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.