Let’s talk about love stories, shall we?
No, don’t be silly, not the one between Padme and Anakin. And, while I would love to take a moment to talk to you about the Finn X Poe gospel that runs my life, it’s not time for that, either. No, I want to talk to about the real love story at the heart of Revenge of the Sith: Obi-Wan and Anakin.
I’ll take a moment here to admit that this love story is much, much better when it’s informed by The Clone Wars TV series, which is somewhat cheating given that so much of the groundwork for Revenge of the Sith comes in a show that was released after it came out. But even without that, the best parts of this movie come when it is focused on this powerful, franchise-defining bromance.
I mean, Hayden Christensen is almost actually good in those moments he shares with just the brilliantly wry Ewan McGregor; one could almost mistake this for a good film when just the two of them are on-screen, especially in that opening crash-landing into Courascant. For all that the franchise thus far has had a cack-handed way of showing it, McGregor and Christensen actually do have some chemistry – and the weight of this relationship, perhaps benefited by the foreknowledge of where it’s going in A New Hope, lends Sith an air of tragedy that even the infamous Jedi Temple slaughter can’t drag into proceedings.
I don’t want to give this movie too much credit here, because it is still, after all, a prequel trilogy film and one that is bogged down by all the problems of the first two: muddy plotting, poor character work, bloated storytelling. But there is something elemental and classical about the conflict between Anakin and Obi-Wan as Anakin is drawn to the violence of the Dark Side; that final lightsabre battle, as the two of them face off, is one of my favourite of the whole franchise. McGregor just kills it in this sequence, and despite some clunky “in my opinion, it is the JEDI who are wrong!” attempts at what could generously be called human dialogue, this is solid stuff. A classic tale of love betrayed, draped in some handsome sci-fi frippery, it feels near-impossible to fuck up, even for a franchise that has taken that statement as a challenge so far. This just lands for me: when Obi-Wan leaves Anakin, the arguable most important person in his life, the boy he has raised into a man at the behest of his own father figure, to burn on Mustafar because actually killing him is too much, I feel that shit. I feel it. And maybe that’s because I have a prior investment in this relationship that comes from media that isn’t this film, which is kind of cheating when it comes to a review of Sith specifically, but these are my reviews and I’ve got to be honest about how I feel about it, right?
Lest you think I have gotten too starry-eyed about this movie, there is still, as per the prequel trilogy tradition, a Lot of Garbage in Revenge of the Sith. Not least the final nail on the coffin for Padme, both literally and metaphorically: she’s the tool the movie uses to shove Anakin towards darkness, to incubate some of the future cast, and that’s about it. Would the Padme Amidala we knew before have just swooned over and died of a broken heart when she had shit to do? No, she fucking wouldn’t. And yet, that’s what this film gives us, for want of a better explanation that they couldn’t be bothered to write into being. Because the series required explanation for why Luke and Leia were shipped off to new families, she bites the dust, and is buried with a charm the man who violently choked and abused her gave her years before. Because, you know, love. Boke. This is why nobody likes het relationships, guys.
And Revenge of the Sith really crams itself wall-to-wall with nonsense: even though the main villain of the piece should have been Palpatine (and, I feel like it’s worth mentioning if you ever run into him, but my brother does the most accurate version of the “It’s treason, then” like that makes me laugh for hours and you should ask to hear it), the film thinks it’s being really clever by chucking in General Grievous (my lesbian porn star stage name) as a diversion. Grievous and his excellent cape game is fun in The Clone Wars, but he’s just…he’s just nothing here. I like the concept of him, in the General Thrawn mould of military minds over mystical ones, but also, he’s just something for Obi-Wan to do when he’s not with Anakin. The Clone Wars, the actual ones, not the TV show, unfortunately, rage on, and they could form a grim backdrop for Sith, but instead, they’re more a slightly confusing side-note.
A good love story can be the emotional throughline to save even the strangest of stories. And for all that Revenge of the Sith struggles with a lot of things, for all that this franchise has fallen down so much so far, it’s this love story, that comes to a head here, where it comes good. I think a lot of that is down to knowing what is to come – would these scenes have had as much impact if we hadn’t seen the death of Obi-Wan at the hands of Anakin in A New Hope? – and I think it’s very fair to criticise the movie on that basis. But it’s also fair to say that we have to take what we’re given here. And, after a collection of just nonsense, I’ll actually just take what I’m given here; and what I’m given, in this climax to Obi-Wan and Anakin’s love story, is more than enough for me.
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via SyFy)