Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Star Wars Subjectivities: Revenge of the Sith

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most people don't love the Star Wars prequels.

The exception to this, of course, is Revenge of the Sith.

Or so the common discourse runs. I actually disagree with it — all of the prequels are absolutely beloved, especially by the younger millennials who were raised with them. These movies are their Star Wars, not unlike how the sequel trilogy is the Star Wars for people born in the early 2000s. 

But yes, Revenge of the Sith is exceptionally good. And in this essay, I'll try to convince you of it too, based on my love for it.

I saw ROTS when I was 21 and in my last year of college. I took my girlfriend at the time who had never seen a single Star War. And while I remember her being essentially confused and bemused the entire time, she overall enjoyed it. I loved it, though it would take a few years before it would cement as one of my Star Wars favorites.

I’ve chosen for this essay not to go back and rewatch it, instead will parse my memory for the things that are hardwired in there. As a caveat, I’ve seen it probably 50 times — far less than the number of rewatches of the original trilogy, but still insanely more many times than the average human. 

A Love Reignited by a Subreddit

And honestly what sparked my love of the prequels is the r/PrequelMemes subreddit. I had seen the movies on opening day, as any loyal Star Wars fan is contractually obligated to do, and occasionally rewatched them on cable when they popped up on TV while I was in law school. 

Following and engaging with the subreddit (which as of September 2023 has 2.6+ million members!) taught me to appreciate the subtleties of the prequels, and to mold and re-mold jokes and observations using the raw text of Star Wars. Who among us (in America, at least) hasn’t quoted “So this is liberty dies — to thunderous applause” when watching election night results?

After laughing and participating in the absurd r/PrequelMemes, I found myself wanting to go back and rewatch the movies — a desire to sort of mine for primary sources, to find more fodder for silly Star Wars memes. Is the dialogue wooden? Yes, of course it is. Is the CGI ridiculous? Obviously. 

Truth in Memes

But somewhere along the way, I fell in love. Because I love lists, I’d like to frame why I love Revenge of the Sith in 5 memes — but they’ll be absolutely earnest.

1. Have you ever heard of Darth Plagueis the Wise?

I have spent the better part of 2 decades trying to understand all of the prequels’ plot minutiae. I mostly have it down pat. Shiv Palpatine is a Sith lord who masterminds a clone war rise to power as Emperor. I get that, but I have more questions. He discovers Anakin as a boy and eventually grooms him to become his dark apprentice over the course of a decade.

Was that part of the plan or just a happy accident? How could he have known how attached he’d grow to Padme? Etc. Etc. 

Someone more well-versed in the lore may know those answers, but at the end of the day, they’re not terribly important.

What is important is that Anakin is expertly manipulated by Palpatine and this scene, which takes place at a space ballet called Squid Lake, is what seals the deal for Anakin’s fate. He states his obsessive and all-consuming fear of losing Padme, and good old Shiv feeds him the line he needs to hear — I can teach you to transcend death, all you have to do is turn to the dark side. 

Watching Anakin fall is an important part of the entire Star Wars story because it gives context to the monster he becomes. In the original trilogy, Darth Vader is a baddie, full stop. When you watch A New Hope, you’re not even sure he’s a man — he may be a robot! 

Instead, we watch a 22-year-old man with complex trauma sell his soul to an abuser for the promise of helping save his wife’s life. Poor Anakin.

2. This is where the fun begins

In A New Hope, Obi-Wan tells Luke his father was the greatest pilot in the galaxy. In the opening scene of ROTS, which is among one of the coolest depictions of a space battle in the entire series, we see Anakin in his element. 

It’s maybe the last time we see him happy in the movie — hell, even in the two other prequels he doesn’t get a ton of positive moments. He’s good at his job, he works with his best friend, and Anakin is just plain having fun. 

I like how this opening scene shows the life Anakin could have lived had everything not happened. A Jedi out gallivanting and saving lives, secretly in love with a hot senator, and just vibing. 

3. Hello there

Ewan McGregor’s performance as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the strongest through-currents running through all of the prequels, but his performance in Revenge of the Sith is absolutely divine. 

The movie is about Anakin, that is undeniable. But how Obi-Wan reacts in slow-motion to Anakin’s downfall is what sells it. 

The “Hello there!” scene is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit of comic relief — a wink to Alec Guinness “Hello there” to Luke in A New Hope.

Watching him put on his best Alec Guinness impersonation for three movies is an utter delight, but by ROTS McGregor has crafted Obi-Wan into his own thing, and it’s handsome and charming and kind and haughty all rolled into one. 

4. I am the Senate

One of the cool things about ROTS is how you cannot divorce it from the tenor of the times in which it was filmed. In 2005, at the height of the Iraq War on G.W. Bush’s tenure as president in the U.S., George Lucas had some thoughts, it’s pretty clear, and you can read so much into this movie. Unwanted wars, abuses of power, the jingoistic nationalism, the distrust of intellectualism — it’s all laid out against the backdrop of a failing space democracy. 

5. Nooooooooo

Is this a silly scene? Absolutely. 

Do I think it’s crucial to the story of Darth Vader? Also yes. 

Over the course of ROTS, We witness all of the horrible things that Anakin does that destroy his soul — the slaughter, the betrayal, the blind rage. 

But one of the ways we know that he’s never truly 100% gone is in this deeply funny scene in which he shouts into the ether fresh off the slab like Frankenstein's monster.

How do we know that he's not entirely gone?

Because his NOOOOOO shows he hasn’t gone willingly to his fate. A truly evil person would take their rage and distill it, discarding all aspects of their former life and dreams and eager to do Palp's dirty work.

Instead, we still see Anakin for a brief moment, only now trapped in a cloak of iron and bidden to the will of Palpatine. We saw this in his dejected kneeling after he finished murdering Jedi — ”Just help me save Padme's life.” 

He hates it. He can see it's wrong. But he knows he has ruined everything, killed everyone. And there’s nothing left. 

Over the next 20 years, I believe Darth Vader runs of 98% utter dejection, 1% rage, and 1% pure Anakin at heart, which is how he ultimately gets redeemed.  

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo Award-winning podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, Vidalia onions, and growing corn and giving them pun names like Anacorn Skywalker.