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Movie Review: Star Wars Episode III

By Scott Tibbs, May 31, 2005

I have seen "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" twice, so I think I can offer an informed review. (Warning: this review contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, you may want to stop reading now.)

"Sith" contends with "The Empire Strikes Back" for the honor of being the best of the six films. "Sith" is at least the second best film in the series. The best thing about "Sith" is the gray area between the Jedi and the Sith. Whereas the original trilogy and the first two prequels showed the Sith as purely evil, "Sith" is much more nuanced.

The story begins with a daring rescue attempt by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. The Separatists have captured Chancellor Palpatine. Palpatine is secretly Darth Sideous, and is directing the Separatists from behind the scenes while manipulating the Senate to give him more and more political power.

Sideous had been grooming Anakin Skywalker to be his new apprentice since he befriended young Anakin in Episode I. After Anakin defeats Count Dooku (lopping off both of Dooku's hands in the process) to rescue Palpatine, Dooku is shocked when Palpatine/Sideous orders Anakin to kill Dooku. Anakin hesitates, knowing he should not kill Dooku, and is repentant after decapitating Dooku.

Palpatine/Sideous urges Anakin to leave Obi-Wan (who was knocked out in the battle with Dooku) behind, presumably because he foresees how dangerous Obi-Wan is and will be. Anakin refuses, and manages to save the day.

Palpatine/Sideous continues to cultivate Anakin's trust and friendship, and it is the Jedi Council that begins pushing Anakin to the Dark Side. The Jedi Council asks Anakin, off the record, to spy on Palpatine. Anakin recognizes this dishonesty to be against the Jedi Code, and a betrayal of a mentor and a friend. His trust in the Jedi Council shaken, Anakin is vulnerable to Palpatine's suggestions that the Jedi are planning a coup so they can to rule the Republic themselves. Palpatine/Sideous further tempts Anakin with the prospect that by mastering the Dark Side, he can prevent Padme Amidala-Skywalker from dying in childbirth.

As it turns out, the Jedi were planning a coup if Palpatine (who they did not know was a Sith Lord at this point) refused to give up his emergency powers. The Jedi would have ruled the Republic to ensure a peaceful transition. Even though Anakin refused to believe Palpatine/Sideous when he warned of a Jedi coup, he was not lying to Anakin.

When Sideous reveals himself to Anakin, Anakin alerts the Jedi Council. Mace Windu orders Anakin to stay behind while he takes three Jedi to "arrest" Sideous. Anakin, concerned they will kill Sideous, leaves soon after fearing he will not learn the power to save Padme if Sideous dies. Sideous cuts down three Jedi, but is about to be killed by Windu when Anakin walks in. Anakin tells Windu he cannot kill Sideous, because it is not the Jedi way to kill an unarmed prisoner and Sideous has the right to a trial. When Windu goes to kill Palpatine anyway, Anakin slices off Windu's hand and Sideous finishes him off. This is the last straw; Anakin becomes Darth Vader.

This raises an interesting question, in the context of the storyline. Had Windu not given in to a desire to enact vigilante justice, would Anakin have turned to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader? Windu embraced revenge (a Dark Side emotion) rather than justice. Sith Lord or not, Palpatine/Sideous was legitimately elected and deserved a fair trial.

After the attempted coup by the Jedi, all Jedi are declared "enemies of the Republic" and are systematically betrayed and slaughtered. Only Yoda and Obi-Wan survive. Anakin personally butchers a number of children training to be Jedi. Obi-Wan confronts Anakin and leaves him horribly injured, dismembered, disfigured and near death, but does not kill him. Yoda is defeated by Palpatine/Sideous and goes into exile.

While Anakin's actions after he became Darth Vader were certainly evil, the moral ambiguity that caused him to become Vader in the first place adds a lot of weight to the story. His main motivation, saving his wife from death, was understandable and honorable. The Jedi Council's own misdeeds (secretly ordering Anakin to betray a friend and violate the Jedi Code, plotting a coup against Palpatine, and attempted vigilantism) pushed Anakin right into the Sith camp.

Some have criticized the ending scenes with Padme Amidala-Skywalker given Princess Leia's memories of her mother. If Padme died in childbirth, how can Leia have memories of her? After watching it a second time, I think it could be explained that Padme did not die. Instead, the Naboo government wished to make it appear she was dead, and that she lived a bit longer, which would explain Leia's memories.

There are other inconsistencies between the first and second trilogies, which have undoubtedly been explored in great detail elsewhere. One striking inconsistency is how Leia managed to be a princess, considering that Queens were elected on Naboo.

Overall, Star Wars Episode III was (by far) the best of the prequels. Anakin's decent into the Dark Side and transformation into Darth Vader was well done, understandable and sympathetic. The Jedi Order is portrayed in the harshest light of the entire series, and the way the Empire was born (concerns over security, internal threats and the war brought "thunderous applause" when Palpatine announced the formation of the Empire) was very moving.

Final grade: A