The opening scene of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope is iconic not only in the Star Wars saga but in movie history itself. A tiny Rebel blockade runner flies overhead, as laser bolts lash out at it from behind. Then a loud rumble is heard and an Imperial Star Destroyer follows, seemingly over the audience’s head, its enormous arrow shape filling the screen. For so many viewers, especially those of us lucky enough to have seen it in theatres for the first time back in the 1970’s, this scene grabbed our imaginations and hearts. I didn’t think another movie in the saga could have come close to topping the emotion and excitement that this scene presents. That is until 2005 when Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith hit theatres.
The opening scene of Revenge of the Sith, which begins the final movie of the original saga, thrusts the viewer right into the Clone Wars. This begins even before the first actual scene with the scroll up. Instead of a rather benign opening sentence like the other Star Wars movies begin with, the scroll up in Revenge of the Sith starts with one word – “War!” It’s perhaps the most faithful to the opening of the Saturday Morning Serials that George Lucas sought for inspiration. I must say, every time I see it I hear the 60s protest song: “War! What is it good for?” It’s meant to throw us into the events of the movie even more so than any other scroll up. As the film’s introduction moves up the screen, another line stands out – “there are heroes on both sides.” George Lucas as political commentator? Absolutely.
As the scroll up concludes, the camera pans down to an image of a sun cresting over the horizon of Coruscant. As the pan continues, a Republic cruiser floats over the planet. Fairly calm, beautiful actually, and very much in step with the rest of the saga’s opening shots. But then, as Anakin will comment later, “This is where the fun begins.” Two Jedi star fighters dart across the screen in perfect synchronization, blue flames like butane lighters shooting from their engines as they fly along the dark contour of the giant ship.
And then, like cresting that first big hill on a roller coaster, the star fighters plunge down between much larger battleships and the culmination of 30 years of ILM innovation is revealed as the space above Coruscant is filled with the chaos of hundreds of ships, lasers and explosions. Faster, more intense indeed!
I’ve often wondered if Lucas had the tools used to create this scene for the original Star Wars, would he have still used the stark, singular image of the Rebel blockade runner being chased by one star destroyer? Was that iconic scene in his head while writing the script or was he influenced by the limitations of special effects in the 1970s?
As awesome and jaw-dropping as this sequence is though, my favourite part of the opening of Revenge of the Sith is how Lucas is able to provide some background to Obi-Wan’s wistful line, “…he was a good friend” as he explains to Luke in Episode IV what happened to his father. The opening of Revenge of the Sith shows us immediately the deep friendship and camaraderie between Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. We see in compressed form, Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship at their peak. As a 9-year-old watching Star Wars for the first time in 1977 I wanted to know what old Ben meant. It took almost 30 years to find out and the viewer must hang on for dear life as these two friends engage in one last adventure against the Separatists.
The entire sequence beginning with the two heroes battling buzz droids and ending on the landing platform on Coruscant as they trade jibes about politicians beautifully highlights the relationship between the two. From Obi Wan’s grin as he suggests they “spring the trap” to the back and forth banter about Artoo and “loose wire jokes” the darkest of all the original saga movies really starts out, well, fun.
I remember my family and I at the theatre in 2005 as Revenge of the Sith ended and we were walking back to our car. My son, Mitch, who was 7 at the time had just seen his first Star Wars movie in a theatre. As a prequel era child he grew up with Anakin Skywalker, the hero, and I recall asking him after the movie what he thought about what we had just seen. Dressed in his Jedi Knight Halloween costume from the year before he said quietly that “it was sad.” He grew up knowing who was inside the armour of Darth Vader since the original trilogy movies played in our house in steady rotation. I asked why he thought it was sad, expecting to hear about Anakin’s horrific transformation but he replied, “I liked when Anakin and Obi Wan were friends.”
It is great to see the interaction in the final film of the original saga, as if the viewer is being reminded what made Star Wars exciting for fans from that very first viewing. As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, Star Wars was about excitement and fun. The amazing thing about Revenge of the Sith is that it takes me right back to being a 9-year-old and then makes me grow up again as Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship disintegrates by film’s end.
All those emotions rolled up into about 30 minutes of screen time.
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