SWD: Death and Life

Lucas gets so much wrong, it is helpful to point out what he gets right.


This next section of Revenge of the Sith is a beautiful juxtaposition between the death of Anakin and the birth of Luke and Leia, and setting the two against each other is good commentary on what has been gained and lost, and the pointlessness of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side: his children are born and Padme lives.

Oh, wait, that should have been what happened. Except for no reason at all Padme dies. Like I said earlier, I give up trying to make sense of this. Padme shouldn’t have died. Like Yoda and Obi-Wan, she should have gone into hiding and died later, when Leia was only two or three years old. After all, Leia remembers her mother, which is impossible if Padme dies seconds after giving birth. Lucas clearly wasn’t thinking of continuity or the best way to make a point. I don’t know what he was thinking, but like everything else, this feels like a first draft.

“Medically, she is perfectly healthy. For reasons we can’t explain, we are losing her.” Even the medical droid is confused and when you write dialogue like that, it should be evidence that something is terribly wrong. If it doesn’t make sense in the story, it won’t make sense to those watching.

I do so love the lowering of the Darth Vader mask. It is a chilling moment. Lucas has no problems constructing and shooting great visuals, although the Frankenstein’s monster moment and “Noooooooooo!” at the end is a little too over the top.

In the end, the kids are split up, and Obi-Wan and Yoda go into exile. The movie ends with a shot of the Death Star in construction and Luke looking into the twin suns of Tatooine.


SWD: To the Pain

Two brawls and a bunch of nonsense comprise the next twenty minutes of Revenge of the Sith.


“I will do what I must…” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

Padme unwittingly takes Obi-Wan to Mustafar, where he confronts Darth Vader. After a bit of nonsense from Vader to Padme where he offers to overthrow the Emperor and rule the galaxy, he tries to Force choke his wife and he and Obi-Wan begin their epic lightsaber battle.

Obi-Wan has a little to say, and it is all good. Occasionally, Lucas gets it right with the words he writes.

I know I have long said that lightsaber battles are to be about dialogue and conflict, not spectacle and flash. This is one particular fight that is supposed to break that rule. There is nothing left to say between Obi-Wan and Anakin. This is not a battle between the Light Side and the Dark Side. This is an unleashing of fury and frustration and disappointment and grief. There should only be unrestrained combat as both unleash every bit of emotion they have left on the other for all the perceived slights and wrongs and injustices perpetrated against each other and the galaxy. Whether or not George Lucas understood this is hard to say because every other lightsaber battle in the prequel trilogy has resembled this one, but even if he didn’t consciously decide the method of this fight, he got it right by accident. There is one particular bit where he could have gone even more vicious and it would have amped up the stakes of the fight. At one point, Anakin is choking Kenobi, and Kenobi only manages to get loose by kicking Anakin and both lose their lightsabers. What would have been fantastic is if both had merely continued the fight hand to hand rather than with weapons. The non-lightsaber lightsaber fight as it were in which they don’t need sabers to continue to pound on each other. As it is, both use the Force to grab their sabers and they continue the sword fight.

The backdrop here of the lava planet is perfect. It is violent, angry, explosive, and red hot. I give Lucas full credit for choice of location.

Where this fight is silly is its duration and multiplicity of insane locations where they fight. After a while it all becomes a little much. It should be quick, violent, and race towards its conclusion, not go from one ridiculous set piece to another.

When the climax finally comes, it is over quickly. Obi-Wan’s “you were my brother, Anakin” speech is actually a little heartbreaking. It could be viewed as a bit over the top or melodramatic, but it feels authentic.

Anakin then catches fire, after having been dismembered, and the film earns its PG-13 rating once again. The horror is brutal and I credit Lucas for leaving the camera on Anakin while he burns, both in his own rage and in the lava. This is the price for evil and it is supposed to be difficult to watch.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this…” – The Emperor

Yoda confronts the evil Darth Sidious. After a bit of banter, both draw sabers and begin to fight. Sigh. Masters don’t fight like this. Both are too powerful to fight like ordinary Jedi or Sith. Even later when they throw the Senate at each other it is too banal for a battle between Masters. Neither one should be able to beat the other with mere sword fighting or Force throwing of objects and they should know that. This should have been a battle of words, of ideologies, of philosophy. A fencing not of sabers but of viewpoints. But such finesse is beyond Lucas and so we get a CGI sword fight and a bunch of CGI nonsense. The only thing Lucas does get right is setting this fight against the backdrop of the Senate, emphasizing what is at stake. While Obi-Wan and Anakin are fighting a personal battle, Yoda and Sidious are fighting for the universe. I just love the visual, despite the fighting, of the Chancellor’s platform rising into the epic arena of the Senate. The only thing I would have done differently, if I were to plot a lightsaber battle, is to have the place full of Senators, to have the galaxy literally watching the battle between titans. That being said, I think Yoda wins this lightsaber battle. He is small and quick and thus should easily be able to get inside of the Emperor’s defenses and strike him down. Eventually the fight ends as pointlessly as it begins with nothing really happening and nothing having been won or lost by either party. In the end, it feels like filler.

After all is fought and done, Yoda is rescued by Senator Organa and a burnt Vader is rescued by Lord Sidious.


SWD: Order 66

I will be dealing with two segments here because Order 66 comprises one whole ten minutes in which a few Jedi die and not much else happens. After that, Yoda and Obi-Wan try to retake the galaxy by themselves while Darth Vader murders a whole lot of people.


Palpatine’s solution to the Jedi spread across the galaxy is Order 66, a pre-programmed order in the clone troopers to immediately kill any Jedi they come across. The result is we see that most Jedi are rather easily killed, unless they are played by George Lucas’ son or are Yoda or Obi-Wan. I give that a pass because it is a staple of any action film. Main characters don’t die unless it is narratively necessary. Everyone else: poof. I give Lucas a C+ for Order 66. It is overwhelming convenient to have a bunch of clones obey an order that has them killing their Generals, but it is also the only way to have a bunch of Jedi die instantly. It works because it must as long as you don’t think about the fact that clones are bred to think creatively while also somehow being less independent to the point of accepting assassination orders without question. Such things just don’t make any sense, really.

Also in this section is place one of two where Revenge of the Sith earns the only Star Wars PG-13 rating. Darth Vader enters the Jedi Council chambers to find a bunch of kids hiding from his assault. “Master Skywalker…what are we going to do?” one kid asks. Vader responds by igniting his lightsaber.

No. I just cannot accept that Anakin feels the need to kill kids. But he does. Because he is evil now. For almost no reason at all.

Meanwhile, on Kashyyyk, Yoda survives his assassination, as does Obi-Wan on Utapau. Both are rescued by Senator Organa.


Aboard the Tantive IV, Obi-Wan and Yoda agree to return to the Jedi Temple to turn off a retreat beacon in an effort to save any surviving Jedi. Meanwhile, on Mustafar, Darth Vader shows up and murders the entire Separatist leadership. At the same time, in the Senate, Chancellor Palpatine elaborates on the “plot” by the Jedi to overthrow the Republic which, for some reason, must now be reorganized into an Empire and “liberty dies…with thunderous applause”. There is very little reason why a Galactic Senate unanimously cheers for a sweeping reorganization of the government. Senates don’t unanimously cheer for anything. But, as I said earlier, I give up trying to make sense of what is happening here. It occurs because it must and for no other reason.


Obi-Wan and Yoda are at the Jedi Temple. Having recalibrated the retreat signal into a stay away signal, they watch footage of Darth Vader killing Jedi. They decide to move against the Emperor and Vader, but Obi-Wan pleads to be given the task of confronting the Emperor. It is like the Jedi have never heard of strength in numbers. Why don’t they both go after Vader or the Emperor? I honestly don’t know. They divide and conquer themselves. Also of note: for some reason, Ewan McGregor shows almost no emotion at all. “I can’t watch any more” he says, but it sounds like he has ordered lunch and “I can’t eat anymore”. There is no emotion on his face. I don’t know why a good actor is emoting almost nothing in what is supposed to be a highly emotional scene. I must assume it is bad directing.

Obi-Wan goes to talk to Padme, the one surefire way to Anakin, and again, relating the horrible news that Anakin has turned to the Dark Side, he shows and emotes almost zero emotion. He should be weeping over the fact that his best friend has become the epitome of evil. But he doesn’t. To be charitable, I suppose Obi-Wan could be in shock, but if he is, it is the wrong direction. More emotion is better than no emotion in scenes like this, in my opinion.

Padme, for her part, insists on disbelieving Obi-Wan despite having heard Anakin admit to slaughtering Sandpeople in the last movie and after hearing a trusted friend deliver the truth in this one. But, I wouldn’t want to believe my spouse had become the epitome of evil either. To make things worse, she shows little emotion, too. This is what people mean when they describe the acting in these movies as “wooden”. Very little emotion and very little acting is going on. Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman are simply moving around and reciting dialogue. There is little to no heart or depth to their performances, and as both are good actors, I again move to blame poor direction from Lucas.

Contrast that with the very next scene which shows Darth Vader, having murdered everyone on Mustafar, standing on a balcony crying. Why is he crying and no one else is? Why is he crying at all? He should be darkly elated, not crying. He is pure evil at this point. Pure evil doesn’t cry. I just don’t understand what Lucas is doing with this film anymore.

Twenty or so minutes have passed and we are about to get a whole lot of fighting. The movie is swiftly coming to a close with loud clamor and noise but almost no soul.

SWD: Fall from Grace

When the Jedi fail to arrest Chancellor Palpatine, Anakin arrives in time to fall from grace. Strangely, the acting of all involved falls from passable to execrable at the same time. As a writer, George Lucas sometimes goes off the rails but sometimes manages to get it right. As a director, however, I seriously believe he doesn’t know a good performance from a bad one. That is never more clear than in this next section of Episode III.


The fall of Anakin begins with a great little scene. Anakin is in the Jedi Temple, awaiting the outcome of the Chancellor’s arrest, while Padme is in her apartment. Both are looking out across the sunset lit landscape of Coruscant, looking towards the other. Padme has no idea what is happening, but she feels, perhaps through the Force, the weight of the moment. Anakin is struggling with his desire to save Padme using Palpatine’s dark knowledge while trying to do the right thing as a Jedi in defeating the Sith personified in Palpatine. This is one scene that Lucas absolutely nails. As a director, George Lucas excels at the emotional art side of cinematography. Back in film school, he was great at making little poetry films that were all mood and emotion. Here we see a little of that brilliance. When a director is able to work in their wheelhouse, the movie excels, and this scene is a little piece of that. The sunset of the day is also the sunset of Anakin’s life as Jedi, the voiceover from Palpatine and the look across to Padme’s apartment is his choice between two ends and his solitary vigil in the Jedi Council chambers signals how alone he is, without his mentor Obi-Wan or anyone else to show him the way. I love this little scene.

Anakin ultimately chooses to go to the aid of the Chancellor, unable to reconcile the evil of the Sith with the mentor he knows, especially with Padme’s life, as he sees it, in the balance.

Meanwhile, Mace Windu and three other Jedi we hardly know arrive to arrest Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lord. One must note that here, at the beginning of the confrontation, Mace Windu says “The Senate will decide your fate” and when Palpatine responds with “I am the Senate” Windu retorts “Not yet” (01:11:24). I’ll come back to this later, but clearly Windu is hoping to arrest the Chancellor and have him stand trial for his war crimes.

Palpatine attacks and somehow manages to kill three Jedi without pause. No. Just no. Pause your copy of Revenge of the Sith at 01:11:34 or 01:11:38 or 01:11:40. In all three spots, while fighting one Jedi, Palpatine has his back to at least one other Jedi who could easily strike him down. There is a reason one man doesn’t take on four in a sword fight: there is no way to watch your own back. Palpatine would be dead, dead, dead. Having actually been a part of sword fighting choreography, I know how much work goes into making sure you don’t accidentally hurt the person you are fighting. From that standpoint alone I know how easy it is to accidentally give your opponent a good shot at your back or head or legs. Given that Lucas is making this fight up with the help of stunt choreographers either Lucas overruled them or his stunt guys aren’t worth much because this fight has obvious flaws. Meanwhile, this farce of a fight continues with one old guy fighting another old guy with obvious CGI spinning and flipping. This fight just looks dumb in addition to making no sense at all from a combat viewpoint.

I will also point out, once more, that fighting to fight is not what happens ever in the real Star Wars films. All the lightsaber fights in the original trilogy are about the dialogue and the conflict between characters, not the fighting with lightsabers. This one again misses the mark.

CGI Palpatine bounces around and old Sam Jackson parries until they are backed up against a window and fight reaches a climax. (Seriously, if your actors are this old, please make the fight more talk and less fight. It will automatically be better than geriatric actors trying to pretend to be the best fighters ever.) Anakin arrives, walking past the bodies of three dead Jedi to find Windu has won the fight with a “You are under arrest, my Lord”. At this point everything suddenly switches to melodrama. Ian McDiarmid, for no discernible reason, starts hamming it up. The “no, no, you will die” line is just horribly delivered. What is going on here? George Lucas has no idea how to direct actors. Pure and simple. McDiarmid is relying on what Lucas says he wants which is probably “faster, more intense” and this is what we get. I mean, how bad is this? This is as bad as kids trying to be dramatic without any idea of how to create real drama in a scene bad. By the way, Samuel L. Jackson is just as bad in this scene.

While Palpatine, for whatever reason, is trying to electrocute Windu and succeeding in only electrocuting himself, both try to convince Anakin that each is a traitor. Palpatine says “I have the power to save the one you love” while melting his own face. This is beyond silly. If this were actually happening I wouldn’t believe him because hello, face melting. And then Windu suddenly changes his mind. Remember back a few paragraphs “The Senate will decide your fate”? Well he suddenly decides to kill Palpatine. What? What happened to putting him on trial? Nothing changed, he easily beat the Chancellor in a lightsaber battle and then easily deflected all the lighting back onto the Chancellor’s face. Where is the immediate need to kill him? Even Anakin interrupts with a “he must stand trial” and Windu now claims “he has control of the Senate and the Courts, he’s too dangerous to be left alive”. Huh? Since when? The inconsistencies here are overwhelming.

Windu moves to strike, and Anakin cuts off his hand. What? Why not block the lightsaber? This is a perfect opportunity for a real, original trilogy style lightsaber fight, with the Chancellor goading Anakin on, Windu arguing with Anakin and a few slashes thrown in for punctuation. Lucas continues to miss every real opportunity while enhancing all the wrong bits. And Windu dies.

We come to the really bad bit. Anakin stops Windu from killing Palpatine because Palpatine might have knowledge that could save Padme. Ok. I get that. But, he watches Palpatine murder Windu, and then decides to become Palpatine’s Sith apprentice to gain knowledge to save Padme. Ok, with you so far. And then “every single Jedi is now an enemy of the Republic”. WHAT? Even the librarian Jedi? Even the innocent Jedi children? Even “your friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi”? How does Anakin agree in the space of seconds that Windu had to be stopped from killing the Chancellor to save Padme to every single Jedi must be murdered to save Padme and he is ok with that? This makes no sense at all. This is where I throw in the towel on trying to justify what happens. This just is too dumb.

The newly christened Lord Vader is about to show no mercy to grow in the Dark Side to save Padme. Luke couldn’t even justify killing his own dad to save the Rebellion and the Galaxy. How does Anakin justify slaughtering children to save Padme? Oh, wait, he is eeeeviiilll. Then again, this is the guy who slaughtered an entire village of Sandpeople because his mother died. I guess maybe the facade is that Anakin is a nice guy, but that doesn’t jive with much else we have been shown thus far. We are still supposed to have been believing that Anakin is basically good. He was crying a few minutes ago, about to do the right thing. Now he jumps to the worst possible thing ever? Nope. Not buying it. This is bad writing: a good character suddenly becomes evil incarnate because it is that time of the script. Yeah, I give up.

Tune in next time for the darkest moments of any Star Wars film ever.

SWD: The Man Behind the Curtain

After having receive the news that Obi-Wan Kenobi has engaged General Grievous, Anakin brings the news to Chancellor Palpatine. What happens next is supposed to be the second biggest reveal in Star Wars history. It is not.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (01:01:56-01:09:05)

After Anakin delivers his news about the war, and Palpatine counters with a bit of cold water about Kenobi being “up to the challenge” the conversation shifts to again letting Anakin complain about his lack of status on the Jedi Council and the fact that the Jedi don’t trust him.

Let me say that these are valid complaints, but hashing and rehashing them makes Anakin just seem like the same whiny teenager that he was in Episode II. He is supposed to be mature and wise, but instead he just keeps whining about the same old things. Thus, he doesn’t seem to be growing into the incarnation of evil that is Darth Vader. This is supposed to be the tragic fall of a good Jedi and instead it feels like a brat throwing a temper tantrum.

Palpatine is supposed to be seducing Anakin with the Dark Side, but it feels more like he is offering him the candy the Jedi won’t let him have before supper. Palpatine mentions that he knows the force, both dark and light, and says that only through the Dark Side can Anakin save Padme from certain death. I don’t recall Anakin having ever told Palpatine about his vision or fear that Padme will die in childbirth. Palpatine is using knowledge he doesn’t explicitly have. It is subtle, but this is bad writing. You can’t have characters know things they can’t know outside of having read the movie script beforehand. A single mention from Anakin to Palpatine “I’m worried about Padme” and problem solved. Perhaps George Lucas forgot when he was writing, but someone should have picked up on it and mentioned it, because Palpatine mentioning it seems very out of the blue. How does he know?

At the same time, this scene illustrates the brilliance of Palpatine’s seduction. Overall, since Anakin was a little boy, Palpatine has been playing father and mentor. He has been building a relationship and investing time and energy into Anakin’s life. He has been building himself up to be the one person who couldn’t possibly be evil. Thus, when he reveals that he is, in fact, a practitioner of the Dark Side, Anakin is confused. Palpatine does not (yet) resemble the cackling, over the top evil that he expects is what a Dark Lord looks like. So what is he to do? His training says to strike without remorse or emotion. His experience tells him that Palpatine is a friend. His desire is being conflicted by Palpatine’s offer of power. Anakin has become a perfect whirlwind of uncertainty. If only this part of the seduction wasn’t hampered by whining and bad writing.

The rest of the scene is straightforward. Anakin draws his lightsaber to threaten Palpatine. Lucas tries to mirror parts of Return of the Jedi and fails: the dialogue is supposed to mirror dialogue between the Emperor and Luke Skywalker, but it feels like the actors walk into it and back out. It doesn’t feel natural for the scene at hand. Eventually Anakin decides to inform the Jedi council and not act himself, the first truly wise thing he has ever done. Palpatine continues to act just like a father. This scene is so good and so bad, all at the same time. I think George Lucas, by himself, is a fair writer. But he needs help and he needs revising. So much of this feels like it could have been so much better, or merely consistent, had someone else took the rough draft that was Lucas’ and smoothed it out.

The scene shifts back to Obi-Wan fighting Grievous, and the only important thing that happens is that Obi-Wan kills the General. The General burns up, foreshadowing what will happen to Anakin. I love that General Grievous is an avatar of Darth Vader: metallic, harsh breathing, lightsaber wielding, dispassionately evil. I hate that he gets so little development and screen time. I think George Lucas was searching for this villain since Episode I and finally nailed him down by Episode III. What would have made the prequels so much better is a consistent villain, and one that consistently mirrored Darth Vader without recreating him. Put together Darth Maul and General Grievous and you have that villain. Introduce him in Episode I, develop him in Episode II, and destroy him in Episode III replacing him with Darth Vader and you have a perfect villain arc. Sadly, this was an opportunity that Lucas completely missed.

The scene shifts back to Anakin informing Mace Windu that Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Somehow, instead of merely saying “he told me so himself” there is a little back and forth and “I think” going on. This scene feels like it was written to go before the previous two and was moved around. Call this bad editing or bad writing, but it is awkward. It accomplishes what it is meant to, however. The Jedi go to ensure the Chancellor relinquishes his “emergency” power, and Anakin awaits the result of the confrontation.