Early on in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi face Jedi-gone-bad Count Dooku in battle, Dooku–sensing that Anakin has grown in confidence, arrogance and power since last they met–makes the prescient comment “Twice the pride, double the fall.” The extent of that fall is at the heart of this riveting, often heartbreaking final chapter in George Lucas’ “Star Wars” saga.
Haunted by premonitions that his now-pregnant wife, Senator Padm? Amidala, will die during childbirth and frustrated by the Jedi Council’s unwillingness to name him a Jedi Master, Anakin is seduced by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s promise of unlimited power offered by the dark side–a power that might even prevent Padm? from dying. Once Anakin makes his choice, the conflicted emotions surrounding his belief that he’s being denied power and respect that are rightfully his are quickly replaced by an all-out brutality. Writer/director Lucas courts the dark side himself by shocking even the most devoted fans in one particular scene with the extent to which Anakin, now named Darth Vader, turns his back on the people and principles he once honored.
Following Anakin’s conversion, the dark side’s subsequent massacre of most of the Jedi Knights throughout the galaxy is the most disturbing sequence in any of the Star Wars films. Though the film’s violence is never gratuitous, Revenge of the Sith is certainly not for the faint of heart–a number of scenes are truly shocking. The death of a hero in any good movie usually packs an emotional wallop, but in Lucas’ last installment of the prequels almost all of the Jedi’s are killed, and the very society they’ve been protecting is manipulated into turning against them leaving the audience with a helpless, hopeless feeling. Fittingly for a film that chronicles a hellish fall from grace, Vader’s climactic showdown with Obi-Wan occurs on a fiery planet akin to Dante’s Inferno.
Revenge of the Sith adopts a darker tone than its predecessors. There is an entertaining, if somewhat confusing, opening space battle that gives R2-D2 the opportunity to go a little bad-ass. Aside from that and a few good one-liners from Yoda (who, as usual, dominates every scene he’s in), the film’s only other laughs arise from George Lucas’s clunky romantic dialogue between Anakin and Padm?. (Thankfully, there aren’t many of those scenes.) Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan channels Alec Guiness admirably while Hayden Christensen as Anakin has improved since Attack of the Clones. Natalie Portman as Padm? unfortunately has little to do but fawn and fret over her beloved.
As much as Star Wars is thought of as entertainment for children and obsessive fans, Revenge of the Sith has an undercurrent of weightier subject matter. The Republic’s evolution from a democracy into an Empire reflects the twilight of a good and just society. As the Senate overwhelmingly supports Palpatine’s request to be made all-powerful so that order in the galaxy can be maintained, Padm? despairingly comments, “So this is how liberty dies – with cheering and applause.”
In Anakin’s story, we’re also faced with the issue of moral choices. Though he is genuinely attracted to Jedi teachings, which, like Christianity, require sacrifice of one’s personal will, Anakin’s self-absorption coupled with the noble purpose of saving his wife leads him to a clash between submitting to God’s will and becoming godlike himself. Like the classic tragic hero, his character flaw leads him and the entire galaxy down a path of destruction.
Revenge of the Sith isn’t a perfect movie. But as the best of the recent prequels, it’s a trip to the dark side that’s definitely worth taking.