Tag Archives: Hayden Christensen

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In Defense of Revenge of the Sith

I have writ­ten about this movie before, but have decided that it war­rants revis­it­ing and that my thoughts, which I’d like to think have matured since then, also call for a bit of refor­mu­la­tion. There were two Star Wars movies which I specif­i­cally remem­ber dis­lik­ing more than the oth­ers when I was younger: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Revenge of the Sith. Once can arguably define these two as the dark­est install­ments of their respec­tive trilo­gies, and that was cer­tainly the prin­ci­pal rea­son for my dis­lik­ing them. It strikes me as funny now to see that The Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded among knowl­edge­able audi­ences as the supe­rior of all the Star Wars movies, and it is also curi­ous to see that Revenge of the Sith is not men­tioned kindly in many places, or at least not as much as I thought it would be.

I can under­stand The Phan­tom Men­ace being much derided, for as soon as the obnox­iously opin­ion­ated young Anakin Sky­walker first appears the film instantly loses any respectabil­ity and cred­i­bil­ity that might have come inher­ent with Liam Nee­son. Attack of the Clones, too, is not a very good movie (more on that later). But Revenge of the Sith—in Revenge of the Sith, there are no glar­ing faults that fatally under­mine the solid­ity of the whole enter­prise. It is, by any def­i­n­i­tion, a per­fectly respectable movie which, yes, does not infer that it is beyond reproach. You can poke plenty of holes in it, but doing so would be spite­ful, because this is a movie that does not deserve your dis­par­age­ment. One can only admire at the intri­cately, tightly woven strands of the story which ties together the moral and ide­o­log­i­cal cor­rup­tion of our tor­mented anti-hero and the top­pling of a Repub­lic by a schem­ing politi­cian, the stun­ning scope of a story which takes us across worlds and yet brings it all back to a vari­a­tion of Anakin Skywalker’s line “I won’t lose you the way I lost my mother.” 

Cer­tainly, credit has to go to Hay­den Chris­tensen, whose dubi­ously staged scenes of “seduc­tion” with Natalie Port­man in Attack of the Clones were so idi­otic they destroyed what­ever virtues might have been stuck in that film oth­er­wise. But Chris­tensen, who plays Sky­walker, is older now, and now that his char­ac­ter is slowly being drawn to the dark side and not merely a petu­lant, obsessed teenager, Christensen’s weirdly intense—not quite wooden, as each word he pro­nounces seems to drip with long-smothered emo­tion, but not quite organic—way of act­ing some­how makes more sense. You believe his titanic strug­gle against the per­va­sive influ­ence of the dark side, as man­i­fested in Ian McDiamird’s Pal­pa­tine,  all mur­mured insin­u­a­tion, but you also under­stand his boil­ing dis­con­tent with the Jedi Coun­cil. It’s not even that the Jedi Mas­ters, includ­ing Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu, regard him with barely dis­guised wari­ness, but that they do it so infu­ri­at­ingly coolly, that they come off so unblink­ingly pas­sive and even ignorant.

Then again, you take a step back and see that there was really lit­tle the Jedi Coun­cil could do to pre­vent the inevitable temp­ta­tion of Sky­walker. He was always fated to fall, and the Jedi Coun­cil only pre­cip­i­tated his fall by stok­ing his sim­mer­ing frus­tra­tion.  I’m reminded of the TV show Rome and the lay­ers of com­plex­i­ties that lay between Julius Cae­sar and Bru­tus before the famous betrayal; both sense the dan­ger hov­er­ing in the air, the mutual mis­trust and the anger that dares not yet erupt, and yet both are uncer­tain. Bru­tus has been tempted, but he is unwill­ing to com­mit him­self fully to treach­ery, still cling­ing to his last ves­tiges of loy­alty and integrity. It might have worked out all right if then the unmind­ful Caesar—much like the Jedi Council—didn’t elect to err on the side of cau­tion (in Rome, he point­edly appoints Bru­tus to an insult­ingly incon­se­quen­tial gov­er­nor­ship, while in Revenge of the Sith, Mace Windu holds off on fully trust­ing Anakin until it’s too late), pro­vid­ing the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

I think the ulti­mate rea­son why it’s truly fas­ci­nat­ing to watch Anakin’s undo­ing is because it feels and is famil­iar. His story is a time­less tragedy of bib­li­cal, mytho­log­i­cal pro­por­tions, one that has been trav­el­ing down our cul­tural high­ways for cen­turies. And George Lucas’s inter­pre­ta­tion isn’t shabby at all. In fact, it’s pretty spectacular.