Not Guilty: In defense of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us that we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we take on the film many see as the best of the bad bunch that is the Star Wars prequel trilogy: Revenge of the Sith.

If you want to start a spirited debate with Star Wars fans, just bring up the prequel trilogy. From too much CGI to horrendous dialogue, the number of ways the trilogy was a disappointment will usually outnumber any positive aspects of the films fans decide to discuss. To most, it just cannot compare to the original trilogy, and is full of mistakes to be avoided in future films.

Revenge of the Sith, the film everyone thought would be the last Star Wars movie, premiered 10 years ago, on May 19, 2005, and did not escape these criticisms. While this final installment is considered, occasionally, to at least be the best out of the prequels, it is nevertheless often lumped together with the others. It still just can't hold a candle to the original trilogy, right? Well, I just can't agree with that when it comes to Revenge of the Sith.

Looking back at the film, I'd actually say it's one of the best in the franchise. It may not be Empire Strikes Back good, but it usually ranks number 2 on my list of top Star Wars films. Of course, a decade ago I was a teenager who was probably just the right age to enjoy the prequels, for the most part. I don't despise The Phantom Menace, but I do think Attack of the Clones is the worst of the franchise. Even rewatching Episode III all these years later, though, I still believe it's a worthy addition to the entire saga.

Unfortunately, Revenge of the Sith suffered from following two films that disappointed fans. It made it hard for the movie to break away from the other prequels. That's not to say it is without its own faults. Watching Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman together is pretty painful, but every Star Wars film has its bad parts. These should not make us overlook the excellent moments in Revenge of the Sith.

Even with all its flaws, there are some great Star Wars moments here that put it more on the level of the original trilogy than its fellow prequels.

The Best Lightsaber Battle

There are a lot of lightsaber fights in this movie, but the final battle is the best -- not just of this film, but of all the Star Wars films. A combination of Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader and Yoda vs. Darth Sidious, the parallel duels combine for a fast-paced sequence that still manages to be captivating even though we know how it all ends. Finally we get to see the epitome of the Jedi, Yoda, go up against the ultimate evil, the Emperor, right in the middle of the Galactic Senate. And after all these years, we see the final, horrible meeting between Obi-Wan and Vader as they battle across the volcanic terrain of Mustafar.

Nothing in the original trilogy can really compare. There are some great moments that may happen during those duels, but we never really see a true lightsaber battle, since an untrained Jedi is wielding the weapon most of the time. And while the other two prequel films had given us athletic, visually impressive fights, none carried the same heft of emotion as we see here. This is perhaps the most important moment of the saga as the combatants fight for the fate of the galaxy, and it has all the epic choreography and music to go with it.

Palpatine's Seduction of Anakin

The dialogue may not be perfect, but Ian McDiarmid manages to deliver Palpatine's final acts of manipulation in this film superbly. This is nowhere clearer than during the scene at the opera, in which Palpatine tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis. The first half of the film may be considered slow by most after the excitement of the initial battle, but it includes moments like this one, where all the pieces of the puzzle start to fall wonderfully into place. McDiarmid's tone here is both alluring and dangerous, making it a moment that will give you chills and a sense of excitement, since we've been waiting all this time to witness it. Slowly, Palpatine closes the trap laid before Anakin, and you know that right then was the moment that sealed Anakin's fate.

A close second to that scene is the excellent reveal of Palpatine as Sidious in his office to Anakin later on in the movie. In both, McDiarmid plays the part in a way that makes it easy to understand how this Sith managed to not only turn a Jedi Knight to the dark side, but manipulate an entire galaxy into following him without much resistance.

The Darker Tone

Before Revenge of the Sith, The Empire Strikes Back was the darkest film in the saga. Episode III's PG-13 rating, however, allowed Star Wars to go to a place it never could with the original trilogy.

In the original trilogy, the Empire's stormtroopers may not have had very good aim and Darth Vader may have been constantly killing failing subordinates, but the Empire rising in Revenge of the Sith is brutally efficient. We've watched the clone troopers be skilled in battle, so it's no surprise that they can viciously take down their Jedi generals without much difficulty. There are no officers around to bungle executing Order 66 either. The Emperor carries out the task himself. We see a truly evil man who has spent decades planning to take over the galaxy and won't leave such a crucial step to an underling.

That sequence where the Jedi we've come to know during the prequel trilogy are all murdered by Order 66 is the most heart-wrenching to watch in the saga. Darth Vader leading countless troops to the Jedi Temple and slaughtering a bunch of kids brings home the absolute horror of the Empire in a way you never see up close in the original trilogy. Forget the "love" scenes; it's the darker tone that gives Revenge of the Sith so much emotion.

Considering the darker tone many comic-book movies have taken lately, a dark tone for Revenge of the Sith might not have been a big deal had it premiered now. Ten years ago, though, it made quite an impact for a Star Wars film. It was new for Star Wars and remains fitting for the film leading into A New Hope.

Connections to the Original Trilogy

If Revenge of the Sith suffers from problems similar to those of the other prequels, it also benefits from its close place in the timeline relative to the original trilogy. Even with some low points, like Padme's death being explained by her losing the will to live, the movie delivers on answering some long-held questions and bridging the gap between the two trilogies.

We finally get to see why Darth Vader needs the suit, and watch the dramatic lowering of the helmet as his transformation into the villain of the original trilogy is completed. We meet Bail Organa, see how the twins went their separate ways, and even get to see Ewan McGregor sporting a more Alec Guinness-like beard! It also seems to offer explanations for details like why the Galactic Senate might have stuck around for as long as it did since we see how easily Palpatine has manipulated them. Even if you were tired of the politics in the prequels, the scene in which Palpatine has the senate cheering when he announces the creation of the Empire remains a powerful one.

Revenge of the Sith takes the buildup from the first two episodes and brings it to an impressive conclusion while connecting to many of the best elements of the original trilogy. Despite being a prequel, it is a great Star Wars movie.

Do you think Revenge of the Sith deserves to be lumped with the other prequels, or is it better than many fans give it credit for? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

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