Great Scenes of the Prequel Trilogy: Opera House Scene

Not only is this one of the great scenes of the prequel trilogy, I think it rivals the “ruminations” scene as the single greatest scene of the saga so far.

There are no space battles, no lightsaber duels, no explosions, or chases happening, just two guys sitting in a theater talking. It’s a scene that could’ve been in “The Godfather” or “The Departed” or some other “adult” movie film critics and trophy committees love and serious students of cinema go back to again and again. But no, it’s in Star Wars, mainstream pop culture “popcorn” fare and it’s perfect. Everything works in this scene: the cinematography, sound, acting, dialogue, you name it.

There’s a strange “ballet” going on at the opera house but the real drama is up in Palpatine’s box. Palpatine has been grooming Anakin little by little for years and now he is going to spring open the trap. He starts talking about the Jedi, power, and equivalence which intrigues Anakin even as he starts out by answering Palpatine’s assertions with memorized Jedi lessons. Then Palpatine goes in for the kill…he brings up Darth Plagueis and the Sith Lord’s quest for eternal life. NOW he’s got Anakin’s attention, because Anakin is desperate for a way to prevent his visions about Padme from coming true. “The dark side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural,” Palpatine intones. He goes on about the fate of Plagueis, but all Anakin wants to know is, “Is it possible to learn this power?” “Not from a Jedi,” Palpatine says, leaving it hanging in the air for Anakin to snatch. All Palpatine needs to do next is set events into motion that will compel Anakin to act.

Ian McDiarmid is at his absolute best in this scene. He’s still playing the Chancellor: calm, smooth, and understated. The only thing that gives away “Sidious” in this scene is when he tells his flunkies sitting there with him to scram. Palpatine knows the key to bringing Anakin to the Dark Side isn’t promising of money or fame or anything like that but telling Anakin what he wants to hear and a way to save Padme is what Anakin at this point wants to hear the most. McDiarmid is so engrossing to listen to, Hayden Christensen admitted to occasionally losing where he was because he’d been so captivated by McDiarmid’s performance.

Speaking of which, Hayden does a great job playing off of his co-star. Anakin is at first answering Palpatine with what’s been instilled in him as a Jedi, but I always got the impression that this is just deflection, like the guy who’s about to cheat on his wife but keeps protesting he still loves her to the other woman ready to tear off his clothes. Anakin says it because he knows that’s what he’s supposed to say, though he’s not really sure if he believes it anymore. It’s also clear Anakin is hooked, like a little boy listening to a campfire story. He even says, “What happened to him?” in almost a child-like way.

The whole cadence of both actors’ dialogue is hypnotic, matched with the odd deep sounds coming from the ballet, which remind me of recordings I’ve heard of Tibetan Buddhist chants.

The framing is perfect and the lighting is perfect. It’s appropriate that this secret exchange about the Dark Side occurs in a darkened theater. The visual effects of the performers floating around and through the bubble create the sense of not being in Kansas anymore.

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7 Responses to “Great Scenes of the Prequel Trilogy: Opera House Scene”

  1. Mindless Droid Says:

    As you can tell by my twwets today I totally agre this is my favorite scene of the whole saga.

  2. peacetrainjedi Says:

    The best acting in the entire Saga.

  3. Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

    I think this line is a dead Sidious giveaway, and I love how dripping with subtext it is…

    “Ironic…he could save others from death, but not himself.”

  4. starwarsanon Says:

    And were you at Celebration? Ian McDiarmid said he had been breathing in dust this whole day and was worried he wouldn’t be able to act in this scene or speak.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      I was at Celebration, but I missed Ian McDiarmid’s talk due to having to wait in another line ;).

  5. lovelucas Says:

    OOh this is a rich one, topic and commentary. Understandable why “Not from a Jedi” was selected as a prime pimp line in the trailers and everything else promoting RotS. Ian not only is magnificent here acting, reacting, but also in his vocal techniques. Notice the total change in his voice – back and forth – as he dismisses his flunkies (harsh and very Emperor-like) but also when he goes back and forth again – for the kill. Very dreamy, nostalgic, even, when describing Darth Plagueis beginning with “Did the Jedi ever tell you about…….” ending with “I thought not” all part of paving the way to the Dark Side for Anakin. Every step is plotted out with backups just in case Anakin can’t make a break from his Jedi vows – that’s when Palps rolls out the coup de grâce – “able to save his loved ones from death” and he very specifically turns slowly to look at Anakin. Hayden is really up to the task in this scene – you can really see the inward battle going on and even empathize with this already lost soul. I remember Ian being interviewed about this scene and what I remember most is him saying, “Hayden and I were really cooking in this scene”

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