In order to celebrate the film’s 15th Anniversary, I’m discussing my thoughts on Revenge of the Sith‘s best scene and defining moment for the entire Star Wars saga.
It’s wild to me knowing that Revenge of the Sith is already hitting it’s 15th anniversary. I remember with crystal clarity sitting down (as I closed out my Freshmen year in college) outside the movie theater to wait in line for 13(ish) hours to catch the midnight showing. It was a somewhat surreal and bittersweet experience as I thought I was witnessing the last Star Wars film on the big screen.
While it’s not a perfect film, there are a number of standout moments in ROTS, there’s one scene in particular that impacted me even upon that first viewing. Over the years, and many re-watches, where the thrill of the action becomes more tame, this scene somehow became even more impressive, and ultimately feels like a defining character point in the entire Saga.
It’s a relatively short scene, coming in at just a minute and a half, but it’s a rare slow moment of thoughtfulness in a film that sets an otherwise blistering pace. The scene comes in early on the latter half of the film after Anakin has informed Mace Windu about Palpatine’s Sith identity. Forced to remain behind while Mace and other Jedi Masters head out to handle the situation, Anakin finds himself brooding alone in the Council chambers.
Across the sprawling Coruscant skyline, Padme Amidala stares back at the Jedi Temple in the distance. The gulf between them is more than physical and they know they’ve reached a crossroads. They’ve both reached a point where their ideals and worlds have been crumbling around them. The only constant they have is their love, but in a society where they must remain hidden, even that is tough to maintain.
They both fear losing one another, albeit in different ways. For Anakin, the dilemma is clear. Palpatine, through manipulations over the years has gained the Jedi’s trust and planted the idea in Anakin’s head that he’s the only one who can save his wife from his terrifying visions. This fear forms the core of Anakin’s turn to the Darkside. After losing his mother and seeing everything he knows torn apart by war, he cannot fathom another loss.
Padme, in turn, fears losing her husband to this war. Not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. As the film cuts to her looking back towards Anakin in the Temple you can feel that sense of desperation and hopelessness. She’s just as trapped as he is and eager to find a way for them to escape and be together.
The distance between the two as they search for each other across a city, symbolizes the sad reality they can never be together in the way they want. There will always be something between them. Their ideals are the same, but the methods they want to use are at opposite ends. It’s really a romance that can never be. It’s one of the more somber scenes in Star Wars, focused on the human element, and drama of the story. The echoes of which can be felt not only in the original films, but the sequels that came much later.
From a filmmaking standpoint, it’s an impressive piece of visual storytelling. The slow cuts and framing make it a deeply personal moment for these characters, conveying their thoughts and feelings entirely without dialog. John Williams brings his most haunting musical score to play on your emotions. It’s deceptively lowkey while managing to keep the tension high and one of the reasons the scene continues to work so well 15 years later.
From a storytelling point, it’s this key moment where we see Anakin make his decision. It’s not later when he saves Palpatine and turns on Mace Windu, but right here at this moment. As he ruminates on Palpatine’s words and promises, Anakin makes a choice. Not necessarily a choice to join the Darkside, but a choice to do whatever is necessary to save Padme, regardless of the cost.
He knows such a choice is turning his back on his life as he knows it, and the friends (even family) he’s made. He knows nothing will be the same after this decision, it can’t be, and that’s why he weeps. Padme knows he’s torn, but isn’t sure how to help and the more she tries, the more desperate he becomes.
It’s a moment of pure empathy and realization for audiences. From this moment on, the tone of the film completely shifts and it’s clear we’re in the endgame. Even as new material has released, including the impressive Clone Wars finale that further enhances the experience of the overall film, this short scene in Revenge of the Sith still manages to be a standout moment in the entire Saga.
It’s been 15 years, but the moment still holds emotional power and I suspect I’ll still be talking about it and marveling at it’s potency in another 15 years.