Darth Vader. Just the name of the most iconic villain in a generation recalls his ominous, metered breathing and his unmistakable voice. But how did Darth Vader become … Darth Vader? “Answer that question Revenge of the Sith does,” Yoda might say.
Twenty-eight years ago, George Lucas began transporting us to a galaxy far, far away. Now, the journey is complete. The final chapter of Anakin Skywalker’s tragic transformation into Darth Vader begins as he and Obi-Wan Kenobi rescue the kidnapped leader of the Galactic Republic. But retrieving Chancellor Palpatine (who will rise to become the emperor) from the clutches of the Separatist leaders General Grievous and Count Dooku will ultimately prove the bane of the Republic and the downfall of young Skywalker.
As the Republic begins its final offensive against the Separatists, tension grows between an increasingly imperious Chancellor Palpatine and a Jedi council that rightly distrusts him. Anakin’s loyalties are stretched to the breaking point when Palpatine appoints him to be his representative on the Jedi council—and the suspicious council responds by asking Anakin to spy on the chancellor. The Jedi leaders desperately need Skywalker’s eyes and ears, yet they deny him the coveted title of Jedi Master, fanning a smoldering spark of resentment in Anakin’s heart that Palpatine manipulates and exploits.
Meanwhile, dark visions of his wife’s imminent death in childbirth haunt Anakin’s sleep. He vows that nothing will take his pregnant wife, Padmé, from him … a promise he can only fulfill with Palpatine’s help. As the chancellor’s wicked plot to destroy the Jedi order and rule the universe comes together piece by piece, Anakin steps beyond the point of no return into a series of dark choices that will rule his destiny. That destiny takes shape in a final climactic battle against Obi-Wan on the volcanic flows of the molten planet Mustafar …
Episode III again showcases the titanic struggle between good and evil that frames the entire Star Wars story. Jedi Knights Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, Yoda and Anakin (before his fall to the dark side) repeatedly place themselves in harm’s way for one another and for the sake of peace and democracy in the Galactic Republic.
Padmé’s love for and loyalty to Anakin remains strong. But when Anakin finally reveals that he’s gone over to the dark side to save her, she refuses to accept his rationalization for doing so. Before capitulating to Palpatine completely, Anakin tells Mace Windu the chancellor’s true identity and devious intent, and offers to help the Jedi as they confront him. In a brief appearance, Chewbacca and other Wookiees help save Yoda from the Jedi holocaust.
Some time after Padmé (whose marriage to Anakin is still a secret) tells her husband that she’s pregnant, he says, “Our baby is a blessing.” Senator Bail Organa and his wife graciously agree to the dangerous, secret adoption of Leia, the daughter of Anakin and Padmé; Owen and Beru Lars agree to raise Leia’s twin brother, Luke.
Episode III also continues to expand audiences’ understanding of The Force, the spiritual energy field made up of all living things that can be harnessed for light or dark. When Anakin tells Yoda about his nightmarish visions of Padmé’s death, the Jedi Master responds, “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.” About mortality, he teaches, “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into The Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Yoda’s response to Anakin’s fears about losing Padmé closely echo some of the basic teachings of Buddhism. According to buddhism.about.com, “Our clinging to things that are by their nature impermanent is what leads us again and again into suffering.” Detachment from desire, then, is one key to Buddhism’s prescription for right living—very similar to what Yoda teaches.
Chancellor Palpatine has his own dark lessons about The Force to teach Anakin. Sounding a lot like a certain serpent in the Garden of Eden, Palpatine begins to lure the young Jedi to the dark side by twisting his ideas about right and wrong: “Good is a point of view, Anakin. And the Jedi point of view is not the only valid one.” Later, the old snake insists that the way of deepest knowledge of The Force necessarily involves exploring the dark side. “If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi. If you wish to become a complete and wise Jedi leader, you must embrace a larger view of The Force.”
Yoda tells Obi-Wan that the deceased Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn has “returned from the netherworld of The Force to train me” and promises that Obi-Wan can learn to commune with him, too. Yoda promises, “Your consciousness you will retain, when one with The Force.” In this vision of a person’s life after death, the spiritual worldview of Star Wars partially resembles Christianity’s teaching on that subject (sans any mention of heaven, hell or personal judgment). But the Old and New Testaments testify that a gulf does—and should—exist between this world and those who’ve gone onto the next (Deut. 18:10-11; Luke 16:25-26).
One final spiritual point: Amid their lightsaber duel, Anakin tells Obi-Wan, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” The older Jedi replies, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” This exchange is truly a strange one, given the fact that Obi-Wan and the light-side Jedi seem intent on defending a set of absolute ideals that Palpatine and his evil crew cavalierly question. Nevertheless, by saying it, Obi-Wan not only dismisses the importance of absolute truth, but he inadvertently brands those who cling to it the equivalents of the Sith.
Padmé wears a strapless nightgown in two scenes. A well-endowed alien female (she has long appendages growing out of her head, but otherwise looks human) attends a Coruscant social event wearing a revealing, flimsy white dress. A young Jedi woman’s outfit shows some cleavage as well.
The entire Star Wars series has been marked with combat and violence, most frequently consisting of clone warriors or robots going down bloodlessly. Episode III has no shortage of such battles, with lots of dispensable cronies biting the dust in blaster fire or at the blade of a Jedi.
But frequent decapitation of hapless enemy droids isn’t how Episode III earned its PG-13 rating (the most restrictive rating ever for the series). Instead, several flesh-and-blood characters lose limbs to those with better lightsaber skills. In its description of these violent elements, USA Today‘s movie preview read a lot like the ones we write here at Plugged In Online: “Women and children are slain. The heroic Jedi Knights are all but slaughtered. Characters lose arms, legs and heads in lightsaber duels. One character catches fire, screaming in agony while the flesh peels off his body.”
[Spoiler Warning] More specifically, Anakin Skywalker cuts off both of Count Dooku’s hands, then decapitates the dark Jedi leader with two lightsabers. Audiences don’t actually see the severed head, but we do glimpse both scything blades coming together before the camera flashes away—leaving no doubt about what’s happened. Palpatine congratulates Skywalker, saying, “It is only natural. He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge.” When Palpatine issues Order 66 commanding the execution of all Jedi, Anakin slaughters a number of children (called Younglings) who’ve just begun their training at the Jedi temple. Again, we don’t witness these murders, but a later scene shows the children’s crumpled corpses scattered on the floor.
Easily the most graphic, disturbing images come at the climax of Anakin’s lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan. During an acrobatic attack, the older Jedi removes one of Anakin’s arms and both legs below the knees in one fell swoop. (In all the scenes where characters lose limbs, the offending lightsaber also cauterizes the wound, which keeps it from bleeding.) Kenobi then leaves the crippled Anakin slipping into a volcano’s lava flow, where he catches fire and writhes for a time, screaming in agony. Several scenes show Anakin’s horribly charred body after he’s “rescued” by the chancellor and reconstructed as Darth Vader.
Other violent scenes include Palpatine’s lightsaber duels with Mace Windu and Yoda. In the first, Windu loses his hand and receives the full force of Palpatine’s Force lightning attack, which is deflected back onto the chancellor, disfiguring his face. Anakin chokes Padmé with The Force when he believes she’s betrayed him. The trauma of the event apparently induces the premature labor of her twins. Yoda gets repeatedly knocked around like a rag doll—which he actually is, in a sense! Yoda also decapitates two clone troopers.
Other Jedi fall to Palpatine’s saber and his clone troopers’ blasters; likewise, the Separatist leader Nute Gunray and his subordinates find themselves on the receiving end of Anakin’s lightsaber. Count Dooku uses The Force to hurl Obi-Wan across a room, where debris falls on him and pins his leg. An alien-droid hybrid is shot in the midsection and catches fire. Clone troopers and Wookiees engage in a fierce battle that leaves many bodies on both sides.
The tragic end of Anakin Skywalker and the emergence of Darth Vader—juxtaposed with the birth of Luke and Leia—is a fitting conclusion to Lucas’ saga. So I don’t think I can boil my response to Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith down to one word. But I can get it down to just two: satisfying and violent. The original Star Wars trilogy hit the big screen during my formative tween and early adolescent years. Like so many in my generation, I’ve eagerly awaited this last piece in the puzzle, the one that finally completes the tragic story arc of Anakin Skywalker’s descent into darkness. And unlike its recent predecessors, this one delivered the emotional goods for me. Wooden acting and writing still crops up occasionally, but the characters and the story in Revenge of the Sith engaged me in a way that The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones never did. For adult fans who’ve faithfully followed George Lucas’s characters for nearly three decades, this 150-minute fantasy provides a satisfying, if dark, conclusion.
What it doesn’t provide is the same kind of mostly benign action that have marked Episode I and II (the obvious exception of Jango Fett’s decapitation in Attack of the Clones notwithstanding). George Lucas endured frequent criticism for the antics of Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker and the ridiculous dialogue of his Gungan sidekick, Jar Jar Binks (whose appearance in this film is mercifully brief). Fans felt the director had dumbed down the storytelling, pandering to kids instead of stimulating his core audience with more sophisticated characters and plotlines.
Well, George has officially taken the gloves off. “I don’t think I would take a 5- or a 6-year old to this,” he said. “It’s way too strong.” Kevin Smith, director of the R-rated films Dogma and Clerks, is no stranger to offensive content. Yet even he commented after an early screening of Sith, “I’m not sure any kid under 8 should see that kind of violence. Even I was surprised by how insanely dark George made it.”
Indeed, the violence in Revenge of the Sith is not kids’ stuff. And it may even have adult viewers—me among them—wondering whether it really had to be so vicious. Lucas’ response? “This has always been a dark story. It’s about a man’s descent into hell. That’s pretty serious stuff. … I could pull it back a little bit, but I don’t really want to.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.