May 19, 1999.
Almost 16 years after ‘Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi‘, the world was taken back to a galaxy far, far away for ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’. It was the beginning of a new prequel trilogy that would focus on the journey of Anakin Skywalker and the events that shaped this galaxy 32 years prior to ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’.
There had been no cinematic event quite like it, and the expectations were through the roof.
November 4, 2004.
The teaser trailer for the final prequel, and then quite possibly the last ever Star Wars film, ‘Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith‘, made its global debut to a world. After dampening responses to both ‘The Phantom Menace‘ and ‘Attack of the Clones‘, the pressure on the final instalment was monumental, having to ensure all prequel questions were answered and that the events teased 28 years previously would finally be depicted on screen.
With a heavy dose of nostalgia and a darker tone to this teaser and TV spots that hinted at a more horrific, action-packed story than seen in the franchise’s history, the world’s appetite was more than whetted for the cinematic revenge of the Sith…
May 19, 2005.
Following the international premieres earning impressive reviews, ‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ launched with midnight showings across the UK from 00.01 am on Thursday, May 19, 2005. Within days, box-office records proved that Star Wars still had pulling power, still holding the biggest opening on a Thursday. And in UK cinemas, tickets were selling so fast that sales eclipsed the combined totals of the next twenty films to be released.
It seemed that ‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ had become the prequel that audiences had wanted to see 6 years earlier. Long before LucasFilm was a twinkle in Disney’s eye, this would be lapped up and appreciated as the then final cinematic Star Wars film for fans around the world.
May 19, 2020.
‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ turns 15 years young today, widely regarded as the best of the prequel films. It’s time to blast into hyperspace to look at how George Lucas and LucasFilm redeemed the prequels and paved the way for so much more in the Star Wars universe.
As with all Star Wars trilogies, be it originals, prequels or sequels, there is a huge demand on each film, more so for ‘Revenge Of The Sith’, ‘Return Of The Jedi‘ and ‘The Rise Of Skywalker’, which must tie up the stories that had come before while also concluding their respective trilogy by meeting the expectations of its core fanbase.
Before Disney and the sequels, ‘Revenge of the Sith‘ delivered the last true vision from the mind of creator/director George Lucas. It resolved the stories and character arcs introduced in Episodes I and II and added new mythology and meanings to moments in Episode IV that previously were just spoken dialogue.
A variety of factors within the prequel trilogy divided audiences, thus leading to negative reactions. Following the original trilogy that prided itself on the implementation of practical effects, the casting of rising Hollywood stars, and a simple good vs evil story, the prequels seemed to steer in a different direction. The overreliance on new digital technologies such as CGI, the cheesy performances, the overly complicated plots; to name a few. The prequels were a very different breed of Star Wars.
It was down to ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ to improve on these factors and deliver a visually exciting, emotionally powerful and engrossing sci-fi adventure that harkened back to what made Star Wars great before the taxation of trade routes came into play.
Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects group responsible for many ground-breaking visual effects in the industry and founded by Lucas in 1975, worked on Episode III under the supervision of John Knoll and Roger Guyett. The team created over 2000+ CG shots including a visually striking eight-minute opening space battle, 385 digitally created characters, and fully rendered planets, weather and fire. The visual effects were leaps ahead of ‘The Phantom Menace’, with more texture, photo-realism, and attention to detail. While excessive, the effects helped create a more immersive experience from the opening Battle of Coruscant, the rollercoaster Clone Wars across various worlds, and, of course, the final duel on Mustafar.
The wars were back in Star Wars! Gone were the politics and cloning who-haa. Now it was pure and simple war-waging across the galaxy. Lucas gave the audience everything they wanted to see in this new modern era of sci-fi tentpoles. Action sequences were relentless and planet-hopping was rife, pausing only for the increasing tension in the main narrative charting Anakin Skywalker’s descent to the Dark Side.
It was also a treat to see the clone army of the Republic acting as a single dangerous unit, making the Stormtroopers look even more inept. The CGI clones looked even better since their 2002 debut and gave us action akin to that of ‘Apocalypse Now‘ or ‘Saving Private Ryan‘, with shaky cam and military manoeuvres present across various exotic worlds.
It’s also due to these glimpses of inter-galactic warfare that spurred Dave Filoni’s 2008 ‘The Clone Wars’ animated film, which subsequently launched the TV series of the same name. The animated show introduced new planets, characters and lore that became so popular among critics and fans that many were referenced in the films, especially ‘The Rise Of Skywalker‘.
The lightsabre duels were thick and fast involving heroes and villains like the cyborg General Grievous, Count Dooku, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, and even Sheev Palpatine himself in a barrage of spectacle that didn’t hold back. It was thanks to choreographer Nick Gillard who gave us as much substance and style as possible, with each duel sending shockwaves across the franchise. It was also down to Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor and their passion for the duel to end all duels – Anakin Skywalker vs Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This intense battle, cut between an equally important duel between Jedi Master Yoda and Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine, is the most brutal, raw, and emotionally charged confrontation across the whole franchise. Ever since Sir Alec Guinness teased the fate of Anakin during the original trilogy, Lucas brought the duel to life with energy and a swelling soundtrack by John Williams.
Kudos to Christensen and McGregor – their ability to work with real emotive and hard-hitting content were franchise highs for both. A friendship forged by war, by fate, and by love is destroyed as Anakin finally succumbs to the Dark Side of the Force, siding with the Sith as he becomes Lord Darth Vader, a moment we all were waiting to see on screen.
It was this duel and confrontation that pushed ‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ into refreshingly mature territory. The grizzly, violent fate of Anakin on Mustafar proved Lucas was putting it all out there – to shock, surprise and to awe all ages with the birth of Darth Vader, tying up all loose ends ready for A New Hope. His brave direction and dedication in fulfilling his vision gave us the most action-packed and emotional entry in the saga.
‘Revenge Of The Sith’ saved the prequel trilogy and created imagery and characters that will stay with fans forever in an otherwise tragic conclusion to the story of Anakin Skywalker. It still provides wow moments and thrills with its visual storytelling.
As the last true Star Wars cinematic entry from LucasFilm, ‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ stands strong today as it did 15 years ago, and will be eternalised for all the right reasons, with not one sand meme in sight.