Saturday, 15 October 2016
Revenge of the Sith - The Underrated Star Wars Gem
It goes without saying that the Star Wars prequels are not held in high regard by the general public. Critically mixed at the best of times, and often remembered for the honky dialogue and terrible romance subplot, many seem to reflect upon it as a flawed idea at the best of times. However, while such a reputation is certainly well deserved, it stems almost entirely from the first two films of the trilogy. People will cite how tedious the banal Padme-Anakin sequences in Attack of the Clones were to sit through, or slam Jake Lloyd's performance, but Revenge of the Sith receives comparatively little flak; and rightfully so. The finale to the prequel trilogy not only managed to be the strongest of the bunch, but in terms of story quality it rivaled that of the original films.
While Empire Strikes Back is commonly regarded as being the best of the franchise, Revenge is often discussed as a close second if not its equal. Mark Hughes of Forbes described it as a "operatic, exciting, visually stunning final chapter for that era" whilst analyzing the saga, and it's a verdict supported by other writers as well, from Tom Bond of Little White Lies to Lisa Gransaw of Blastr. Each cited many of the same points, strengths and failings of the film, but also why it succeeded despite those issues.
For starters, it was evident that the creative forces behind Revenge of the Sith had taken a long, hard look back at the two previous films. Just as before, where Jar Jar's presence had been limited thanks to poor audience reactions and political dealings took a back seat to action, the romance sub-plot was scaled back. While it would hardly be removed entirely, it was instead limited to a few key scenes rather than taking up fully half of the film, with the focus being upon Anakin's decisions his responsibilities; thus leading to two of its best scenes, first with Yoda discussing the way of the Jedi, and then with Palpatine offering a sinister alternative. Equally, whereas the other films were criticized for their slow starts and lack of action, this one opened up with a full scale battle, actions sequences, explosions and a major death. It was enough to get audiences hooked from the get-go and establish that, yes, this trilogy was going out with a bang.
The battle itself, and what followed was also a new change for the films. One definitely for the better. Despite its name, Star Wars was never especially great at depicting full scale war. Outside of the fleet battle in Return of the Jedi, we were offered only skirmishes and adventures by the main characters, not whole armies clashing over territories or making pushes to claim worlds for themselves. While it would take Dark Horse Comics and the New Jedi Order to properly depict this on a vast scale, Revenge of the Sith did enough to give the impression of a galactic conflict without it completely overwhelming the film. Audiences were offered a taste of this with the large scale battle, shown signs of emerging fronts and countless fleets, and even the final montage of the Jedi Order's destruction impressed that there was still a war raging about them.
Revenge of the Sith also retains one of the series most powerful scenes and its only real montage - The execution of Order 66. It depicted how the Jedi had fallen even as they had won the war, impressed upon the audience how they had been played from the start and truly had no hope of real victory. The situations, the battles and the core sequences all presented events well enough to make it clear that each Jedi was a hero of their own story, fighting their own battles on a front away from the protagonists. Enough to make each death meaningful even if an audience was not overly familiar with the characters via the stories beyond the films.
Speaking personally, I would even go so far as to say that it did a far better job at respecting the setting than the likes of The Force Awakens. What J J Abrams ultimately made in his push to revitalize the franchise was little more than a Frankenstein's monster of other people's ideas. There was no twist to reflect his own additions to the franchise, no personal mark to show he had his own plans for what was to follow, just the same beats we had seen a hundred times over. Even ignoring how countless Expanded Universe ideas showed up recycled here after Disney murdered that particular branch of the franchise, the film's core was little more than a rehash of ideas from the original trilogy. It wasn't so much a new chapter as an attempt to cash in on nostalgia to offset creative bankruptcy.
By comparison, Revenge of the Sith kept its own nods to a relatively low-key affair. There was a surprising degree of restraint on display, keeping shout outs down to small jokes, minor re-uses of dialogue, and also the opening and closing shots. It was enough that they could pass over the heads of many fans, or get a slight chuckle out of those with knowledge of the saga, but without overriding the film's own identity. It was no repeatedly slamming moments from the original trilogy into the faces of the audience and demanding they love it because they loved the first films. Rather than re-using a Death Star idea and a massive final space battle, we had an opening conflict above Coruscant and an attempt to land a critically damaged battleship. Rather than simply leaving the ideas behind the Force vague and using the same lessons Yoda had offered, we ended up with examples of why the Jedi favoured detachment, and the history of Darth Plagueis.
Of course, there are still problems surrounding Revenge of the Sith. The acting in many places was still obviously questionable and despite some overall improvements the dialogue in many places was still problematic. Few will ever forget the face-palming "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" line Ewan McGregor was forced to deliver along with the likes of "I have the high ground!" and "Not Even the Younglings Survived." These are undeniable failings of the film,but they are hardly unique to Revenge of the Sith. Even the best films of the saga were hurt by some cringe-worthy lines of dialogue and poor deliveries, with Harrison Ford famously saying "George, you can type this [expletive] but you sure can't say it." A point he has gone back and forth on admittedly, but it is nevertheless an opinion supported by the likes of Alec Guinness. In his personal notes the actor cited his frustrations at being handed "new rubbish dialogue" which he claimed "none of it makes my character clear or even bearable." As such, while some aspects of the script are certainly weaknesses within the film, it is wrong to hold it purely against Revenge of the Sith. To truly overcome it, the prequels would have needed individuals capable of countering George Lucas' will, or later Directors who would permit certain changes by the actors such as Han's "I know" moment.
What is certainly a greater criticism worth leveling against the film is the quality of its effects. Even at the time the CGI failed to properly blend with the actors and had a clearly unrealistic sheen to it. Compared with the likes of Lord of the Rings or Jurassic Park, it lacked the input from special effects houses who had worked on more practical designs, to allow models to blend with lighting or the right textures. This is true across the entire prequel trilogy, and it remains one core reason why the originals are considered to be visually superior; not to mention why the Special Edition re-releases were held in such poor regard with their CGI'd additions. Quite frankly, to truly overcome this issue, it would have needed far more grounding or advice from very different veterans from those they hired. However, when it works, such effects pull of sights and sequences the original trilogy never could have hoped to accomplish. In this particular case, the chase between Kenobi and Grievous, the Invisible Hand's crash landing and the final lightsaber duel of the film all accomplished visuals no film from the 70s could have matched.
That said, there's no defending what the film did do General Grievous. Thankfully though, we had other media to more than make up for that.
The primary reason Revenge of the Sith stands out above all others is not thanks to the film itself, but what it led to. The two trilogies were not the entire story, nor should they ever have been. What was seen on the screen should always have been a starting point for a bigger and broader universe, for novels, comic books and video games capable of telling the stories the films never could. Revenge of the Sith allowed for this, presenting an end to the prequels which could satisfy the average film-goer, but left the universe open to future installments. It wasn't the end of the story, it was the end of that chapter.
The remaining conflicts of the Clone Wars had yet to be fully examined, the sagas of the surviving Jedi and the later purges were left open to audiences. The rise of the Empire, Palpatine's ambitions and the wars to secure its dominance were left to the imagination of future creators. Compared with Return of the Jedi's attempt at an absolute finale, what we had here was as much a conclusion as it was the bedrock for new saga. From it, we gained tales such as Dark Horse's Darth Vader series which greatly expanded upon the Sith Lord's formative years as Palpatine's right hand. What we gained was a film which knew it was the starting point for something bigger and, while telling its own tale, left the door open for others to follow.
Ultimately, to contrast it with the film others cite as the series' greatest success, the Empire Strikes Back took an already winning formula and shifted its focus to a broader setting. Revenge of the Sith took an extremely flawed and failing trilogy, and managed to give it a grand finale worthy of the franchise's legacy. It comes down to what you truly consider to be better really: The film which accomplished greatness after being offered everything, or the film which started with nothing and ended in success. Beyond anything else, that is why it stands out as a personal favourite though.
 - Hughes, M. (2015, December 17). Ranking The 'Star Wars' Movies From Best To Worst. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhughes/2015/12/17/ranking-the-star-wars-movies-from-best-to-worst/2/#32136d26651d
 - Bond, T. (2015, December 17). Why Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://lwlies.com/articles/why-revenge-of-the-sith-is-the-best-star-wars-movie/
 - Grinshaw, L. (2015, May 27). Not Guilty: In defense of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.blastr.com/2015-5-27/not-guilty-defense-star-wars-episode-iii-revenge-sith
 - Obias, R. (2013, August 14). What If The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy Had Been Good? Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/scifi/star-wars-prequel-trilogy-good.html
 - Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith - References to other Star Wars films. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_Episode_III_Revenge_of_the_Sith#References_to_other_Star_Wars_films
 - Covert, C. (2010, November 10). Harrison Ford: 'I'm like old shoes' Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://www.startribune.com/harrison-ford-i-m-like-old-shoes/106731043/?elr=KArksLckD8EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUsr
 - Anders, C. J. (2013, August 01). Alec Guinness thought Star Wars was "fairytale rubbish" and Harrison Ford's first name was "Tennyson" Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://io9.gizmodo.com/5974242/alec-guinness-thought-star-wars-was-fairytale-rubbish-and-harrison-fords-first-name-was-tennyson
 - (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lordoftherings.net/film/production/pr_visua.html
 - Watercutter, A. (2014, October 06). Jurassic Park Turns 21: A Look Back at How It Revolutionized Special Effects. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from https://www.wired.com/2014/06/jurassic-park-cgi/