“You were the chosen one!”–The man with the high ground.
Happy 15th anniversary of Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith! Is that original movie trailer not one of the most expertly composed teasers you’ve ever seen? Seriously, if the actual movie was anything like that trailer, we would have a cinematic masterpiece. But to be completely honest with you, RoTS wasn’t a badly done movie. (That said, if you want my fan rewrite that would completely fix the timeline, dialogue, chronology, and pinnacle moments, I can have that on your desk by 2006).
Yes, it’s known as the “Best of the prequels” with its excellent pacing and very few dipping moments (too much focus on politics for me), and yes, there are some very…cheesy line deliveries and dialogue. Two of my favorites, of course, are “No, no, no, no you will die” and the iconically embarrassing “NOOOOOOOO!” which might go down in history as the Official Grandpappy of Memes outside of anything on You’re The Man Now, Dog.
However, I think I’m in a small group of people that sincerely and non-ironically loves this movie. I saw it 3 times in the theater back when it came out, loving every exciting minute of the ride. The movie coming out was a big conversation in pop culture– what events went down to get Anakin in that Vader suit? In order to properly celebrate the 15th anniversary of Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith, we’re going to take a little backwards peekaboo and examine the film for what it is and how we remember it.
Picture it– the year was 2005, and the final installment of the Star Wars prequels was going to hit theaters. At last, fans of the franchise since 1978 to the present (remember, this is still 2005, you don’t have your iPhone 3 that connects to the internet and social media was no more sophisticated than Myspace, Live Journal, and Quizilla) were going to see that epic battle, that harrowing moment when our beloved sad-boy tragic figure Darth Vader turned on his mentors, family, and Jedi Training to become one with the dark side and slip on his iconic mask and sith-pajamas.
If you watch the above Pitch Meeting video, Ryan George pretty much nails down where Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith goes wrong; there is too much forced “Fan Service”. Fan service that we probably didn’t even really need, such as the appearance of Chewbacca and the Wookie planet Kashyyk. The film ends with too much set up for A New Hope, such as Yoda banishing himself to Dagobah out of embarrassment, Palpatine naming Akain “Darth Vader” just because, Luke and Leia being sent to their respective new families in a clean wrap up, and Anakin slipping into the Vader suit just so fans could see that.
I always thought that the movie would be more powerful without him in the Vader suit. Like if the movie ended with Anakin all battle damaged on a respirator, looking out the window, his eyes dead and vengeful, with just that breathing sound and his full descent into darkness complete… the audience knows what’s coming, we know it’s bad, but everything isn’t so dreadfully spelled out for us. That’s the movie I’m dying to see from any Star Wars installment– stop with the forced fan service, don’t underestimate your audience all the time, and hook us up with a little nuance for eff’s sake.
I want to take a moment to share a story with all of you beautiful Lurkers. As many of you know from my celebratory “20 years of Friendship” manifesto, I have an amazing best friend named Tierney. While Tierney and I have some overlapping fandoms and pop culture interests, there are many, many franchises that we simply don’t share. Star Wars was another one that she loved on her own without me for many, many years until I saw Attack of the Clones in theaters circa 2002 with an ex-boyfriend. After that, Tierney showed me the original trilogy in 2003 and I fell in love with the stories and the characters with whom I was familiar because they’re pop culture staples.
Therefore, Tierney had access to tons of Star Wars lore that I just wasn’t privy to, up to and including the fan-demanding question that everyone in 2005 needed to know, our original question we kicked this article off with: How did Anakin Skywalker finally turn to the dark side and get himself into that Vader-suit? It was a topic that she and I discussed often leading up to the theatrical release.
From the time Star Wars Episode III was announced until the moment we were sitting in our seats in the theater, Tierney (my resident Star Wars expert) relayed detailed stories of how Anakin became Vader. I think they were taken from book lore, but in retrospect, I wonder now how much was head canon or fan theories and speculation. And while I jokingly (to this day) refer to all semi-stiff actors as a student of the “Hayden Christensen School of Acting (TM)” I still enjoyed Hayden’s performance and hope he is invited to return to the franchise one of these days, in some capacity.
Okay, back to 2005. At this moment, we’re in the theater and the movie is playing. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s a midnight release and three screens at the movie theater are packed with rabid fans. The action is intense, the dark side of the force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural, Palpatine is the senate…it’s all just so amazing!
So, we’re nearing the end of the film. Anakin and Obi-wan fight, Obs has the high ground, skin is burning, limbs are chopping, and boom. Vader costume appears. The moment was so sudden and cheesy and filled with that special flavor of “cram it all into the movie” 2005 fan service we discussed a few minutes ago that it was all just so abrupt and shallow.
Tierney went pale and her face dropped, because what we saw onscreen was NOTHING like the stories she was hyping. I remember turning to her during a quiet moment during the movie, raising and eyebrow, and said “Is this how you remember it going down?” And she shook her head just slightly and gave this tiny “no” that was like a puff of defeated air coming out of her mouth.
The point of this article isn’t to challenge the prequels, pretend I could do better (see Anakin looking out the window full evil on a respirator fantasy shot above), or tear it apart. I love RoTS. I’m simply recounting a moment in time 15 years ago. For me, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones both remain fairly unmemorable save for bits and pieces of imagery, dialogue, characters, and gimmicks. I can forgive them because they didn’t impact me much. But Revenge of the Sith wasn’t like that– it was my Star Wars film. The first one I saw in theaters after I had fallen in love with a world. When these characters mattered to me. Before I realized it was all a cash grab of tropes moving around a chess board.
Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith mattered, and looking back at it from where we are now, in a post The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, & The Rise of Skywalker world, I can articulate that RoTS is an underdeveloped movie stuck in a world of politics with mostly unlikable characters. It’s underrated and its treatment of the characters was surface level and there was just far too much CGI. But at least it doesn’t undo and break the world in which it moves, like the Episodes 7-9 sequels to come.
What was your first impression of Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith when it first came out? Did you see it in theaters? What was your first Star Wars film in theaters? Tell PopLurker about it in the comments and get the conversation going!
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