of Yoda being a weightless lightsaber wielder, so seeing him use the Force to fight Palpatine was sweet, throwing that Senate platform back at him. Plus I love the symbolism of Yoda and Palpatine, the most powerful Jedi and the most powerful Sith, fight in the Senate chamber as they tear down a room that once stood for order and peace. See? I is pretty smart.
Plus I got to give props to Ian McDiarmid who crushes it in these movies. His manipulation of the senate as well as Anakin is quite brilliantly plotted out and executed, plus he’s so devilishly over the top that you can’t help but love his hammy cackling as he screams “POWAAAHHH! UNNNLIMITED POWAAAAH!”. And by seeing him take on Mace Windu and Yoda, it gives us a new insight on his power, giving him more depth and prowess when you see him again in Return of the Jedi. Once you know how powerful he is and what a master manipulator he is, it makes the fear he invokes all the more understandable.
One of the highlights of the film, and perhaps all of the films, is the scene in the opera house where Palpatine tells Anakin the legend of Darth Plagueis. We’ve seen the height of the Jedi’s power and the depth of their order and we’ve heard of the Sith and the darkness they brought, but this was the first time an actual story was put to that feeling. It gave a whole new outlook on the history of this world and opened it up in ways we hadn’t seen before. There was a time and battles fought before these films and, as we see later, after these films. That one scene makes this world feel huge. Plus it’s just a great, creepy story with monumental influence over the rest of the plot, even as far down as the end of Jedi.
I love that Lucas was bold enough to really explore this world to limits that were unthinkable when making the original films. The original films went to different worlds (that all resembled our own of course) and focused more on the story immediately at hand. These were the films that opened up the world to the extent that we know it today. I know there were books and other games, but in the sense of the films where it all started, these did way more for the Star Wars universe than they get credit for.
You can say what you want about the first two films, I still like them (one more than the other), but I understand they have flaws. But this film, despite its own flaws (Vader shouting, “NOOOOO!” and Padme being reduced to a crying plot point as opposed to the three dimensional character she was in the last two films), rises above them. I feel confident calling this one really good, maybe even- dare I say it- near the same level as Return of the Jedi? There’s a lot more happening here that opens up the universe, ties up past plot points, and opens up new ones.
The last shot alone is utterly fantastic. Obi-Wan drops off baby Luke to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru at their homestead on Tattooine and walks off to the horizon where he will stay and watch over Luke until 1977. And then Owen and Beru, holding little baby Luke, look out at the binary sunset as William’s score booms. Not only does it look great, but after all the tragedy and darkness of the past two hours, it harkens back to the original film and – much like for Luke as he looked at the two suns in the moment that inspired this one – let’s us know that great things are to come and not to worry because it will all work out.
May the Force be with you.
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