It was almost inevitable that Revenge of the Sith would have an edge up on its prequel predecessors. Episodes One and Two spent so much screen time futzing around with inessentials that the bulk of the story was left for the third installment. This only works to its benefit. After all, we now know what comes directly before and directly after. Provided with an inherently strong narrative, George Lucas and company proved (mostly) up to the task of bridging the prequels with the original trilogy.
Revenge of the Sith opens with the kind of space battle that generally served as climaxes for earlier installments. It’s a tangible raising of the stakes, not only on an action level, but dramatically as well. Finally getting around to the tale of Anakin’s fall to the dark side puts all the action sequences in a broader context and they resonate more because of it.
This is especially true in scenes featuring Emperor Palpatine as played by Ian McDiarmid in one of the best performances of the series. Yes, he’s hamming it up in that old British Shakespearian actor’s way, but he finds the exact right tone for this type of movie, whether conveying deviousness or all out evil. When he’s tempting Anakin toward the dark side, Hayden Christensen (better here than in Attack of the Clones) shows more chemistry with McDiarmid than he did with Natalie Portman.
This leads to the great Force/lightsaber battles, first with Mace Windu, then with Yoda. As in Episode II, there’s something very gratifying in watching Yoda fight. More gratifying still is the climatic showdown between the, now fully dark, Anakin and Obi-Wan on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Rumors of this battle, complete with its fiery setting, have been gestating at least back to the time of The Empire Strikes Back. With exploding lava in the background, thankfully, Lucas gets this epic moment right.
It’s not that Revenge of the Sith doesn’t have some problems. It’s just that, unlike The Phantom Menace’s Jar Jar Binks or Attack of the Clone’s sappy romantic dialogue, they’re small unfortunate moments that, all in all, total about a minute of screen time. In fact, if a few seconds here and a few seconds there were edited out of the film, it would have significantly improved.
These three moments, all near the end of the film, are as follows:
1) “She lost her will to live” – Please don’t make me issue a spoiler warning here. If you’ve been at all paying attention, the death of Luke and Leia’s mother should not come as a surprise. Why should Padme, a supposedly strong character, whose kids would hold the fate of the galaxy in their hands, simply give up on life while giving birth? (as explained in a line of dialogue by a nurse droid.) Especially since Anakin had already wounded her with the Vader throat choke, they already had a logical way to justify why she would die in childbirth.
2) “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – OK, was this a moment in a Star Wars movie or a Simpson’s parody of a Star Wars movie. Upon learning of his wives death, the newly minted Darth Vader’s cry of anguish is rendered comical at the very wrong moment. Poor James Earl Jones gets to utter about two sentences and one of them is this!
3) “A new mission for you I have” – One of the mysteries of Star Wars has always been, why do some Jedi disappear into thin air when they die while others do not? I had hoped this would eventually be revealed, but not as a throwaway line jammed into the end of the film with no context or follow up. Seemingly, as Yoda tells Obi-Wan, the disappearing act is an advanced Jedi trick that can be learned through years of practice (cause you don’t want to get this one wrong.) Yoda’s mentioning of Qui-Gon Jinn as part of this training begs the question of why he didn’t vanish at the end of The Phantom Menace.
All is set right by the very end, however, with scenes taking place on there very ship that opens the first Star Wars, as well the Tatooine home where Luke would grow up. All throughout Revenge of the Sith, ship models, set design and music more closely hearken back to the original trilogy, providing a pronounced feeling of nostalgia. It’s a good nostalgia though, and necessary to close the circle and set the stage for “A New Hope.” That it succeeds in its primary purpose is enough to set Revenge of the Sith apart and ahead of the other prequels.