“Defining Moments” is a continuing series exploring key scenes or sequences from Lucasfilm’s many productions. It examines storytelling craft, behind-the-scenes insights, and cultural legacies from each selection. Revisit an old favorite or discover something brand new…
Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala Fear for Each Other as Tragedy Looms
Production: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
2020 marks 15 years since the release of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Though many films enjoy high levels of audience anticipation, few do so with the story’s outcome already known. But that was just the case for Revenge of Sith. Since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, audiences had known that Anakin Skywalker turned to evil and became Darth Vader. But the question of how left them eager for this last prequel chapter. When would Anakin finally succumb, and why?
One subtle moment in Revenge of the Sith portrays Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and his wife Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), each positioned at windows during sunset, staring across a cityscape in the direction they know the other to be. After visions of her death in childbirth, Anakin is wracked with fear and uncertainty, and tempted by promises from Chancellor Palpatine that he can save her with a dark power. Padmé knows her reassurances have done little to cure Anakin’s foreboding. Though not a Jedi herself, she can sense things spiraling out of control.
As the sun lowers, the Coruscant skyline is halved between a primal orange glow and the cold darkness of approaching night, as if to illustrate the precipice at which Anakin and Padmé stand. A deep ominous tone is punctuated by a distant, agonizing chorus. The established love theme is faintly heard, but quickly fades into the unknown. A lone, crying voice pierces the score. Director George Lucas and composer John Williams had used choral elements in Star Wars before, but never with such singular force.
Each half of the scene was filmed during pick-up shoots at England’s Shepperton Studios in August 2004. As chronicled by former Lucasfilm executive editor J.W. Rinzler, George Lucas instructed Hayden Christensen to “try and increase how uncomfortable you feel as the shot goes on.” Anakin remembers the story of Darth Plagueis, shared with him by Palpatine, and moves to the window as tears run down his face. “Take it one step further,” Lucas told him. “You realize that by telling the Jedi about Palpatine being a Sith that Padmé is going to die. Basically, you just killed her.”
Lucas confided to Rinzler that “I can’t go deep into the psyche of these people beyond a certain stylistic reality I’ve created for myself.” The pace of a Star Wars adventure demands increasing momentum, but in this scene of ruminations, Lucas chose to hold on his central characters, letting the emotion fill in before the tragedy played out. Though unusual for these serialized dramas, the moment broadened the emotional landscape of the Star Wars saga.