“The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural.”
The Star Wars prequels get a lot of stick in general, and probably rightly so. But out of all the wooden acting, disappointing CGI and woolly Lucas-science, there is one shining light: Ian McDiarmid. His classic stage acting experience means that the lack of physical backdrops is no issue. His portrayal of Palpatine/Sidious and his seduction of Annakin does not just make Revenge of the Sith the best of the three prequels, but actually really underrated.
I have chosen the opera scene because it is not just a pivotal moment in the entire saga, but it also displays how simple but effective patient and thoughtful acting can be. The way McDiarmid tells the story gels so well with the ominous tones of Williams’ score, making the whole scene genuinely eerie and dark. More importantly, outside of the predictable nature of Annakin’s future, we are treated to something that feels genuinely new and interesting, and I for one cannot help but lean in when Ian first delivers the the opening line to the Plagueis story.
I will admit, Hayden’s acting is still dodgy, even if it is his best performance in the saga, and yes, this whole scene could be cynically seen as a trailer for James Luceno’s book Darth Plagueis (read it by the way, really good story). But let that not detract from a great plot anecdote in the Star Wars saga, something fairly rare in the original trilogy, which delightfully adds weight to the Palpatine character. Lucas may have fallen short in directing terms with the prequels, but it is moments like this that remind us all that his talent as a writer of original sci-fi cannot be ignored. Lucas cleverly introduces the story of Darth Plagueis to give the impression of myth and age, when in fact Palpatine is simply using his own memories to give himself the leverage needed to pull Annakin over.
First and foremost a politician, Palpatine is an expert in manipulation, and McDiarmid portrays the soon-to-be emperor so well, knitting every word and every gesture together. The defining moment when Annakin asks how to gain this special ability, McDiarmid absolutely nails the look of self satisfaction mixed with feigned surprise as he turns his head and says: “Not from a Jedi”. Already a classic Star Wars moment despite its intrinsic relation to the overall displeasure towards the prequels, and without doubt my favourite moment from the entire prequel trilogy.
I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip of Week, look out for the next scene, and keep the suggestions coming!