Is Revenge of the Sith the best Star Wars movie?

Last week much of the Star Wars fandom celebrated the 15th anniversary of Revenge of the Sith‘s 2005 release. It’s a huge part of the Star Wars series for so many people, bringing to a conclusion the Prequel trilogy and being one of the most important chapters in the story of Anakin Skywalker.

When I feel like I’m too happy and in too good of a place mentally, I enjoy searching “Ranking the Star Wars Movies” on YouTube and seeing how many bad takes I can sit through before I simply can’t keep watching. And a lot of rankings – many of which are both good and bad – have Revenge of the Sith towards the top. A lot of them have it towards the top. I wrote a ranking of the Star Wars movies shortly after The Rise of Skywalker (you can read it that here, if you can somehow stomach it) and I ranked Revenge of the Sith towards the middle. I hold it in high regard, but I’ve never thought it’s the best, like so many people do.

So this widespread love of it made me wonder, why do so many people love it so much? And why do some people have a bit more of an adverse reaction to it?

Why is it disputed?

I’ve heard a wealth of complaints and criticisms leveled at Revenge of the Sith, all of which seem rather fair. So much of the praise heaped onto this movie is due to Anakin’s tragic nature, and the rift that grows between him and Obi-Wan. But the two of them barely spend time together in this movie, after barely spending time together in Attack of the Clones, and barely spending time together in The Phanomt Menace. We’re told that they’re friends or “brothers,” more often than we’re actually shown that they’re friends. And I might be the only one who thinks this, but Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side happens rather quickly in this movie – he goes from crying “What have I done?” over the death of Mace Windu to murdering the younglings faster than a Ferrari going zero-to-sixty. (I’ve said before that I think it’d be better to have Anakin give them a choice; leave the Jedi, or join the Sith, or die. But, again, I seem to be the only person who has any substantial objections to this scene.)

Another thing which really holds the movie back would be the performances. The performances are often called wooden by detractors, and relatively few of the performers (with some notable exceptions) give this movie their all. This certainly can’t be blamed on the actors entirely, because how on earth do you deliver a line like “Love can’t save you, Padme, only my new powers can,” in a believable way? You can’t. Padme gets a plethora of soap-opera-esque lines that stick out as being noticeably include “Anakin, you’re breaking my heart,” or “So love has blinded you?” 

But the king of awful lines comes in the context of the duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, at the height of the film’s drama, in which Obi-Wan shouts that Palpatine is evil, and Anakin responds, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.” Something about prefacing Anakin’s statement by having him note that it’s from his point of view really undercuts the statement, which doesn’t even necessarily need to be said – it’s clear that they are opposing sides. This back-and-forth doesn’t add anything to the story that the earlier conversation in which Obi-Wan proudly declares that he fights for democracy hasn’t added already. In fact, it slows down the action set-piece which is the main pathos of the film and the trilogy.

And also, Darth Vader’s reaction to finding out Padme is dead – “NOOOOOO!” – need I say more? I’m entirely on board for this scene, but having Darth Vader howl “No!” temporarily turns what should be an epic sci-fi tragedy into a soap opera.

Surely someone in the comments will want to tell me that some of these were addressed in The Clone Wars – I’ve been slowly working my way through the series, and I’m enjoying it, but I’m only on Season 2 at the moment. It makes sense that giving more and more time to these characters helps develop things that the movie couldn’t, such as Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship, or Anakin’s proclivity for killing younglings. But since these things are outside of the movie-proper, that’s all I’ll say about them in this post.

One character I know who gets a better treatment in The Clone Wars is Padme, who even in the two movies prior to Revenge established herself as something of a badass in the same way her daughter, Leia, would. Here, she’s pregnant and can’t do the same intense running, climbing, and fighting she does in Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, but she still seems rather reduced. She loses the agency and energy she had in the previous movies. So much so, that she just spontaneously dies because she’s sad.

Why it’s considered the best

But that being said, once a person manages to turn off the more critical part of their brain, Revenge of the Sith is quite the enjoyable movie, and manages to be tragic, funny, and engaging all at once. Any movie that can do that is something special, I think.

Now, making a tragedy funny can be difficult – if George Lucas had tried to make this movie funny, I’m sure he almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to. The good news is, he wasn’t trying to. The humor of this movie comes from the meme discourse, mostly from the proliferation of R/PrequelMemes and Prequel Memes as a general concept. Just because George Lucas would not have wanted me to laugh while Chancellor Palpatine does his ridiculous spin-jump, doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh. And the cringeworthy writing and acting heightens this humor.

The two sections which are genuinely perfect are both the beginning and the ending. The opening scene, as Anakin and Obi-Wan fly their ships onto the Trade Federation flagship, where they confront Count Dooku and General Grievous. The space battle to get onboard is one of the best sequences in the prequels, and one of the few times when we get to see Obi-Wan and Anakin cooperating. Once they’re on the ship, we get to see as they fight their way to liberate Chancellor Palpatine and fight Count Dooku. Mostly, it’s fun and amusing, but the fight with Dooku is a big character moment for Palpatine and Anakin, as Palpatine convinces him to kill Dooku. This sequence is great! This is what the entire prequels should have been – fun space battles, engaging lightsaber fights, with the occasional foreshadowing of a deeper tragedy, waiting ahead.

I’ve written before about Order 66, one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It’s the Sci-Fi equivalent of The Godfather baptism scene, showing a lot of the Jedi characters suddenly and ceremoniously wiped out by the Clones, who have been their allies. Even people who haven’t watched The Clone Wars feel sad as they watched Jedi they barely know and have only really seen in the background are wiped out. Even before Clone Wars, I couldn’t have told you that much about Ki-Adi Mundi, but watching his devastated face as he turns around and realizes that the clones he’s fought alongside are now going to betray him has always made me sad, even when I was much younger.

And even if the dialogue during the Battle of the Heroes duel is not perfect all the way though, their confrontation on the lava shores is great. Ewan McGregor’s tearful delivery of “You were my brother, Anakin, I loved you!” and the monologue which precedes it is perfectly done. Despite other bits of dialogue in the movie seeming clunky and unbelievable, Anakin’s response to Obi-Wan’s tears, simply screaming “I hate you!” feels true; no one could manage to properly articulate such raw emotion when they’re in such intense physical pain (and yeah, I have heard the same thing said about the “Noooooo!” but it doesn’t quite feel the same). In a post from a few weeks ago, I highlighted Ewan McGregor’s performance as one of my favorite things in all three prequel movies, and it’s strongest here.

People praise Empire Strikes Back for having a downer ending when juxtaposed with comparable blockbusters, but Revenge of the Sith really does take that to the next level, making Empire’s one-handed Luke son-of-Vader Skywalker and Han Solo frozen in Carbonite look like sunshine and rainbows.

As I’ve said frequently about The Last Jedi, Revenge of the Sith is certainly a flawed movie, but it’s strengths are such that people who love it have no difficulty overlooking these flaws. It’s a little weak at certain moments, but utterly triumphant at others. 

This has truly become a fan-favorite that people defend with extreme passion. It’s a crucial part of the Star Wars fandom, and a cornerstone of the franchise’s overarching story. Without Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader’s redemption means less.

What do you think? Is Revenge of the Sith a masterpiece like so many fans claim it is?

2 thoughts on “Is Revenge of the Sith the best Star Wars movie?

  1. Revenge of the Sith is not the best Star Wars film, but it is certainly the best of the prequels and easily the most underrated entry in the franchise.

    There is so much that is great about the film like its darker, nihilistic tone–it ends on a huge downer! The lightsaber duels were great and the Order 66 executions were heartwrenching. Plus, it is a solid gateway to the original films.

    The film has its faults but you could tell Lucas was giving his all in what turned out to be his final Star Wars film.

    Liked by 1 person

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