SWD: Operatic Considerations

It has been nearly three years since I last delved into the world of Star Wars and my deconstruction of the prequel trilogy. Since that time much has happened in my life, but my love of Star Wars remains undimmed. I return to Star Wars Deconstructed and pick up where I left off: in the early part of Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

To recap briefly, the galaxy is at war, and young Jedi Anakin Skywalker is at the centre of all the conflict, both professionally and personally. Currently, Anakin is enduring a very long day, filled with people in his life pulling him in separate, often conflicting, directions. The night prior he had a prophetic dream in which his wife died in childbirth, and the next morning Yoda could only tell him to “let go of everything you fear to lose”. At a morning briefing on the Clone Wars, he was informed that Chancellor Palpatine wanted to meet with him. The Jedi are not happy with Anakin’s close relationship with the Chancellor. Palpatine wants Anakin to sit on the Jedi Council as his personal representative. The Council allows the appointment, but only if Anakin will spy on the Chancellor for them. Later in the day, Master Windu and Yoda express distrust of Anakin while Anakin faces pressure from his wife, Padme Amidala, to use his influence with the Chancellor and the Jedi Council to foster her push for peace talks. Anakin responds with frustration at being used as everyone’s pawn.

That evening, he receives an invite to the opera, and meets with Chancellor Palpatine for a second time, and things get even more confused for the frustrated young Jedi.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (00.42.40-00.48.00)

As Anakin arrives at the opera house there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo of Star Wars director George Lucas. He is dressed in fancy robes and is painted blue, so don’t worry if you miss him the first time around.

Anakin is drawn into a what will prove to be the first of several seductions from Chancellor Palpatine, also known as but not yet revealed to be Darth Sidious, Dark Lord of the Sith. In fact, this is his second seductive meeting of the day, the first was earlier when the Chancellor placed Anakin on the Jedi Council. Slowly, gently, and yes, seductively, Palpatine is giving Anakin what he wants while playing on his fears, his frustrations, and his failures.

Despite some stiff acting from Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, next to some somewhat subtle acting from Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine, this scene works very well. The mood is sombre and underscored by the deep operatic singing of the Mon Calamiri who form the backdrop of the conversation. If only the acting were on par with the setting, this scene could give chills.

This time, the bait Palpatine offers is that the Chancellor, through “clone intelligence”, has discovered where General Grievous is hiding. This is what Anakin most wants as a Jedi warrior, his enemy where he can destroy him and he swallows the bait. Earlier, the Jedi council had admitted that the couldn’t find Grievous, and in his eagerness to find him and his blind trust in Palpatine, Anakin does not question how the Chancellor knows Grievous’ whereabouts. I give Anakin a pass for not calling Palpatine on this. His head is no doubt spinning from his back and forth day, and he has a lot on his mind as a result.

Palpatine dismisses his aides and invites Anakin to relax, and begins stage two of the evening’s seduction games. Palpatine admits that he doesn’t trust the Jedi council, and this prompts Anakin to confide the same. Anakin considers Palpatine to be a father-figure, and is taken aback when Palpatine somehow knows that the Jedi Council wants Anakin to spy on the Chancellor. I think Anakin should be slightly more suspicious of how precisely the Chancellor is guessing here, but again, I give him a pass.

This leads to a discussion of Jedi versus Sith, how they are similar, how they are different, and how all who seek to gain power are afraid to lose it. The dialogue transcends McDiarmid’s delivery of it, and his assertion that “good is a point of view” is spot on. I wonder if Lucas actually did write this part of the script because of how well it is written. I guess even a bad writer can occasionally get it right. However, right about the time when Palpatine offers up, sort of from nowhere, a Sith parable, Anakin should be getting alarm bells in his head. Trusted mentor or not, he has been trained his whole life to be wary of Sith philosophy, and to be on the alert for the Sith to return to prominence in the galaxy. How Palpatine knows this “story the Jedi would [not] tell you” is a question he should ask. Sith legends that promise exactly what you really, really want shouldn’t go unquestioned. As a former slave child, Anakin should have a defensive mechanism against things which sound too good to be true, especially from questionable sources, that is the Sith more than Palpatine from Anakin’s perspective. That he doesn’t question Palpatine and this story is an unforgivable logical lapse in the plotting. Even if Anakin eventually decides to side with Palpatine, he shouldn’t be so trusting at this point. At the very least Palpatine should have been forced to come up with a bad excuse for being so familiar with Sith philosophy and old Sith legends.

Also troubling here is the other side of this talk which rather directly implies that the legendary Darth Plagueis created Anakin Skywalker. This is a dangling plot point, not to mention a gaping plot hole. Why would a Dark Lord of Sith create a child and then abandon him to be potentially found and trained by the Jedi? Why not raise and train him yourself as the ultimate Jedi killer? This whole midichlorians-are-the-Force thing is something I wrote about in my deconstruction of the Phantom Menace, but here I will say again that a biological underpinning to a mystical power is dumb and unnecessary. The Force operates just fine without a biological source, and such a source only raises questions about Jedi and Sith and the entire “ancient religion” that they both adhere to. Furthermore, if a Sith lord can create life, why hasn’t he created an army of Sith and ruled the galaxy already. Why rely on his apprentice and a long con war to give the Sith a galaxy wide victory? None of this life-creating death-delaying makes any sense as presented. Even Yoda wasn’t powerful enough to forestall his own death in Return of the Jedi, so this super powerful Sith definitely shouldn’t have stopped with one Sith-Force-rape kid he then abandoned to the deserts of Tatooine.

Still, if you choose not to think of any of that while watching this scene, the Sith legend thing kinda sorta works. Anakin at least is thinking about it, and wonders if it is possible to learn this power and discovers that he can, just “not from a Jedi”. Seduction: underway. Who exactly does Palpatine know that can teach him? Anakin never thinks to ask and that is yet another example of why the Star Wars prequels are examples of bad writing: an incurious hero is a dumb, shallow hero.

Anyway, the action in Revenge of the Sith is about to pick up, which means so will the pace of my writing about it as I move through the rest of the film. I promise not to wait another three years before the next installment of the series!

To read other Star Wars: Deconstructed posts, search my blog for “SWD” or click “Star Wars” at the top.

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I'm just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe. I write about what interests me.

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