Revenge of the Sith reviews!

My review of Star Wars, Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith will be posted on Wednesday. There’ll be a long version at CT Movies, and a MUCH more comprehensive version up at Looking Closer.


Notice anything supercool about this shot?

Today, CT Movies has posted my latest Reel News column, which focuses again on Star Wars.

I had a good long talk with Steven D. Greydanus (this blog’s Film Critic of the Month) last night, and we read our reviews to each other. We had to laugh. We agreed on every single point (including how many stars out of four we’re giving it), and had often written down the same questions and observations almost verbatim. It’s tough, reviewing this film on just one viewing… especially knowing that more people will read this than probably any review I’ve written since Return of the King. There’s this intense desire to be fair, to get it right, to be sure I’ve quoted the characters correctly, and to cover all of the major points.

Man… Steven Greydanus can WRITE!! Wait until you read the first paragraphs of his review. Read them out loud. They have more drama than any of the dialogue in Revenge of the Sith.

For those who can’t wait to read reviews, Roger Ebert’s review has just been posted.

If you want MANY SPOILERS and a savage attack on the film, read Anthony Lane’s merciless condemnation in The New Yorker.

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

A week after seeing the film, one question lingers above all others for me. It stems from a line that Obi-Wan has, in which he tells Anakin that “only a Sith” thinks in terms of absolutes.

So… if Lucas thinks there are no absolutes, then how do you explain his explanation of the film’s political relevance?

”In terms of evil, one of the original concepts was how does a democracy turn itself into a dictatorship,” Lucas told a news conference at Cannes, where his final episode had its world premiere.

”The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we’re doing in Iraq now are unbelievable.

”On the personal level it was how does a good person turn into a bad person, and part of the observation of that is that most bad people think they are good people, they are doing it for the right reasons,” he added.

How can you say there are “bad people” and “good people”, George? How can you even suggest that anybody does anything for the wrong reasons or the right reasons, if there are no absolutes?

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  • Gary

    Along the lines of story incongruity and Uncle Owen, it always seemed to me that Luke’s aunt and uncle knew a great deal about Anakin Skywalker. The level of Owen’s anger toward Anakin and Beru’s knowing looks betray intimate knowledge Anakin’s past. However, the level of Owen’s feelings seems strange to me as they are in no way blood related. Why is Owen so disturbed by Anakin’s lifestyle, or what he knows of it? Does he know Anakin became Vadar? If Obi-Wan brought Luke to him to raise, was he told all the details, or just that Anakin was “dead”?

    Owen is a pretty straight-laced guy, so perhaps he dislikes Anakin on principle and thus projects that onto Luke when he sees similarities. Owen obviously wanted Luke around to help farm, but I keep thinking about the strength of his feelings about Anakin…why so strong?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Also, though I know you’re sort of kidding about the whole “Somalia writ large” thing, for the kind of people who really care about that sort of thing, we have the expanded universe (mainly the novels) . . .

    Which are completely apocryphal, despite whatever Lucasfilm might have said about them in the past. One of the few things I liked about Episode II was the way it completely snubbed the whole premise of Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy and Darksabre novels, by revealing that the Death Star was not designed by some naive little alien who went on to become Wedge’s lover. Anderson is an awful writer, and it was frightening to see how dominant he became within the Expanded Universe in the mid-’90s — he was a big reason I stopped caring about the Star Wars novels, so it was fun to see George Lucas completely ignore him like that.

  • Nicholas

    From ROTJ script:
    *Luke can resist no longer. The lightsaber flies into his hand. He
    ignites it in an instant and swings at the Emperor. Vader’s
    lightsaber flashes into view, blocking Luke’s blow before it can
    reach the Emperor. The two blades spark at contact. Luke turns to
    fight his father.*

    I was wrong, though I must say, this scene could have been edited better, unless my previous opinion is correct, and it was shot this way to keep it open to interpretation.

    Also, though I know you’re sort of kidding about the whole “Somalia writ large” thing, for the kind of people who really care about that sort of thing, we have the expanded universe (mainly the novels), which tell us the Senate is reformed (and basically falls into some of the same problems it did before), and that there are warlords who must be defeated (and mostly are, until all that is left is an Imperial remnant that makes peace with the New Republic).

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Also, Luke striking down the Emperor at that exact moment would be a bit out of character.

    You mean, it would be more in character for Luke to do something stupid? I dunno, Mark Hamill may be a bad actor, but Luke is a smart cookie.

    Luke knows the Emperor is in charge of the Empire. He knows killing the Emperor would go a long, long way towards ending the war. I don’t see how killing yet another member of the Imperial military regime would be more out of character than lashing out at a member of his own family who happens to be one of the Emperor’s currently-not-so-relevant underlings.

    (Then again, maybe killing the Emperor doesn’t really help out all that much. As Jonathan V. Last has pointed out, all killing the Emperor would really do is send the galaxy spiraling into chaos: “So under Imperial rule, a large group of regional potentates, each with access to a sizable army and star destroyers, runs local affairs. These governors owe their fealty to the Emperor. And once the Emperor is dead, the galaxy will be plunged into chaos. In all of the time we spend observing the Rebel Alliance, we never hear of their governing strategy or their plans for a post-Imperial universe. All we see are plots and fighting. Their victory over the Empire doesn’t liberate the galaxy–it turns the galaxy into Somalia writ large: dominated by local warlords who are answerable to no one.”)

  • Michael Todd

    Several weeks ago, on the drive home from a friend’s home, I received a wonderful vision that thrilled me.

    My friend and I checked out a preview of Ep. III on the official Star Wars site. The trailer we saw closes with the Emperor and Vader standing side-by-side, arms folded, looking out the window of a star destroyer.

    Maybe I’ve been reading way too much John Eldredge, but that closing image transfigured into Christ and I standing side-by-side, arms folded, looking out from some vantage point. It was very empowering. I’d recently been studying the ascension — the fact that I was not only put to death and resurrected with Christ, but I am also seated in Heaven, as e is, with the angel armies at my command.

    I was invigorated by this image in my mind. Immediately, I pictured Christ and I walking the streets of my city flanked by angel armies, as Vader and Palpatine march through stormtrooper ranks on the Death Star in Ep. VI. Those red cloaked imperial guard dudes became the cherubim around the throne.

    All of this really appealed to me, because I have always bucked at the idea of being a bond-servant to Christ. Cinema and literature have not provided me with an adequate example of a master/pupil or master/slave relationship that translates into my Christian experience. Either the pupil surpasses the master or the servant is little more than a glorfied go-getter, but Vader, now there is a powerful and awe-inspiring pupil/servant.

    He goes about the universe, second in command, living only to do the will of the Emperor. As stated, I’ve yet to see Ep. III, but this is what I imagined. He was marred, but the Emperor restored him, and gave him a new body. I was relishing the parallels.

    Alas, I just re-watched Ep. IV, V, and VI, plus I have read through your discussion, and other others like it around the net, and my image is smashed. Vader was plotting against his master. Though my imagination has inverted the Empire into Heaven, I can’t tolerate the inconsistency of doing the will or Christ, at the same time plotting his downfall.

    Well, there you go… I’m back to associating servitude with being like Gunga Din. How could I be so foolish? Bloody, John Eldgredge and his divine-encounter-nonsense-that-God-will-rename-you-something-strong-and-masculine-like-Henry V- or-William Wallace!

  • Nicholas

    I just watched the start of the Vader vs. Luke scene in Return of the Jedi in slow-mo:
    1. Luke looks at the Emperor
    2. Uses the force to grab his lightsaber.
    3. Immediately turns to Vader.
    4. Vader ignites his lightsaber.

    Because of the use of angles, this is arguable, but the scene still looks this way to me. I think my opinion is augmented by the fact that Luke swings directly at VADER, and Vader parries. Luke’s swing is directed nowhere near the Emperor. Also, Luke striking down the Emperor at that exact moment would be a bit out of character. Luke was being offered his weapon, though, so I can see why he would at least take it.
    The scene is very open to interpretation, if you ask me, and I think the Dooku vs. Anakin scene from ROTS (mentioned previously) only adds to this. Vader would surely remember being put in the similar situation, only not as the young upstart in ROTS, but as the gray (and curiously tall) old-timer.

    “Very true. The problem here, of course, is that it is the Sith apprentice (Vader), and not the Sith master (Sidious), who lines up Luke as a possible replacement. And Vader openly tells Sidious that he is lining the guy up.”

    Also, I always thought that Vader says, “He (Luke) could be turned” to the Emperor almost spur of the moment, obviously because he does not like the prospect of having to murder his own son. Not that Vader wasn’t juggling the idea before, in fact, the Emperor may have perceived that Vader had this idea, and by telling Vader, “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”, forced Vader’s hand.
    Then again, I am told I look at things a lot differently from other people.
    I wonder if George Lucas thinks about his OWN movies this much?

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Count Dooku seems kind of shocked that Palpatine is willing to kill him. He should have known better.

    Good point, Peter. That’s one of the things that bothered me in Ep. 3. I remember sitting there thinking, “How can he NOT see this coming?!”

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Love the Screwtape Letters analogy, SDG — since the Sith are all about the naked quest for power, it only makes sense that a Sith master and a Sith apprentice would expect betrayal from each other. (Which, I guess, may be another flaw with Episode III — Count Dooku seems kind of shocked that Palpatine is willing to kill him. He should have known better.)

    Sometimes, as in The Empire Strikes Back, the apprentice (Vader) may hedge his bets by trying to line up an apprentice of his own before taking on the master. However, such a third recruit could also very easily become an antagonist to the existing apprentice, and a Sith lord with an ambitious apprentice may very well try to maneuver his apprentice into combat with a possible replacement.

    Very true. The problem here, of course, is that it is the Sith apprentice (Vader), and not the Sith master (Sidious), who lines up Luke as a possible replacement. And Vader openly tells Sidious that he is lining the guy up.

    Footnote: It is interesting how both Vader and Sidious tempt Luke by telling him to attack them. Sidious does this explicitly, of course, but even Vader seems to do this, too, however implicitly, when he walks around in the shadows with his lightsabre drawn, telling Luke he can’t hide forever and so on. Yet we never see Sidious try anything like this in the prequels.

    It may even be something that the Emperor realizes but Vader doesn’t. Vader might really think that there could be three Sith, a master and two apprentices, at least for a time.

    I doubt it. The Jedi have been looking for the Sith for basically all of Anakin’s life, and the Jedi even spell out the two-Sith-at-a-time principle right from the beginning in Episode I. There is no way Anakin could have missed the fact that the Jedi were looking for two Sith lords.

    Add to this the fact that Vader is the Sith apprentice for something like 25 years — a quarter-century! — and it doesn’t seem that any of the other Sith apprentices we know of had to put up with their place in the pecking order for so long. Vader would have had more than enough time to figure out how the Sith run things, even if the Jedi hadn’t filled him in.

    Ideally, he may want to recruit Luke to his side and destroy the Emperor, but for the time being he may be satisfied to see the Emperor take Luke under his wing along with himself.

    This is certainly what Vader seems to think will happen, in Episode VI, when he meets Luke on Endor. It is one of several signs, in the final film, that Vader’s evil and/or power has become somewhat diminished since we last encountered it in Episode V.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    OR, could it be that, just as Anakin chose to save the Emperor from a Jedi in “Revenge of the Sith,” he is here choosing once again to shield the man who mentored him in the Dark Side? This would make his later decision, to throw his own mentor into the pit, all them more significant.

  • SDG

    While I agree that the series has fundamental inconsistencies and that the prequels have only further muddied the waters, I don’t think that “Always two there are” creates nearly the level of difficulty being suggested here.

    The principle, as I understand it, is that every Sith apprentice wants to destroy his master, and every master tolerates his apprentice only insofar as he believes he can control him. Eventually, either the apprentice destroys the master and becomes the new master with his own new apprentice, or the master destroys the apprentice and takes a new apprentice himself.

    Sometimes, as in The Empire Strikes Back, the apprentice (Vader) may hedge his bets by trying to line up an apprentice of his own before taking on the master. However, such a third recruit could also very easily become an antagonist to the existing apprentice, and a Sith lord with an ambitious apprentice may very well try to maneuver his apprentice into combat with a possible replacement. Whichever one wins, he will only have one subordinate to deal with, not two.

    Needless to say, all of this is beneath the surface for the Sith; they don’t exactly talk about it openly. It’s like the surface courtesies of Screwtape and Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters; neither is going to come right out and say that they’re maneuvering to try to devour one another, but at the same time no one has any illusions what’s going on either.

    It may even be something that the Emperor realizes but Vader doesn’t. Vader might really think that there could be three Sith, a master and two apprentices, at least for a time. Ideally, he may want to recruit Luke to his side and destroy the Emperor, but for the time being he may be satisfied to see the Emperor take Luke under his wing along with himself.

    The Emperor, though, must know or suspect that Vader wants to recruit Luke and destroy the Emperor. By the same token, he wants to use Luke in precisely the same way he used Anakin in the opening act of Revenge of the Sith — pit the new recruit against his current disciple, and dominate whichever one survives.

    All of this, I think, can reasonably be inferred from the films without any excessive leaps in interpretation. A trickier question, as Peter has pointed out is: Why does Vader block Luke from destroying the Emperor, since he’s already said that that’s what he wants to do anyway? And why is Luke killing the Emperor such a dark-side thing anyway? These are questions the answers to which I DON’T think we can reasonably infer from the films without a leap that the film hasn’t earned.

    Clearly, the Emperor knows that Vader will stop Luke from killing him — even though Vader evidently wants to destroy the Emperor. Could it be that Vader knew the Emperor was so powerful that Luke’s attack was no threat to him whether or not Vader blocked the stroke? And therefore he parried so as to maintain his show of loyalty?

    Or could the Emperor’s grip on Vader be great enough that Vader was unable not to do his master’s bidding in that moment, with all the Emperor’s attention fixed on provoking and then blunting Luke’s attack? (As opposed to later in the blue lightning scene, when his will was bent on destroying Luke?)

    Or could it be that both Vader and the Emperor know that Luke killing the Emperor in that moment WON’T turn him to the dark side after all — which, despite their cross purposes, they both want him to do — and the point is simply to draw him into combat with Vader, and thereby to provoke him to the wrath and hatred that would draw him to the dark side?

    The movie isn’t coherent on this point. But I don’t think it quite falls apart at the level suggested above by the “Always two there are” rule.

  • Anonymous

    Here is a good take also on Lucas not being consistent in his movies on thinking in absolutes…

    http://www.professorbainbridge.com/2005/05/betraying_sory_.html

  • Nicholas

    You share a problem I have with this scene from Jedi, as well. I always wondered why this simply could not have happened:
    Emperor: An entire legion of my best troops are waiting for them!
    Luke: You mean, my friends are in trouble?
    Emperor: Yes, they are all going to die! (Laughs)
    Luke: Does this thing have a self-destruct?
    Emperor: Of course. As I have always been quick to point out the major flaw of my superweapon to my enemies, it is right here. (points to button on chair)
    Luke: Okay. (Runs up to Emperor, cuts off his head without the least bit of anger. Pushes Button)
    Computer Voice: The Death Star will self-destruct in five minutes.
    Luke: C’mon dad, let’s get out of here.

    Honestly though, I always thought that Luke was so angry about his friends being tricked that he turned all his aggression against his father, and was not taking his lightsaber to strike the Emperor down, but was taking it to strike his FATHER down. In fact, in over a hundred viewings I don’t think I have ever seen it the other way, though I am going to look for this the next time I watch it.
    In regard to the whole “there can only be two” thing, I don’t know if I should defend Lucas, here. At first, I thought this just meant, when there is a master, there is an apprentice, and there could be a million sith as long as every learner had a master. After the second prequel, I wasn’t so sure. If your interpretation is true, I guess the Emperor could just use Luke as his lapdog, and not neccessarily as a Sith, but that is almost getting into semantics, which is just ridiculous. If we ever meet in real life, I suggest some type of Star Wars pub-roundtable discussion.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    And apparently they spent the next 20 years in that corridor …

    Kind of like how the Empire apparently spent the next 20 years building the first Death Star, even though it apparently only took about 4 years to build the second one …

    Re: the “temptation” scene in Episode VI. For now, let us ignore the prequels entirely, and their revelation that there can never be more than two Sith lords at any given time. If we took the prequels seriously, then we would have to believe that it would have been impossible for Palpatine, Anakin and Luke to be Sith lords all at the same time; in other words, if we took the prequels seriously, we would have to believe that, when Vader suggested to the Emperor that Luke would “join us or die,” the Emperor must have heard that as a challenge (as indeed it may have been, since Vader tells Luke that, together, they could destroy the Emperor).

    But like I say, we’re going to ignore the prequels. Let us simply look at Episode VI on its own terms.

    Palpatine tells Luke, “Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the Dark Side will be complete.” Luke finally succumbs and reaches out with his lightsabre to kill the Emperor … but Vader blocks his attack.

    Why does Vader do this? To prevent Luke from going to the Dark Side? No, he proceeds from that point on to do the tempting himself. To encourage Luke to go to the Dark Side, then? No, if that was what he wanted, he would have let Luke kill the Emperor — indeed, in Episode V, Vader himself had told Luke that killing the Emperor was one of the things Luke could do if he went to the Dark Side.

    So you see, that whole temptation sequence makes no sense.

    And then, of course, there is the point that David Brin has made, that there would have been absolutely nothing wrong with Luke killing the Emperor anyway, no matter what the Emperor might have said about it. Luke is a soldier. Killing enemies — and especially a chief villainous enemy like Palpatine — is his job. And many soldiers have killed people without becoming Hitler-style bad guys like Vader.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Dude, that’s the corridor in which we first saw 3PO and R2 in the original Star Wars movie!

  • Gary

    About the Photo… Don’t know what you saw, but I noticed that all 3 characters are all in exactly the same pose – standing on right foot, left leg bent bad, right arm forward, etc. Is that what you were getting at? I am probably missing something much “Cooler”, but didn’t want to let you down by not commenting!

  • Nicholas

    “Vader blocks Luke from succumbing to the Emperor’s temptation … only to try to tempt him some more?”

    Confused. Explain?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    My own notes have, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

    This apparently comes some time after Obi-Wan’s lame line “Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic! To democracy!” and some time before Anakin’s line, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil,” to which Obi-Wan replies, “Well, then you are lost.”

    Ironically, in Episode VI, it is Obi-Wan who thinks and deals in absolutes and encourages Luke to see Anakin as “twisted and evil” for the purposes of assassinating him, even as he espouses Palpatine’s “point of view” thinking — ouch, my head is hurting already.

    The original trilogy didn’t have too many internal contradictions. Yeah, the final lightsabre duel between Luke and Vader made absolutely No Sense Whatsoever (Vader blocks Luke from succumbing to the Emperor’s temptation … only to try to tempt him some more?), but I could live with it.

    These prequels, though, have just made a hash of the whole thing, and have exposed Lucas for the incredibly muddled thinker that he is.

  • Nicholas

    Every review I have read that mentions this lists the line as “deals in absolutes”, but I could have SWORN I have seen footage of this scene on the Net, as well.
    I am looking for this footage, but here are some links to reviews with the line listed as “deals” and…well, I don’t want to link directly to the script, so scroll down on this site below, and a link you will find:
    http://cethirien.blogspot.com/

    reviews:

    http://www.techcentralstation.com/051105H.html

    http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/film_review.asp?ID=1587

    http://worldfilm.about.com/od/r/a/starwars_5.htm

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Nicholas,

    If you’re right about the line, then you’re right in your assessment of it. But A.O. Scott quotes it as “Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.” That makes the issue very foggy for me. I wish I could see it again to know for sure, but alas, I’ve got to publish this review.

  • James Stewart

    For me, not “dealing in absolutes” is very different from denying the existence of absolutes, and I don’t think it stops us from commenting on others’ decisions.

    I don’t deny the existence of absolutes, but I am very sceptical about my own ability to grasp them or to communicate them. That’s partly tied in with how I interpret Paul’s whole “through a glass darkly” thing.

    When I act as if I have a connection with an absolute, I’m most likely to be judgmental, to act as if another person can be consider wholly good or wholly bad. It’s when I’m at my worst.

    But acknowledging our own weaknesses does not prevent us from offering an opinion (“it seems to me that if we take into account X and Y, we may find that Z is a better solution to this situation”). It makes such conversations harder, but it seems to me that it also makes them more honest.

    I haven’t seen Sith yet, but it would seem to me that this line fits pretty well with some other parts of the series. For the Emperor (and for Vader, for a time) their way is the only way. For much of the Rebellion, Vader is wholly evil. But for Luke things (at least where Vader is concerned) aren’t quite that black and white, and there is a part, even of Vader, that can be saved.

  • Nicholas

    …and my grammar are bad.

  • Nicholas

    I think the line was actually, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” in response to the, “If you’re not for me, your against me line”, which I believe is supposed to be an echo of George W. Bush’s, “If you’re not for me, then you’re my enemy” line from (I think) his state of the Union address.
    I think the difference between “deals” and “thinks” is pretty significant, at least in terms of human to human interaction.

  • jasdye

    Thanks for the fair warning, Jeffrey.

    It seems the more I try to remain cool, distant and collected, the more I try to remember that the last two installments were huge disappointments and the first three weren’t really all that great and life-changing to begin with, the more I think of the cheesy animation in the Clone Wars series I just saw yesterday and about the illogical lines between the old trilogy and everything new, the more I’m secretly sliding into association with all things Jedi.

    Dude, I want to read Ebert’s review, but I know if I do, I’ll just wet my pants. Darth Vader’s theme is just too wrapped up in my psyche. I can’t control myself no matter how much I know I’ll be disappointed.

    Aaarrghh! Who will save me from this wretched life of Sith?


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