For Star Wars Month of 2018, when I gave my thoughts upon the Star Wars prequels, I said that the novelisation of Revenge of the Sith had spoiled the film for me. Oh, there’s still greatness within it and it is a great film. But whenever I watch it, I’m always feeling that scenes feel flat, or fail to be executed to their fullest extent.
As stated in that article, it is something that the novelisations of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones haven’t managed to do. I can still watch those two and not be thinking back to the novels. Sure, there’s a few additions that I somehow expect to see in each upon a rewatch, but I can watch them and not feel like they fail to execute scenes to their fullest.
Sure, they might not execute scenes to their fullest, but at least those two novels don’t go beyond to recreate the scenes and shame the thing they’re based on. There’s a few additions to make things flow better, or a few extra scenes that would have been nice to see in the films, but nothing stands out as particularly powerful. Nothing that makes the scenes of the film pale in comparison.
The scenes I’d already given examples for within that look at the prequels article were the two final duels. Sidious vs Yoda. Anakin vs Obi-Wan. I understand it’s difficult to convey what appears in the book on film, especially since it is based on the thoughts of characters, but the duels as they appear in the film offer little in the way of emotion. These two duels are perhaps the most critical in the entire saga. A last stand to delay the darkness.
The context of the two duels is clear, and there’s very little changed in terms of structure between the book and film, but while the film goes for style, the book gives the substance. It describes the duels in a way that puts the focus upon the point of view of the characters fighting against that darkness, and their feelings while the duel progresses. As I say, difficult to convey within film, but these two duels have been set up to be told as they are by how the book deals with the rest of the story.
Revenge of the Sith is very much Anakin and Palpatine’s story, and the book makes sure to show it. The masterstrokes of Palpatine’s manipulation are very much felt here, with it wasting no time in making sure the audience knows Palpatine is behind everything. But it’s more than that. It’s the scenes that the book has added and changed that make the turn of Anakin feel more believable.
To make sure Anakin turns, he needs to trust no-one but Palpatine. While Obi-Wan and Padmé are still with Anakin – and while Anakin still trusts them – his turn to the dark side cannot happen. With the extra scenes the book adds, Palpatine has not only made it seem like Obi-Wan is not sticking up for him, he puts Padmé into the line of fire as well. And it only works because it’s true – from a certain point of view.
Anakin can feel that Padmé is hiding something, and his frustrations with the Jedi Council are already bleeding into being frustrations with Obi-Wan – simply because Obi-Wan is the one telling the truth that the Council will not. But what Padmé is hiding has nothing to do with Anakin. It’s purely to do with getting Palpatine to restore the freedoms he has stripped away from the galaxy, and the meetings with certain Senators who will eventually form the backbone of the Rebellion.
As for the meeting between Obi-Wan and Padmé, this is a second one only referenced in the film, where Obi-Wan reveals to Padmé about his concern over Anakin and the current stress that has been placed upon him. It shows just how much Obi-Wan cares for Anakin while the film… sort of doesn’t. There’s around two scenes where such is shown, and even though their bond is very much visible, the relationship lacks impact.
It feels like there’s a certain amount of rushing through things, purely because of the amount of action. The whole Battle of Coruscant is one long action scene, with little in the way of character moments that express the two core relationships that Anakin mentally fights between. The book fits in such dialogue without breaking the flow of the story, such as the exchange between Obi-Wan and Anakin before entering the General’s Quarters and the one between Palpatine and Anakin after Dooku is killed.
Speaking of the duel between Anakin and Dooku, it does feel a masterclass of writing. Not the majority of the duel, but the end of it. Matthew Stover throughout the book takes deep dives into the points of view of certain characters at specific points of the story, and at the point where Palpatine tells Anakin to use his rage as a weapon (that isn’t featured in the film), we get the death of Count Dooku.
The raw personal feelings get put on display here. The darkness of Anakin that is already present, that he hides so well, that is now unleashed upon Dooku – not in an uncontrolled rage as at the Tusken camp, but with a calm, methodical purpose that allows him to use his power to win. As for Dooku, it almost makes you pity him, as all of his dreams and all of his own skill are nothing. They were all just another part of Palpatine’s master manipulation.
Anakin’s turn starts here, and as I’ve already said, there’s plenty of manipulation throughout up until the point of his turn. Yet all of that is nothing if it didn’t have the largest change – the largest breakaway from the film – that ties everything up. The point Palpatine reveals himself to Anakin.
The film does a good job of such, but compared to the book it comes across a bit weak. Palpatine in the film outs himself to Anakin straightaway, revealing that he can save Padmé from her fate. The book however, sets it as just another of their chats. One where Palpatine is again trying to impress upon Anakin the fault of the Jedi and how he is different from them. That turns to getting Anakin to reveal himself – his greatest fear of losing Padmé – by simply asking what he wants.
By knowing exactly what Anakin wants and revealing that he can help once Anakin hints at such, it comes across better than in the film, as does what follows. Anakin has enough sense to know the Jedi have now been telling the truth. That Palpatine is Sidious. And he reacts. But Palpatine is still a friend, someone who has always been there for him. And because they were talking about what Anakin wants, Palpatine lays the truth down hard.
“If that conscience requires you to commit murder, simply over a… philosophical difference… I will not resist.” … “Anakin, when I told you that you could have anything you want, did you think I was excluding my life?”
Because it comes down to trust, those words have a great effect on Anakin, and it mirrors something that Obi-Wan confides with Yoda and Mace Windu. He’s loyal to people, not to principles. What does it matter to Anakin if Palpatine is Sidious? He’s still Palpatine, one of the greatest friends and mentors he has had since he became a Jedi learner. But because he is still a Jedi, because he now knows they were telling the truth, he trusts them to do the right thing.
In yet another great deep dive into the mind of Anakin, as Palpatine reveals the details of his deception, Anakin’s not even angry about such. He doesn’t feel much at all. As Anakin tries to make sense of everything, of where his loyalty should lie, he tries to pit the Jedi way against the words of Palpatine, but nothing about the Jedi way says why Palpatine should be brought to justice.
And again, the two core relationships comes up yet again, as the one person Anakin trusts to help him sort through his thoughts is Obi-Wan. Even though Palpatine has tried to turn Anakin against him, Anakin still at least trusts Obi-Wan. Yet with Obi-Wan gone, his trust is in the Jedi Council to make the right choice. To help him make sense of everything.
Having found Mace Windu, in nine simple words, Anakin tells him the truth. And diving deep into Mace’s mind, much the same as with Dooku, it provides a massive amount of impact for the scene. Everything that has been done to save the Republic has all been for nothing. It had already fallen. And Mace feels that pain greatly, without a change of expression.
However, Mace’s loyalty lies with the Jedi. He can see what Anakin cannot. He understands what Anakin fails to. But because he acts as Palpatine expected, it plays right into the narrative he has been orchestrating to Anakin. That the Jedi want to take over the Republic. And in the end, because Anakin is loyal to people, because Palpatine has been open with him and trusting of him, the choice is easy. Because Palpatine has crafted the perfect narrative, Anakin believes it. Is consumed by it, and makes the pledge to the Sith.
The book crafts this narrative a lot better than the film ever could, as such a narrative is character-driven, yet the films are based on action and set pieces. Yet Revenge of the Sith in particular seems to lean far more heavily to the action that it fails to give much in the way of character to the characters. Such is still there, but mired with a slight regression in what made them who they are.
Along with the descriptive style that gives an impact to everything, along with the deep dives into the minds of characters, the book manages to keep all the characters close to who they are. The added scenes of politics also add depth to just how far Palpatine’s influence has affected even those within the Senate. Those who now understand just what they have done in giving Palpatine emergency powers.
All of this adds up to do what the novelisations of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones never dared to. But at the same time, those two didn’t need the extra detail and depth to make their stories work. Those two managed to tell what they needed to without it feeling like important scenes or interactions were missing. But as I said, it felt like Revenge of the Sith doubled down on including as much action as possible that even little interactions that would make a world of difference ended up not being included.
Of course, all of this, I am aware, could be purely down to how much I enjoy reading the book. How much detail it does pack in and how much it expands the story. The film is still a great watch on its own, and when I can distance it from the novelisation, I can enjoy it. I am curious, though, if anyone else feels the way I do. If they feel the novelisation makes the film feel worse because of experiencing a better telling of the story.