PG-13. I remember hearing about the first PG-13 Star Wars movie and I thought I was going to have kittens. Spoiler alert for a movie you would have seen by now: he kills a bunch of kids. You don't remember that part? The part where the protagonist who is on kids' lunch boxes murders a bunch of kids. Don't worry about it.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
I finally did it! Shy of me seeing Howard the Duck for some reason, I don't think I'll really have to write a crap piece on George Lucas again. I've seen and reviewed all of the the Star Wars prequels and my thoughts are out there. As I've mentioned before, I'm doing a slow movie Machete Cut of the Star Wars saga. I accidentally had to tweak it a bit because I had the family come over and we had a request for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Side note: Upon second viewing, that movie is way better than I gave it credit for. It helps that I A. had lower expectations than my initial time out and B. had just recently watched the Star Wars prequels.) I am going to make a major statement for me. I'm growing. I've originally completely savaged this movie. People usually say, "The prequels are awful, but I liked Revenge of the Sith." To that, I would go into a long diatribe about how the movie is unwatchable and a crime to film everywhere. See, when I bought this on DVD when it first came out (It was a time where I felt like I had to have a complete set of everything), I couldn't even get through it. I saw it once in the theater and then tried to watch my DVD copy of it. I couldn't. It was so bad and so poorly paced that I shut it off, never to return. I rolled my eyes so hard at people who stood by that film and being a diamond in the rough in the prequels. I will revise my statement: While I still consider Revenge of the Sith to be a really bad movie, it is watchable and actually pretty entertaining. That said, the movie is still an atrocity.
The problem I always had with Revenge of the Sith and the prequels as a whole is that Anakin's logic on things is completely bananas. I, like many other nerds, hate Anakin's lightswitch moment in turning to the dark side. There are moments where Anakin makes some dark choices along the trilogy, but that motivation always seems really skewed too. I watched this movie with Mr. C, who is the uber-Star Wars fan and I was bothering him with questions about why things were happening. I'm sure it was probably a little annoying, but he enjoyed watching this movie on the big screen so there was probably a trade-off when it came to that. SPOILERS, BUT WHO CARES? Anakin's murdering of everyone he loves and spent a decade defending is just stupid. I never understood how someone just became evil that way and it always rang false. After rewatching this one and talking to Mr. C, there is an answer. But that answer is dumb too. But we had a long discussion and I actually found a way to make the Star Wars prequels work. The basic beats of the story are actually there. The reasoning that the film provides is that Anakin does evil things in an attempt to become so powerful with the dark side of the force so that he can undo death. There's a weird obsession with death that Anakin has that only really makes sense in context of the force vision he receives of Padme's death. The problem is that Anakin doesn't really do much to search for a way to prevent her death and leaps at the first opportunity that manages to be dangled in front of his face. There's a million plotlines in the movie distracting from what should be the A plot, which makes Anakin react like a crazy person. Think if Anakin had left the Jedi order and devoted all of his time to finding a way to save his wife. He starts alienating those people around him, including his wife who has made peace with her own death. However, Anakin grows obsessed and starts making small concessions towards evil. Finally, when he has accidentally grown strong with the dark side and Palpatine offers him this solution, he grabs it knowing it is the last possible way to save his wife. See, good story there? The bones of the original movie are in there, but the presentation changes everything. We don't get that at all. Anakin never really stops going on missions.
I also realized where George Lucas missed the directing boat. With the green screen sets all around, there's very little stage business to do. It makes Padme look like a crazy person. Padme literally has nothing to do in anything scene except for to focus on Anakin and what he is saying. This makes every single scene between them completely dire. They don't actually have a marriage. They simply exist for one another and that makes both people look like complete nutbars. Isn't Padme a senator? I'm pretty sure that job is a pretty intense and stressful job. She should be constantly swamped with work. Add to the fact that she is pregnant throughout this movie (Another side note: time passes very strangely in this movie. She goes from just discovering that she is pregnant to delivering twins by the end. The twins probably cuts a month / a month-and-a-half off of the delivery, but that's about it. Unless the people of Naboo deliver in a month...) and dealing with it alone could give Natalie Portman so much character stuff plus stage business. Also, think about how that could affect the A plot. Padme throwing herself into her work, knowing that she has a crumbling senate under her watch. She needs to get the good word out before she dies, ensuring her legacy is one of prosperity instead of collapse. Anakin feels like she isn't taking her pregnancy or her imminent death seriously, causing him to lash out? Padme feeling like his quest for her survival leads to her having to deal with the insanity of pregnancy alone? This is a good story. I don't need Obi-Wan Kenobi riding a dumb digital monster around fighting a bug-droid hybrid with four arms and goofy lightsabers. I need content and it is not in the place it should be. The mission statement for the prequels was "Watch how the greatest of all of the Jedis became the scariest bad guy ever." Instead, that story is such a secondary thought to cool fight sequences.
There is one really gutsy call in this movie that I don't think work, but I have to applaud how gutsy it was. The big bad guy is just there. He has no introduction or no explanation to what his motivations or background is. He clearly has this intense back story that is hinted at. General Grevious is one of the most insane introductions for a bad guy in a movie that I have ever seen. In an era where cinematic universes are just a thing, it is amazing that one of the biggest elements of the story for Revenge of the Sith is only for the people who go deep into Wookiepedia and follow the unofficial canon. He's clearly got a backstory. He looks like a droid, but he's got organic components. He has living eyes and he spends the entire movie coughing horribly. He has many many lightsabers and is remarkably adept at using them. He's in charge of the armies leading the Separatists. When did all of that happen? The opening crawl usually gives us enough of an insight into the world of the film that most moviegoers can appreciate what they learn about the characters later on. Not this one. The Star Wars movies are probably the most accessible science fiction fantasy movies compared to other franchises. You have to know very little going into these films. Lots of people who don't consider themselves nerds still really love Star Wars. To make a major character a complete enigma is such an odd choice. As an audience member, I have to simply believe that General Grevious is a big deal. Sometimes that works out just fine. I even think that works out well in the other Star Wars movies. But when we are being distracted from the main plot in the movie to deal with a character that we are only told is a big deal, there's a bit too much faith that is placed there.
I remember thinking that this was the Star Wars movie that was going to fix everything. Watching the opening sequence where the full on title of "War" of Star WARS was going to be lived up to was exciting. That battle seemed super fun and I always liked the dogfights in the Star Wars world too. Then I remember when the whole movie comes apart. The scene that changes the mood of the movie is R2-D2 destroying two of the most intense droids in the franchise with little effort. That's when I remember that the movie is dumb and I throw things at it. This entire paragraph is going to be a litany of things that I find dumb, but can't devote entire sections of text to. One of the big things that Star Wars as a whole franchise has a problem with is not determining how strong a character is. R2-D2 is the prime example of that. R2 has a hard time walking across rock and he falls over a lot on Dagobah. He is cumbersome and often the point of a joke because he's kind of goofy. Then he's able to fly all around and set fire to stuff on a whim because that scene would be cool. Darth Vader also has that problem. In A New Hope, Vader is a lap dog who has kind of a boring fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi, but then in Rogue One is just a force of nature. Yoda is a tank, but also hobbles around in fear in Revenge of the Sith. There's no consistency to what these characters can do because they all have overpowered moments. Giving tanks weird vulnerabilities that only show up sometimes is rough. Part of that is the fact that George Lucas wants to show these cool images that fans have been clamoring for, but don't serve the nature of the plot. That leads to the inclusion of Chewbacca. Seeing Chewbacca? Super cool. Does it make a lick of sense? Nope. It really changes Chewbacca's whole dynamic. Chewie in the original franchise is a loyal companion, but kind of an oaf when it comes to a lot of basic tasks. He has pet like qualities, despite showing intelligence. But in Revenge of the Sith, he's a high ranking general. By that logic, he really let himself go when the Empire took over. There's never that moment in the original franchise where Chewie makes a choice to lead people. He's always simply a companion to Han Solo and doesn't become a leader of men. There's also a moment where Lucas, trying to resurrect the Lucas of the American Zoetrope era, homages Frankenstein with the birth of Darth Vader. Yay, George Lucas, for trying to reignite that passion which you seem to have lost. Boo, George Lucas, for putting it at the worst possible time you could have. The entire series has been leading up to this moment and it has become such a joke that entire articles have been devoted to a comic book that interpreted the same moment better. Which leads me to...
...my final theory about the Star Wars prequels: how the can be fixed and how they are reflections on the author of Star Wars. What if the Star Wars prequels were about how Lucas had lost sight of basic human interaction? Anakin Skywalker's choices throughout these movies don't make any sense. They are always really big choices that everyone is simply supposed to get behind. He murders large groups of people because his emotions tell him to. He gets married out of sheer willpower. He gets really angry at Obi-Wan Kenobi despite the fact that Obi-Wan's requests are completely reasonable. On top of that, Anakin has been saddled with this great prophecy that he can't possibly live up to. He is meant to bring balance to the Force. He does so, through a series of dark choices. Luke is the one who brings light to the Force. Vader is who brings dark to the Force. It is balance, per the prophecy. What if that is all a metaphor for what Lucas was feeling at the time. I had an idea that many of Anakin's odd decision making comes from the fact that he didn't really have a childhood. He was a slave without a father and didn't have basic social interaction outside his mother (I'm ignoring that random group of kids because that doesn't mesh with my slavery narrative.) Lucas had become a slave to the Star Wars franchise. He stopped having basic normal interaction because he was only seen in context of his larger than life creation. Everyone was always star struck around him, so his choices were starting to be seen as more and more bizarre. He couldn't leave his home. When it was revealed that he would be making more Star Wars films, he knew that he couldn't possibly live up to what he had completed thirty years before. He stuck a near perfect landing and had reshaped the collective consciousness forever. What if he knew this ahead of time, so he made a movie about a guy who made odd choices that were so odd and out of place because he knew that he couldn't live up to his own press? Lucas is Anakin. He brought balance to his franchise: three brilliant movies and three dark bummer movies. That's bananas! If that's the case, slow clap. I mean, I wouldn't ever do that. But it also gives me the last bit of inspiration on how to fix the franchise. What if there was an intentional stress about Anakin's lack of basic social skills? What if no one really understood him except for Padme and Palpatine? He would have been an outcast in the Jedi order because of his upbringing? Think about if the Star Wars prequels could have been a commentary on Asperger's or social stigma? It would give Padme a far greater nobility and humanity that she could see the real person underneath this dark and socially complex character? When she is overwhelmed with her work and her complicated pregnancy, he falls under the attention of Palpatine, who teaches him ways to control his emotions? He gains social acceptance because of Palpatine's tutelage, which makes him defensive of Palpatine when people begin accusing him of horrible crimes. Finally, when Mace Windu asks him to betray the man who had given his life back, who was there when his wife lost herself in her work, the one who had been making him normal...that would drive Anakin to doing whatever Palpatine wanted. Those barriers that Palpatine had put in place would break and a rush of emotion would come back to him. I just know that it would be cool to see Hayden Christensen act as the emotionally devoid Vader, constantly in control before the suit came on. He wouldn't be doing evil deeds, but just to have that commanding presence before getting into the suit...that would be awesome.
The movie is better than I gave it credit for, but it is a flawed finish for an extremely flawed ending. I still have Return of the Jedi before I'm done with my modified Machete Cut, but I can say that the Machete Cut doesn't work. I had a good time watching these movies on the big screen, but it is a huge mess and it is such a shame.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.