Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Last Installment is Good, but Still Pales

Like a lot of people, I have a great love for Star Wars. I saw the original film four times in theaters when I was a kid in 1977, and rushed back when both Empire and Jedi came out. I went back to the theater again to see Star Wars and Empire in their re-worked ‘special edition’ versions (which I wasn’t too thrilled with). I was excited when the prequel films were announced, and even pulled a shift in an overnight line waiting for the opening of The Phantom Menace. I definitely qualify as a fan.

That being said, I feel that the latest movies haven’t been that good. Some say you can never recapture something you experienced as a child, and should go easy on George, but that’s total bunk. A good movie will always be a good movie, especially if it survives another viewing when you’re no longer a na├»ve kid.

Revenge of the Sith is reportedly the final film in Lucas’ extremely profitable saga. The final chapter containing the origin of the Emperor, the Empire, and (most importantly) Darth Vader, this film brings all story threads together and effectively sets the stage for the original Star Wars.

The Clone Wars continue. A nasty partly-living, mostly-droid named General Grievous is waging war against the clone army of the Republic. Grievous is being ordered around by Darth Sidious, a mysterious Sith Lord that any fan already knows the identity of (wink wink). Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) continues to get close to the dangerous Senator Palpatine (Ian MacDiarmid), as well as the dark side of the Force. With his secret bride now pregnant, Anakin is starting to suffer from Post Traumatic Force Disorder…

As always, this film is a sprawling special effects mural that pulls your eye from one end of the screen to the other. Lucas loves epic-wide master shots that show off his uber-compositing skills. There is stuff everywhere, and his worlds are convincingly dense with details.

Unfortunately, he also suffers from the “just because I can, I will” syndrome and makes everything an effect, even things you wish he wouldn’t. Why is R2-D2 virtual half the time? Why does Yoda look like a cartoon? Do Jedis have to flip crazily through the air like fish with whirling disease? This is obviously what Lucas wants to put on the screen, and anything is possible with the computer generated image, but sometimes less is more.

What saves Revenge from the fate shared by Episodes I & II, is a more gripping story. When Anakin goes off the deep end (though we may scoff at his motives), the story gets real dark and violent, and he does some pretty unspeakable things. There is a pivotal scene between the Senator, Anakin, and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) that makes you want to yell “Nooooooo! Don’t do it!” right at the screen. Good stuff.

The movie loses some of its power as things progress toward the inevitable conclusion (the climactic light saber duel seems a bit long), but grabs you again when the arrogant Skywalker overestimates his ability and pays a high price. Evil as he has become, you feel for the poor sap.

As Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen was a pretty weak link in Attack of the Clones, but he manages a little better here. I imagine this is because his performance is pretty one-note. When all he really has to do is look pissed off, he mostly succeeds. It’s when he starts trying to emote with Natalie Portman that you feel a tremor in the Force. Maybe it’s the Skywalker line: anyone playing one (Mark Hamill, Jake Lloyd) seems to be acting impaired.

Ian MacDiarmid, on the other hand, takes the plum role of villain Senator Palpatine, and hits it out of the galaxy. He’s great, and is both sly and seductive when manipulating Anakin, as well as vicious and all-out evil when backed into a corner.

Everyone else does fine, despite the cornball dialogue Lucas gives them to say. He has never had an ear for the spoken word, and should have collaborated as he did on Empire (which had a fantastic script) and Jedi. At least Jar-Jar remains silent.

Some have suggested that Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie since Empire, but I beg to differ. It’s definitely the best of the recent trilogy, but still can’t hold a candle to any film in the original trilogy. Lucas’ best revenge will be at the box office, however, no matter what any critic thinks or prints.

For perspective, here are my ratings for the rest of the Star Wars saga (subtract half a star for anything with “Special Edition” in the title):

Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones