REVIEW: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Produced by: Rick McCallum
Written by: George Lucas
Edited by: Roger Barton, Ben Burtt
Cinematography by: David Tattersall
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Mathew Wood, Jimmy Smits, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Silas Carson, Temuera Morrison, Christopher Lee, Peter Mayhew
My wait in line for this movie, released during the final days of my senior year of high school, will probably remain the longest amount of time and the largest amount of people I will ever experience. The theatre had to move the line outside and let it flow into the parking lot – there were just way too many people to let them stay within the mall without causing some sort of hazard! I’ve seen footage for the releases of the original films, and this was pretty much what I had imagined that would have been like. People were dressed up as characters, waving around their lightsabers ranging in price from plastic extendable sword to one of those incredible swords with the authentic hilts and the blade that lit up from the bottom up and made authentic sounds when moved around and clashed with another which I still really freaking want. And there was a ton of discussion about the lore of the series, both fictional and real. And, most of all, there was excitement for the movie, because, despite the inadequacies of the previous two, everyone was hoping that Episode III was going to be the ironic redemption of the prequel series. Finally, we were going to get to see Anakin’s descent into the Dark Side and the extermination of the Jedi. And we all knew it was going to be awesome because – dun dun duuuuun – this was also the first Star Wars movie to get a PG-13 rating! George Lucas was finally getting serious, everyone!
And you know, given what came before, Episode III is an admitted and engagingly improved entry from the prequel trilogy. The effects, though still jarring, are a lot better looking, and even Hayden Christensen has seemingly become a more adept at delivering his lines in a convincing enough manner. The film also begins en medias res (unless you’re counting the awesome Genndy Tartakovsky animated Clone Wars shorts as being an extension of the film, which you really should) with an elaborately rendered space battle above the city-planet Coruscant, as Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi make their way through hordes of crazy droid enemies on their way to retrieve the imprisoned Chancellor Palpatine from Count Dooku and a cybernetic monster known as General Grievous, who collects and uses the lightsabers from his defeated Jedi foes. From there, we are introduced to a very pregnant Padmé so that we know that, yes, we will be seeing the birth of Luke and Leia, and, before we know it, we’re watching Obi-Wan go off on one last mission and Yoda overseeing a Wookiee army, and, best of all, though we do have to suffer through some more dreary, eyeroll-worthy romance novel dialogue between Anakin and Padmé, we are graciously spared anything more than a quick apology for his presence from Jar Jar. All this, and we get some very impressive action sequences along the way (even if Grievous is unceremoniously taken down like the laughing stock among video game villains with obvious weakpoints).
It’s actually a competent and entertaining enough series of events to watch for a couple hours, a film that remembered that fun was often mixed in with the seriousness and action in the original series and tries to recreate it, but even with the more impressive effects and the actors being way more comfortable in their roles (perhaps relieved that this will be the final time they’ll have to go through this again after 6+ long years), there’s still just something very… off about the whole production. This is the chapter where Anakin finally faces some of his innermost demons, going so far as to reluctantly committing war crimes and struggling with very realistic premonitions of his wife’s death in childbirth, and though everyone expects the darkness. We know he betrays the Jedi and becomes Darth Vader, and yet Lucas is still aiming for the lowest expectations of child’s entertainment with what actually should have been the most serious of all the films in the series. Despite Obi-Wan’s insistence that “only a Sith deals in absolutes,” there’s very little ambiguity as to who’s good and who’s bad in this film, which has the effect of making Anakin’s own journey feel less like a natural progression of his angst and more like an obligation to finally get him into that infamous black helmet. The villains are of the type who would probably not only readily admit to being “evil” if the heroes asked them but would prance about with glee in acknowledgement of their evilness. Chief among these problems is the portrayal of the future Emperor himself, Chancellor Palpatine.
Even when he’s playing good, he cheers on and grins at violence as if they were a sporting event. All he’s missing is a celebratory air horn to blast in our ears, in case he wasn’t being blunt enough. Though it was always called “the Dark Side,” the Sith’s allegiance to it was always presented as being due to their belief that it was the more enlightened and empowering path for the individual, no matter the cost, rather than a pursuit of mindless destruction, and that’s something this film’s dialogue tries to convey but fails to do thanks to the childish characterizations. Ian McDiarmid probably would have been fine enough in the role still this time around with any other director, but the Palpatine we’re presented here, even compared to McDiarmid’s original depiction in Return of the Jedi, is such a caricature of Saturday morning cartoon villainy, one struggles to understand the logic behind why Anakin would so readily pledge his unconditional allegiance to the admitted Sith Lord after years of Jedi training – even if he was promised the secret to save Padmé’s life (*SPOILERS* from what turns out to be very stupid reasons *END SPOILERS*). There’s a reason why the X-Men films justifiably changed the name of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to simply the Brotherhood of Mutants, and that’s because the evil people rarely, if ever, admit to being on the “evil” side of things if they truly believe in their cause. They believe they are on the “right” side. With Revenge of the Sith, one can now reasonably imagine that Palpatine conceived of the Death Star just for the fun of aiming a gigantic magnifying glass at random anthills rather than as a weapon designed to control and instill fear of those who oppose the Empire.
All is not lost with this film, however, and while the characters and actors are suffering at the hands of the people behind the scenes, it’s still a fascinating series of events to watch unfold, which is a first for the prequel movies, and this film does deliver the most engaging lightsaber battles yet – chief among them the duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan. Slow, old men this is not. The fact that the action on screen is the action that was filmed, with purportedly no sped up footage involved and the actors committing everything to the brutal choreography, is all the more impressive. John Williams’ score, as always, remains top notch, bringing with it exotic sounds you’d never heard before in the series and a sort of reprisal of the now iconic “Duel of the Fates” known as “Battle of Heroes.” For once, even the foreshadowing and references to previous films that Lucas is so overly fond of actually work well, too.
It’s far, far from perfection, and in almost any other director’s hands, with some slight modifications to story and an overhaul on dialogue, we could’ve had one of the best films in the entire saga. You wouldn’t even really have to stray too far from the story established in the movie, either. (I don’t care what Lucas or even now Disney says – the novelization by Matthew Stover is the canon version of the story for me!) Even without the improvements in action and performances over its predecessors, though, it’s very likely that Episode III would have still held up as the most watchable and entertaining entry in the prequel trilogy just by nature of actually having a plot that moves forward towards something everyone has wanted to see ever since these three films were announced: Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. With just enough action and plot to really propel the story forward, Revenge of the Sith is kind of a reward for having endured the last two films. Dare I say, even, that it’s actually kind of… decent? I guess I just remember sitting in the theatre as the final moments in the film had come to a close – with two familiar characters looking out at a familiar sunset – and I remember seeing one of my friends sitting there sobbing tears of joy at finally being content with seeing this unfold. That’s probably more genuine emotion than either of the last two films managed to depict themselves, let alone elicit in the audience. That’s gotta count for something.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3 / 5