In this Scene It? post I want to look at that stunning scene that comes almost exactly in the middle of Revenge of the Sith. It is that crucial moment that the entire film is on the precipice. Several characters’ storylines have reached a dead end and the viewer is intensely aware that the vault-line that has been running underneath the Jedi Order, and the Republic as a whole, is strained to its limits. Somehow all this stress and energy needs to be released and the sense lingers in the air that afterwards nothing will be the same any more.
We are at a shatter-point in the truest sense as we witness Padme’s ruminations. It is a sequence of maybe just one-and-a-half minutes encapsulated by some of the most haunting music in Star Wars, possibly even within John Williams’ entire catalogue. When Padme and Anakin desperately seek each other in the Coruscant twilight.
The last time we saw two key characters watching the Coruscant sunset simultaneously it were Qui Gon Jin and Obi Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace. This scene was filled with foreboding too, set at the eve of Qui Gon’s death, yet their conversation was direct commentary on the story. The last time we saw Padme stare into the sunset was on Tatooine where she watched Anakin speed away towards the fateful encounter with his mother in the Tusken Raider camp. But their immediate preceding embrace and conversation in that scene indicated they were together and would not be separated.
Listening to the Force
But this scene is different. The first moment in the Star Wars Saga were we had seen a character stare into the sunset in contemplation of the future was when Queen Amidala and Jar Jar Binks watched the sunset while she decided to ask him about the Grand Army of The Gungans and she forged her plan for the liberation of Naboo. What inner voice did they listen to? We don’t know. Similarly we do not know to which voice Beru and Owen listen at the end of Revenge of the Sith, watching the twilight on Tatooine with Luke in their arms, or Bail and his wife with Leia in their arms in the sunrise on Alderaan. These moments are all pregnant with anticipation and hope. Even when we see Darth Sidious and Darth Maul during their balcony scene in Phantom, as a darkside echo of the later scene with Obi and Qui Gon, there is anticipation of something great about to happen and the characters are in the end listening to each other in conversation.
However in this case both characters are separate and yet united. They are listening, but not in anticipation of something great or hopeful. It is a mixture of worry, fear and sadness. Padme and Anakin are grieving and filled with a sense of loss as both for them personally, but also for the Galaxy, an Age is about to end. Anakin is listening for counsel from the Force.
Anakin’s Dead End
Anakin has just revealed his mentor to be a Sith Lord to Mace Windu. His trusted friend Palpatine turned out his worst enemy and yet his trusted friend Mace turns out not to trust Anakin in return. He is at a dead end. Obi Wan is engaging Grievous, the war will be over soon with all probability. This war has defined much of Anakin’s coming of age, so much that it is not exactly clear what is left for him among the Jedi after the end of the War. Mace has gone to deal with the Sith, leaving the Chosen One without his mission. Abandoned by friends, with a deep sense of purposelessness Anakin realizes that there is just one thing worth living for during the decades of life he still has ahead of him: his wife and his child. Many have jumped on Anakin’s fall to the dark side to save the one he loves as a sign of his compulsive possessiveness. Surely that is an element of great weight. But Anakin Skywalker seems finished at this point, there is no way forward. The next time we see him contemplative he is staring into a total eclipse, possible even of his heart. In both shots a tear rolls down his face, one for what he knows he is about to do, one for what he has done.
The score-title of this scene was Padme’s ruminations and not Anakin’s premonitions!So this scene is actually all about Padme and not so much about Anakin at all. That is why we first see her alone and lonely, before we see the same of Anakin. The look in Padme’s eyes is filled with sorrow, she wears simple garment in the colours of brown, dark green and subdued orange. Not the fiery hell of Mustafar but the grounded, fertile, solid and caring colours of Earth. No hairdo’s this time, no fancy dress or make up in what probably are the prettiest shots of her in Star Wars. Yet even in this scene of disconnect, she takes the initiative as she is the first to stand up from her seat and turn to the window with the view. Only then Anakin does the same. When we cut back to her emotion affects her breath and despair fills her eyes. Before we see Anakin again there is this zoom-in from the Padme’s apartment towards the Jedi Temple. These motions indicate transmission and connection. After a brief glance we see a heavily conflicted Anakin followed by a hard-cut towards Padme who lowers her gaze towards the floor. Again a cut towards Anakin who now makes up his mind and sheds the tear of grief for what is to come. As Anakin leaves the Jedi Temple to start down his dark path C3P0 approaches Padme, however without any of his usual comments or antics.
Is Padme force-sensitive? Who knows! Would anyone have noticed next to Anakin? Leia doesn’t know she is force-sensitive and even doubts it after Luke tells her. But Leia makes this connection with Luke as he is hanging underneath Cloud City, in Empire strikes Back, waiting for a rescue. She connects with him in the Twilight, with that pensive look on her face as she sits in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. She senses Luke’s utter despair even though she is not aware of any force-sensitivity. Padme senses the despair and pain in her lover, she senses he is about to lose himself and she is about to lose him. The great women of Star Wars don’t need to debate whether this is ‘force-sensitivity’ it is simply there and they respond to it.
This scene is a wonderful, haunting, emotional contemplative moment in Star Wars, just as all is about to fall apart. If you have any feeling for what direction & scene-writing means then you must agree that this is a scene which is so easy to get wrong. In fact it is so easy to get wrong that most movies do get it wrong. Revenge of the Sith gets it right because all the chess pieces are in the correct place, whether they are the stunning visuals making up the background of all the shots, the expressions on the faces of the actors or the delicate score. When I saw Revenge of the Sith in the cinema for the first time in 2005 this was the scene that hardly ever failed to touch everyone in the audience, including and in particular those who had just come along because their friends wanted to see it.
There are not many contemplative moments Star Wars films, where a character expresses a thought or an emotion merely by a pose or a motion. Padme has one more before she dies, when she has landed on Mustafar and looks out of the window for a brief few seconds. It reconnects to this scene here and conveys the awareness that she rationally knows she is likely to late but that she wants to remain hopeful. Which she does of course, even in her moment of death. Anakin has three more such moment in the Saga. One is the ‘eclipse shot’ referred to earlier with that crucial second tear, it is the last time his humanity shows before he enters the suit. One is a brief moment after he spoke to Luke on Endor in Return of the Jedi. But the one from the OT I like best is the nod he makes on the bridge of his Star Destroyer after losing the Falcon at the end of Empire strikes Back.
After this he walks past Admiral Piet leaving him unharmed, to the surprise of all aboard. It is the first time we get an inkling of the humanity of the man in the suit. This moment in the Saga is where the Prequels start, where Darth Vader steps out of the bounds of being a ‘bad-ass’ Sith Lord and reveals he has a heart. The Padme’s Ruminations scene is the moment where this heart breaks and is silenced. When I saw this ‘nod’ in Empire as a kid I didn’t know what to make of it exactly, it revealed an unexpected human side to Vader. But I now think it was a brief moment where he recalled that fateful Coruscant sunset, the love that he lost and wondered whether Padme had possibly not given up on him as he had.