Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- Reviewed by: Movie Vault Team
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Current Rating 9.32/10 | 1262 Votes
Produced by Rick McCallum
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, Temuera Morrison, Jimmy Smits, Peter Mayhew.
Following this synopsis are reviews from members of the Movie Vault Team.
In the last days of the Clone Wars, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is kidnapped and held captive on the city-world of Coruscant by Separatist Forces led by the evil alien/droid General Grievous (voiced by Matthew Wood). Two Jedi Knights, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his star apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) mount a desperate mission to rescue the Chancellor. An exciting aerial dogfight and a few lightsabre duels with droids later, General Grievous has escaped. In rescuing the Chancellor, Anakin is persuaded to kill Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), against his Jedi code to kill an unarmed man. It’s a significant landmark in the long seduction that takes him to the Dark Side of the Force.
Shortly afterwards Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), who was secretly married to Anakin at the end of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, tells him she is pregnant. Plagued by premonitory dreams of her death in childbirth he is desperate not to lose her as he lost his mother when a child. He disregards Yoda’s advice to detach and let go of what he fears losing and is drawn more and more into the web of political intrigue and confusion spun by Chancellor Palpatine, who promises to teach him the ultimate (dark) art of saving those one loves from death.
Driving a wedge between the Jedi Knights and the Senate, Palpatine is finally revealed as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious who has plotted to destroy the Jedi and take over the Senate, replacing the Republic with the Galactic Empire. Playing on Anakin’s pride, vanity and fear, he manipulates him into becoming his apprentice.
There’s an awesome lightsabre fight between Jedi Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chancellor Palpatine which ends spectacularly and tragically. Scenes of Anakin mercilessly executing the Separatists coincide with Jedis all over the Galaxy being dispatched by Clone warriors led by Commander Cody (Temuera Morrison). A grim lightsabre duel between Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Palpatine in the Senate is shown simultaneously with one between Obi-Wan and General Grievous as they fight an extended running battle on the fiery volcanic world of Mustafar. The final thrilling and highly emotional battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin tops even these and allows us to see how Anakin’s transformation into the black-suited and helmeted Darth Vader will occur. Padmé is brought to childbirth as the rasp-voiced Darth Vader of Episode IV is also born. Coming full circle in the sextet of Star Wars episodes, baby Princess Leia is adopted by Senator Organa (Jimmy Smits) on the planet of Naboo and Obi-Wan will watch over her twin brother Luke Skywalker on Tattooine.
Review by Julian Boyance 8/10
With the hub-bub surrounding the final instalment of the Star Wars series, it is hard to watch Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith through totally pristine, objective eyes. In the back of my mind, I root for the visionary mind behind American Graffiti and THX 1138 to finish his grand opus on a strong note. I mean, it really is like saying goodbye to a close friend. I have literally grown up with the series, which debuted when I was just seven.
That said, I also admit the characters, story, and shockingly, even elements of special effects-visual design of Episode I: Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack of the Clones left much to be desired. Especially when compared to Star Wars IV: A New Hope, V: Empire Strikes Back, and VI: Return of the Jedi. Even the great Lucas seemed to be triumphed by contemporary filmmakers with even more fantastic a visions. And no longer is ILM the only kid on the block.
Now, after the even keeled work of Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith arrives with eager trepidation. Can Lucas succeed in satisfying the "true" fans? Well, with a hearty smile, I can unequivocally say, "Hell yes!"
Lucas did it, people. The film's faults are few, and the successes aplenty.
Lucas has created a fantastic, sinister maze of a story that takes us through Anakin Skywalker's (Hayden Christensen) dark betrayals to the Jedi. A slow descent, almost literally in the final battle, in the volcanic world of Mustafar, into hell for Anakin, who according to Lucas, is the fitting protagonist of the entire series, not Luke.
Revenge of the Sith immediately thrusts us into battle as a fire fight rages in the black skies. Three years of fighting the Clone Wars has not only expanded the skills of the apprentice to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), now a Jedi Master, but also hardened the young and impressionable Anakin Skywalker, now a Jedi Knight.
It is Anakin and Obi-Wan who are entrusted by the Republic with rescuing Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid in a mesmerizing and sublimely serpentine performance), who has been kidnapped and is being held by the Separatist droid army leader General Grievous (great character design work here), a larger threat than the corrupt Jedi/now Sith, Count Dooku, who provides security support for Grievous.
The air battle and subsequent attack which frees Chancellor Palpatine opens the film with the visual panache and thrilling bang we had hoped for. And it is in these early scenes that we immediately realize Lucas has a firm grip on the direction the characters and the story of this finale will take.
After dispatching Dooku with newfound skill (even though Grievous escapes briefly until his inevitable doom), Anakin begins to play his part in the fatal trap set by Chancellor Palpatine.
There’s an ancient legal maxim/quote: "Inter Arma Silent Leges", ‘During the time of war the laws are silent.’
It’s something that for Anakin’s sake you wish he had memorized because once saved, the Chancellor turns ungrateful deceiver when he usurps Senate's power by truly tyrannical means while doggedly searching for his worthy apprentice. Ultimately, the trickery and dark-side dwelling within the Chancellor and Anakin himself, is exposed.
For the fans who always knew (with his gleefully distinct voice), the truly wicked intent of Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious finally comes to light. The Chancellor‘s sneaky ability to dupe Anakin into embracing the dark side is a sight to behold. It’s particularly apparent during a battle with Mace when Palpatine gives the late arriving Anakin the impression he‘s the victim, rather than aggressor. It’s an almost pre-destined journey, unfortunately; a journey toward a sad fall from grace.
And when the dark side does take full force within Anakin, he is hell-bent on protecting the Chancellor and the Republic's interests at all cost. Throw in the dangerous, pathos of love for wife-in-secret, Senator Padmé Amidala, and we have mixed combustible elements within the fragile soul, Anakin - to chilling consequences. The frightening premonitions Anakin experiences regarding Padmé certainly don’t help his thought process, either.
The strange thin line of destiny lies at the heart of Revenge. On one hand, the chosen one who can bring the Republic into glorious light, but who through the sick twist of fate, tumbles this world into ultimate doom and despair. Treachery and deceit play their part in this tale of a soul gone awry in a way which would probably make Kurosawa and Shakespeare proud.
The streamlined story works in such a smooth fashion, endearing us to this final chapter’s characters and story revelations in ways that Episode I and II were unable. Secondly, the battle sequences are exciting not only because of the action, but also because of the sheer dramatic scope and stunning scenery which backdrops such battles. Additionally, the technical weaponry matches the visual design’s moxie.
As a matter of fact, there is great scenery throughout. On that note, unlike previous Star Wars films, which used studios and locations, this episode was shot entirely in the studio except for a background plate shot during Episode II.
I had to keep reminding myself that the film was shot using digital motion picture production techniques. Now, I understand Lucas has the most innovative tools available, but either way, I was impressed. Not that there aren’t cracks in this film’s armor. It’s just the quality of the, at times, minimalist visual design, is more seamless, and more unified a connection between story and design. And the CGI/SFX work, although not unparalleled in comparison to Episode I and II or other cutting edge works and sci-fi designs from 2001 to Aliens to Back to the Future to The Matrix to Chronicles of Riddick or Lord of the Rings, still provides many thrills.
Lastly, the character arcs and dialogue are particularly fine-tuned. The characters and dialogue in Episode I and II, let‘s be honest, were quite dull. Here, the dialogue, which left many frustrated by Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clone’s excruciatingly stilted simplicity, is much more insightful and true to character. There’s even some of the subtle humor we came to expect after the first trilogy. Finally, we have characters we can root for and against.
Unlike Jabba or Vader, Darth Maul from Phantom Menace was a great looking villain, but there was no meat and potatoes, beyond gymnastic flips and swift saber play, to our aggression for this villain. And vice-versa, we had no emotional connection to our heroes of I and II, especially when contrasted with Episodes IV, V, and VI.
And I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in saying the acting was a bit flat in Phantom, although less so in Attack. In Revenge of the Sith, I can honestly say all characters from the heroes like Mace Windu, Yoda, Obi-Wan, to the villains Anakin/Darth Vader, Chancellor Palpatine, and General Grievous or Dooku, even supporting roles like Senator Bail Organa feel lived in, more developed, like living, breathing souls.
The only person whose full blown sails have diminished is the larger than life Padmé, who’s surprisingly minimalist wardrobe, makeup, and actual scenes belie her importance to this final chapter.
All in all, ably pushing the emotional envelope, each scene carries the drama to new heights and thrills. Revenge has a storyline susceptible to clichés, except here, nothing felt contrived, forced, or familiar. The story effortlessly enthralls you within its mythology and dramatic-emotional roller coaster.
Call me a fish because I fell for it all...hook, line, and sinker.
For the maestro, it is time to take a bow. Thanks for the memories George...
© Julian Boyance, May 8, 2005
Review by Avril Carruthers 8/10
The superior qualities of this, the final episode to be completed in the six of the Star Wars epic saga, though the third in the series, are apparent from the first mesmerising air-battle scene. Anakin’s and Obi-Wan’s missile-dodging dogfight on their mission to rescue kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine is tense with danger. In a fashion reminiscent of the first Star Wars it’s business as usual for the pilots who are calm despite imminent peril, the zinging whine and drone of their tiny aircraft counterpointed by massive explosions above the city-world of Coruscant.
The scene re-establishes both Anakin’s arrogant pride and flying skills as well as the nature of their relationship: Obi-Wan the Master tries to rein in the exuberant, rash impatience of his talented protégé, while Anakin determinedly flicks the sizable attacking Buzz Droids off Obi-Wan’s Star Fighter in mid-flight, with the wing tips of his own. The sight-gags and dry, ironic verbal humour are there, R2D2 chirrups and beeps amusingly, and John Williams’ new additions to the sound track build anticipation while Obi-Wan sighs "Flying is for ‘droids!" This is the light-hearted feel, based in grim seriousness, of the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). It’s the Star Wars mould of hero we love.
Each lightsabre duel is more extraordinary than the last, both in the skill and choreography and in the sudden cauterising amputations which bring them to an end. Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu goes out with a howling shock, while the face of Chancellor Palpatine deforms and scars into his decrepit appearance as the hooded Emperor with which we are familiar. The duel between Yoda and Palpatine demonstrates the advance of technology which gives us a far more substantial and versatile Yoda than in the swamps of Dagobah (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980). General Grievous is a loathsome alien in a ‘droid carapace, an early version of what Anakin will become as Darth Vader in his black suit. Looking like the conceptual opposite to Jabba the Hutt, he is both skeletally reptilian and insect-like. His white-bone face modelled on the nozzle of a spray bottle, his wheezing, gasping cough and stooped spine is a satisfyingly repulsive touch. His duel with Obi-Wan is stunning. He sprouts four lightsabre-wielding arms to which Obi-Wan responds with a grin and a menacing stance before they hail into each other.
The final duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin is spectacularly set on the background of the volcanic planet Mustafar. With impressive footage from the 2002 eruption of Mt Etna in Sicily segued in with digital matte paintings and miniatures, the lengthy hand-to-hand combat is treacherous both in its perilous environment and in the emotion-charged combatants – once Master and disciple, now deadly opponents.
The much anticipated seduction of Anakin to the dark side, while somewhat heavy-handed, shows the gradual erosion of his Jedi values by one bad decision facilitating the next and then the next. There’s a growing confusion in him and desperation not to lose his beloved Padmé based on his founding weakness, the unhealed wound of the loss of his mother as a child. It’s the basis for the insecurity which has him arrogantly defying his Masters, jibbing against all authority and being insulted at not being made a Master when he is given the great honour (for one so young) of being admitted to the Jedi Council. It also sets up his desire for extraordinary power and his ultimate, ego-maniacal delusion which has Padmé recoiling in horror and distress, and Obi-Wan’s bleak, "You are truly lost!" There is pathos here. Because we’ve seen his brilliance and great promise, his fall is greatly sorrowful, and Hayden Christensen brings the necessary conflicted depth to this role. The tragic irony of the fate of both Padmé and Anakin is mirrored in hooded Palpatine’s malicious, satisfied smile.
Satisfyingly dark and full of extraordinary battles, creatures, worlds and cities Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith evokes a range of emotions from excitement, suspense and dread to heart-aching sorrow. It is a worthy completion of the circle, tying up the loose ends and giving the following episodes in the sequence greatly added depth, poignancy and heroic values.
© Avril Carruthers 11th May 2005
Review by Aaron West - 7/10
I'll never forget the excitement and unreasonable expectations I felt in early 99, as I waited for George, his holiness, to unveil the first prequel. Now, 6 years and two train-wrecks later, my expectations couldn't be lower and my excitement has been replaced by a reluctant curiosity. Instead of readying myself for the revenge of the Sith, I was expecting its anagram. The all too familiar revenge that comes from Lord Montezuma, not Sidious. Having seen the last installment, I can sum up by saying it was a improvement over the other two monstrosities, but at least it's over.
One thing Lucas has provided for himself with his revered original trilogy is a rich backstory. The mystery surrounding all the good versus evil hubbub, the confounding genealogy, and that freaky Vader dude, in fact, made the first films better. We couldn't wait to uncover what would happen next! Yet when watching the original trilogy, there seemed to be way too much backstory missing. Sure, the gaps were filled here and there, but when all was said and done, the whole thing was riddled with holes. There was enough material and more for 3 more films, which had all the potential to be as magical as the originals.
As I've already made clear, I didn't care for the first two prequels that much. Sith, however, does improve on some of the glaring faults of Phantom and Clones. First of all, the acting is far better, even if the dialog is almost as bad. 6 years ago we weren't too sure how much talent Christensen and Portman had, but after seeing them in indie gems like Shattered Glass and Closer, we know they can act. Hayden, at least, proves it in Sith. Portman isn't given much opportunity to glow, but she isn't noticably bad like in the other two films, although she is yet again given some of the worst dialog in the film.
The most notable acting improvement came from Ewan McGregor, another guy who has shown his chops here and there (and I'm not referring to what he showed in Young Adam). His performance in the first two episodes appeared to be mere imitation, but in episode three he really comes into his own. Obi-Wan is the character truly caught in the middle of Anakin's transformation. During Ewan's scenes, we really see the conflict and rejection anyone would feel after being betrayed by their pupil. As a Master Jedi in a time of crisis, Kenobi tries to shield his personal side, yet he wears these emotions on his face. In one of Ewan's best scenes, when he confronts Padme (Portman) with the truth about Anakin's about face, Ewan genuinely shows the concern, the confusion, and the reticence to speak freely.
Another concept lacking in episodes one and two, chemistry, is found in the most unlikely of characters -- Anakin and Palpatine. To my surprise, the scenes I enjoyed the best were those when the cunning Chancellor twists events around to create his deceptive illusion for Anakin. Palpatine is convincing and we can finally begin to understand, even sympathise with Skywalker's plight. These moments were impactful because they were gradually developed in several short scenes, divided by scenes where Anakin was slighted by the Jedi Council, or concerned for his wife's fate. Apparently Lucas learned his lesson from the previous two films that audiences don't care to be bored to tears with political debate and implausible exposition.
If there's one thing we can expect from a Star Wars film, it is dazzling special effects. In the first two prequels, the CGI was so overblown that occasionally it felt we were simply watching a video game. There's still plenty of digital delights in Episode 3, but there's more of a balance between the artificial world -- more locations and less bluescreen.
All that said, Revenge is not without problems. One of which is the simple fact that these trilogies were separated by 30 years and not originally intended to be connected. While Lucas occasionally throws in scenes that point to the original trilogy, there are still too many questions left unanswered. Even with these continuity problems, I hope he'll leave the films be and move on. I fear, however, that the revisionist in Lucas will again meddle with the original trifecta, further diluting his franchise.
Congratulations George. Without a Kasdan or a Kershner to lend a hand, Lucas has finally proven that he can make a decent film despite his filmmaking faults.
© Aaron West, May 19, 2005
Review by Mel Valentin 7/10
Before seeing Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars fans (and casual fans) want the answer to two, related questions. First, is Revenge of the Sith better than its two predecessors, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones? Second, is Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith a worthy prequel to the original trilogy? The answer to both questions is "yes", but the answer to the second question must be qualified. Star Wars fans will have to look beyond the obvious flaws in the script and performances (as well as logical inconsistencies between the two series) before getting to "yes".
After two inferior prequels which followed Anakin Skywalker from boy to apprenticeship as a Jedi Knight and young adulthood, including a romantic relationship and secret marriage to Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith covers the fateful events that inexorably and inevitably lead Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to the Dark Side of the Force, to his transformation into the half-man, half-machine, black-helmeted Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) much-feared enforcer. Together, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine rule the Galactic Empire with unbending, dictatorial authority.
With the events in the original trilogy already known to even casual fans, a tragic dimension attaches itself to the central characters (simply put, knowing more than they do places us in a superior position).
The Galactic Republic falls, the Galactic Empire rises, with Palpatine as autocratic ruler. The Jedis are defeated, only to rise again with Luke Skywalker twenty years later. Obi-Wan and Yoda survive, but go into decades-long exile from the center of power.
Darth Vader's saga continues, but no longer as tragic hero, but as villain (Luke becomes the hero in the second trilogy, sans flaws). Balance will be restored to the Force, but not as Yoda or Obi-Wan expected or predicted.
Coming full circle, George Lucas gives us, on balance, a satisfying conclusion to the prequel trilogy. The storytelling is better, tighter, more focused than that found in the first two scenes. Lucas obviously marshaled all the financial and technical resources at his command. It's one spectacular space battle after spectacular ground battle after spectacular space battle, a credit both to George Lucas's visual imagination and the special effects staff at Industrial Light & Magic. But therein lies a major problem with Revenge of the Sith. Lucas shows little restraint in the action scenes, preferring epic (read: video game) spectacle over intimate, human drama. The repeated scenes and shots of CGI armies battling to the virtual death leads to sensory overload and becomes a symptom of Lucas' distrust in his own storytelling abilities.
Lucas' penchant for stilted, underwritten dialogue is still in evidence (as are the uniformly wooden performances, with one or two exceptions), but it's also clearly evident that Anakin's (final) fall from grace meant more to him than any of the events covered in the first two films. Lucas still can't write romantic scenes. They are, in short, risible (Christensen and Portman have my sympathies), but the Palpatine-Anakin scenes are among the best in the trilogy. Ultimately, Lucas is able to wring a surprising amount of pathos from the final confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan, as Obi-Wan struggles with his conflicted feelings toward his former apprentice.
Besides the more evident flaws in the script and performances, Lucas was forced to tie, or attempt to tie, the loose ends between the two series. Given the events in the original trilogy occur later chronologically, Lucas had to explain, or explain away, potential inconsistencies between the two series (and within the later trilogy), e.g., Luke and Leia's parentage (she says, at one point, that she remembers her mother), and most importantly, Obi-Wan's decision not to perform a coup-de-grace when he has the opportunity. In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan's decision might be guided by either his belief that Anakin is dead, or his inability to eliminate his former apprentice (but instead leaving him in unimaginable pain and anguish). Of course, Force powers are also an ongoing, unresolved issue. Among other abilities, Jedis and Siths have the ability to throw large objects at each other, but at crucial times, seem unable or unwilling to use that power. The extent of what Jedis can and do feel, whether reading emotions in each other or potential adversaries, also seems to wax and wane, for no apparent reason.
And, importantly, for the second trilogy, why do Padme and Anakin know only about one child and not two? Why does Anakin, the so-called Chosen One, not sense the truth about his children (they're presumed dead) or his role in Padme's death (and the Emperor's obvious lie)? This last question leads to probably the most unintentionally funny reaction shot in the entire film (not what Lucas hoped for, presumably). On a deeper, more troubling level, why, after essentially committing genocide, is Anakin Skywalker ultimately granted absolution for his acts? This last question, of course, is one for the entire series, and not the prequels. Some may see this discussion as overanalytical (and possibly, joyless), but for a series of films embedded so deeply in our popular culture, close analysis is practically inevitable (and predictable).
A word about politics and Revenge of the Sith.
Some, film critics and pundits alike, have attempted to treat Revenge of the Sith as politically typical. More accurately, some see Revenge of the Sith as a thinly veiled critique of the current resident of the White House. While Revenge of the Sith does contain one line ("You're either with me or my enemy") that uncomfortably echoes a line uttered by President Bush after 9/11, the prequels were in production long before President Bush was elected. If anything, Palpatine's usurpation of power have more distant, historical parallels, to Nazism in Germany (Hitler took power legitimately, through constitutional means) or, more loosely, to the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Here, an old adage seems fitting: good politics does not make good art, or more accurately, a film, even one with the potential to reach millions of people, shouldn't be judged by whether you agree or disagree with its politics.
Flaws, questions, and issues aside, however, Lucas comes close to redeeming the prequel trilogy from forgettable mediocrity. In time, the Star Wars saga will be likely remembered as a trilogy (the original trilogy, that is) plus one, Revenge of the Sith.
© Mel Valentin, 22nd May, 2005
Review by Friday & Saturday Night Critic - 9/10
“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” is a series of magnificent setpieces and images connected by a great sense of foreboding and scenes of clumsy dialogue. That’s dogged the “Star Wars” prequels every step of the way. Creator George Lucas began the prequels with a list of things he needed to accomplish in order to tie everything new together with everything old. We have the most fun when he strays from his cosmic to-do list and the least fun when he seems intent on appeasing dateless fanboys with his perfect circle. The product of the former intent is the enjoyable “The Phantom Menace” and most of “Revenge’s” best interludes. The latter leads to the tedious “Attack of the Clones” and the stretch near “Revenge’s” end when we feel Lucas having to take care of vast, dramatically unnecessary bits of business. Do we really need to see Luke and Leia being named? No, we can figure that out just fine.
The big draw of the “Star Wars” films—their “main character,” if you will—has never been a person or a thing, but has always been the universe in which they are set. Now that universe far, far away is back in a big way, in all the ominous colors of Halloween: orange, black, and neon green. It’s not just a backdrop where disconnected characters can yammer and yammer, like in “Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” but a thrilling, bustling playground, where they can climb and jump and fight. All the “Star Wars” films have been teeming with life, details, and little throwaway visual treats. In the week before “Revenge’s” release, I was surprised by how much I was looking forward to returning to that far-off galaxy, and I was not disappointed.
The tone of “Revenge of the Sith” is something wonderful: it is a tragic melodrama, whose sadness will haunt you for days, yet it is not above poking fun at itself. Everything is so grim, yet the movie is exuberant instead of plodding. I was so engaged that I wanted to re-watch “Episodes IV, V,” and “VI” just to confirm that everything turns out okay. What playthings we are for the gods, who will grant us joy only after the deaths of hundreds of thousands! Lucas tells the dark arc of Anakin Skywalker in shadows, silhouettes, and some of his most conscientious direction. Even the sword battles seem more artful; we focus on the blur of the combatants’ light sabers and the human shapes they create, and there is beauty in watching two beams swing at each other from a great distance. Plenty of limbs are lopped off in the course of “Revenge of the Sith” because, if you had a sword whose blade was a laser beam, this would probably happen to you a lot too.
Yet “Revenge of the Sith” is also an immensely silly movie, and I mean that in a good way. Phrases like “War!” and “Evil is everywhere!” appear in the opening crawl. Darth Vader gets to clench his fists and bellow “Noooo!!” Androids are forever speaking in goofy voices and taking part in Keaton-esque slapstick routines that you’ll miss if you blink. Villains have names like “Plagus,” “Maul,” “Sidious,” and “Grievous,” who is probably the first robot in movie history to have asthma. After someone is put in the harshest hurt locker since “Passion of the Christ,” his wife asks “is he alright?” People in “Star Wars” relish saying stupid things at inopportune moments; next to “is he alright?” the best line is “it’s a volcanic moon—you’ll be safe there!” I laughed a lot with this movie. For all the dark imagery and use of “Revenge” in the title, “Episode III” has a bounding, endearing tone. In a weird, gloomy sort of way, it is both winsome and tragic, exactly what a movie like, say, “Constantine” is missing.
All “Star Wars” movies have been silly with straight faces. In his 1977 review of the original film, Roger Ebert refers to the villains as a cross between “Nazis and sorcerers.” These movies are sugar-fueled explosions of Saturday morning mayhem, where gaping plot holes and logic problems—answered by equally illogical responses—only serve to make the experience more charming. Why is it that the heavies speak with English accents when no one else does? Why does Princess Leia never miss? Why does Padme’s chief bodyguard in “Episode I” say absolutely nothing positive, only uttering comments like “this is not a fight we can win?” Where do all those pilots come from at the end of “A New Hope” when we’ve just seen all but three of them blown to smithereens? And, of course, why do we hear so many exciting whooshing, ka-blammo noises when we all know you can’t hear anything in outer space? (Actually, I know the official “Star Wars” answer to this quandary, and it is priceless.) A running gag in the whole series, now truly glorified for the first time, is how many different wipes Lucas can use to go from scene to scene: left to right, right to left, a circle, a square, a whole bunch of little squares, four rectangles, etc.
As for the talking that dragged down “Attack of the Clones”…thankfully, there’s not too much of it. Lucas has a hold of some great ideas about politics and about how we all face the inner struggle of good and evil. What he has is much more interesting than the simplistic “we’re good, they’re not, let’s kill ‘em all” approach of “Lord of the Rings.” But he is unable to find a way to convey those ideas in a dramatically interesting fashion, or at least in a way that’s even close to the level of his space battles, chases, swordfights, and so on. But “Revenge of the Sith” manages to sidestep the blah-blah-blah most of the time. To paraphrase Anakin Skywalker on his road to madness, there is “more action and less deliberation.”
“Revenge of the Sith” hits the ground running. We start immediately with a rescue mission that is equal parts space battle, swordfight, and slapstick. We weave in and out of metal titans doing battle in the sky above the city-planet, then we scurry through the innards of a spaceship where constantly shifting gravity causes elevator shafts to turn into hallways. Robots slip on oil, slap each other around, and duck for cover when they’re too loud. The giant weapons blasting away from one ship to the next turn out to be glorified WWII-style cannon updated for the future, still firing only one shot at a time, still ejecting spent cartridges when they’re done. Recently I saw a drawing from the early 1900s in which robots are pushing plows; in real life, tractors were created instead, but Lucas knows how much more Rube Goldberg delight there is in seeing a robot with a hoe.
Our fighting tour of the galaxy also includes a volcano planet, where we watch rock- and bridge-built structures collapse into the lava. A man drags himself out of molten burning hell, screaming “I hate you!” to an old friend-turned-enemy. Then it’s off for an impossible but beautiful moon in which asteroids seem to hover only a few dozen yards from the surface. Other major locations include the deep pits of a mining world, populated by nosferatu, with lauchpads and terraces built of dinosaur bones. Then there’s the jungle planet where we rejoin our old friends the Wookee. Creepiest of all are two simultaneous sequences, one in which robots give new body parts to a screaming, disfigured man in a dungeon, another in which sterile white androids deliver twin babies.
“Revenge of the Sith” is the final chapter of the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, filling in the backstory leading up to the original 1977 film, now fully christened “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” “Revenge” tells of the final corruption of Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) into the vicious Darth Vader, whom we all know and hate. We also witness the ruthless Sith sorcerer Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) coup-d'etat, transforming the benign Republic in to the oppressive Galactic Empire. Chancellor Palpatine has created a fake war, thrown the galaxy into a state of panic, given himself all sorts of powers, and finally announces an Imperial reorganization in the name of peace and prosperity. The only thing that stands in his way is the fourth branch of the Republican government: the Jedi council. To defeat it, he needs to convert Anakin to evil. And then kill everybody.
“Revenge” follows the last few steps of Anakin’s descent, as he loses his faith in the Jedi and his eyes turn orange. His mentors Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), Yoda (Frank Oz), and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) finally figure out what’s going on. Meanwhile, Anakin’s cutie-pie wife Padme (Natalie Portman) is preggers with the two wee ones whom we, having watched “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi,” know will turn out to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. Luke will get in a motorcycle accident and Leia will get stoned. No, wait, that’s real life.
A friend of mine mercifully described George Lucas as “not an actor’s director.” Anakin’s character arc—from nice guy Chosen One to Total Asshole—is a mixed bag. I like that he doesn’t seek power as an end in itself, like the Emperor, but sees fascism as a way to make everyone safer. The whole Jedi vs. Sith thing is quite Jungian, and not just because there are archetypes of fathers, mothers, heroes, rebirth, redemption, and wise old men everywhere. Jung’s basic guide to self-actualization is to come to terms with our dark side (shadow, anima, whatever). We must confront and understand all our negative impulses if we are to become mature, functional beings.
Yet what is “Star Wars’” dread of “The Dark Side” if not the fear of taking that adult step? The Sith are childish, selfish, and vengeful, but aren’t the Jedi equally childish in their refusal to admit to having any darker impulses? The one-on-one battles between good and evil in “Revenge” may seem to stretch forever, but that’s because the battle between our inner impulses cannot be resolved. It’s fitting that Yoda and the anti-Yoda (Palpatine) fight to a stalemate. Good and evil can never truly conquer one another in this life. Luke does not vanquish darkness from the galaxy. He brings balance to The Force. He touches evil in “Return of the Jedi,” but in his final victory he does not strike evil down, but throws his weapon away and accepts his fate.
In contriving a bridge between “Episode II” and “Episode IV,” “Revenge of the Sith” has so much ground to cover that, exciting as the setpieces are, we’re always on the verge of watching events and plot points being listed laboriously, scene going to scene. “Attack of the Clones” suffers from this big time, but “Revenge” keeps things brisker, up until the aforementioned stretch nearing the end when I thought I would need Ritalin. The length of time necessary for interstellar travel has always been wisely vague, although Emperor Palpatine makes a trip from city-planet to volcano-moon so quickly that we can’t help but imagine that the cutting between two different sword battles must be for dramatic effect, and not because they are concurrent.
Politically, the entire prequel trilogy seems to badmouth politicians and the political process while at the same time praising democracy and being terrified of its alternatives. It’s old-style Jeffersonian vigilance, channeled from Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and Stone’s “JFK,” in which democracy is a fragile, infinitely valuable institution that will go stale without our constant attention. Or this ambivalence may simply be another way that Lucas focuses on the tug-of-war between good and evil.
Besides Frank Oz’s readings for Yoda, there is still no great acting in this prequel. The actors, who shot most of their scenes not on sets but in front of green screens, are adequate but never really feel at home. Hayden Christensen, who was nominated for a Razzie for his portrayal of Anakin in “Attack of the Clones,” fares better this time, all glowers, dark looks, and loaded smiles, while Natalie Portman, once a woman of action and decision, is given nothing to do besides look worried, pregnant, and mope around her spectacular apartment on city-world. Ewan McGregor knows that the Obi-Wan he must become is a man characterized primarily by sadness and regret. Now that I think about it, Ian McDiarmid has always had a blast as Yoda’s evil opposite. The meaner he gets, the more he sounds like a frog, and the more every syllable he chokes out seems like it should be accompanied by an eyeful of saliva. As for composer John Williams, he is both at the top of his game and overscores every dialogue scene.
If you’re like me you’ve come to know and love, if at least not these characters, then the galaxy where they live. The brave Jedi, whom we’ve followed for three movies, meet their inevitable demises, and it’s a bummer. There’s no denying the pleasure of watching the circle complete, as the old-new is tied to the new-old. How does “Revenge of the Sith” rank against the other prequels? While it lacks the smooth forward momentum of “The Phantom Menace,” it deserves to be called my favorite for its campy heedlessness, nearly-religious imagery, and raw emotion. Are any of the prequels on par with the original trilogy? No, and you might be better off imagining or daydreaming your own backstory instead. I’ve always thought that the devotion of the Imperials to their Empire is too fervent for a mere 20 year endeavor. But, anyway, that doesn’t make the new movies bad. They’re still “Star Wars.”
Oh yeah, and Jar-Jar Binks doesn’t say a damn thing this time around.
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(c) May 19th, 2005
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