Image from Deviant Art (The face of the toxic side of the fandom after The Last Jedi premiered)
For a while, Revenge of the Sith was the only Star Wars prequel that was generally seen as the “good one.” Higher marks from critics, and a viewerbase that was wafting off the sense that back in 2005, this would be the final Star Wars film and that they should make the most of it.
I would argue that Revenge of the Sith makes it difficult to decide which prequel is the worst rather than what is the best. The answer is that the best prequel is not a movie, it’s a collection of expanded universe content that takes place within the prequel’s period of time, canon or not. The Clone Wars shows, the Clone Wars comics, the Clone Wars games. Want to find a reason to enjoy the prequels unironically, look for stuff that Lucas didn’t write.
Once again, the things that work in Episode III are more or less the things that worked with Episodes I and II. John Williams pouring his soul into what he also thought was the last Star Wars movie, especially apparent in the lengthier than usual end credits.
The inkling of great ideas that are wasted in a film plagued by poor plot structure, ridiculous leaps of logic( especially for Annie Skywalker) and an overindulgence in all the things that can be shown visually with then cutting edge CGI.
Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/ the Emperor is delightful in how he chews the scenery delicately and seductively and goes full Episode VI camp once he has won. Let’s break down the good a bit more.
While I personally like Williams score for Episode II the most, III probably has the most memorable score, even if it does feel too over-dramatic. That stems a lot from how the onscreen drama and its logical fallacy can’t square with the grandiose tragedy the composer is trying to convey. Three tracks are most about Anakin’s fall into Darth Vader and the evil transformation of the Republic into an Empire.
“Battle of the Heroes”, “Anakin’s Betrayal” and “Anakin’s Dark Deeds” are the three tracks that best exemplify the contradiction between what Lucas and Williams intend and what is presented. The first, “Battle of the Heroes” , is a successor to Williams’ masterpiece from Episode I, “Duel of the Fates”, as it is used for Anakin and Obi-wan’s climatic duel on the volcano planet, Mustafar.
The song both conveys the tragic circumstances of a mentor and apprentice turn best of friends/ war buddies fighting to the death over one’s fall to the dark side. While a dramatic and brutal saber fight was suggested from the original Star Wars, the final slugout is overlong and at times is comically insane.
Earlier important saber duels in the series had changed locations as the fight progressed. Luke and Vader in Empire and Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul in Phantom Menace. The progression of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s fight from a landing pad through a magma…control…station…something onto a series of pipes to eventually some giant antenna over a lava river.
Due to the brawl back at the station causing the shields for the antenna to turn off, the antenna then gets damaged by the lava, causing it to break off with Anakin and Obi-Wan still on it and still fighting despite how needlessly dangerous they have made their supposedly final fight.
Then after surviving the antenna’s drop off a lava waterfall, they end up on what I’m guessing are some survey drones that are both just big enough to continue the fight down the river as the two keep on duking it out.
Finally, the drone that Obi-Wan is on reaches land and he gets off while Anakin stays on his as it decides to park conveniently. Then we get the memed to hell and back moment where Obi-Wan declares “IT’S OVER ANAKIN, I HAVE THE HIGH GROUND!” Annie responds in his most petulant teenage edgelord voice, “YOU UNDERESTIMATE MY POWER!”
Obi-Wan of course warns him not to “try it” and then Anakin demonstrates his immense dark side-infused abilities by jumping with a silly war cry and Obi-Wan perfectly chopping his three remaining limbs while conveniently dodging his artificial one. That’s how the super hyped fight scene ends. Like it’s a gag from Monty Python. I know the point is that Anakin is overconfident, but pshaw.
Also, Obi-Wan, you do know that you were once in a position where your opponent had the high ground and you certainly didn’t and that turned out well for you. Only because Darth Maul stood stock still could you win for the plot’s sake. As HISHE pointed out, Anakin could’ve easily considered other options like walking off the platform drone-thing or using the force to throw tons of lava at Obi-Wan.
This movie makes Darth Vader’s fall more embarrassing than sad and that may be the best sticking point against Sith as a movie, among the many other sticking points. Then again, master force users become sudden novices when it suits the plot, as Lucas made Maul a sudden idiot in TPM as referenced earlier and three Jedi masters also decide to act like deer in headlights just so both Sidious and Mace Windu can look so cool when they fight.
Getting back to those three music tracks, the next one is “Anakin’s Betrayal” which plays during the Order 66 montage where Obi-Wan, Yoda and lots and lots of Jedi are suddenly betrayed and attacked by their clones on command of Darth Sidious.
Order 66 in concept is one of the more chilling ideas that Lucas introduced into the Prequels and is once again more effective when featured outside of the movie. It’s a great scenario where the way the Jedi are taken down is by “Manchurian Candidate”/ Bucky Barnes” tactics.
The explanation for how Order 66 works was actually retconned to make more sense in a series of episodes from the Clone Wars show, eps I have yet to watch as of this writing. Originally, the whole “Clones are genetically engineered to obey any order without question” was loosened to make the drama in the Clone Wars show more appealing.
The Clones were initially suggested to be aware of the order existing and waiting patiently until it was time. Based on what I’ve heard, the show changes Order 66 into a hypnotic command phrase that supersedes the Clones’ free will, which is the reason why they would willingly carry out such a horrifying command.
The show, more so than the movies, develops not only the Clones’ own distinct and varied identities but the varying relationships with the Jedi that are their commanders. The show makes it very clear that the bonds many of the clone troopers have are far too strong to make them willingly go through with it.
A special chip in their brains that is awaits the moment of Sidious’ command makes more sense. Removal also explains how some clones like Rex canonically never partake in the genocide of Jedi and later go on to fight with the Rebellion.
The Clone Wars show and its treatment of both Clone and Jedi also makes the massacre in Revenge of the Sith actually sad as we get to know both parties in a way that the movies, either through lack of time or inept writing, never could.
Of course, the way the Jedi are seen going down, with a lack of awareness of what is going on even though they have supernatural mental senses means that more than a few Jedi should have at least have had more warning before they got attacked by their own troops.
You could infer that the shock of their own troops turning on them, some of which they have made genuine friendships with and perhaps more, delayed their response time but I’m likely stretching. Then again, these are the same Jedi that couldn’t sense the Lord of the Sith standing five feet away from them earlier on.
Maybe Sidious off-screen managed to tamper with Jedi senses in a way that should’ve in turn sent deafening alarm bells on anything else they would’ve done going forward, like being generals for an army with very suspicious origins. Also, the Mandalorian bounty hunter that provided the DNA makeup for the clone army worked with Count Dooku, the guy leading the army of the Separatists, the ones that are being fought in the Clone Wars. Isn’t that suspicious?
The third track of note is “Anakin’s Dark Deeds”, which starts quietly in a morose manner. Sounding like a lone woman’s sorrowful call, it then explodes into a choir shouting in space Latin which times with scenes of violence. In this instance, Anakin now Darth Vader, slaughtering the Separatist leaders and ending the Clone Wars on a far from heroic note.
This is one of the more effective evil Anakin moments as he is dead silent during the entire rout. It intercuts with Palpatine declaring the Jedi “betrayal” of the Republic and takes the chance to declare the birth of the Galactic Empire, which almost the entire senate cheers, that leads to either one of the best or worst spoken lines in the trilogy, by Padme, when she quietly declares “That’s how democracy dies, with thunderous applause.”
This last track of the three can feel the most overwrought as you’re still dealing with the dissonance between the grandiose intent and the half-baked execution of what is happening. Yes, what is happening in that particular track is a big deal. How it got there, though….
There is actually a fourth track that I’ll add as a bonus in terms of it being purely drama and for me at least getting narrowly past the “melo” part: “The Immolation Scene”. As the title aptly describes, Anakin, after losing all his limbs, begins to slide into the lava following his stupid maneuver as Obi-Wan shouts another memed moment (You were the chosen one!!!!!) starts to burn alive summing up why he needs his cool as hell breathing suit.
This could be said for the other three tracks, but place this music at a different point in the Star Wars saga or an entirely different franchise and it is very effective symphonic emotion. Once more, your mind may race to what could have been with this music in tow.
So, what else to say? I could point out like so many others Anakin finally falling to the dark side and committing acts that were normally beneath him like slaughtering children because of a bad dream.
I could make note of how absolutely pathetic General Grievous is compared to his cartoon appearances, especially his terrifying debut in the 2D animated series. I could note how in hindsight maybe it wasn’t the best idea to place baby Luke at a place his evil father has been.
But instead, I will try to sum up how I started this article with: why was Revenge of the Sith back in 2005 seen more kindly than Menace and Clones? Maybe it was the positive feeling that “hey, at least it’s over.”, not unlike how people viewed the third Hobbit film initially.
I think that is part of it, but I think it really goes back to the idea that people wanted to like because the Prequels were finished, so was Star Wars at least in the cinematic sphere. Three years later, A Clone Wars movie would receive theatrical release and fared far worse than the show it was plugging critically and commercially.
But in terms of a live action Star Wars movie, an episode, this seemed to be it until a decade later we were all proven wrong, for better and worse. We wanted the last Star Wars movie, at least with involvement from its creator, to be a good one. To end the saga on a good note. In the end, both audiences and even critics lied to themselves.
And that is a pathway to the dark side.