Not the second best, mind you. I know Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is, for the most part, not a great movie. There’s bad acting, mishandled characters and weird choices throughout. I’m not here to explain why it’s a good film. I’m here to tell you why I like it so much.
First, I should mention, time heals all wounds. X-Men: The Last Stand is watchable, now that X-Men: Days of Future Past provides those original films closure. Jurassic Park III is no longer the disappointing end for that series. And Revenge of the Sith isn’t how Star Wars’ big screen legacy ends.
The thing about the Star Wars prequels was that they were always going to be depressing. They were telling a story about the rise of the Empire and it’s iron fist rule. Obviously, the movies dropped the ball on that and wasted a lot of potential, but Revenge of the Sith comes the closest to what that tone should have looked like.
Take for instance, the scene where Mace Windu and some soon-to-be dead Jedi go to arrest Senator Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious. There’s a tension in the lead up that the prequels didn’t have. We know the Jedi can’t succeed in that moment and we’re going to have to watch their failure play out on screen. The end result isn’t fantastic movie making, but the build before that has weight that remains even on repeat viewings.
The same tension goes for the two “seduction of the innocent” scenes between Anakin and Palpatine. “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis”, as a story, might only be interesting to people who enjoy the expanded universe, but the scene is atmospheric and a rare, quiet moment that works compared to the previous two movies botched attempts at introspection. The scene where Sidious reveals himself as a Sith Lord to Anakin is one of Hayden Christensen’s better scenes, acting-wise. There’s a real sense of conflict in Anakin at that moment, of betrayal and anger. In fact, he comes across much more conflicted here than he did killing Tusken Raiders or will when it’s time to kill some younglings. And, of course, Ian Mcdiarmid chews the scenery like it’s his last meal.
Mcdiarmid, alongside Ewan Mcgregor, comes out of the prequels with his head held high, and that might be due to the fact that he gets to be one of the only actors who gets to have fun. While Mcgregor gives his scenes the heart that is missing most of the time, Mcdiarmid gets to cackle and hiss and go gleefully into the Dark Side. This is a character whose been waiting for decades to see his plan come to fruition, hiding and restraining himself. Finally, after all this time, he gets to be himself and Mcdiarmid plays those scenes like Sidious is making up for all that lost time. His fight with Yoda, though anti-climatic, is like watching a Golden Retriever let off the leash for the first time. That dog isn’t coming back.
Back to the beginning of the film, though. Revenge of the Sith has one of the best opening of Star Wars films, alongside Return of the Jedi. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s adventure outside and in an enemy cruiser, filled with elevator high jinx and R2-D2 misadventures, is the type of adventure the prequels didn’t have. The climax of that opening, with the ship splitting into pieces as Anakin pilots and Obi-Wan cracks wise is the type of fun we should have had back when we first landed on Naboo.
Now, of course, after that opening, there’s a lot of dead air. Outside the for-mentioned “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis” scene, we don’t have much to latch onto for a while. Anakin finding out he’s going to be a father has some life, but the complete mishandling of Natalie Portman keeps all Anakin and Padme scenes far from enjoyable. Once Obi-Wan confronts General Grevious, the movie kicks back into gear. But, no surprise, Grevious is a letdown when it comes to his combat skills. Like most scenes, Mcgregor keeps the movie afloat by shear will.
But, then, Anakin learns the truth about Sidious and the Jedi fail. Anakin turns to the Dark Side, a lot quicker than it should be, but George Lucas was probably getting just as impatient with his script as the rest of us. So, we come to Order 66.
The Jedi should not have fallen the way they do in this movie, they should have had more fight in them. But, as time has moved forward, a theme has presented itself in these prequels, that has been later picked up and run with in later Star Wars stories, including The Last Jedi. These movies are about the Jedi at the height of their power politically, but they have become complacent and apathetic in their battle against the Dark Side. Watching Jedi Masters fall so easily due to their lack of critical thinking and weakness in the Force might not be a hundred percent satisfying, but John Williams’ score and a few visually striking shots help provide those moments with emotion.
Williams, I should mention, gave these prequels so much life and identity though his music that you could argue that he’s the reason any of these scenes work, and I would be won over to your side. As much as I liked The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I don’t think anything Williams has done in those movies has matched the music in the prequels. And he helped Revenge of the Sith with that thrilling, heartbreaking “Battle of the Heroes”. There’s more than one reason why those final battles have as much weight as they do, but that piece of music, melded with “Duel of the Fates” in the film, is a huge part of it all.
The third act of Revenge of the Sith is what the prequels were building up to over three films. The battle between Yoda and Sidious is an entertaining one, with Yoda getting to be snippy and show off his power in the Force. It’s satisfying seeing him knock the Sith Lord over a chair, it’s cool seeing how much stronger he is than Sidious at times, but it’s also frustrating, knowing that the character we’re rooting for can’t win. I don’t buy into the fact that Yoda could have won if he had climbed back up those seats and continued the fight. This was a surprise counter-attack and fighting Sidious while dealing with guards and clone troopers after falling from such heights might have proven difficult for a eight-hundred year old Jedi Master who spends most days in a bean bag chair.
The fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is a long one, with more ups than downs. The lead-up conversation between the two characters is full of great lines, and their delivery speaks volumes. When Obi-Wan tells Anakin that his “allegiance is to the Republic…to democracy!” there’s frustration and desperation in Mcgregor’s reading. He thought he and Anakin were on the same page about all of this, what is he supposed to do? “Your new empire?” he asks Anakin, in mockery and disbelief. You idiot, “You’ve allowed this Dark Lord to twist your mind” and yet still a refusal to take the blame for failing his student. Later, near the end of the battle, he tells Anakin, “I have failed you” but there’s still an arrogance in his delivery. Obi-Wan won’t be able to take the blame due to him for a while, it’s too much for him to handle.
On the other hand, you have Christensen’s lines being read like a petulant brat, but that’s what Anakin has become. And, to be fair, there’s a precedent for that. Darth Vader, in all his stern and fear in the original series, doesn’t like things going against what he wants. The line of succession for the officers in The Empire Strikes Back is due to Vader being a bully, who’s tantrums are now controlled Force chokes. But, in the moments on Mustafar, Anakin still has twenty years of anger, regret and loneliness ahead of him. So, when he shouts, “You will not take her from me”, it’s not as a regal and terrifying villain, it’s as a brat who still needs a few lessons from the Dark Side.
I can’t defend the ‘high ground” moment or the “You were my brother but have fun burning for a long time and maybe surviving to come back to haunt the whole galaxy!” However, the scene where Anakin is taken by Sidious to be repaired, to be placed in a robotic suit of wires and machinery for the rest of his life, is too moody and sad not to defend. Yeah, Vader yells “No!” but first he asks about his wife. Sidious lies to him, of course, but, from a certain point of view, Vader did kill Padme (stupid poetry and medical failures aside). There was a Darth Vader comic I read, not a very good one, that had a moment where Vader was beaten and alone and losing his mind. He’s visited by a vision of Padme, who leaves him again, despite his protesting for her to stay. Reading that, it dawned on me how lonely Darth Vader must be, how much regret he must have to fight down every single day. It’s a heartbreaking realization, and I wish the prequels could have shown us that. But, bringing that into Revenge of the Sith gives these last moments a stronger punch.
I remember reading an article about how Darth Sidious’ rise to power was an accurate representation of Hitler’s ascent. I always found that interesting and I remember reading reviews in 2005 of people comparing Revenge of the Sith to the Bush administration. But, those people had no clue that this movie was going to become of the most documentary Star Wars films ever.
In November 2016, I started experiencing déjà vu. Because of their lack of foresight, the Jedi allow themselves to become embroiled in politics. Soon, after the Clone Wars start, you can’t separate the Jedi from the war. Once they were the defenders of peace and the helpless, but soon the government’s cause became theirs. Their Jedi code, their mantra, stopped being as important to them as their political standing. Meanwhile, in the real world, a large population that form organized religion have decided that politics, more often than not, far-right politics, are more important than their own doctrine or that the two line up perfectly. Where’s there’s teaching of love and being an alien just passing through this world, it was drowned out by a desire to see their beliefs in the place of power. And as the Jedi were betrayed, not just because they were no longer of use, but because their mortal enemy had taken power, many of the real world religious figures should be ready to be dropped as soon as they’re no longer useful politically. And, just like the fate of the Jedi, when those that desire greed and power are the ruling party, there will be a sudden realization that these politicians don’t share those beliefs of love or peace. Being part of the Republic was more important than being a Jedi, even if they wouldn’t admit it.
It’s hard to watch Darth Sidious boast about dissolving the republic and creating the “first galactic empire”, to thunderous applause no less while the real world becomes less global and more “patriotic”. A desire for security and a removal of those we don’t trust, along with people finding ways to defend self-proclaimed Nazis, creates a government and country that rules by fear and threats of violence. Suddenly, it’s harder for me to tell if I’m writing about the movie anymore.
Again, Revenge of this Sith isn’t a great movie. Padme is ruined as a character, going from someone who was supposed to start the rebellion to a whimpering dolt who dies of a broken heart. Instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and helping out those who will be hurt by their actions, the last remaining Jedi go into exile, continuing to fail at their own teachings. Hayden Christensen, while better in this movie than Attack of the Clones, still fails to deliver a performance to defend. Mace Windu dies like a chump, Grevious dies like a chump, Count Dooku dies like a chump, a lot of Jedi die…you know what, I lost my train of thought.
But, there’s that force push between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Sidious showing actual concern for the fate of his new apprentice, a visually impressive and exciting opening and that melancholy tone throughout. Objectively, it’s not on the level as Return of the Jedi or The Force Awakens, but it has more to say then those two movies. It’s not a crowd pleaser, but the prequels were never going to end on a cheerful note. They were about the collapse of the Jedi Order, the manipulation of the government, the creation of Darth Vader.
If this had been the first, or even the second movie of the prequels, with more story launching from the end of Revenge of the Sith, I think we would have had a better trilogy overall. With one more film after this, about Vader hunting the last Jedi or the start of the rebellion, Revenge of the Sith might have been considered a decent start. Instead, it’s a somber, depressing, sometimes infuriating and disappointing film that does exactly what it needs to do while also failing to deliver the most obvious of moments or explanations. And while characters we like do stupid things, they also remind us why we like Star Wars. Obi-Wan is cocky, Anakin is relentless, Yoda is surprising and Sidious is bananas.
But, those are all reasons I, myself, like Revenge of the Sith. It’s my second favorite Star Wars movie, behind The Empire Strikes Back. Third is probably Return of the Jedi or A New Hope, but hopefully, time will place The Last Jedi high up there as well. I don’t need you to agree with me, I don’t need to you to say, “Hmm, I do like Revenge of the Sith now!” but I hope you understand why the movie has it’s defenders.
On the 91st episode of The All the Books Show, we talked about podcasts. Nic and I each mentioned three podcasts for our listeners. The thing is, I listen to more than three podcasts! And a lot of them are a bit too geeky for me to talk about on the show.
So, I’m going to talk about my favorite podcasts that I listen to and would suggest to people with similar tastes. Or different tastes! Some people like branching out!
Let the free advertising begin.
The Weekly Planet
An Australian podcast hosted by Mr. Sunday Movies and Nick Mason (not that one), The Weekly Planet talks comics books, movies, tv and sometimes, rarely, video games. It’s a geek news cast, keeping listeners up-to-date with the latest rumors, trailers and reviews. Each week, the cover the latest news, review a movie or tackle a topic, talk about what they’re reading/watching and answer letters.
I used to get all my comic book news from sites like Comic Book Resources, but since I started listening to The Weekly Planet, I now get my news from this podcast exclusively. It’s funny, they tend to have great ideas and it doesn’t have the cold, corporate excitement of a press release like most websites. I don’t always agree with them, sometimes I feel like I know more about a subject then them, but it’s always amusing. Nic Mason is a quick wit and can crack me up without a moment’s notice. Mr. Sunday is a good spirit, though he gets much more aggressive than Mason. But he’s a great host with a pretty fun YouTube channel of his own.
It’s a great show for those who’d like to stay up to date with comic book movies, geek TV and pop culture in general.
Next is another Australian podcast and this one has risen to the show I look forward to the most. The hosts, Tommy Dassalo, Ben Vernel and Adam Knox, are all funny comedians on their own, but together, the show is a great time.
Filthy Causals is a video game cast that covers the current gaming news and releases. They’ll speculate on rumors, review the games they’re playing and answer listener mail. Sometimes discussions go long and philosophical, such as the future of gaming or whether or not The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is, objectively, the best game ever made.
They’ll also dedicate whole episodes to certain topics, such as the time they covered TIME Magazine’s 50 Best Video Games of All Time list or, just recently, E3. They also will talk about whole series, such as the Grand Theft Auto or Mario games. Their humor is crude more often than not, but it’s hilarious and despite some of the harsher jokes, the show does create a warm environment to talk about video games. Never claiming to be experts or the most skilled and focusing on comedy over dry information sharing, it’s easy to recommend.
Do Go On
The last Australian podcast I’m going to list is also harder to describe. Each episode, one of the three hosts reports on a topic and the other two do their best to make the facts fun. Many of the topics are chosen by the listeners, with report topics ranging from Charlie Chaplin, Jack the Ripper, Shackleton’s Endurance or the Wives of King Henry VIII.
It’s a fun show. Dave Warneke, Jess Perkins and Matt Stewart crack each other up constantly and I’ve had to rewind to hear jokes a second time. It’s a show that I can bulldoze through, going through multiple episodes in a row. The topics are rarely boring on their own and the humor adds to it all. It’s a weirdly educational show and I’ve learned quite a bit while listening. Sometimes, the humor gets in the way of the fascinating history but it’s hard to fault it when it’s so entertaining.
The Great Albums
The Great Albums is a show that looks to cover the best albums in music history. The show’s goal is to talk about albums as a whole, as not just a vessel for singles but a work of art from first song to last. The hosts try to have the discussions about the work in the same way fans would, as two friends talking about their favorite music.
Bill Lambusta and Brian Erickson host the show and almost always have guest to talk about that week’s album. Topics range from the obvious Dark Side of the Moon and Who’s Next to the obscure, like New Miserable Experience. These days, the albums discussed depend on the guest’s favorites and Bill and Brian’s own taste tends to run a bit different than mine. While I don’t love all their choices, the conversations are always interesting. They have great thoughts about music and what makes it last.
I appreciate the focus on albums over singles, as I’ve learned to appreciate them myself over the last few years. I ended up buying a car with no aux port so I relearned how to listen to albums from beginning to end. It really is a different experience than listening to just your favorites on shuffle. And The Great Albums is a guide in finding the best music.
I wrote about OverClocked Remix back on Hubpages once or twice. To quickly talk about it, it’s a fantastic site that collects remixes of video game music. With thousands of songs and albums, it’s treasure trove of your favorite game’s soundtracks presented in new and interesting ways.
The OverClocked PodCast shines a spotlight on the website and video game music each episode. Brothers Stephen and Bryan Kelly will introduce music to each other, see what’s new over at OCR, interview a host about a particular track or project and than host a listener created playlist. The interviews are great practice in talking about what we love from game music and to see what elements stick with certain people. The playlists feel like a radio station got smart and started playing the best unaired music they could find.
I’ve been going to OverClocked Remix for seventeen years, filling my iTunes with it’s music. While I’ve tried to introduce the site to friends and family, it’s never stuck with them and I’ve been left to appreciate the music alone. But this podcast shares my love for the site and video game music in general. The Kelly Brothers are fun, nerdy hosts and keep the episodes cheery. If you’ve never been to the site or don’t listen to game music yourself, this cast is still a great music show and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for great tunes.
Is this somehow the nerdiest podcast I’m talking about? This is a history podcast hosted by Mike Duncan, who is not a comedian, that covers revolutions throughout history. Split into seasons by the revolution being covered, each episode focuses on elements and characters of history that make up the wars.
Duncan is frighteningly knowledgeable about each revolution and wise to keep each episode thirty minutes long. By keeping them short, the show feels digestible and less intimidating. Sure, some of these revolutions are more interesting than others, but I always feel smarter finishing an episode.
While Duncan can be a bit dry, he does have a sense of humor and brings up the insanity and bad choices that led to many of these uprisings. He’ll follow rabbit trails to see how small decisions lead to big consequences, he’ll make fun of historical figures and stop to make sure we’re understanding what’s happening. He’s not the world’s most charismatic entertainer, but he’s a fun professor if you’re an attentive student.
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith
One of the oldest podcast I still listen to as I used to follow Goldsmith’s other show Creative Screenwriting Magazine. The Q&A follows the same format; Jeff Goldsmith interviews screenwriters, directors and actors about the creative process of film making.
Each interview, Goldsmith has a formula of of questions for the guest. We learn how they got started, how they’re process works, if they outline or not, how they deal with writer’s block, etc. He then focuses on the movie at hand and asks about decisions, challenging scenes to write, elements that came easy and the creator’s next project(s).
This show has made me a more critical movie watcher, as I’ve learned terms and troupes of film making. Depending on the movie being discussed, some of the the interviews can be fascinating and seem too short. The episode with George Miller discussing Mad Max: Fury Road is criminally brief, the interviews with the writers of Marvel films are never long enough and I remember wanting the Nightcrawler show to not end. For writers, this is an invaluable cast. For film buffs, its more insight to share at parties. Even if you’re not a writer, this podcast can be a wonderful look into the creation of your favorite films. Highly recommended to everyone.
Shut Up and Sit Down
An extension of the popular board game website of the same name. The episodes are hosted by a steady crew of British gamers, tackling board game news and reviews, while also reading listener mail (sometimes even my own!). In the growing world of table top games, this pod is a quick way to stay up-to-date with new releases and trends in the hobby.
It’s mainly hosted by Quentin Smith and Paul Dean, with a regular rotation of other site contributors. They’re all enthusiastic about the hobby and it’s growth and many of them are very well traveled in the world of table top games. Even if their opinions are different from mine, they always know what they’re talking about and talk about games with a desire for others to play as well.
I owe Shut Up and Sit Down a lot, because they helped and guided me as I got into modern board games over the years. They were the first place I learned about 7 Wonders, Letters from Whitechapel and Rex. If it wasn’t for this show, I wouldn’t have wanted the classic Survive: Escape from Atlantis or tried the hilarious Spyfall. It’s been a great resource and it’s fun as well.
The Adventure Zone
A very new addition to my listening schedule, The Adventure Zone is one of the funniest podcasts I’ve ever listened to. Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy are three brothers who bring their dad, Clint, along for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, with few of them ever having played before.
Griffin runs the game, starting from the 5th Edition premade adventure and then creating his own world and story. He’s a funny guy alone, but his brothers carry a lot of the weight. Sure, some of it is from their own jokes, but their role playing can be so bizarre and hilarious that listening to the show while driving can dangerous. I ended up laughing myself into tears, thankfully in standstill traffic, during their early adventures.
It’s the only narrative podcast I listen to and it’s a a niche one as well. Where I might recommend most of the other shows to anyone, your mileage may very. My wife has very little D&D experience, but she still found the show entertaining and ended up laughing right alongside me, so I would suggest giving the first episode a try, despite reservations.
There’s a few other shows I at least want to mention, if not get into deeply.
Fatman on Batman by Kevin Smith used to be a great exploration into the world of Batman and comic book history. He would have writers and artists of comics and tv come and be interviewed about the Dark Knight and it was an amazing look being the creation of some of the best Batman stories. Unfortunately, the show has lost focus and is now just another new show for movies. If you’re interested, I highly recommend going back through the older episodes, especially the interview with Dennis O’Neil.
Writing Excuses was the first podcast I ever heard and I loved it for a long time. The show changed format and focus a bit, and I personally lost interest as the years went on. Aside from that, it’ an amazing tool for inspiring writers with hosts who have been there and found success. Endless tips, suggestions and great ideas for writers (and readers), I don’t think I would have written a novel or taken a writing minor without this podcast.
Cane and Rinse is a new show I’ve found but I’m hooked. Every episode is an in-depth discussion about one particular video game. I’m not far enough a long to say too much more, but I find it fascinating and the hosts really do a good job talking about the game objectively with a dry, English wit. It probably won’t appeal to people who haven’t played the games but I recommend it to all interested parties.
Years ago, I wrote a post about Christian podcasts I suggested. It’s dated now and it’s not for everyone but you can find it here.
Any suggestions of your own? Podcasts you think I should listen to? Hate my choices? Let me know! And of course, be sure to check out my sweet podcast! It’s a weekly treat for readers and non-readers alike!