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.