The Series Project: Star Wars (Part 1)

Would Star Wars make sense if you watched The Phantom Menace first, and Return of the Jedi last? Professor Witney Seibold investigates. 

Witney Seiboldby Witney Seibold

Hoo boy. Now I’m just asking for it.

What can I, mere critic that I am, add to the dekaliters of virtual ink that have been spilled over Star Wars? It’s entirely possible that, aside from masturbation, the single most popular online activity is picking apart the details of the Star Wars movies. If Star Wars fans are not talking about the films themselves, they’re devoting cults to minor characters like Boba Fett, assembling screen-accurate Slave Leia costumes to wear at Comic Con, talking about novelizations and what counts as Star Wars canon, or, most recently, postulating as to what should and should not be included in the recently-announced Star Wars VII.

If aliens were to study us based solely on our internet comments (and what a chilling prospect), they would find that the most important things in the world to us are thong underpants, breasts, and Star Wars. Everyone and their mother has talked about all eleven Star Wars films to date at tiresome length, focusing in particular on how great The Empire Strikes Back is, and how disappointing The Phantom Menace was. Kevin Smith wrote a speech devoted to Return of the Jedi in his 1994 film Clerks. The fellows over at Red Letter Media (that’d be Jay Bauman and Mike Stoklasa, call me guys) famously reviewed the first three Star Wars episodes in lengthy, insightful, and rather funny video reviews under the guise of a slovenly serial killer. Indeed, so many people feel so passionately about Star Wars that there are entire feature documentary films devoted to its fandom.

When we talk about “pop culture,” usually we’re referring to Star Wars.

So what can I add? What can I, “Professor” Witney Seibold of The Series Project here on CraveOnline, contribute to the millions and millions of words that have already been share don this topic? What angle can I bring?

Well, for one, I bring an outsider’s perspective. Let me elucidate: I am not really a Star Wars person. Sure, I grew up in the 1980s, and I was constantly surrounded by Star Wars toys, audiobooks, and other ancillary merchandise in my own home and in the homes of my peers. I heard about the films from enthused friends, and I knew about all of the characters and story points through general pop culture osmosis. But I had never actually seen the movies themselves. I was raised in a Star Trek household, you see. When many of my peers were re-watching Empire for the 30th time, I was re-watching season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation on TV. I would get into many friendly snips with friends about (natch) the superiority of either, and I happily fed into the famous Wars vs. Trek mentality that was talked about at least as frequently as dream-team superhero mashups. I did not actually watch Star Wars until the summer I graduated high school, right after my 18th birthday. I was impressed, and felt like I had filled in a gap in my film education, but I think that the obsession I saw in so many of my Starwoid friends was no longer possible for me. I think I was too old to become properly obsessed.

As such, I don’t have the films memorized. I don’t know the names of the robots (excuse me, droids) seen in the background of a single scene in Return of the Jedi. I only vaguely know what The Kessel Run is. I couldn’t tell you who Wedge Antilles is. I have nothing against Ewoks. I wasn’t disappointed by The Phantom Menace because I had so little invested in the series to begin with; indeed I suggested that my friends and I watch a little-known comedy called Trippin’ instead of The Phantom Menace on that fateful day in 1999 when both films opened. I have no personal beef with George Lucas (as so many do) , and I have written before about how I wish he would get back to making movies other than Star Wars for his own creative good. I’ve certainly never made a Star Wars fan film. I don’t know why so many people like to scream “It’s a trap!” And, perhaps most strikingly, I truly, truly don’t understand why so many people are obsessed with Boba Fett. He only has three or four lines over the course of the four films in which he appears, and one of them is a Wilhelm Scream. I’m guessing it’s just his helmet that people like; it does look kinda cool.

As an outsider, I hope, at the very least, to offer a fresh perspective on the Star Wars phenomenon. Consider my blind groping around trolling if you must, but it’s all in the name of critical integrity.

Also, since so much has already been written about Star Wars, as I indicated above, I need to have a gimmick to my approach in this particular Series Project. As such, I have taken William “Bibbs” Bibbiani’s suggestion, and elected to look at the Star Wars series not in chronological order the each films’ release (which has been my approach in all the Series Projects in the past), but rather in narrative order. That means I start with Episode I, and work my way through Episode VI (with ancillary chapters along the way), and try to discern how this particular saga plays out when the information is meted to us in the order in which it took place within the Star Wars universe.

This will, of course, be an extraordinarily difficult task, especially in the case of this first week. I will have to go through the first four of the Star Wars films not knowing who Darth Vader is. I will try to see this story with fresh eyes, and try to deliberately ignore all the events from the films that came before. For the purposes of this week’s article, I won’t know what a Death Star is, I won’t know what a Jedi is, and the name Skywalker will be insignificant to me. I will pretend not to know about any of the details from any of the films released before 1999. I will try to take the information as it comes to me as it unfolds within the story, and see what I can unravel. When it comes to the older films, I will watch the digitized “updated” Special Edition versions (which I have not yet seen), sort of following the story as series creator George Lucas has famously announced he wants it to be. 

I’m not going to give a rundown on the background or universe of Star Wars, because you already know it. There are, all told, eleven (11) feature-length Star Wars movies to date (and three animated TV series, but I will not be covering those). In the first week of this Project, I will be looking at Episodes I – III, and The Clone Wars. Next week, I will be looking at the original 1977 Star Wars, its made-for-TV Holiday Special, and The Empire Strikes Back. In the third week, it will be a total Ewok-Palooza, as I intend to write about Return of the Jedi, and the two Ewok-centered TV movies.

If you’re the type who doesn’t know what an Ewok is, then my coverage may be for you. For those of you who know who, say, Milosh Murhlein is, well… to you I can only apologize in advance. I’m likely not going to be dropping quotations from the movies. Although I’ll likely say “Almost there! Stay on target!” once or twice.

Onward! Forward! To battle!

The saga begins with…

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (dir. George Lucas, 1999)

There is a problem with my approach right off the bat. The Star Wars films released from 1999 through 2008 (henceforth known as “the prequels”) are, as many have noted, so heavily reliant on information given to us from the previous films, that they hardly make any sense on their own terms. All four of the prequel films assume that the audience knows intimately about a character like Darth Vader, and, as such, assumes that we know what is very clearly being foreshadowed. Indeed, over the course of the four prequel films, we’ll get this strange obsessive look at Anakin Skywalker (who will eventually become Darth Vader) as if he is the central crux of all the events of the universe. More on that as we go. But if you were sitting down for the first time and watching The Phantom Menace with fresh eyes, well, you’ll likely be as baffled as I was.

So this film takes place, as we all know, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It takes place in a grand republic, and starts off with a vague trade dispute. The story of The Phantom Menace is impenetrable at best, and will only seem natural to hardcore followers of the Dune mythos. This is the story, as far as I could figure it, and this was after I had to pause the movie, and ask a friend and my wife to explain it to me. The title, as far as I can tell, refers to a mysterious cloaked figure of unknown name and origin, who is secretly manipulating an organization called The Trade Federation (run by bug-eyed aliens with Chinese accents) forcing them to set up a space blockade around a planet called Naboo (snicker). Naboo is, in itself, a member of a vast U.N.-like planetary republic called simply The Republic. As a Star Trek fan, I kept likening The Republic in my head to Star Trek’s own Federation, but that name was already taken in this film by The Trade Federation.

The unnamed cloaked figure, for reasons that are never made clear, also convinces The Trade Federation to invade Naboo, and force the planet’s queen, Amidala (Natalie Portman), to sign a treaty of some sort. However, the figure also somehow establishes a communication blackout, making the invasion a secret. As a result of this deliberately hidden invasion, the Phantom Menace (the character) upsets the political balance in The Republican Senate; when word finally reaches The Senate (Queen Amidala eventually escapes Naboo despite the blockade), it exposes the high chancellor (Terrence Stamp) as incompetent, and he is removed from office. In his place, a senator named Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is elected chancellor. That, as far as I can tell, is the main plot of The Phantom Menace.

The secondary plot (this film is, by the way, a whopping 136 minutes) involves a pair of knights who are called Jedi (pronounced with a long “i”) named Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. Jedi are, as far as I can tell, kind of the CIA of The Republic. They do spy work, I think, but they are also all-purpose diplomats and, eventually, war generals. Jedi are also masters of something called The Force, which is an ability to use psychic powers (they can push things around with their minds, influence other people’s thinking, and do nifty acrobatic stunts). The Force itself lives inside microscopic organisms in our cells called Midichlorians, and certain people are born with the ability to sort-of communicate with these little critters, and master The Force. Jedi also typically carry a specialized laser swords than can retract into the handle. They also typically wear robes. There is a Jedi council, and the older Jedi train younger people to be Jedi masters. Jedis have a vaguely sketched out Buddhist philosophy of non-violence and inner peace.

Sorry to be so elaborate, but you know my meaning. Also I need to trace out the plot mostly so I can keep it straight in my head. Perhaps I should have let "Weird Al" Yankovic do the heavy lifting

The two central Jedi, at the film’s outset, are discussing the trade dispute with The Federation when they learn of the above-mentioned invasion. They flee the Trade spaceship, and travel to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala. Along the way, they accumulate an animated anthropomorphic newt named Jar Jar Binks (performance-capture by Ahmed Best), who will serve as the film’s comic relief. The Jedi and Jar Jar manage to warn the queen, flee Naboo, and accidentally end up on a planet called Tatooine, where they have to find replacement parts of their ship. On Tatooine, they meet a slave child named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who is about 9 years old, and is a pretty insipid Hollywood moppet type typically seen in Air Bud movies. Qui-Gon Jinn (pronounced Kwai-Gone Djinn) senses that the child has a lot of Midichlorians in his system, and, after a good 45 minutes of screentime involving a chariot race and gambling and a bizarre two-headed alien half-voiced by Greg Proops and an animated monster that sounds like Cheech Marin, the Jedi abscond with the boy, leaving his mother (Pernilla August) behind. Anakin is good at building stuff, and a good pilot, even at age 9. There’s also a bit about Anakin falling in love (kinda) with a Queen’s handmaiden, who turns out to be the Queen in disguise.

Also there’s an old Jedi councilmember named Yoda (a puppet voiced by Frank Oz), who doles out a lot of exposition about the nature of the Jedi. And Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie as a character with no personality. Which is hard to do for Samuel L. Jackson. Also, the Phantom Menace also has a devilish sidekick named Darth Maul (Ray Park) who will eventually have a hugely long swordfight with the two central Jedi. Why the Phantom Menace is causing this trade dispute, or why he has a demon sidekick is never explained in this film, and we’ll only be able to intuit who they were in the following films. Darth Maul will end up killing Qui-Gon Jinn.

Okay. *pant pant* I think that’s the whole story.

I think you can intuit already why so many people are upset with this film, and why it was such an arduous viewing experience for me. The story is way, way too complicated. It involves way too much political wrangling, and way too much time on Tatooine. Plus, there’s far too much reliance on established Star Wars myth. Anakin, for instance, builds a robot he named C-3PO, which serves as a translator and human-relations bot. Why would a slave child living on a desert planet build such a thing? Well, that robot, *ahem* droid, will appear in later films, so it’s important that we establish that it exists.

Since the story is so labyrinthine, and involves so much political wrangling and cutesy fan nods, you wouldn’t be blamed for nodding off a bit. Overall, the unfortunate impact of this first chapter is dull and thudding. It’s a boring movie.

But then, while I was being bored, I felt assaulted. This movie came out in 1999, when CGI wasn’t quite being used with the sheer volume which it is being used at today. This was the first film of this scope and budget that was shot on digital film, and featured this many digital effects. Every single shot of the film is jam-packed with animated characters, droids, ships, lasers, laser swords, special effects, and other bric-a-brac, that what is intended to be visually dazzling only comes across as busy and jumbled and ugly. No doubt it took hundreds of man-hours to animate all those details, and careful thought went into the design of each and every ship and creature, but after a while, the visual noise begins to cause eye strain. I liken the visuals in The Phantom Menace to Guns N’ Roses’ 2008 record Chinese Democracy, which famously took 13 years to complete, and, with its hugely complex sound, sounds like it. So much was poured into the record that it overflows and gets all over the floor. Same with The Phantom Menace. It was too ambitious for its own good.

There’s also a general ennui that seems to infect most of the characters. They are all largely vacant characters who seem to be swept up in a larger story that I had trouble following. As such, few emerge as real people. This is a film, then, more about myth then it is about humanity or character.

The tone is also odd. Half of the time, much of the dialogue is delivered in serious and stentorian proclamations, but then the seriousness will be offset by a cutaway to a comical animated sidekick who will perform a silly bit of slapstick. It’s not just Jar Jar the newt man either, but all manner of little robots and creatures. I can’t tell if the film wanted to be serious or silly. The middle ground is dangerous. Yes, Jar Jar is annoying. Yes Anakin is annoying too. If actor Jake Lloyd, however, got his start in, say, straight-to-video Disney sequels, he would not be as maligned as he is. The poor kid grew up so mocked by his performance in this film that he retired from acting altogether. I extend words of encouragement to Mr. Lloyd: sir, I feel you could have developed your craft, and may have grown into a fine actor. I’m sorry so many people made fun of you. We should grab a beer sometime and commiserate.

I could go on, but I elect not to. Within the story, about a decade will pass, and we’ll see a new war. Let’s look at…

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (dir. George Lucas, 2002)

So the story is a little easier to follow this time. Thank goodness. I’d hate for it to get more complex.

The story now: The Phantom Menace is finally given a name. His name, we learn, is Darth Sidious. The story of Attack of the Clones follows a great civil war that is brewing within The Republic. The Trade Federation is still around, and is still being manipulated by Darth Sidious. The Federation is also now in league with the Republic’s new enemy of rebels called simply The Separatists, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). The Separatists have, I think at Darth Sidious’ urgings, been building a secret army of battle robots intended for a proper civil war.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) has found a secret base that has been secretly manufacturing an army of clone warriors for the past decade at the behest of a dead Jedi. There’s a mystery going on here… The clones are all cloned from a single bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), and they all look the same. Jango Fett is the mastermind behind an assassination attempt on the life of Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), who is now a senator in the Republican senate. The breakout of the civil war, called The Clone War, causes Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, who seems to be the only actor in any of these movies who is having any fun) to become even more powerful in the senate. When The Separatists/Federation reveal their robot army, the Jedi takes charge of the clone army, even though no one knows really where it came from or who ordered it; it may have been Darth Sidious, though, as he seems to pulling the strings on just about everything. Darth Sidious only communicates through shimmering holographic messages, the preferred form of telephone call in this universe.

Through a few fights with Count Dooku, we learn that there is yet another secret organization at play in this war called The Sith, which are kind of like anti-Jedi, I think. They have the same psychic powers as Jedi, but they draw their power from something called The Dark Side, which is the part of The Force which is influenced by hate. The Force is never really clearly defined, but I can intuit by the name that The Dark Side is bad news. Dooku is a Sith, it turns out, and has the power to shoot lightning from his hands. In true G.I. Joe and Transformers logic, all the bad Jedi carry red lasers, and the good guys mostly carry blue ones. Sith wear black.

Anakin is now about 20 years old, and is played by Hayden Christiensen. He is now the student of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and has been learning about Jedi powers for the last decade. Jedi students are called “padawans,” and, it is explained, are typically given to the Jedi council when they are still babies. We see a lot of little Jedi kids in this movie. The kids are all pretty awful, and speak with adowable lisps. Anakin is now impetuous and angry a lot of the time. He also, when he is reunited with Amidala, falls in love with her. Eventually, because of the Fett assassination attempt, Anakin is hired to guard Amidala (do Jedis get paid I wonder?) and they spend a lot of their time frolicking and flirting on her home planet of Naboo. The subplot devoted to the romance takes up a lot of the movie, and Amidala changes costumes more often than Barbarella. She even has a black leather fetish outfit that she evidently wears when lounging around the den. Even though Anakin is largely whiny and angry and (as we’ll see) a murderer, Amidala will eventually marry him.

Christiansen is not a bad actor (he is excellent in a film called Shattered Glass), but his performance in Attack of the Clones is pretty awful. He always seems like he’s on the verge of tears. It's like George Lucas, in a fit of unknowable rage, grabbed his by the collar, slapped him hard across the face once or twice, and pushed him in front of the camera with the simple imperative command to “ACT!” Then, while Christiansen was reading his lines, Lucas pulled out a gun and pointed it at Christiansen’s pet dog that already had a broken leg. He is always weepy and distracted.

Eventually Anakin Skywalker thinks to visit his mother back on his home planet of Tatooine. Why he didn’t visit her until now is beyond me, and many fans of this film have openly asked why Anakin didn’t bother to free his slave mother as soon as he had a chance. He finds her just in time to watch her die at the hands of a race of desert pirates called Tuscan Raiders (whom I’m guessing are not from Tuscany). This makes Anakin so mad that he kills the entire tribe. Vigilante justice, by the way, is evidently a big no-no for Jedi. They are supposed to be more evenly-tempered.

I’m still unclear as to the role of Jedi in this universe, or what The Force is exactly. There’s also a lot of talk about a prophecy, and how Anakin will “bring balance to The Force.” I don’t know what that means. Is it unbalanced? How does that effect the Jedis? Does this have anything to do with The Dark Side? The terminology is tossed around a lot, but no one bothers to explain anything.

The same tonal problem with the first continues into this sequel in that way too much time is devoted to jokey asides and references to movies that I (in this exercise) haven’t seen yet. There’s a lot of slapstick stuff with that robot C-3PO, and a cylindrical tool-bot nicknamed R2-D2. An odd conceit of these movies: aliens and robots all seem to speak their own languages, complete with subtitles, but human characters respond as if they’ve been speaking plain English, and always speak plain English. There’s no talk of translators. I guess it’s just a multicultural galaxy.

The Chinese Democracy-like visual overload is even worse in this film than it was in the last. After about 60 minutes of Attack of the Clones, you’ll start going cross-eyed with all the ships and aliens and little visual details that are cramming up the screen.

There’s a truly odd scene wherein Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to a 1950s-style diner and talks to a big fat greasy-spoon chef (Ronald Falk) who resembles an alien raisin version of Mel, the cook from Alice. I guess this galaxy had a 1950s as well. The best scene in the movie is the unintentionally hilarious swordfight between Yoda (Frank Oz, previously a puppeteer, now voicing another CGI creation) and Christopher Lee. Watching a miniature troll having an unlikely light sword battle with a well-known horror icon brings a bizarre pleasure.

It’s surely been asked before, but I wonder: Are any of these characters humans? It takes place, reportedly, in a galaxy far, far away, but these people still call themselves human. They look it, but I don’t know if they are technically.

What else? Oh yeah. Jimmy Smits is in the movie. Samuel L. Jackson is still around. Jar Jar (Ahmed Best) is in it as well, but his role is much, much smaller than it was in the last film. Many audiences and critics reacted so negatively to Jar Jar (as I’m sure some of you know well), that Lucas elected to put him in the film less. Also Natalie Portman wears a tight white outfit in this film, and I know many Portman fans who are grateful.

The next film in episodic order was actually the most recent Star Wars film.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (dir. Dave Filoni, 2008)

This is an animated feature film that was based less on the films that preceded it, and more on an animated TV program that bares the same title. I have not seen the TV show. If it’s anything like this movie, I may not want to.

The film features almost an entirely different cast than the previous movies, although Christopher Lee is back, as is Samuel L. Jackson. The story is much simpler than the previous chapters, and actually feels more like an animated TV special than an actual feature film. The animation style is oddly blocky and stylized, and seems like it would have looked better in cel animation. Which is apt; the original series was cel animated. The story is thus: The Clone Wars that started in the previous film are now in full swing. Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) are now generals in the Clone War, and control the clone troops. Again, what the Jedi are to The Republic is a little unclear. Are they presidents? Wizards for hire? Who are these guys? Count Dooku (Lee) is still leading a droid army of battlebots. There are various fights and battles whose outcome hardly seems important. Jabba the Hutt (Kevin Michael Richardson) is a slug-like alien who is a dangerous gangster, and who controls a part of the galaxy called The Outer Rim. We previously saw Jabba the Hutt overseeing the flying chariot race in The Phantom Menace. In order to get in Jabba the Hutt’s good graces, and get access to his space, The Jedis agree to rescue Jabba’s infant son from an evil kidnapper. The kidnapper is a wicked bald woman named Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman) who is working for Count Dooku. Her evil plan is to let the Jedi rescue Jabba’s infant son, film them carrying it, and claim that it was the Jedi who kidnapped it, forcing Jabba to ally himself with the Separatists. That’s about as complex as it gets, luckily. It’s largely average SatAM writing.

There’s also a new character named Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein), who is assigned to Anakin as a Jedi padawan. She’s willful if dull. They bicker a lot. She is the most visible character in this film, although she will not appear in future chapters. At least I don’t think she will.

I guess the only thing I can really say about The Clone Wars is that is feels like an intermission to the action. Since it was made after the episodic chapter that followed it, nothing could happen that was too dramatic. Like a good TV show, it had to leave all the characters pretty much where we found them, even if their characters are changed a little bit. Anakin, previously so bitter and mean, is a bit more gregarious. Obi-Wan is now even more bland than he was before. I don’t really like the design of the characters. At the very least, the visual over-stuff is scaled back. This film clearly had a pretty low budget, which means less visual flair, which actually was a relief for my tired eyes. As a whole, this film does nothing to build myth, refer to other movies so much, and is mercifully simple. Sadly, it’s still not very good.

What else? There’s a gay purple Hutt alien named Zero. I giggled a lot at the gay purple Hutt alien. Yoda is around as well, although he doesn’t do much. He’s played by Tom Kane. There’s also a supporting character named Commander Cody, which is undoubtedly a reference to the old film serial Commando Cody.

I’m not quite done yet for the week. Please bear with me as I cover, as briefly as I can…

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (dir. George Lucas, 2005)

Of most note: this is the only film in the entire series that’s rated PG-13. All the others are rated PG, or aired on broadcast TV. This means we’re going to have some rather violent images this time around. It also means that the tone will be so bloody dank, that we’ll end this week on a pretty dour note.

Of the four films to date, though, I think I like this one the best. The story, as is kind of the pattern, seems to be getting simpler, and we’re finally given the solutions to certain mysteries. For one, we are finally told who Darth Sidious is. It’s actually been Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) this whole time. That means he’s been, looking back over the movies, the one secretly manipulating the Trade Federation and The Separatists in order to give himself more and more power in the senate. It will eventually be because he wants to turn The Republic, a democracy, into a proper Empire. He is obsessed with power.

Indeed, Palpatine/Sidious’ obsession with power is what makes this film more fun than the others. McDiarmid swings for the walls with his performance, and cackles like a cartoon supervillain – which is indeed what he is. There is a scene late in the film when he kills Samuel L. Jackson’s character with psychic lightning, shrieking “POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!” It’s a moment of evil glee and intensity that these movies have been kind of lacking. The entire story is still centered on Sidious’ plan to – we now learn – take over the senate. It’s said that he controls many senators, although it’s unclear if he’s bribed them or controls them psychically or what. Sidious is also a Sith Lord, and knows a lot about The Dark Side. This is knowledge he openly shares with Anakin (Hayden Christiensen) who has, since the last film, impregnated Amidala (Natalie Portman), still a senator, and now going by her first name of Padmé.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is still a general, and is now looking for an evil enemy commander named General Grievous (Matthew Wood), who seems to be merely a lizard brain and lizard heart encased in a robot suit. Surely “Grievous” is a nom de guerre. Obi-Wan knows that if he kills Grievous, the war will end. It’s restated a lot. Never mind that in the film’s first few minutes, Anakin kills Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Grievous is not the main target. Obi-Wan kills him after a confusing dinosaur chase.

Meanwhile, Anakin begins having Force premonitions about how Padmé will die in childbirth. Palpatine, still in disguise, keeps talking up how The Sith are really neato, and how they can become really powerful, and they can save people from dying, etc. etc. Anakin, twitchy and dumb, goes along with this talk and eventually joins up with Palpatine and changes his name to Darth Vader. Part of Palpatine’s plans was also to frame the Jedi for aspects of the war, and he manages to, in a long sequence, murder them all using the Clone Troops who were also secretly under his control this whole time. Since he is credited for stopping the war, and claims to have stopped the evil Jedi, he is elected emperor for life. Yeah, it’s pretty corny. Two Jedi escape: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.

There’s a scene wherein Anakin/Darth Vader kills children. This is one of the reasons the film is rated PG-13.

The other reason is that we get to see Darth Vader get horribly mutilated. The film features a long, long, loooooong laser sword fight between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, which culminates in Darth Vader getting his arms and legs cut off, and then set on fire. This sounds like something from a Saw film. Palpatine finds Darth Vader, and, for unclear reasons, builds him a new body and locks his face in a black mask that breathes for him. There’s a weird scene reminiscent of Frankenstein where the masked Darth Vader wrenches his body up from a medical table, and crushes the room with his psychic powers.

Oh yes, we do see Amidala give birth to twins (the midwife robot made me giggle) whom she names Luke and Leia. Leia is given to Jimmy Smits, and Luke is sent to Anakin’s home planet of Tatooine. Amidala does indeed die. Anakin thinks that he killed her for some reason. Oh yeah, cause he choked her with psychic powers earlier in the film when he went on his child-killing spree.

What else? Oh yeah, there’s an extended fight scene between robots and Bigfoots, which this film calls Wookies, and, for some reason, spells “Wookiees.”

So Revenge of the Sith (and is it revenge, really?) is, thanks to the bad guy, at least a clearer and more fun film than the other three. I still don’t know the bad guy’s motivations, but I guess wanting to be a powerful psychic monster emperor is motivating enough. I just wish the tone was lighter. All of these films so far have been heavy and turgid and complex. The only thing that could keep the tone light were a few ill-advised attempts at slapstick humor, but no moments of genuine levity. Well, there was a cute moment in Attack of the Clones wherein Obi-Wan used his psychic powers to make sure a drug dealer turned his life around. But that’s just a small detail in a series of films that is thick with importance, and no fun to look at.

What will happen with those twin babies? How will Palpatine rule the galaxy now that he’s an emperor? What was his ultimate plan? It might have something to do with the big sphere he was building in the last shot of Revenge of the Sith, but I don’t know what that is yet.

Yes, I know what it is, but I’m waiting for the films to tell me. Next week, I will be looking at the 1977 original Star Wars, easily one of the most popular films of all time. In keeping with my project, though, I will only refer to the film by its rebranded title Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which is how many fans refer to it already, although the cinematic purist in me bristles to do so.

Be sure to join me next week for Episode IV, a stop along the road for The Star Wars Holiday Special, and then Episode V, often celebrated by fans as the best film in the series. Return soon, kiddies. Live long and prosper. 

Follow Witney Seibold on Twitter at @WitneySeibold.