Aaaaand again, it’s been ridiculously long for an installment of this series, for which, again, my apologies. But this time the reason is different, aside from the fact that time, as always,, continues to occasionally get away from me. No, this time I’ve genuinely been vexed with how to fix the part of Revenge of the Sith we’re now entering.
This part of the film – the political part – is the most problematic. After a slam-bang first forty minutes or so, the film has to spend half an hour or so going set-up for the last hour, which will include, as we well know going into this one, all manner of grim stuff happening. As a well-established lover of all things Star Wars, I don’t dislike this part of the movie, but I do have to admit that structurally, this is the weakest part of Sith. It’s mostly a lot of talking, and I’ve really had trouble figuring out what to do here.
So part of what I did was reconnect myself with the entirety of the Star Wars saga by rewatching, over the course of six consecutive Sundays, all six movies (in their proper order: ANH, TESB, RotJ, TPM, AotC, Sith). And while I’m on that subject, I highly recommend doing precisely this! When watched in fairly close quarters like that, the emotional beats of the entire story become a lot more clear. And as fas as this blog series goes, the rewatch more than served its purpose, because it crystallized for me a few things about this movie:
1. There are times when George Lucas chooses to linger when he should move.
2. Conversely, there are times when Lucas moves when he should linger a bit!
3. The film doesn’t contain quite enough politics.
4. The film doesn’t quite connect the dots strongly enough with regard to Anakin’s temptation.
Again, these observations are meant more mildly than they might sound. I think that Sith is a fantastic experience, but it could have been even better had the Problem Portion worked just a bit better. The problem here, I think lies in the talky nature of the material and the fact that a lot of the talk is, well, rather stilted and expository in nature. So, what to do?
Well, there are two possible ways we can go. We can add more action in order to give the impression of plot movement by having things explode. I didn’t want to do that because you have to justify action, and I don’t see how to do that and retain what we need of the political material without resulting in a hugely bloated movie, so I’m prepared to stick with the action in the film that exists. That leaves the other option, which is to make all that talking more interesting in itself.
And how do we do that? Well…and given some of my recent postings, I can’t believe I’m saying this…but we need to take a lesson here from Aaron Sorkin.
I may have spent lots of time ripping the guy recently, and for what I feel are entirely justifiable reasons, but if there’s one thing we can learn from the fairly consistent success of Aaron Sorkin’s scripted films and shows, it’s that lots of talking need not be boring. At his best, Sorkin was able to make the corridors of politics a deeply fascinating place. That’s what needs to happen with Sith…maybe not in Sorkin’s style, obviously. I don’t want characters answering every yes/no question affirmatively with “Yeah”; I don’t want people referring to “the thing” or “this thing” or saying “I’ve gotta go do a thing”; I don’t want Anakin complaining to Obi Wan that the Jedi Council has just “screwed me with my pants on”. But more dynamic conversation, more quickly applied, is certainly called for.
So! When we left off, Anakin had started having nightmares about Padme’s death in childbirth, and in an act of total responsibility that I find pretty impressive (especially as no one seems to notice it), Anakin took his problem to Yoda, who then helpfully told him basically, “Death happens. Let it and don’t be sad when it does.” Yoda’s advice is, shall we say, not all that useful.
So now we start getting into some politics. What is the aim here? Well, we have to show Anakin’s increasing ties to the Chancellor eroding his confidence in the Jedi. We also need to establish that the Chancellor is slowly but surely acquiring enormous amounts of power, to the alarm of the Jedi. This story isn’t just the fall of Anakin Skywalker, it’s about the seizure of power by the Sith and the fall of the Jedi order. Now, in the original script and in some deleted scenes, the seeds of what will eventually be the Rebel Alliance are sown, but none of this made it into the finished film, on the basis that those scenes slow things down too much (and this is not a point without merit). Finally, it seems to me that at least a bit of light needs to be shone upon the exact relationship of the Jedi to the Chancellor and Senate, and on the public in the Galaxy’s view of the Jedi. How to do all this? Read on!
Just after Anakin’s scene with Yoda, he runs to get to a war briefing by Obi Wan, and he gets there late. I would add a little bit, in blue, and what didn’t make the film in red:
INT. CORUSCANT-JEDI TEMPLE-BRIEFING ROOM-DAY
ANAKIN rushes into the Briefing Room. By the time he reaches the Chamber, the last of the Jedi are leaving. Only OBI-WAN remains at the front of the lecture hall. He is shutting off some holograms and electronic charts and maps.
OBI-WAN: You missed the report on the Outer Rim sieges.
ANAKIN: I’m sorry, I was held up. I have no excuse.
OBI-WAN: In short, they are going very well. Saleucami has fallen, and Master Vos has moved his troops to Boz Pity.
ANAKIN: What’s wrong then?
OBI-WAN: The Senate is expected to vote more executive powers to the Chancellor today.
ANAKIN: What powers?
OBI-WAN: The Chancellor wishes the authority to commission more clones from Kamino, and to appoint regional governors to directly control Republic affairs in their territories.
ANAKIN: Well, that can only mean less deliberating and more action. Is that bad? It will make it easier for us to end this war.
OBI-WAN: Anakin, be careful of your friend Palpatine.
ANAKIN: Be careful of what?
OBI-WAN: He has requested your presence.
ANAKIN: What for?
OBI-WAN: He would not say.
ANAKIN: He didn’t inform the Jedi Council? That’s unusual, isn’t it?
OBI-WAN: All of this is unusual, and it’s making me feel uneasy. You’re probably aware that relations between the Council and the Chancellor are stressed.
ANAKIN: I know the Council has grown wary of the Chancellor’s power, mine also for that matter. Aren’t we all working together to save the Republic? Why all this distrust?
OBI-WAN: The Force grows dark, Anakin, and we are all affected by it. Be wary of your feelings. The Council isn’t concerned about your power, Anakin. But they are concerned about how close you are to Palpatine.
I add the little bit enumerating the specific powers being voted upon because I generally think it’s best to be more specific when you can.
Now, in the movie, we cut right to Palpatine’s office, and Anakin and Palpatine are slowly walking around the enormous room, having a discussion. Only about half of it shows up in the film, though:
INT. CORUSCANT-CHANCELLOR’S OFFICE-DAY
ANAKIN stands with PALPATINE at his window overlooking the vastness of Coruscant. Several buildings have been destroyed. A brown haze hangs over the landscape.
PALPATINE: Anakin, this afternoon the Senate is going to call on me to take direct control of the Jedi Council.
ANAKIN: The Jedi will no longer report to the Senate?
PALPATINE: They will report to me . . . personally. The Senate is too unfocused to conduct a war. This will bring a quick end to things.
ANAKIN: I agree, but the Jedi Council may not see it that way.
PALPATINE: There are times when we must all endure adjustments to the constitution in the name of security.
ANAKIN: With all due respect, sir, the Council is in no mood for more constitutional amendments.
PALPATINE: Thank you, my friend, but in this case I have no choice . . . this war must be won.
ANAKIN: Everyone will agree on that.
PALPATINE: Anakin, I’ve known you since you were a small boy. I have advised you over the years when I could … I am very proud of your accomplishments. You have won many battles the Jedi Council thought were lost . . . and you saved my life. I hope you trust me, Anakin.
ANAKIN: Of course.
PALPATINE: I need your help, son.
ANAKIN: What do you mean?
PALPATINE: I fear the Jedi. The Council keeps pushing for more control. They’re shrouded in secrecy and obsessed with maintaining their autonomy . . . ideals. I find simply incomprehensible in a democracy.
ANAKIN: I can assure you that the Jedi are dedicated to the values of the Republic, sir.
PALPATINE: Nevertheless, their actions will speak more loudly than their words. I’m depending on you.
ANAKIN: For what? I don’t understand.
PALPATINE: To be the eyes, ears, and voice of the Republic . . .
ANAKIN thinks about this.
PALPATINE: (continuing) Anakin . . . I’m appointing you to be my personal representative on the Jedi Council.
ANAKIN: Me? A Master? I am overwhelmed, sir, but the Council elects its own members. They will never accept this.
PALPATINE: I think they will . . . they need you more than you know.
As I watched all six movies, I noticed that George Lucas – even in TESB and RotJ, the ones he didn’t direct – likes to join scenes with conversations already in progress (good example: in ANH, after Ben rescues Luke from the Sandpeople, we cut to Ben’s home and Luke is saying, “No, my father didn’t fight in the wars, he was a navigator on a spice freighter.”). A lot of the time it works, but there are a couple of times – most notably the fireplace scene in AotC — where it doesn’t. This is another such example. I suspect that the scene was cut as is to keep it short and simple, but sometimes short and sweet isn’t so great. Interestingly, this scene as written openly addresses something I wondered about while rewatching the PT: the relation between the Jedi and the Republic. This scene strongly indicates that the Jedi are virtually an independent body, and very rigid in guarding their independence. And that, frankly, seems a tad important to me.
I’d like to establish all this, but I wouldn’t do it this way, with a simple Anakin-and-Palpatine in the office thing. Instead I would replace this whole scene with a longer sequence:
EXTERIOR: Coruscant – Senate building – dusk.
The sun is setting behind the great Senate building.
INTERIOR: Senate chamber.
The Galactic Senate is in session, with PALPATINE presiding from his center rostrum. A SENATOR FROM MALASTARE has the floor.
MALASTARE SENATOR: We have heard the reports from the Jedi that their offensive is pushing back the Separatist armies, but if that were true, how could General Grievous have launched such a devastating attack against the very heart of the Republic? How can we trust the Jedi reports of success when they just barely avoided utter failure in our own skies? Malastare moves that an immediate investigation into this affair be undertaken!
PADME: This is outrageous!
The Senate pod from Naboo floats out into the debate space, bearing PADME and JAR JAR BINKS.
PALPATINE: The Senator from Naboo.
PADME: The Jedi have served the Republic with honor for a thousand generations! If we question them now–
MALASTARE SENATOR: This failure was theirs. The Force did not warn them of the attack, did it? This war grinds on and on, and now, look about you! A third of this body is vacant, and a third of these Pods stand empty because their systems have joined the Separatists! The Jedi are failing us. Chancellor, I serve official notice that Malastare is introducing an amendment to place the Jedi Council under the direct authority of the Chancellor and the Senate!
PADME: No! You can’t–
She is drowned out by the shouts from every Senator in the building as the entire place erupts with fierce debate.
MAS AMEDDA: Order! Order in the Senate! Order!
Through all this, PALPATINE shows almost no reaction, even when he meets PADME’s gaze.
INTERIOR: Senate building – Shuttle bay.
PALPATINE is walking toward his personal shuttle, with MAS AMEDDA and his councilors behind him.
MAS AMEDDA: Will you schedule a vote on the Malastare amendment?
PALPATINE: I shall hold that off as long as I can, but eventually the Senate will force the issue…ah, Anakin!
ANAKIN rises from his seat outside the shuttle.
ANAKIN: Chancellor. I was told you wished to see me.
PALPATINE: I do. Come.
He takes ANAKIN aboard the shuttle.
INTERIOR: Chancellor’s shuttle – continuous.
PALPATINE and ANAKIN sit down inside the shuttle as it departs for the Chancellor’s office building.
PALPATINE: These Senate sessions become harder and harder to control. Odd, with fewer and fewer Senators.
ANAKIN: I watched it on the screen. The Jedi Council will not easily submit to being placed under Senate control, no matter what law they pass.
PALPATINE: I agree, which is why I wished to speak with you. I’d heard that Malastare was planning to propose that amendment, but I’d hoped those rumors were false. Perhaps what I have in mind will ease the Senate’s concerns somewhat.
PALPATINE: I need your help, son. I need you to become the eyes and ears of the Republic.
ANAKIN: I don’t follow–
PALPATINE: The Republic has faced times like these before, Anakin. The Jedi Council’s independence was not always taken for granted. I have decided to invoke a very old statute and make a direct appointment to the Jedi Council.
It starts to dawn on ANAKIN….
PALPATINE: I wish you to be my personal representative to the Jedi. They will resist, but I have the right. Of course, by their own by-laws, this will force them to do what they should have done years ago, and make you a full Jedi Master.
ANAKIN: A Master?! Sir…I am…I don’t know what to say….
PALPATINE: You need not say anything. In fact, if the Council’s reaction is what I expect, you may not even wish to thank me. But the Republic needs you, Anakin. More than you know.
EXTERIOR: Sky above Coruscant.
The Shuttle arcs toward the Capital building.
INTERIOR: Senate building – corridor.
PADME is walking with several other SENATORS.
PADME: We have to start working to assemble a coalition that will back the Jedi Council. We can’t have these divisions in the middle of a war–
A young SENATE PAGE approaches, bows, and hands PADME a slip of paper, which she unfolds and reads.
PADME: Thank you.
The PAGE runs off.
SENATOR: We will not vote to obstruct the Jedi.
PADME: Thank you. If you’ll excuse me, I’m late for a meeting….
She nods a farewell and then heads off down another corridor.
INTERIOR: Senate building – Observation room.
The observation room is near the top of the Senate building itself, overlooking the mighty expanse of the Coruscant city. PADME enters and is greeted by SENATOR BAIL ORGANA and several other SENATORS, including a tall and regal-looking WOMAN.
PADME: Senator Organa? Why are we up here instead of one of our offices?
BAIL ORGANA: Greetings, Senator Amidala. I believe you know the others.
PADME: Yes, good to see you all. (to the WOMAN) You’re newly elected?
WOMAN: Just last month. I am Mon Mothma.
PADME: Oh yes. Of Chandrila. A pleasure, and my apologies – I usually get around to welcoming new Senators more quickly. But why are we up here?
BAIL ORGANA: These observation rooms are informal locations.
PADME: And not subject to Senate guidelines for official business. I think I understand.
MON MOTHMA: Those of us here have concerns about some things that are happening in the Republic, and we think that you may share some of those concerns.
PADME glances from face to face in the room. Something about this seems harmless, and yet deeply significant. She knows that a line is about to be crossed….
PADME: Go on.
The point here is to show a number of things: that the Jedi are facing opposition not just from the Chancellor but from the Senate as well, to get the bit in there about Palpatine intruding upon the functions of the Jedi Council while seeming reasonable about doing so, and to show what is probably the moment when the Rebel Alliance is born.
It really struck me how skillfully Palpatine played the Jedi Council and Anakin and everyone else, when I rewatched the films. He just doesn’t seem all that unreasonable in doing some of the things he does, before he unmasks himself. Of course, a part of that is the amazing performance of Ian McDiarmid, whose performances as Palpatine in the Prequels are, to my mind, criminally underrated. He gives Palpatine a kind of fatherly gravitas that is utterly convincing and all the more chilling when it starts to become clear what he’s up to.
And that’s where we’ll stop. The galactic politics continues next time! Excelsior!