It should be admitted up front, before we get stuck into the third installment of my Star Wars rewatch, that I do not like this movie, and I will probably be crying. The final movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it brings us into a galaxy torn apart by war. The Republic is led by Chancellor Palpatine, the Separatists by Count Dooku. When the terrifying Separatist general Grievous manages to abduct Palpatine the very heart of the Republic, a ferocious battle is fought above Coruscant. This scene shows the viewer immediately what warfare in the Clone Wars looks like – the galaxy is on fire.
Among the combatants are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Anakin, particularly, is in his element here – even R2-D2 has had a few lethal upgrades (behold a cute moment in this otherwise doom-laden movie when Obi-Wan and Anakin yell praise at R2-D2). Thanks to Anakin’s sharp-shooting, the two Jedi get aboard Grievous’ ship and fight their way up to the level where Palpatine is being guarded by Dooku himself.
Dooku is – just really excellent. Obi-Wan is knocked out early on, leaving Dooku and Anakin to battle it out. At last, Anakin gets revenge for his severed arm with a wicked blow that takes off both Dooku’s hands and then, on Palpatine’s order and against his own better judgement, Anakin cuts off Dooku’s head. Palpatine also tries to abandon the unconscious Obi-Wan, insisting there’s no time to help him, but Anakin won’t leave him behind. Not that the gesture really helps, as they are all swiftly recaptured by Grievous, a huge insectoid cyborg-type creature with a lightsaber fetish. Once more R2-D2 saves the day with a well-timed distraction, allowing the Jedi to slash their way out of there and land the badly damaged spacecraft safely on Coruscant. Though Grievous got away, it is still an important victory for the Republic, confirming Anakin’s war hero status.
But he has other things on his mind, like a reunion with his secret wife. In a really public location, behind a Very Discreet Pillar. Anakin feels Padme shaking and assumes the worst (this is a very bad habit of his), only to be told that she is pregnant with his child. Which is – not the best news, under the circumstances, what with her being a high profile, already controversial Senator and him a supposedly celibate Jedi, how is it that they can build advanced prosthetics and sentient droids in this society but have not mastered reliable contraception? Anakin tells her not to worry about the future. Spoiler alert, he will not take his own advice.
Grievous, now leader of the Separatist droid army, is instructed by Darth Sidious to move their base of operations to the Mustafar system. Sidious does not consider Dooku’s death to be any great loss, telling Grievous that another Sith Lord, younger and more powerful, is already waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile, Padme has not taken Anakin’s advice either, being her usual proactive self and planning where she’s going to have her baby (on Naboo, somewhere quiet and peaceful) while Anakin gazes at her with burning intensity. They argue over who loves who more. The happy interlude lasts until Anakin falls asleep, when he has traumatic dreams of Padme dying in childbirth. He is terrified they will come true. WHAT KIND OF FUTURISTIC SOCIETY DO YOU CALL THIS? You can have CLONE ARMIES but not safe childbirth? What the hell does that say?
(Sexism is the word you are looking for, sexism is what it says, and lazy plotting, and the unquestioned narrative expectation that childbirth is a medieval torture scenario. I am not crying, I am enraged. What’s more, Padme admits that her Queen will probably not allow her to continue serving as a Senator when news of the pregnancy spreads. Apparently maternity leave is not a thing. )
Padme is gentle with Anakin, since the last time he had dreams like that they heralded his mother’s death, and suggests bringing Obi-Wan in on the secret. Anakin dismisses that idea at once. He does go to Yoda, to ask as vaguely as he can about premonitions, but Yoda’s response is to tell him that death is a natural part of life and Anakin should rejoice for those who ‘transform into the Force’. He advises Anakin to focus on letting go of ‘everything you fear to lose’. Yoda, frankly, sucks at advice.
Anakin’s next difference of opinion is with Obi-Wan, who is troubled by the accumulation of new powers that wartime has given Palpatine. Anakin sees it as a necessary cutting of red tape; summoned to speak to the Chancellor in private, it is clear he doesn’t so much see Palpatine as a friend but as a mentor, like a morally questionable grandda. When Palpatine appoints him as his personal representative on the Jedi Council, the rest of the Council are just as outraged as you might expect and take it out on Anakin by refusing to make him a Jedi Master. Obi-Wan (also on the Council, as an actual Master) later confesses that the only reason Anakin’s appointment was accepted at all was in the hope he would turn spy against the Chancellor.
It is a terrible thing to ask of Anakin, who is fervently and unflinchingly loyal to those he considers worthy. Obi-Wan is also in a difficult position, defending his former Padawan against Yoda and Mace Windu’s suspicion and distrust. When Anakin shares his unhappiness with Padme, she offers an even more unpleasant view of events: that the Republic itself may have twisted out of all recognition, becoming its own true enemy. She asks Anakin to speak to the Chancellor, to persuade him to reopen diplomatic relations with the Separatists, but of course Anakin sees the request as another exploitation.
Palpatine offers a different way to end the war: Grievous has been found and Palpatine wants Anakin to be the one sent to deal with him. He tells Anakin of his fear that the Jedi Council want full control of the Republic, not just its armies; Anakin doesn’t know what to think. “Good is a point of view, Anakin,” Palpatine continues, and relates the legend of a Sith Lord so powerful he could keep loved ones from death. Instead of wondering just how the Chancellor of the Republic knows so much Sith history, Anakin’s attention zeroes in on the promise of miraculous power. It is a tantalising possibility.
With resources stretched thin, Yoda heads out to Kashyyyk to support the Wookiees, but joins the Council from afar as a hologram to discuss what to do about Grievous. Anakin unwisely announces Palpatine’s request that he should take this mission; predictably, the Council goes against him, choosing to send Obi-Wan. Yoda then turns to the battle at hand, and we get to see an army of Wookiee warriors tearing apart war machines WITH THEIR BARE CLAWS.
Obi-Wan tries to downplay the snub to Anakin, and gently counsels him to have patience. Anakin appears to take his words to heart. They separate on excellent terms and Obi-Wan heads out, bantering cheerfully with his clone lieutenants. Anakin, however, is in no such light temper. He feels Obi-Wan doesn’t trust him, knows the Council don’t, and has become so obsessed with the idea of ‘saving’ Padme that he doesn’t seem to understand she’s still very much alive and well.
Landing in a remote settlement to refuel for his search, Obi-Wan is told that the people there are being held hostage by Grievous and his battle droids. Obi-Wan sends his fighter craft back to the main ship to fetch reinforcements while he remains behind; riding the most incredible lizard, he scales the sheer rock of the settlement’s walls to reach the level where Grievous is based and jumps out of hiding to face him and a circle of battle droids all on his own. The only reason he isn’t shot down straight away is that lightsaber fetish Grievous has – he wants to defeat Obi-Wan personally and claim his weapon as part of the super creepy collection he’s got going. Whirling a lightsaber from each of his four limbs, he turns into a glow-in-the-dark scything machine and Obi-Wan is doubting his life choices.
A few well-aimed strikes even the odds, though, bringing Grievous down to two lightsabers and distracting him while Obi-Wan’s clone forces move into place. They launch their attack; Obi-Wan uses the Force to throw Grievous into a wall. Grievous calls it a wash and makes an escape, with Obi-Wan in hot pursuit on his (really, really adorable) lizard. The clone leading the attack reports to the Jedi Council and Mace Windu orders Anakin to pass it on to the Chancellor personally, alert to any tells Palpatine may let slip. The Council is so concerned about Palpatine’s personal authority that they have begun talking about how to remove him…just as he told Anakin they would.
Anakin is very uneasy about Obi-Wan going into battle without him; I get the impression that they usually fight together (I haven’t watched the animated series The Clone Wars, so I can’t say for sure). Palpatine hones in on that anxiety, and on Anakin’s growing feeling of isolation from his fellow Jedi, assuring him that the Council are envious of his power. Palpatine reveals that he, too, has studied the Force, both the Light Side and the Dark, and offers – sounding deeply reasonable – to widen Anakin’s horizons. Anakin puts it together and draws his lightsaber. “You’re the Sith Lord,” he accuses, and Palpatine calmly asks if Anakin is going to kill him.
Anakin does not. He doesn’t know what to do. Palpatine may be a Sith Lord, but he offers a chance to save Padme…who is STILL NOT DEAD, for pity’s sake, Anakin, just research some decent medical care!
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is battling Grievous. He’s not doing too well. Hanging over the edge of a cliff, he manages to draw a gun to his hand and sets the flesh sections of Grievous on fire – the Separatist general falls to the ground, very dead. Mace Windu has just been informed of that when Anakin arrives to impart what he’s learned about Palpatine. Responding in true ‘I suck at basic human relations’ Jedi Councillor fashion, Windu first refuses to bring Anakin in on the arrest of Palpatine and then makes it clear that he’s only now coming to trust Anakin’s word (because Anakin has told him what he wanted to hear…). Left alone to brood on Palpatine’s promises, Anakin’s internal conflict reaches fever pitch. Hayden Christensen is a brilliant actor, conveying the internal breakdown without dialogue or action, just through the desolate look on his face. Anakin was the boy who could do anything. Now he is the man who might do anything.
Mace Windu brings a group of Jedi to apprehend Palpatine, who responds by drawing a red lightsaber and launching into a dizzyingly swift attack. Windu draws his own lightsaber (purple, the coolest lightsaber of them all, bar none) but Palpatine is unstoppable, taking out all three of Windu’s Jedi and pushing Windu’s own abilities to the limit. Anakin, having decided to disobey his orders, arrives in time to see Palpatine disarmed, to all appearances terrified under Mace Windu’s descending lightsaber – until lightning bolts shoot from Palpatine’s hands. Using this power drains the life out of Palpatine’s face, ageing him rapidly, but Mace Windu is being forced backwards. Each one is calling the other a traitor, looking to Anakin for help.
And Anakin tries. He wants Palpatine to stand trial; Mace Windu, pointing out Palpatine’s power in both the Courts and the Senate, wants to finish this now. When he brings down his lightsaber, Anakin cuts off his arm, and Palpatine kills him with a massive jolt of lightning. The loyalties that held Anakin to the Jedi Council have snapped. He is Palpatine’s creature now, a slave again, this time in his own head. The only thing he asks in return is to keep Padme alive. Palpatine takes him as his apprentice, and renames him Darth Vader.
It is a choice. Everything that happens afterwards, happens not because Anakin made that choice – it happens because he never once looks back, just wades deeper into bloody waters, and every step he takes is his own choice. I will be calling him Vader now.
Palpatine tells Vader that the Jedi will kill both of them once the truth of their actions is known (probably true) and kill all the Senators (definitely not true, though Vader swallows it down without effort). When Palpatine orders the destruction of the Jedi Order – including the death of Obi-Wan – Vader accepts that too. Leading a battalion of clone troopers, Vader walks through the doors of the Jedi Temple and commits a massacre. He kills everyone there, people who had trusted him, including the children. Across the galaxy, the clone armies receive a secret order from Palpatine and turn on their Jedi leaders. It is a betrayal monumental in scope, and I do not want to be watching it.
I really do not like this movie.
The shockwaves of so many deaths hit Yoda in an almost physical way. He is very small, and very old, and he is very, very hard to kill. When his clone troopers turn on him, he fights back and the Wookiees help him. Am I crying? Yes. Yes, I am.
It is at such times that you find out who is willing to stand up and take a risk. Bail Organa, an ally of Padme’s in the Senate, goes straight to the Temple to find out what is happening and sees a Jedi child gunned down in front of him. He gets away with the knowledge this wasn’t a rebellion, it was a slaughter.
But Obi-Wan has survived; he crashed into deep water, though that gorgeous lizard was not so lucky. The Wookiees help Yoda escape in a shuttle. One of those brave allies is Chewbacca – it’s not the last time he’ll have to make choices about which side to take in a battle over the Force, only unlike Anakin Skywalker, Chewbacca has EXCELLENT JUDGEMENT. Bail Organa, bless that man forever, reaches out to find any Jedi who may remain alive and gets through to Obi-Wan, warning him of what’s happening on Coruscant.
Padme, who only knows that there was an attack on the Jedi Temple, gratefully welcomes her husband’s return. He feeds her the propaganda about a Jedi rebellion and announces his intention to serve the Chancellor, overriding Padme’s concerns for Obi-Wan. This entire scene is desperately creepy. Telling her that he’s going to the Mustafar system to finish off the Separatist leaders (also on Palpatine’s orders), Vader leaves. Padme lets him. She trusts him.
R2-D2 has doubts. Always the voice of reason, that droid.
Obi-Wan and Yoda meet up aboard Bail Organa’s spacecraft and the full scale of the disaster begins to sink in. Learning that a coded signal has gone out, calling all the Jedi back to the compromised Temple, Obi-Wan is determined to get to Coruscant and disable the signal in case it lures in any other survivors. Bail Organa receives a summons of his own to an emergency Senate meeting.
In the Mustafar system, Vader enacts another massacre, this time of the Separatist leaders. Among them is the Viceroy of the Trade Federation, who has been Palpatine’s pawn all along and now dies for it. It is notable that Vader leaves R2-D2 with the ship – his droid has more of a conscience than he does. And might tell Padme.
At the Temple, Yoda and Obi-Wan cut a path through the clone guards to get inside. They walk among their dead. When they find the bodies of children killed by a lightsaber, they know the betrayal came from among their own. In the Senate, Palpatine declares that the fractured Republic will be pulled back together as a Galactic Empire. “So this is how liberty dies,” Padme says bitterly to Bail, “with thunderous applause.”
Obi-Wan recalibrates the code to warn any survivors to stay away from Coruscant, then recovers footage from the attack. He is horrified to discover that the traitor is his own former student. He knows the Sith have to be stopped but begs Yoda to send him after Sidious instead – Yoda, however, knows he is not strong enough to take on the Master. Obi-Wan will have to kill the man he thought of as a brother. He goes to Padme, telling her what Vader has done; she frantically tries to deny it and when Obi-Wan has left, sets off for Mustafar to question her husband for herself, taking only C3-PO with her. Of course, Obi-Wan stows away on board her spacecraft.
Padme pleads with Vader to come away with her, to leave this hellscape behind. How she could still want that after he borderline confirms he killed the Jedi, I don’t know. Maybe it has not sunk in yet. When Vader eagerly expounds on his new abilities, however, Padme starts backing away, seeing what Obi-Wan has seen. This is not the man she loves. “Don’t you turn against me,” Vader threatens her, which says absolutely everything about the type of ‘love’ he is capable of. When he sees Obi-Wan emerging from the craft, he assumes she has betrayed him and chokes her unconscious with the Force – would have kept choking her, from the look of it, if not for Obi-Wan’s intervention. Predictably, Vader blames Obi-Wan for everything. He shouts about the lies of the Jedi while Obi-Wan checks that the woman he’s supposed to love above everything else is even still alive. That’s the real motto of the Dark Side: there is always somebody else to blame.
Vader attacks. There’s something terrible about seeing two blue lightsabers fighting against each other. It is savage, fought above the lava flow of a volcanic planet. On Coruscant, another duel explodes between Palpatine and Yoda, within the Senate building itself. Both sets of combatants are very well-matched. Palpatine has lightning; Yoda can contain it. Vader is an expertly-trained warrior; Obi-Wan trained him that way. But Palpatine has the stronger position, and Yoda is forced to flee with Bail Organa’s help. On Mustafar, Obi-Wan gains the upper hand, giving Vader near-fatal wounds, but can’t bring himself to strike the killing blow. The lava sets Vader on fire and Obi-Wan walks away, unwilling to help, unable to watch.
He returns to Padme. She is in a bad state of what looks like shock and they leave the planet at once. Palpatine, meanwhile, arrives on Mustafar and finds Vader horrifically burned, but living. Obi-Wan rejoins Yoda and Bail Organa, bringing Padme to a medical facility for treatment. It’s not enough. She has lost the will to live. While Palpatine rebuilds Vader with a new body of metal, the medical droids operate to save the twins Padme is carrying. Obi-Wan, a true friend to the end, stays with her. He is the first person in the world to meet her children, Luke and Leia. He is the last person in the world to see her alive. She insists to the end that there is good in Anakin; Vader’s only question on waking up is where Padme is, and is told that he killed her. Which is more or less true.
The people who really care about Padme take her body back to Naboo and decide how best to keep her children safe. Leia is taken in by Bail Organa. Obi-Wan agrees to take Luke to Shmi Skywalker’s family on Tatooine. Why they imagine Vader won’t look there, if he decides to start looking, I don’t know, it seems obvious to me. But Obi-Wan plans to stay and keep watch over Luke. Yoda tells him that in his self-imposed exile, Obi-Wan will be training with…Qui-Gon…dead Qui-Gon, who is a ghost now? Immortal, in that ‘one with the Force, can’t actually help anybody’ kind of a way? It’s really, really weird, but it makes Obi-Wan a tiny bit happy on the worst day imaginable, so let’s let that one go.
Vader is at Palpatine’s side aboard a Star Destroyer, overseeing the construction of the Empire’s ultimate weapon: the Death Star. Bail leaves C3-PO and R2-D2 with Antilles, one of his captains, with an order to wipe C3-PO’s memory, clearly not trusting in the droid’s discretion. On Naboo, a funeral procession is held for Padme, the escort including her old friends Jar-Jar Binks and Boss Nass. I’ll say it again: these are the people who loved her. And her babies are safe in other arms.
The original trilogy is a very simple story, really, running on fairy tale logic: heroes versus monsters, good versus evil. Our protagonists are comfortingly attractive while Darth Vader, the Emperor and Jabba the Hutt are suitably grotesque. The prequels, however, are a more complex myth. Yes, our hero is a beautiful man with a charming smile, but he is not to be trusted. The Jedi Order are stagnant in arrogance; the Republic is corrupt. The only thing that makes a person good is their choices, and Anakin Skywalker chose to destroy everything he ever loved. And the prophecy fulfilled itself, simply by existing, because prophecies are not to be trusted either. At the end of Revenge of the Sith, the Force is indeed in balance: two Sith, and two Jedi.
But that is all about to change.