Tuesday, January 23, 2018

revenge of the sith {movie review}

via Pixabay
Star Wars was love at first BB-8. I watched my first Star Wars movie when I was twenty-one, on a random, spur-of-the-moment outing with my dad and my brother. My bro gave me a crash course run-through of episodes 4-6, and then we settled down with episode 7.

My education, as usual, went wildly out of order. I watch episode 7, then episodes 4-6, followed by episodes 1-2, Rogue One, episode 8, and then, most recently, episode 3.

(I wrote 'last of all' and had to change it to 'most recently'. How could it be last of all?)

Someday I will write more in-depth on those. But today, as per usual style, I'll start wildly out of order and review episode 3. This contains many and major spoilers, but they're necessary for an in-depth discussion, so beware.

Revenge of the Sith is the final prequel installment, tracing the creation of Darth Vader and the fall of the Jedi council system and the Senate. The series starts with young Anakin Skywalker, gifted beyond belief in the power of the force, trained as a Jedi, but unable to rid himself of the emotions that Jedi should not have. Stuck with power, young and inexperienced, he finds a mentor who maliciously twists him to the dark side, while his own mentors fail him in major ways. Revenge of the Sith is a movie weighted with grief, and by weighted, I mean heavy. You end that movie, and all your surviving feels have been destroyed in the fire-rivers of Mustafar.

Revenge of the Sith shows how the both the Jedi (good) and the Sith (bad) let Anakin down. Wrecked, he turns to evil, because he has destroyed every hope of returning to the good. And the gut-wrenching thing is, if Anakin's mentors had not been bound to the traditions of a faulty religious system, and inconsistent in their righteousness, this might not ever have happened.

The Inability to Handle Emotion
Inklings of poor training start in Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. Wee Anakin, just having left his mother and a life of slavery, stands before the council. Yoda says "I sense much fear in you," basically telling Anakin that fear is a deficiency for wanting to enter Jedi training. At the beginning of episode 2, an older Anakin is nervous about seeing Padme again. Obi-Wan's answer? "Be mindful, Anakin." Basically meaning, "get a grip and stow those emotions." Later, in episode 2, Anakin returns to his old planet home to find his mother tortured to death. He violates Jedi code by slaughtering the village that bound her with hate and rage, down to the women and children. I'm not sure that he ever told anyone besides Padme what happened. Not only does this incident ignore the history of the Old Testament, in which God sometimes ordered evil societies to be completely demolished, but it also shows that the Jedi have no answers for the astonishing grief and anger that accompany loss of loved ones. It's the equivalent of Anakin's mother being crucified by ISIS. He's right to feel angry. He should be angry. But anger and hate lead to the dark side of the force, and a Jedi should not be angry. The emotions keep continuing throughout the series. Jedi aren't allowed to marry, but Anakin, in love with Padme, marries her in secret. In episode 3, Anakin is overcome with fear that Padme will die in childbirth. He tells Yoda he's afraid he's going to lose someone he loves. Yoda's answer? Stop loving.

While you see Jedi sometimes experience grief, they are not allowed to experience romance, love, anger, or excited feelings. They are skillful in the force because of their emotional balance, and use it to be agents of justice in the world. Anakin is not a stoic. He's not made to be a stoic. It's almost as if, along with his powers, he's been given an extra measure full of emotion that he finds hard to control.

Anakin needed a different worldview--not an ambivalent current of life flowing through everyone that required denying his natural humanity. He needed to know a God that burned against injustice, wept at death, rejoiced over his people with singing, and had the power and sovereignty over life to protect the people Anakin loved. A God of emotion. But he never could know that. In Star Wars, Anakin only had two faulty religions to choose from, so he left the emotionless light for the power-promise of the dark. The grief of it is keen.

The Sin of Inconsistency
This is troubling in itself. But the Jedi take it one step forward. Senator Palpatine requests Anakin to be part of the Jedi Council. With reluctance, the Council agrees, but they don't give Anakin the status of Jedi Master, which traditionally accompanies being on the Council. Anakin, capable in power to be a Master, knows this is an insult and is angry about it. What do they do instead? They ask him to do some dirty work for them. Their actions subtly communicate further insult: "You don't measure up. You can do the work we couldn't in good conscience do, but which we would like to have done anyway."

Anakin is forced to put up with double dishonor. Because he's not perfect, he's not part of the group. Because he's not perfect, maybe he can be the garbage dump that commits the sin they need committed. The inconsistency of this treatment is enough to make me see red. I know it's just a movie, but a movie tells a story, and a story tells about a person, and all stories bear parallels to life. This parallel is one I hope by God's grace I never commit.

Did Anakin need the discipleship of a Master to teach him experience? Yes. Did he need to learn to appropriately handle his emotions? Yes. But far be it from anyone who has the truth of real Christianity to do what the Jedi did. To say, "There is only a place for you in our group if you have it figured out--if you never lose your temper, or struggle with doubt or anger, or feel life keenly in a way that embarrasses the dignity of the rest of us."

When Hitler was invading Germany, Bonhoeffer's sister-in-law Emmi accused him of the same sin the Jedi committed. She knew he was a Christian, and she told him " 'You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done...but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it.' " (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, pg. 359) Bonhoeffer, for better or worse, joined the plot to assassinate Hitler. The Jedi should have sent Obi-Wan to spy with Anakin. They should have been willing to put their money where their mouth was. There is no excuse, and while Anakin was responsible for his choices, the blame rests squarely on their shoulders as well.

i just wish i had them all here and i would give them a piece of my mind 

I realize this is taking a movie pretty seriously. But there are underlying sins and principles here that are vital for us to grasp and understand as Christians.

*deep breath* Let's talk about some good things now.

The Awesomeness that Is Obi-Wan 
Obi-Wan Kenobi my favorite character in the prequels. It started off rough because he had Frank Churchill hair from the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma (his singing in that movie left much to be desired.) With his hairstyle changed in episode 3, and a beard, he had not only my favorite Obi-Wan look but also my favorite Obi-Wan personality. Obi-Wan in the other movie is a competent Jedi, a teacher, and a good Master. But like the other Jedi, he stuffs his emotions. Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith has seasoned emotions, for lack of a better term. He has found a pupil that he loves deeply and warmly as a friend. He wants the best for Anakin. Where other people might have discovered Anakin's marriage and denounced him, Obi-Wan tenderly protects Padme. When Anakin commits unforgivable sins, Obi-Wan never falters in his commitment to the side of right, but he also grieves his comrade. Yoda would have counseled him to shut Anakin out of his life. I don't think Obi-Wan ever did.

Padme's beautiful romantic love (albeit awkward, wooden dialogue) is a good thing for Anakin. But it would be incomplete without Obi-Wan's steady, brother-kinship. I wish he and Padme could have married after all that had happened. I think they would have been perfect for one another after the waves of grief had gone over them and they had come out on the other side. Watching episode 4 after seeing Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith wasn't an easy thing to do.

The hardest action to accept from Obi-Wan is his last interchange with Anakin. I have watched it three times to try to sort how I feel about it, and as sour as it tasted to watch at first, I think I understand it now. It's a terrible, terrible moment (the graphicness earning the movie it's PG-13 rating). I felt like Obi-Wan shouldn't have just stood there, watching in horror. But I think I understand why he did, and it wasn't cruelty. Anakin was no longer Anakin, and Obi-Wan did not shield him from the last heavy punishment that he was judged with. It was grievous for him to watch, but when someone receives their final judgment, you cannot seek to rescue them from it.

The Weight of the Star Wars Universe 
By the time I finished the last part of Episode 3, I felt deeply the weight of the Star Wars universe. I could trace the whole thing. The way all the stories fit together. What happened next, generation after generation, to each person. Some people stayed on the side of good. Other people turned to the side of bad. It's almost heart-breaking to think of how much life, joyful and sorrowful, is still in store for these characters who have gone through so much. And yet, after seeing Anakin, the thread of redemption that traces through the episodes is both glorious and satisfying.

If anything, Revenge of the Sith shows just how faulty and unfulfilling the Force as a religion is. It has no answer for natural emotions of anger and grief, besides suppressing them and distancing yourself from the things you love. Rose, in The Last Jedi, has a sounder truth when she says, "we don't win by fighting against what we hate, but fighting for what we love."

The force also has no answer for indwelling sin. When the Jedi sensed fear in young Anakin, fear was equated with the dark side, and their rejection of him at that point showed that one must be perfect in the light to be one of them. Thanks be to God that He is not limited to our perfection. Every single human is corrupted by darkness, but he doesn't have to choose people based on the fact that they tend to the "light" side of the force. We are never inevitably lost to a slide of darkness like the Jedi pushed Anakin towards. Because Christ accomplished the work of salvation on our behalf, he has conquered the darkness in us and brought us to the light. And that light, unlike force light, can never be diminished by our actions. It is the light of Christ, and his eternal, all-powerful, unbreakable light secures our salvation forever.


  1. Fantastic review. The reason I love this episode is because it also explores the dangers of legalism and its effects. Anakin was taught that things which aren't necessarily wrong are wrong (i.e. emotion) and the lines between actual morality and legalism were blurred for him. When he broke a rule of the legalistic structure he was part of, he figured "hey, I'm here, might as well break the rules of morality while I'm at it."
    There's a scene in The Revenge of the Sith novelization (brilliant book; highly recommended) where Yoda contemplates the downfall of the Jedi, and he realizes that the Sith had won because they broke out of the constraints of their religion and thought outside the box. The Jedi, stuck in their irrelevant rules and rituals of the past, had been incapable of stopping the Sith because they couldn't think and function outside of tradition. It's some pretty fascinating stuff.

    1. Wow, I love your parallel between morality and legalism. I mean, how many rules do I make up for myself and when I break them I feel like I've failed? Yes, yes.

      I'm interested in reading that RoS novelization!

  2. Replies
    1. <3 <3 <3 I'm so glad! I typed like a whirlwind, I was so excited to organize my strong feels into words! :D

    2. Those posts are some of the very best ;)

  3. Yes, excellent review. One of the many, many things I loved about THE LAST JEDI was how it drew on and expanded some of the themes of the prequels in a way that acknowledged their place in the universe while pushing the ideas so much further.

    I watched the prequels exactly once, about ten years ago. REVENGE was the only one that approached being watchable and I've occasionally thought of going back to rewatch it. Each time, though, I remember how deadly bored I was every time General Grievous was onscreen and I shudder and move on! :P

    That said, THE LAST JEDI has done something so wonderfully new with STAR WARS that maybe it's time to do what I always intended, and see them in Machete Order.

    1. Mm, I need to sit down and think out some of those parallels, I would absolutely love to trace those. I really agree about The Last Jedi. It really went in depth and achieved a sense of gravity and weight as the characters face choices in the film. I'm so glad you liked it!

  4. I'm glad there are others out there who appreciated The Last Jedi, because I thought it was a brilliant development, chock-full of references to and resonances with the other films.

    We recently showed the Star Wars saga to our younger brothers in a variation on Machete Order. We started with Rogue One, then followed IV, V, I, II, III, and VI. They seemed to enjoy it immensely. :)

    Very fine review, Schuyler. You make me realize that by writing Anakin off instead of entering into the story the way I ought, I've cheated myself of getting as much good as possible out of these films. After all, fall and redemption is an awesome plot. And it's not Anakin Skywalker's fault that they wrote him some cheesy lines and didn't cast him as well as they should have. Next time, I'll do my best to be quiet and listen for what might be worthwhile instead of drowning it out with my own scorn.


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