Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
2005Director: George Lucas
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman
t’s all over, dorks.
As George Lucas’ overextended adolescent fantasy comes to an end, now’s as good a time as any to take stock and address some important questions. Like, what have we been doing with the past 28 years of our lives? Have we purchased a sufficient amount of plastic merchandise? Is it time to seek this “opposite sex” we’ve heard so much about?
Ah, I kid because I love, kinda. Imagining the degrees of Star Wars fandom on a scale where one means "totally apathetic" and ten means "a 40-year-old virgin speaking Bothan to collectible toys in a dark corner of his mom’s basement", I’m somewhere around a three, to the extent that the original series provided me a handful of pleasant childhood memories, but I’d be completely satisfied had Lucas devoted the entire final Star Wars installment to the slow and brutal torture of Jar Jar Binks.
Sadly, this isn’t what happens in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Once again, Lucas insists on writing and directing a feature film, which history suggests is not his strong suit. Exhibit A is the love montage in Attack of the Clones that resembles a commercial for feminine-hygiene products, climaxing with a speech from Anakin about why his lover is more appealing than sand. So, needless to say, Lucas benefits from low expectations, and all he really has to do to placate the diehards this time around is tie up the story without crashing the franchise into a mountain.
To that end, he succeeds admirably. Without question, this is the best—and darkest, and most violent—of the new Star Wars movies. We all know how the story ends—the Republic becomes the Empire, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) embraces the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) gives birth to Luke and Leia, who are separated, and the Jedi are exiled—but there’s a goosebump-inducing rush of childlike glee in watching the puzzle pieces come together.
"All right, people, who some Yoda beatdown wants?"
At the film’s outset, the Galactic Republic is at war, resulting in a plot description that involves a lot of unnecessary capitalization. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) do all their usual Jedi stuff, which means light-saber battles aplenty. Obi-Wan pursues General Grevious, a hulking and, as the name makes clear, villainous droid that somehow experiences symptoms consistent with emphysema. Meanwhile, the Jedi Council becomes concerned with the activities of Supreme Chancellor Palapatine (Ian McDiarmid), who, as has been made obvious, is the Sith lord who becomes the Emperor (as his face deteriorates to symbolize the triumph of the Dark Side, he bears a disturbing resemblance to the new Pope). The Jedi Council assigns Anakin to monitor his activities, and Anakin, haunted by dreams foretelling Padme’s death, seeks to master aspects of the Force outside the territory of Jedis. Explosions, fire and more light-saber acrobatics commence.
The usual Lucas baggage is persistent, but because the narrative arc is so tightly choreographed, the rigid acting and haphazard directing aren’t nearly as problematic as in the first two films. Still, it’s irritating when every big action sequence is punctuated by a stupid Obi-Wan one-liner (“Another happy landing!” “Oh, this will be fun!” “I hate it when he does that!” etc.). The Yoda-speak remains distracting (“Good relations with the Wookiees I have”). The relationship between Anakin and Padme, though it produces fewer groaners than in Episode II, is still about as convincing as Donald Trump’s hairpiece. Zing!
Also, key scenes don’t have the impact that their pop-culture heritage demands. The pivotal sequence depicting Anakin’s Choice Between Good and Evil, for example, is choppy, flat-footed and mostly ineffective. In the large-scale action and battle scenes, Lucas uses his CGI giddily and without discipline, resulting in a schizophrenic sugar buzz of laser noises and neon, whose cumulative effect is like that of watching someone else play a video game.
"Oh My God...are you Tinkerbell?"
The success of the original trilogy is partly thanks to how deftly Lucas and his team worked within the limits of the technology available at the time. Now that the tools of filmmaking have evolved to the point where limits—and, consequently, restraint—are no longer a factor, viewers are more likely to take the amazing visuals (and they are amazing, make no mistake) for granted and pay more attention to weaknesses in other areas. The original films contained their share of amateurish writing and general kid-movie silliness, but most of us were too busy being astonished to pay much attention. Since extraordinary is the new ordinary, the Star Wars prequels constitute just another big fantasy saga, as opposed to being THE big fantasy saga. Lucas is now competing with filmmakers who have been influenced by his aesthetic or have stolen it wholesale, so he’s playing catch-up, and movies one through three don’t have nearly the same zeitgeisty impact as their predecessors.
Episode III is functional as connective tissue, and its better-than-expected execution is cause more for relief than excitement. Its real achievement is in enhancing the original trilogy, and in the process it makes The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones look pretty ridiculous in comparison. Because of the last 45 minutes of Episode III, everything in the first trilogy makes more sense—the titles, the characters, even the buns in Leia’s hair. My immediate reaction was that Lucas could’ve skipped all the nonsense and just released this movie as the only prequel, maybe with some more scrolling text at the beginning to indicate that a lot of awkward dialogue had taken place. Regardless, the saga has a satisfying final piece, and it’s up to each nerd to determine whether it was worth the trip.