Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is far and away the most divisive of any Star Wars film to date. It’s liked by some, hated by others, and exists as the most unique entry in the canon. It’s what a lot people say is “the best prequel” and is close to being as good as the originals. While I disagree with the latter, I’ll give you the former. Yes, next to The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, this film is best of the three. But does that make it good? Some say yes, some say no, I say…well…here goes.
This is the perfect embodiment of what I call “sequel acceptance.” That’s a phrase I made up to describe people cutting a sequel slack simply because it’s better than other sequels out there. I see the same thing happening with Jurassic World. No, it’s not as good as Jurassic Park…but it’s better than Jurassic Park II and III, so we’ll give it a break. To that I say: *Yoda rubbing forehead in grief*
Revenge of the Sith, objectively, is not a good film. It contains many of the same flaws as the others and we had just sort of accepted them when this film was released. The mind-numbing CGI was still there, the poor dialogue was still there, the poor acting was still there, and the nonsensical plot was the worst it’d ever been. But people cut it some slack because the opening shot looks cool, Grevious’s lightsaber trick was clever, we saw a lot of loose ends get tied up, and because the film is dark.
That last point is important to note. It’s dark. What does that mean? Why does that make the film good? Since when has a film’s tone been indicative of its quality? I would argue that Revenge of the Sith is the darkest of all six Star Wars films, and it’s certainly not as good as the original three. The same, too, can be said about Attack of the Clones. I find that film to be darker than at least A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. Does that give it merit, too?
Tone is just that…tone. It’s not an indication of quality. So saying that a film is better because it is darker is like saying a car is more fuel efficient because it’s blue. Now you may be saying that this film needed to be dark because it’s about a fallen hero…someone we used to admire betraying his friends and falling victim to unfortunate circumstance. This is true, but the execution of this film, and its predecessors, makes the dark tone somewhat ill-fitted for the story. What do I mean by that?
Anakin sucks and Darth Vader is cool. It’s as simple as that. A common complaint of the prequels is that Anakin is a whiny kid that annoys people. A common praise for Vader is that he super awesome and everyone loves him. The dark, depressing, sad tone does not fit the transition from A to B. We, as moviegoers, want to see Anakin turn into Vader because we all like Vader so much more. The film uses sad music and cheap tricks to make us feel like it’s a sad transition, but in a way, we’re relieved that we finally get to see our favorite villain return to the silver screen.
Imagine this hypothetical: Han, Chewie, and Leia arrive at Cloud City, they walk through the doors, head to the dining room, and Vader captures Leia only to pay off Han. He betrays his friends because there is a price on his head and his own insecurities lead him to turn on his newfound family. That would be a devastating moment for us as viewers because we liked seeing him as a hero. He was cool, he was likable, and he was better off when he was on our side.
Now obviously I like Empire just the way it is, don’t get me wrong, but my point is we would be saddened by that transition because we’d be seeing a character that we love disappear. In Revenge of the Sith, we’re eager for the transition because we like what Anakin becomes more than we like Anakin. The sad, dark tone simply doesn’t fit. What the film is forcing us to feel and what we actually feel are two different things and it leads to a tonal inconsistency in our minds.
The problems with film’s the “darkness” of the film don’t end there, though. I have a big problem with this scene, too (Anakin killing Younglings). Now a few months ago I discussed why films need to include more death…so you’d think I’d love knowing that this film had the guts to kill a room full of children. The problem with this scene is that it, again, is inconsistent with what we know about this story. When relaying to Luke the personality of his father, Obi-Wan seems to have fond memories of the person that Anakin used to be. But if my old friend murdered a group of kids, I certainly wouldn’t remember him like that. That’s some serial killer behavior right there, and I can’t think how many good deeds could possibly undo that. If Lucas really wanted to include that scene in the film for some reason, Palpatine should have been the one to do it, with Anakin walking in on it disapprovingly. It all goes back to the same issue that are plaguing these films: these characters aren’t written well and they rely on the laziest of clichés to tell the story.
Because of these lazy clichés, the emotion behind the story simply isn’t there. We see all sorts of cheap storytelling devices and ill-fitting tones on screen, and it all leads to a film that doesn’t add up. But that’s the sort of thing that’s hard to put your finger on, so we just sort of…accept it, because no matter how out of sync it feels, it’s not as bad the other two, right?
One the reasons people are so forgiving of this film is because story takes a back seat to emotion, so even though nothing in the story makes any sense whatsoever, we can argue that the real journey of the film is its emotional core, and since that’s much more amorphous than the story, it’s easier to make excuses for it. But is that what we should be fighting for in films? Should we have to rationalize why a film is good and support something that, in reality, is lackluster?
Of course not. We know that Hollywood can make better films. We’ve seen hundreds of better films and three of them have the words “Star Wars” in their titles. We should be demanding more from Hollywood. Now I recognize that saying that sounds almost like a call to arms for all “butthurt fanboys” across the world, but at the same time, vehemently defending these films is just as bad. If you are truly a fan of movies as art, of cinema as a form of expression, than you should care and you should stop apologizing for caring. It’s good that you care about films and it’s good that you raise your concerns to your fellow moviegoers, because if you don’t speak your mind about the films, we’ll end up with…well…this….
Alex Russo loves to talk about movies. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.