Brad’s April Escape - Part 7
April 13 - Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Each weekday this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is a film that beautifully wraps up the Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Revenge of the Sith - An Introduction
No in-theater experience has emotionally moved me like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. About 20 minutes after I left the theater on my first viewing, I bawled like a baby for about 3 minutes, under the realization that this was it. Star Wars was over, and my God, what an awesome conclusion. Yes, The Clone Wars animated series had been announced, so I knew the brand would have a future, but in terms of the saga on the big screen, in this fashion, it was over. Little did I know what would happen seven years later, but that's for another time.
ROTS is the best example of an historic filmmaker telling the story he wants to tell in his own way, executing one 28-year-long vision. It's a tour de force for George Lucas and his team at Lucasfilm, who all performed at their highest level in the making of this film. Industrial Light & Magic reached the photo-real level. Ben Burtt's sound department was at peak efficiency. John Williams flat-out brought it in delivering the most epic of soundtracks. And Steven Spielberg even got in on the act, directing some parts of the Mustafar Duel, making this truly a Bearded Trio Special.
Revenge of the Sith sits comfortably in second place on my list of favorite Star Wars films, just ahead of Return of the Jedi and a bit behind Empire Strikes Back. While The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones provided incredible character progression and development, the payoff was Revenge of the Sith.
This essay, frankly, skips over the first two-thirds of the film because if I took this from the beginning, this would be a 4,000 word essay. In the interest of time, and to go into the proper depth for the most key parts of this film, my analysis begins with the shot below.
10 Things I Like - Revenge of the Sith
1. Order 66 has happened. Anakin fell to the dark side. Obi-Wan barely escaped with his life after the betrayal of the clones on Utapau. He reached out to Bail Organa for help, and here, aboard the Tantive IV, Obi-Wan, Yoda and Bail regroup to determine their next direction.
The setting of the Tantive IV obviously brings us back to the very first environment we were introduced to in Star Wars: A New Hope. Somehow, it seems a bit whiter, a little shinier, properly indicating its age relative to when we saw it years later (in-universe).
This scene also sets up the finest series of John Williams cues outside of ESB, in my opinion. String this scene together with its next few, which I stitched together to call "Enter Lord Vader." The music moves from low, yet determined, to operatic with the newly named Darth Vader wreaking havoc among the Separatists, to incredible sadness at Obi-Wan's discovery of Anakin's treachery. It is a 13-minute musical sequence that lets me know the events unfolding are among the most important in the greatest story ever told.
2. The first shot of Mustafar. It's breathtaking to take in for me, even today, 15 years after I first saw it. I took a moment - after first viewing - to look over the audience in the theater and see the orange glow washing over them, just soaking in this striking environment, one I could only have imagined since I was a young boy.
Sometimes, Star Wars becomes a victim of its own fans' expectations (AOTC). In the case of the Mustafar setting, it was absolutely everything I could have ever wanted from this film and for the setting of the apocalyptic confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan. It is hell, and is every bit as dangerous and threatening. The skies. The landscapes. The perfect glow of the lava, and that you aren't overwhelmed by the lava. It acts as a complementary piece, as opposed to the whole. The black sand, contrasting so well with the lava. I mean, it's just perfect.
3. I believe that in most of the Star Wars films, but particularly the Prequel Trilogy, the sound of the chorus in any John Williams cue represents The Force. Anytime you hear a chorus, the Force is active, swirling about our characters like the thickest London fog. In this shot, of Yoda and Obi-Wan examining the slain Jedi younglings, the chorus is in mourning. It's quiet, playing underneath the reactions of our two most indefatigable Jedi Masters. The Force is also mourning the horrible deaths of these children, robbed of their adulthood and potential by a maniacal Darth Vader.
Now think of the very next shot after Obi-Wan asks "Who? Who could have done this?" The chorus then strikes out, overwhelming the ear as Vader cuts his way through the Separatists in the Mustafar control room. The Force is active once again, only this time being used as a blunt instrument of death and carnage. It continues this way until Vader has dispatched the entire Separatist council, when the chorus finally subsides, although just for a bit.
4. Famously, Obi-Wan and Padme only had one dialogue exchange in TPM, which came as the group was preparing its two-pronged attack versus the Trade Federation on Naboo. Here, they have their most important and emotional talk.
Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman are at their best here, adding all necessary emotional weight to their conversation about Anakin. I get the sense that Padme knows the awful truth, without Obi-Wan having to tell her while Obi-Wan is clearly still coming to grips with what he's witnessed.
The emotional momentum of the film is operating at a high pace, even through this quiet scene between two of the most critical characters in this universe. It's a compelling juxtaposition, enhanced as always by the John Williams cue, which once again makes effective use of the Dies Irae method. The dreadful (in a good way) music just builds and builds until we leave Padme's veranda, and we cut to a crying Vader on Mustafar, perhaps letting the slightest crack of Anakin through, for one of the last times for the next 20 years.
5. If one were to chart the level of evil Anakin/Darth Vader travels throughout the films, this is his lowest moment right here. Nothing Vader does in the Original Trilogy comes close to the depravity we see here, Force-choking Padme on the Mustafar landing platform. Think of that chart as a "U." :Here, we are at the middle of the "U." Vader continues to move about this U-shape throughout Rogue One and ANH, but I would argue, he begins his ascent back up during Empire Strikes Back. More on that in a future entry.
This was a hard screenshot for me to select, and is still a hard scene to watch. Violence against women is among the worst thing a human being can do to another, and this is easily the most in-your-face example Star Wars offers. But I also understand it's necessary to see, so you can really understand where Vader's mindset truly is here.
6. This is my favorite shot/musical moment from the first part of the Mustafar Duel. Compositionally, it's a flip from a shot in ESB when Vader is attacking Luke, only Vader is facing the camera. Here, Vader's back is to the camera, but the action is the same. We share Vader's POV as he moves further towards evil, brutally slashing away at his best friend.
Williams's "Battle of the Heroes" theme reaches its first (of many) crescendo here.
7. Another small thing that fulfilled some very large expectations I had for the prequels, and this film in particular:
Emperor Palpatine, in action.
I love this shot of Palpatine jumping down from one senate pod to another, frantically looking around for Yoda during their epic duel. Seeing Palpatine in physical action like this was something else we all could only dream up in our heads from 1983 to 2005. Now I got to actually see it happening right in front of me.
The Palpatine-Yoda duel is underrated in my opinion. Back when AOTC came out, the big concern was a fighting Yoda. How would it work, Would it, as John Knoll wondered in that film's documentary, not be "unintentionally funny." The Yoda-Dooku fight worked like crazy.
This one was better.
You completely forget, watching these two wizards go at it, that this was a CGI fight. It comes off as completely real as two swordsmen lock up like no two Sith and Jedi have ever fought before, literally demolishing democracy as they do it.
8. This shot is everything. Vader's Sith eyes. His body lit up by volcanic fire. This was the fate that he suffered, and one I had pictured happening for more than 20 years. It was finally a reality, right there in front of me, and I was transfixed by the image. Still am.
9. This is going to be a long entry.
The inspiration for this part of the post comes from a great hypothesis, appearing on RetroZap in January of 2015 titled Padme Didn't Die of a Broken Heart. Check it out.
The post argues that Palpatine - via his unnatural abilities - siphoned the Living Force from Padme and imbued Vader with it in an attempt to allow Vader to live long enough for him to be sustained by his suit.But there's more to the story of this scene than that.
Yes, I agree that Palpatine's unnatural abilities are hard at work during this brilliantly edited back-and-forth between Padme's death on Polis Massa and Vader's "birth" in the Coruscant medical center. Vader couldn't utter any words, so damaged were his lungs and vocal chords. With the internal damage and burning he'd suffered, there seemed to be little chance of survival without unnatural aid.
However, Padme is very much alive on the Polis Massan medical table, crying out in pain as she delivers Luke and Leia. As Luke is born first, she spends a moment with him, touching his cheek. An impression is made there, but not in the way you expect. Because in that moment, Palpatine is ripping the last remaining bits of life from Padme and channeling it to Vader. Padme dies, Vader lives.
Now, fast forward to Return of the Jedi. When Luke leaves the Ewok village, he has one last conversation with Leia in that he is 100 percent convinced of the goodness residing in Vader. He carries that onto his beautifully done conversation with Vader after he is delivered by stormtroopers off the AT-AT on Endor.
The question that has rarely been asked is, why is Luke so convinced of the goodness that resides in Vader, that he's so willing to give himself over to the darkest of hearts of the Empire to see his determination through to the end?
How does Luke sense the good in Vader? Because the "good" that's in Vader is Padme.
Part of the essence of Padme that was transferred to Vader resided there for 23 years and was never fully eradicated. Yes it was buried deeply. How deep? Check out the outstanding Vader comics published by Marvel over the past five years to see two terrific tales of Vader's life between ANH and ESB and between ROTS and ANH. In those comics, Vader spends a great deal of time wiping clean any remains of Anakin, and by extension Padme, from within him. And he succeeds. Almost.
Only someone as attuned to the Force, and related so closely by blood as Luke is to Vader, can detect that small part of Padme that's still there. Luke senses his mother within his father, and attaches himself to the pure good that Padme was, seeing it as part of who Vader still is late in the Original Trilogy era.
"There is still good in him." Luke declares to Leia. That good was their mother.
This is my theory and certainly hasn't been extrapolated upon in any official source in the past 15 years. But this is what I believe to be George's intention, tying the last chapter of the Prequel Trilogy to the last chapter of the Original Trilogy in an incredible way.
10. This is the last shot we'll see of Obi-Wan Kenobi until we see him in Rebels. This is the shot that sparks my interest in his life between ROTS and ANH, my single most-wanted Star Wars story as yet untold.
The look of Obi-Wan here is a man who is prepared to be in seclusion. To embrace "the quiet" after being in the middle of so much "loud" for so long. It is a sad goodbye for me, an audience member, the saddest one of the Prequel Trilogy, because of what he's been through. The perfect Jedi messes up in the most costly way for the galaxy. A perfect Jedi who doesn't deserve his fate and his decades of isolation and guilt.
Obi-Wan's post-ROTS story is the one I have spent the most time thinking about int he years since this film came out and the one I am endlessly fascinated by. If Lucasfilm continues to struggle finding writers for its forthcoming Obi-Wan TV series, I'll be more than happy to pen a script or three! (I'm only kidding. But not really).
Brad’s Escapism Moment in Revenge of the Sith
I don't know that I'll ever have a more fulfilling theatrical experience than this one. ROTS gave me everything I could have hoped for from this "final" chapter of Star Wars, and then added some. So I would say my escapism moment from ROTS was the whole thing. It is storytelling perfection for me, and I'm not sure it can ever be topped.
The story of a young Obi-Wan, a young Darth Vader, the old Republic, of Luke and Leia's mother, is one I wondered about ever since the "Episode IV" tag was applied to ANH. As my mother pointed out to 10-year-old me, "That means there has to be an episode one, two and three." The years between ages 10 and 32 are endless, but after taking in Revenge of the Sith, I could honestly say the wait was worth it. The visuals, the music, the characters, the story, the sound, the story. It was everything.
This was my favorite time to be a Star Wars fan. The spoiler speculation between AOTC and ROTS was filled with wonderful Clone Wars comics by Dark Horse, the Clone Wars micro-series from 2003-05, and the full realization that this would be the last time I could live in anticipation of a new film, neatly sliding into place the final piece of my favorite puzzle ever constructed. I spent more than a year saving up money for the ROTS merchandise launch on April 2, 2005, and to attend Celebration III that took place three weeks later in Indianapolis. There was the gold standard of all film novel adaptations by the ridiculously talented Matthew W. Stover. I felt as dialed into Star Wars as I ever had during this period, and I look back on it with a great deal of nostalgia today.
I got to attend one of the Q and A sessions with George Lucas at Celebration III, and wished so much I could just shake his hand and say "thank you." I know there's no chance he'll ever read this, but in case someone he knows read this, here's my message.
"Thank you George, and everyone on his team for crafting Revenge of the Sith. It was literally a dream come true for me, and even though I was 32 years old when this movie came out, nothing has taken me back to that Star Wars childhood of wonder like this film. I am eternally grateful for each and every person that had a hand in this. Thank you."
Coming next: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
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