Foreword: All screenshots courtesy of http://starwarsscreencaps.com/.
When George Lucas said Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was going to be the last one, I don’t actually believe he ever meant it, but I do sincerely believe he wanted to go out as if it were. Because Revenge of the Sith is one of the biggest-scope movies ever made. It doesn’t seem like it from the exterior– its budget was only $115 million, which was big but still not mega-budget size, even in 2005, and it seemed like it was going to mostly expand on Attack of the Clones. What we got, however, was something that could only be the product of advanced CGI, and something that has never been replicated on this scale, aside from maybe Avatar.
While all six Star Wars movies are very well-known for their tendency to cram as much worldbuilding into the background of every single scene possible, Revenge of the Sith takes this philosophy and ramps it up by about three hundred percent. The concept artists behind this movie must have gone absolutely crazy while working on this movie, because there’s just so much stuff in this movie.
Like I described in my previous essay on Attack of the Clones, the prequels do a very good job at showing off worlds, and then expanding them in later instances by showing more layers of those worlds. Revenge of the Sith returns to all three of the planets that were featured in both Episodes I and II (though its visits to Tatooine and Naboo are brief), but it suddenly decides to go insane, and show off the entire rest of the galaxy to us.
The beginning of the movie is a visual representation of this. It starts out similarly to the other movies, panning down from the opening crawl to show a Star Destroyer, then throwing the audience into absolute mayhem of the Battle of Coruscant by having Anakin and Obi-Wan literally dive into it:
It’s an extremely effective technique to demonstrate just how massive this movie is going to be, and it never relents in its near-constant barrage of worldbuilding and action (though never to a point that it gets distracting as it does in some movies like Jupiter Ascending or Guardians of the Galaxy).
The planets featured in Star Wars Episode III include: Coruscant, Utapau, Kashyyyk, Mygeeto, Felucia, Cato Nemoidia, Saleucami, Mustafar, Polis Massa, Alderaan, Naboo, Dagobah (in a deleted scene), and Tatooine. This is a lot of places, and every single one, no matter how short their appearance, feels like an actual world, and not just “a couple random mountains I guess” as any other sci-fi film with as many locations would eventually resort to.
In fact, most of these locations are only possible through the magic of computer effects; the exotic forests of Felucia, the vast battlefields of Mygeeto and Utapau, the strange cities of Cato Nemoidia– all of these could only have been possible with good enough technology to create them digitally, and Revenge of the Sith was essentially the first movie that actually had the technology available to pull that off.
While it is a common complaint that the prequels simply didn’t show enough of the Clone Wars, the people who complain about this obviously didn’t see this movie, because the Clone Wars are shown off in more ways than I think anyone could have imagined beforehand. The battles, however, are always at the midground or background of whatever is going on.
Above Coruscant, the opening space battle takes a backseat to the actual mission at hand, which is to reach General Grievous’s flagship and rescue Chancellor Palpatine, so the heroes fly through the battle rather than participating in it. Massive capital ships trade fire with each other, and eventually, the ship that Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Palpatine are attempting to escape from is hit and starts crashing towards the planet. The heroes are directly affected by the battle around them, but it is never at the forefront of their goals, and it acts mostly like a series of ever-increasing obstacles for them.
Similarly, the Battle of Utapau is not at all what Obi-Wan is concerned with. The Clone Troopers begin waging a fierce battle with the droid armies all over the planet, but all during this time, Obi-Wan is chasing General Grievous across the planet, trying to capture or kill him.
In addition, all the gigantic wars being fought all over the galaxy that we see are only shown because we are also seeing the Clone Troopers betray the Jedi because of Order 66, so all of the worldbuilding is mostly for the sense of scale, which it obviously pulls off.
Kashyyyk is the only planet that we really see the battle for for an extended period of time without it being the background to something else:
It and Utapau are also the hardest hit by the aftermath of Order 66, as we see as Yoda and Obi-Wan escape from their respective worlds.
The populace is either enslaved or killed, despite fighting valiantly alongside the Clone Troopers just days earlier. It is never brought up by any of the characters or extensively focused on, but it is a very subtle way to show the rapid descent of the Republic into the Empire visually.
Finally, just as the movie is extremely dense with settings and visual spectacle in the battles, it similarly shows off several of the worlds through classic Star Wars “bunch of aliens and ships and stuff in the background” worldbuilding:
Coruscant is once again expanded through the Opera House. It’s the highest-class part of Coruscant we ever see in the three movies, and it’s gorgeous.
The opera itself is also never focused on at all, but it has something to do with weird aquatic stuff and… I really wish they explained what was going on here because it looked really cool.
Utapau also has a ton of extremely weird alien stuff all over the background, and we even get to see the cultural dichotomy between the two native species that live on the planet through the small interactions between all the extras.
To finish all of this, Revenge of the Sith is absolutely jam-packed with visuals. It has more worldbuilding per frame than any movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s a feast for the eyes for its entire two-hour-long runtime. George Lucas and the crew at Lucasfilm obviously wanted to go out with as big a bang as they possibly could, and they succeeded marvelously at it.
Will any other movie be able to capture the sheer sense of scale that Revenge of the Sith did? We’ve had the technological capabilities to create vast, imaginative worlds for a decade now, but since Episode III, but only a few movies have even come close. Avatar, as I mentioned earlier, is an extremely detailed movie, but it still does not come quite as far in scope and scale. I suspect its sequels, which are still two years away, may reach this goal, however. Avengers: Infinity War, a movie that is apparently big enough to be split into two parts, may reach this level as well. We can only hope.