There are those who, like me, are Star Wars fans but do not like the prequels. Within this subset slice of humanity, there are some who believe Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) is good. I can understand some of the reasoning behind this flawed notion. After all, for all their warts, the prequels are still Star Wars. While I have mentioned in previous reviews of this trilogy that I pretend that they do not exist, they are still part of the canon that I adore. Nonetheless, I stand by my feigned ignorance, and I rely on Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020) to fill in the details. In this way, the prequels are simply poorly written, slightly longer entries in a much longer saga. We all know, at least those who follow such things, that Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) becomes Darth Vader. Because this movie tells the story so poorly, I wish even more that it had not been made. Some things are better when left up to the imagination.
After going with my more classic format in talking about Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), I will revert to my thematic approach that I use for more familiar titles like Revenge of the Sith. The first place we should start is with Anakin, and more specifically with his relationship with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Iain McDiarmid). It is clear to everyone, other characters and audiences alike, that the chancellor is manipulating Anakin. The first moment comes early on when Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to rescue the leader of the Republic from Darth Tyrannus (Christopher Lee) aboard a Separatist battleship. Obi-Wan is rendered unconscious during the fight, but Anakin subdues their long-time foe. At Palpatine’s bidding, Anakin beheads the disarmed enemy, which is not in keeping with the Jedi Code, though nobody takes notice in the mad scramble to get off the ship. In “gratitude,” Palpatine essentially orders the Jedi to make Anakin a member of their leadership council and elevate him to the rank of Jedi Master. The move is not taken well by the Jedi. They agree to the proposal, but refuse to make Anakin a master, which further pushes the volatile, newly minted council member further into Palpatine’s arms. Not that Anakin is noticing, of course. Instead, while viewing some kind of performance, Palpatine reveals that he knows how to stop people from dying. This is of interest to Anakin because he has had visions of his pregnant wife, Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), dying. This is something he will not let happen, and for the moment Anakin glosses over the part of Palpatine’s speech that suggests that such power comes from the dark side of the Force. Anakin is supposed to be a servant of the light, but he will do anything to protect his wife, or so it would seem. It takes Palpatine coming right out and admitting that he is a Sith Lord that Anakin finally takes this threat seriously. While the Jedi Council receives the news with alarm, they tell Anakin to sit out the coming confrontation with Palpatine. Instead, Jedi Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leads the charge, and has Palpatine under his blade. In yet another head scratching moment, he is about the murder Palpatine when Anakin intervenes, not wanting to lose the source of information about how to keep Padmé alive. Thus, in a moment, by killing Master Windu, Anakin pledges himself to Palpatine and becomes Darth Vader (pre-armor). From there, it is a matter of dispatching all the Jedi, for some reason, and then Force choking Padmé when she does not cooperate with his new allegiances. As it is told, this all comes off as a snap decision rather than a pre-meditation that one would think would lead one to becoming bad. There is no such thing as a perfect hero. We all have our moments of weakness, and God understands this about us. In this light, either Anakin was never the good guy he is reputed to have been from the moment in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) when Obi-Wan (Sir Alec Guinness) refers to Anakin as a “good friend,” or Anakin is an idiot. I am not sure which is preferable in these conditions.
Speaking of the fabled friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan, at least Revenge of the Sith gives us a little more clue as to the nature of their relationship, though this is not saying much. In Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan acts annoyed with Anakin most of the time. In Revenge of the Sith, they have some friendly banter on their way to rescue Palpatine, and then a warm exchange as Obi-Wan goes to fight General Grievous on another planet. Hence, yet again, these supposedly great friends are separated by thousands of light years as they deal with different problems in divergent parts of the galaxy. I guess it makes sense for the story, in a limited way, to have a supposedly great friend of Anakin’s off-world as the younger Jedi has his fall from grace. You would think somebody like Obi-Wan would be able to talk some sense into Anakin, particularly since we see this happen in The Clone Wars show. However, that show was done years after the fact, and you should not rely on another story made later for your current one to make sense, though I doubt that is what George Lucas had in mind. Because their closeness with to one another has never been fully established outside of a few lines scattered throughout the movies, the resulting prolonged duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan does not have the emotional impact many Star Wars fans believe it does. Put differently, whatever weight that is attached to it is not the result of the movies. God is not our friend simply because He says He is, though that does help. He is because He loves us, and puts that feeling into action on a daily basis whether or not we acknowledge it. In a sense, Obi-Wan matches this sentiment better than Anakin because he has an opportunity to kill the fallen Jedi at the end, but leaves him severely wounded on the edge of a lava flow. Then again, that is not a very friendly thing to do, either. In any case, this feeds into the notion that Anakin was rotten from the start, which should have been recognized far sooner, and a major reason why none of these movies make any sense.
The final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith further illustrates a flaw with these movies that is introduced in Attack of the Clones. In that one, during Anakin’s courtship of Padmé, he flirtatiously says that Jedi are made to love. When you look at this statement in the grand scheme of things, it is one more example of Anakin’s lack of genuine feeling. He may, indeed, have loved Padmé, but it appears more selfish than anything else. That is not the kind of love God wants us to feel for one another. Many Christian writers, in doing their best to describe Divine love, have talked about a Greek word called “agape.” It is a reciprocal kind of love, a fatherly one where each seeks what is best for the other. In regards to Padmé, all of Anakin’s actions are selfishly motivated, the opposite of agape. This would make what happens in the end all the more tragic, if it did not jive with everything he had been taught to believe. It also drives home the point that attachments can be dangerous, and for this Catholic, why I agree with the Church continuing to require celibacy from its clergy. There is nothing wrong with getting married and having a family. Doing so is a Sacrament, and a privilege in that it makes you a partner in the God’s procreative powers. Anakin is a member of the clergy of what is essentially a religious order, and one that is called to a duty that the Church would say would tends to divide the attention of a person, to say the least. Revenge of the Sith shows how this can turn ugly.
Again, I would tell you to skip the prequel trilogies and watch The Clone Wars instead. Better than any of the prequels, including Revenge of the Sith, it explains why Anakin became Darth Vader. Given how Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) ends, with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) redeeming his father Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) into being Anakin Skywalker once more, that transformation is the only reason why you have any movies before A New Hope. It is just unfortunate that this trilogy is told so poorly.