We don't always like being nonplussed

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Totally Frivolous TL;DR Post Wherein I Rewrite Revenge of the Sith

I wrote this during the week for my own entertainment, and so I'm posting it today because 1) I like what I came up with, and B) with Figurereviews.com's Seventh Anniversary this week (and a big block of Beast Wars reviews coming next week) I've been kind of busy. So today we're doing something completely unrelated to gaming- import, retro, or otherwise.  

Shut up it's a blog I can write whatever I want

(At least it's not about my cat.)

I've seen a lot of attempts to "fix" Star Wars: The Phantom Menace lately. And believe me, it needs fixing. But for me the real lynchpin to making Star Wars work as a whole is Revenge of the Sith. It's a movie in an unenviable position of having to wrap up the prequel story and make it tie into the original three movies, and as such it does an okay job mechanically, but it's missing something. Cohesion? Likeable characters? Writing? You could say it's any number of... okay, it's the writing. Not just dialogue, but the reasoning behind certain things that happen primarily because they have to happen to make the series work. These could be better.

So here’s what I’m thinking:
The movie opens with few changes until we get onto General Grievous’ ship. We’re still using Anakin’s attitudes towards his Clone pilots and Obi-Wan to show that 1) he’s too attached to people for a Jedi and 2) he’s not a dick yet. When we hit the ship is probably the last chance we get to show Anakin and Obi-Wan as friends, comrades, brothers. That should’ve been the focus of this sequence, not Elevator Action. Like so many other parts of ROTS, it’s halfway there, but it’s obvious the visuals got more consideration than the human element. But in particular we need for Anakin to be charismatic and entertaining here. For there to be any tension or sadness to the fall of Anakin Skywalker, we’d have to like him first. And I never have.

So, after an extremely convivial chase to the Chancellor, the pair encounter Count Dooku. The big problem with every one of the prequel duels is that to one degree or another the personal element is missing. There's barely any dialogue to most of them. That just shouldn't be.

As a Sith Lord, knowing that Anakin in particular is short-tempered, Dooku is talking his face off, waiting for the Jedi to get mad and make mistakes. Obi-Wan takes it in stride and fires back a couple of biting remarks. Anakin however, being Anakin, is losing his cool rapidly as Dooku goads him, speaking of the darkness he feels in Anakin and taunting him about his new arm. What does rattle Obi-Wan is how quickly Anakin is flying off the handle, and he tells him to concentrate and block it out. As Obi-Wan is distracted, he’s knocked out and pinned as in the film. Anakin tries to reach Obi-Wan to make sure he’s alright, but Dooku gets between them, forcing Anakin to retreat, maybe even hide. The Force Lightning that Dooku curiously never uses in the movie would be good for that.

And Dooku speaks of anger and hate as before, but he also speaks of fear, not just for Obi-Wan but of Obi-Wan. Anakin’s hiding something from him, something big... ah, a wife. No doubt the Senator from Naboo, with whom he has a long history. He says this in a whisper so that Palpatine cannot hear.

In the film as it is, there’s never anything Dooku says to inspire the kind of fear and rage in Anakin that he, as Vader, later inspires in Luke in Return of the Jedi by threatening Leia. The visual parallels are there, but without the emotional parallels the movie is incomplete.

Anakin goes berserk, fighting with the kind of raw ferocity Luke had in Jedi but with the training to back it up. Dooku is driven back to in front of Palpatine’s chair, and Anakin shears both his hands off. And the scene goes largely the same, except that when Palpatine tells Anakin to kill Dooku, the Count does not sit silent. Looking back and forth between them, he says “No, wait- I’ll tell you everything!” He is speaking, of course, of the fact that Darth Sidious is sitting right in front of Anakin and he doesn’t know it. But Anakin, he thinks Dooku is about to tell Palpatine about Padme, and kills him. Not because some old man says so in a creepy voice, but out of the kind of fear and anger that, I don’t know, might drive you to the Dark Side of the Force!?

Anakin is aghast at what he’s done, somewhat like the “What have I DONE!?” scene later in the finished movie, but with acting. Palpatine is (playing) ignorant to why Anakin really killed Dooku, and gives the “natural to want revenge” schtick. Instead of invoking the sand people, he then says that it’s inevitable things had to go this way: a Sith’s strength comes from the Dark Side of the Force, and only through invoking the Dark Side could a Jedi hope to overcome that strength. A warrior like Dooku, with the teachings of the Jedi and the Sith, could well be the most powerful thing in the galaxy. If such a person were in his prime, he'd have been unstoppable. Hint, hint.

At this point the movie recommences pretty much as shown, with one exception: something needs to be done about Obi-Wan’s “How did this happen? We’re smarter than this!” line. George Lucas, during the making of Empire Strikes Back, nixed the line “this is boring,” because he didn’t want the audience to think so. He obviously forgot his own advice, because what Obi-Wan’s saying is “this is stupid.”

But otherwise, yeah: Grievous escapes, ship crashes, pregnancy, bad dreams, etc. Anakin’s talk with Yoda goes the same way, but instead of being sent to Palpatine and Obi-Wan being wary about that, Anakin goes to visit the Chancellor himself. We’ve established that Palpatine has been Anakin’s closest friend since he came to Coruscant, and he needs someone to confide in- where else would he go if Yoda couldn't help him?

Palpatine “surmises” that Anakin is speaking of Padme, and Anakin is shocked to hear it. But Palpatine reassures him that his secret is safe; for a person who has done as much good for the Republic as Anakin, regulations should mean very little. He should have a right to do what he sees fit and be acknowledged for his deeds, not punished for the passions that drive them. Speaking of which, how’d you like a seat on the Jedi Council?

From there we go back to the movie again, with the Council only allowing this so that they also have eyeballs on Palpatine. Obi-Wan expresses enough skepticism of Palpatine’s motives here that the previous scene isn’t needed at all. Anakin’s stuck in the middle between Palpatine’s machinations and the Council’s, and his pride is hurt by not being made a master.

The scene with Mace, Yoda and Obi-Wan discussing Anakin doesn’t need much, but I have one optional change I'd like to have seen here: I’d like it if the Jedi know about Anakin’s marriage, and always have. But his success and renown in the Clone Wars make it politically and strategically unfeasible to confront and/or expel him, so they've turned a blind eye. This would really put the point on the fact that the Jedi have accepted a lot of compromises in the name of winning this war, which is what leads to their downfall. And it makes the Tragedy of Darth Vader that much more of a tragedy because all of this suffering is, like most suffering, completely unnecessary.

At this point, there should be a brief scene of Anakin asking the Jedi librarian for all their materials on death, and techniques in the Force to stop and forestall it. This is the thing that is driving him throughout the movie, but except for getting told by Yoda to stop being stupid, he does nothing about it until spoon-fed answers by Darth Sidious. This being the kid who ran off to Tatooine against orders to try and save his mother, I can't see him sitting still for his wife.

The librarian smiles, and hands him a stack of datapads and books and says that “this is everything I can give you,” saying that there are some materials in the Archives that only Masters have access to. Anakin grits his teeth; the Jedi who refuse to recognize his abilities and worthiness are now also obstructing his ability to save his wife.

At the showing of Squid Lake, the conversation goes largely as shown. When Anakin speaks of the Sith drawing their power from passion, Palpatine asks if that’s so wrong? If that wasn’t what enabled him to defeat Dooku, and save his two mentors? Isn’t the strength of his love for his mentors and his wife what won that fight? Not Jedi training. If he is to bring balance to the Force, does that not speak of taking the best of Jedi and Sith and using it for the good of all? Anakin’s feelings give him strength; it’s the pain of suppressing them that weakens him. The Council will not, cannot see it that way- as long as they distrust and fear him, he will never have the power he wants. The power he needs.

Also, a small change to the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise: Palpatine wouldn’t cop to killing his master in his sleep this early- even indirectly -if he wanted Anakin to put all the pieces together and join him. He needs his trust for that, and sowing distrust in the Jedi should only be part of that process.

Having been told the Sith may have the answers he needs and having no access to the Sith, we get another very brief library scene: Anakin marches brusquely back into the archives and demands all reference materials on the Sith. Oh, no, says Jocasta Nu, to see any of that you’d need written permission of a member of the Council. Anakin pounds a terminal with his mechanical fist, crushing it. I am a member of the Council!

But you’re not a Master.

Anakin storms out without another word. The angrier and more fixated he becomes the more we see him behaving like Darth Vader.

And the biggest change is here. After another night of nightmares Anakin storms into Palpatine’s private office, ranting about how the Jedi don’t trust him and Palpatine has to order them to give him full access to the archives. If the Sith teachings are in there, he’ll never see them at this rate. Palpatine smiles warmly, and says to Anakin that perhaps asking the Jedi about the Sith is the wrong way to go about it. And then he apologizes for not trusting Anakin with his greatest secret: his true name is Darth Sidious, Lord of the Sith.

Anakin, shocked, ignites his lightsaber, and they stare at each other. Palpatine, all calm, explains about his friend, who would become Darth Maul: he killed Plagueis- Plagueis the Wise, Plagueis who knew how to protect the ones he loved from death -and took the title of Dark Lord of the Sith for himself, plotting the destruction of the Republic. Maul had not learned Plagueis’ secrets, and Sidious knew his life was in danger if Maul found him. So he shed the name of Sidious, renounced his title of Lord, and returned to the Republic he was born in, hatching a grand ten-year plan to defend it from this renegade Sith. He ordered the Grand Army and waited for Maul’s successor, Tyrannus/Dooku, to make his move. All of this has happened because Palpatine loves the Republic so much- his strength in the Force flows from his passion for peace, a desire to protect the security of the galaxy he loves.

Anakin asks why Palpatine didn’t tell him before, but the answer is obvious: Anakin is a Jedi, sworn enemy of the Sith. But now that he knows, and the renegade Sith have been dispatched... Sidious can teach Anakin the ways of the Sith, and that order can be revived as the force for good it always should have been. He can save the woman he loves, restore justice and order to the galaxy, and fulfill the prophecy by bringing his Jedi and Sith knowledge of the Force together, striking a balance, and making a final peace between the two sects. A seductive deal, no?

Anakin falls for it, hard. There’s no reason not to now- it’s the difference between having nothing you want and having everything you ever wanted. He pledges himself to Sidious on the spot, and is christened Lord Darth Vader.

Now the battle in Palpatine’s office reverts to something closer to an earlier version that was actually shot, where Anakin was already Vader, and present in Palpatine’s office from the beginning of the confrontation with Mace Windu and the other Jedi- if you look at some shots in that scene, Ian McDiarmid is using Anakin’s lightsaber. Windu comes to announce Grievous’ death and demand Palpatine step down. Palpatine refuses, with the war not formally over, and Mace tries to place him under arrest. Anakin sees this as treason, and battles the other Jedi to a standstill on his own- we get to see Vader as badass for a moment, as opposed to the vicious-but-pathetic child killer he’ll be later. This also builds tension for the Obi-Wan duel for those who might accidentally be seeing these movies in numerical order- how can one Jedi hope to stand up to this guy?

He disarms them all and/or knocks them all out save Windu, who is putting up the best fight because he’s Samuel Motherfucking Jackson. But after a protracted fight he gains the upper hand and pronounces Mace under arrest for treason...

...only to have Palpatine, cackling, stab Windu in the back with a lightsaber. As the other Jedi come to, Palpatine strikes down two, but one (Kit Fisto maybe) escapes, running to warn the Jedi. Palpatine makes a point of shouting to "Lord Vader" that they've been discovered. Anakin is in shock, and we get the full-on “What have I DONE!?”, or something similar but less bad. And Palpatine tells him the real story: He killed Plagueis; Maul and Tyrannus were his apprentices, he plotted the Clone Wars from both sides to weaken the Jedi to the point where he could destroy them. This is the endgame of a Sith plan that goes back centuries... and he could never have done it without Anakin’s help. But before Anakin can strike, Palpatine reminds him: there are witnesses that will tell people who you really are, Lord Vader, and as Palpatine’s close friend and confidant you’ll never convince people you weren’t in on it from the beginning. Besides, only Sidious can save Padme- if you side with the Jedi, all three of them will be destroyed. And the bit about endless civil war too.

We get the darker side of the seduction here: all the reasons are still there, but the price just got a hell of a lot higher. There’s nothing for Anakin to do now but do what he has to do to save Padme, and himself, and the Republic: the Jedi must all die.

So we’re back on the rails for everything leading up to the Big Duel- Order 66, Thunderous Applause, Annie You’re Breaking My Heart. No changes are really deeply needed until the duels. Anakin chokes out Padme, Obi-Wan tries to talk sense into the boy, but Anakin has convinced himself utterly that Palpatine was right about the Jedi, because otherwise he’s a horrible person who has betrayed the principles of everyone who ever loved him and murdered most of them besides. As the duel begins, there’s again much more talking- Vader and Obi-Wan arguing, taunting one another, picking at each other’s flaws, making the fight very, very personal. This should've been the most intensely personal fight in all six movies, and instead it's one of the most technical both in terms of choreography and special effects. Not the same thing.

Now let’s address the problem with the Yoda/Sidious duel: Yoda sure does give up easily. He falls a long distance and that’s it? He hops the hell around for most of that fight, and in a series where most battles end in dismemberment at minimum, the strongest and wisest of all Jedi looks like a lightweight. So, while the fight here is not personal for Yoda, he being above taking such things personally and having a job to do, it’s very personal for Sidious, who rightly sees Yoda as the personification of the Jedi Order. He gloats as he fights. He brags. He was the mastermind behind the Clone Wars, behind Skywalker’s visions, the Jedi’s diminished ability to use the Force and especially to see into the future, all of it. The power to cheat death is just an old legend Sith use to lure in apprentices with something to lose. Just to rub it in- and with a bit of goading from Yoda (“That powerful in the Force, no one is!”), Sidious lifts the fog and allows Yoda to see the future of his Empire. And Yoda sees it: Darth Vader, the Death Star, the destruction of Alderaan, and-

-and a brief glimmer of hope that Palpatine hasn’t seen. Yoda’s eyes widen. He’s seen how to win the fight- but it can't be won today. He will have to be patient. So he throws the fight and escapes with Bail Organa’s help. If you don't want to break up the movie with a vision/montage, just have Yoda's eyes widen, and then he begins to try to escape. It can look like he's afraid of Sidious and the awful truth of the Empire, but then later we will know better.

Back to Mustafar. Obi-Wan has shaken off Vader and hidden, and begins to throw things at him with the Force and otherwise fight indirectly- essentially playing with him the way Vader plays with Luke in Empire. Obi-Wan’s strength from Attack of the Clones forward is continually shown to be that he’s good at sneaking around. He knows he can’t beat Vader attacking head-on, so he wears him down in their duel through the Mustafar facility with every trick he can think of. Battered and tired, Vader plans his defense, shutting down the safety mechanisms by hand and leading Obi-Wan onto the river of lava. On those narrow platforms, there’s not much choice but to get in close and fight. It's a more even fight now, and Vader is no longer able to overpower Kenobi the way he did in the early fight. So from here, the high-ground thing still works. The entire rest of the movie still works.

Almost- one little thing needs major tweaking and it's the one that got me thinking about this to begin with.

When Padme dies in childbirth, the robot says she’s lost the will to live. Even though she has two children about to grow up in a hostile galaxy and she claims to believe that there’s still good in her child-murdering husband, she’s just had enough of this shit and dies. Maybe she's a metaphor for the prequel audience here. But, it’s stupid. It’s really stupid. You might as well say a wizard did it.

...hey, we’ve got one of those! So that’s my solution: the Emperor kills Padme through the Force. Doing this at this distance is unheard of. The Jedi don’t know this technique, don’t know how to counter it, and they're both exhausted. Yoda knows why Sidious needs her dead: he's seen the future. Vader has survived the duel, and Palpatine wants nothing that would divide his new apprentice’s focus or give him any hope of a happy life. Anakin Skywalker must be destroyed utterly for Darth Vader to be the kind of apprentice the Emperor wants.

But the children are safe, Yoda explains. Palpatine knows nothing of them; the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn has shielded them from the Emperor’s senses. (If you’re really playing the Star Wars No-Prize game, this could also be why Vader can sense Luke’s presence on Endor and the Emperor can’t.) They are the hope Yoda foresaw, and until the time to confront the Emperor is right, Obi-Wan, the twins, and Yoda must vanish. And in the meantime, that's not the only trick Qui-Gon picked up while being dead...

And so the movie ends as shown, big “NO” optional. In the Making-of book for Sith, it’s shown George Lucas struggled with the reason for Padme’s death and what Sidious tells Vader about it. In one draft of the script, Vader did cause fatal injuries and Palpatine says Obi-Wan killed her. He wanted the Emperor’s explanation to be an obvious lie, something that would break Vader’s spirit and leave him with nothing left. But besides making the reason for Padme’s death laughably stupid, it’s kind of not a lie: Darth Vader done broke her heart, and that’s why she dies, more or less.

So for what it's worth, this is my version of Revenge of the Sith. I think it works a bit better and makes the birth of Darth Vader what we were promised so long ago: a seduction, a sales pitch so appealing that a good man who didn't have control of his passions would fall, and do what he felt had to be done, and fall further still, until he was consumed by evil.


  1. It's too bad your version wasn't the actual story outline for the movie. Revenge of the Sith as filmed was decent, but it could have been great.

  2. It really could have. This is a tweak more than anything- one more draft of the script, and the movie could've looked like this. I think that's the best and worst thing about it- it's the best of the prequels and it could have been as good as the first three.