Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith (part two)

part one

When last we left our intrepid Jedi – months and months ago – they they had just made their way through an immense space battle to land on General Grievous’s ship, through which they must now make their way to find the captive Chancellor Palpatine. This is pretty standard “infiltrate the enemy ship” stuff, but it’s all pretty fun to watch anyway, because Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen actually have pretty good chemistry together. In this whole sequence, I like how Christensen portrays Anakin as more self-assured, more confident, but less obviously-arrogant than he had been in Attack of the Clones. The effect goes a long way to highlight the tragedy of Anakin’s later fall from grace.

(Before I go on, I should note the very long stall in this series of posts, with an apology for those who actually enjoy reading this stuff. My reasons are the usual whiny “Nobody knows I’m doing this, but that Red Letter Media turd gets all kinds of love whenever he speaks!” stuff. So let’s just stipulate all that and move on, shall we? OK!)

R2-D2 is another part of the puzzle here, and he has his own problems. He is trying to lie low when a couple of battle droids enter the landing bay, but his efforts are stymied by the fact that Obi Wan keeps talking to him, very loudly, via the commlink. Thus R2 is distracted at several points where Obi Wan and Anakin would find having a droid plugged into the computer system fairly convenient.

All of this is pretty standard Star Wars derring-do as Obi Wan and Anakin make their way to the observation deck where they suspect Palpatine is being helped. I find it all a lot of fun to watch, and it could have been even longer, what with some deleted scenes from this sequence that are available on the DVD. In one scene, our two Jedi heroes wind up in the ship’s giant fuel pipes; in another, they are surrounded by droids and communicate with one another with baseball-coach type hand signals. These scenes are fun to watch, and I’m glad they’re on the DVD, but I don’t think they would have added much to the proceedings except for some fun action material. This entire sequence of the film takes an impressive bit of time, though, which is probably a good chunk of why it needed trimming.

Here again, by the way, we see R2 using his rockets that AOTC revealed, and yet another new gizmo: R2 has a supply of oil which he’s able to squirt on the battle droids and all over the ground before setting it on fire. As usual, a lot of Star Wars fans complained about this, but also as usual, I’m fine with it. For one thing, I rather like what is now something of a gag, which is that each time there’s a new Star Wars movie, we see something else that R2 can do. And what’s also nice is that really, none of these particular abilities is particularly outlandish given what an R2 unit essentially is: a robotic space mechanic. You know how, within reason and given the right set of attachments, you can do pretty much anything with a Dremel rotary tool or Multi-Max? Well, that’s what R2 is: a big, intelligent, Dremel tool. (Hmmmm…Dremel’s colors are blue and silver, not unlike a certain droid…hmmmm….)

The other thing that stands out in this entire sequence, once we land on the ship, is that there’s no music at all. We have music and all manner of sound effects when Obi Wan and Anakin are flying their ships through the space battle, but once we’re on General Grievous’s cruiser itself, there is no music at all: just ambient sounds of machines and distant explosions and wind in the elevator shafts and so on.

Our two Jedi reach the observation deck and find Palpatine there, restrained to a chair that looks a lot like the throne he will later use in Return of the Jedi. The room is bounded on all sides by giant windows that are overlooking the space battle. Now Dooku enters, and after a bit of preliminary boasting, the lightsaber battle begins:

OBI-WAN: (bows) Chancellor.

ANAKIN: Are you all right?

PALPATINE: (quietly) Count Dooku.

PALPATINE makes a small gesture with his hand. OBI-WAN and ANAKIN turn around. The elevator DOORS CAN BE HEARD OPENING AND CLOSING as COUNT DOOKU strides into the room. He is above the Jedi, standing on a balcony, with two SUPER BATTLE DROIDS. The Jedi turn to see him. He looks down on the Jedi. 

OBI-WAN: (quietly to Anakin) This time we will do it together.

ANAKIN: I was about to say that.

COUNT DOOKU jumps down to the main level. 

PALPATINE: Get help! You’re no match for him. He’s a Sith Lord.

OBI-WAN: Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lords are our specialty.

OBI-WAN and ANAKIN throw off their cloaks and ignite their lightsabers. 

COUNT DOOKU: Your swords, please, Master Jedi. We don’t want to make a mess of things in front of the Chancellor.

OBI-WAN and ANAKIN move toward DOOKU.

OBI-WAN: You won’t get away this time, Dooku.

OBI-WAN and ANAKIN charge COUNT DOOKU. A great sword fight ensues.

COUNT DOOKU: I’ve been looking forward to this.

ANAKIN: My powers have doubled since the last time we met, Count.

COUNT DOOKU: Good. Twice the pride, double the fall. 

I really like this scene…all of it. Especially the little reference to their last confrontation with Dooku, at the end of AOTC, when Anakin decided to charge in by himself and got tossed aside for his trouble. They lost that duel because they didn’t work together; this time, Anakin is willing to wait. But he hasn’t grown up too much; he is still willing to boast about the growth of his powers.

What happens next is something of a pitched duel in which it still seems that Dooku is their better; he again manages to toss Anakin aside, and then he again incapacitates Obi Wan. But this time, Anakin is much stronger and holds his own…only merely that, until Dooku says something else:

COUNT DOOKU: (continuing) I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate, you have anger, but you don’t use them.

This goading of Anakin proves ill-advised for Dooku, as he immediately uses his hate and his anger. A minute later, he cuts off Dooku’s hands and takes his saber, now holding two blades at the neck of the helpless Count. He knows that a Jedi is probably supposed to be merciful in such a situation, but Palpatine, laughing, tells Anakin: “Kill him. Kill him now.”

This is a deeply chilling moment. Palpatine’s warmth – feigned though we know it was in the previous two films – disappears instantly as Palpatine says “Kill him.” And when Anakin hesitates, Palpatine allows his coldest, harshest tone to come forth: “Do it.”

And Anakin does. Right there, with Palpatine looking on and with Dooku’s eyes wide as he realizes he’s just been betrayed, Anakin beheads the helpless Count.

Now this dialogue:

PALPATINE: You did well, Anakin. He was too dangerous to be kept alive.

ANAKIN drops COUNT DOOKU’s lightsaber, moving to PALPATINE. 

ANAKIN: Yes, but he was an unarmed prisoner.

ANAKIN raises his hands toward PALPATINE, who is strapped in the Admiral’s Chair. The Chancellor’s restraints pop loose. 

ANAKIN: (continuing) I shouldn’t have done that, Chancellor. It’s not the Jedi way.

PALPATINE stands up, rubbing his wrists. 

PALPATINE: It is only natural. He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge. It wasn’t the first time, Anakin. Remember what you told me about your mother and the Sand People. Now, we must leave before more security droids arrive. 

Something interesting happens here, something easy to miss. As noted, this scene takes place in an enormous observation room with giant windows on all sides, so that during the entire lightsaber duel, we can see the space battle raging in the sky beyond; and occasionally, we hear the sounds of ships as they fly by very close to the windows. At the moment that Palpatine refers to Anakin’s mother’s fate at the hands of the Sandpeople, there is a sound that could very well be a ship in space outside*, or it could be the cry of one of the Sandpeople. It’s a little aural reminder of what has gone before…and Palpatine is already starting to lay the groundwork for Anakin’s temptation to the Dark Side of the Force.

But what’s really interesting is that Palpatine allows Dooku to start that particular ball rolling, with his line about Anakin having hate, anger, but not using them. I always wonder…has Palpatine already decided to start working on Anakin’s conversion? Or has he just now realized the potential of what he has in Anakin?

In AOTC, Palpatine manipulated the Jedi Council to assign Obi Wan and Anakin to the protection of Padme following the assassination attempt. Was he doing that with the intent of pushing Anakin’s emotions to the fore, with temptation in mind, or was he simply working to sow seeds of dissent and distrust within the Jedi order? I might lean to the latter, except that we know that Palpatine has made good on his word to young Anakin from the end of TPM (“We will watch your career with great interest.”). It’s significant that Anakin has shared the dark secret of what happened to his mother – and what he did after that – with Palpatine.

As this scene ends, Anakin picks up the incapacitated Obi Wan and slings him over his shoulder, over Palpatine’s objections that they don’t have time to dally over him. “His fate will be our own,” says Anakin, and they start making their way back down to the landing bay.

Of course, this is a Star Wars film, so they don’t get there. They encounter some more trouble with elevators, this time when the cruiser they are on takes heavy fire and starts to aim straight down toward the planet, throwing off the perspective. Anakin and Palpatine enter an elevator shaft and start running down the walls, which are now the floors, since the ship is dropping straight down. But then the bridge crew gets things under control again, causing the ship to level back out again…which means that the walls of the elevator shaft are now walls again. Needless to say, they get out of this predicament, just as Obi Wan wakes back up; then they are back in a deserted corridor and trying to get back to the landing bay when they are imprisoned by something called “ray shields”. After Obi Wan protests “How did this happen? We’re smarter than this!”, Anakin suggests that they just patiently wait for R2D2 to come along and release them. Obi Wan is surprised that Anakin is suggesting patience, but the plan goes awry when R2 does, in fact, arrive…with a whole bunch of warrior droids with him. “Do you have a plan B?” Obi Wan asks…and that’s where I’ll stop for this time.

If it seems like I haven’t done much ‘fixing’ in a series called ‘Fixing the Prequels’, well, it’s generally because I think that the entire opening sequence of RotS is as masterfully done as anything in the entire Star Wars saga. There’s just nothing to fix here, but a lot to admire. Don’t worry, though; we’ll start fixing stuff next time out. In that installment we will deal with General Grievous, reunite two young lovers, and start to get hints of Darth Sidious’s plan to lower the shroud of the Dark Side over everything. Tune in! (And it won’t take the better part of a year to get there, either.)

* I know, I know, “Sound can’t travel in space”. For the purposes of Star Wars…actually, for most filmed SF in general…I just don’t care.

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5 Responses to Fixing the Prequels: Revenge of the Sith (part two)

  1. Ben Varkentine says:

    There's nothing wrong with Revenge of the Sith that chopping George Lucas' hands off before he ever wrote another line of dialogue couldn't have fixed.

  2. SamuraiFrog says:

    For the record, I enjoy these posts very much. And I despise the Red Letter nonsense. I was reading an article recently online and immediately stopped reading when Red Letter Media was held up as an example of insightful criticism. Oy.

  3. Jamnjazzz says:

    I am also a defender of the PT films…I recently re-watched them in order on successive weekends and think after 10 years or so they have not aged poorly. I will admit that at some points the dialogue is stiff and forced, but I see these films as different from the CT in theme and style.

    I will also, btw, be checking out the 3D releases that are coming up for the shear eye candy of the experience.


  4. Jason says:

    Can we get a big "Huzzah!" for the return of "Fixing the Prequels?" HUZZAH!

    Yes, I'm one of those who enjoy these things. And as usual, I generally agree with your thoughts, with a few quibbles/additions.

    First, I think Palpatine has been well aware of Anakin's potential from the moment he met the young boy. As far as I can remember (been a while since I watched these), there's no solid evidence in AOTC that Palpy has started to actively manipulate him yet — it's entirely possible that Annie getting involved with Padme was simply a brilliant stroke of luck for the old Sith lord — but he's obviously been cultivating a friendship with him for a very long time, presumably to keep him close by in case he decides Annie is someone he can turn. And during that time, he's been very subtly inculcating the boy with ideas about power and politics… maybe still not actually working on the kid, but planting seeds… I think Anakin's fall (and Palpatine's seduction of him) was a long time coming myself.

    I love the chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen in this scene and the space battle that preceded it, and wish there had been much more of this throughout the prequel trilogy. I realize, of course, that their relationship was different in AOTC, that they were master and student then and by ROTS they are closer to peers, but still… the prequels' biggest flaw, IMO, is that they are so often so very dour, without much of the twinkle-in-the-eye type stuff that characterized the original trilogy.

    Although I do agree that this whole sequence is very well done (especially Anakin's dispatching of Dooku, as you noted), there are a couple things about it that bug me. One is — I'm sorry to say — Artoo's rockets. Not because they're all that far-fetched or anything — you make a good point about him needing some ability to move around in space, given his function — but it really bothers me personally that there's no hint of them in the original trilogy. What, did they get disconnected at some point between ROTS and ANH? It strikes me as a big old anachronism. But that's me. For what it's worth, my lady feels like you do and has no problem with them.

    My biggest gripe about this scene, however, is all that business about the walls and floors as the ship noses downward. I can buy noise in space, but when you're generating your own gravity field, it doesn't matter which way the ship is pointed… down remains down. All it would have taken to satisfy me on this point is a throwaway line about the gravity field oscillating as the ship starts to break up, or some such. That's one of the maddening things about the prequels… so many of the problems could have been so easily fixed with throwaway lines. But then, you know this… that's the whole point of the exercise…

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  5. Kelly Sedinger says:

    Here's the thing about R2's rockets: why should we assume that he didn't have them in the Original Trilogy? I'm hard-pressed to think of a time in the first three (released) movies where R2 really needed a pair of rockets. Maybe on Dagobah, but then again, maybe not. He seemed to do just fine without them.

    On the gravity generator: Hmmm. Never really thought of that. There is a line where one of the commanders says "Magnetize! magnetize!" But…geez, I dunno.

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