(Originally posted on 5-20-05)
Before I begin my review, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel it important to say that even though I am of that generation that grew up with the original Star Wars movies, they were never formational films for me. Actually, Seven Blows of the Dragon was a much more important film in my youth than all three original Star Wars films put together.
Granted, I have gone to every movie opening day (with the exception of Episode IV – A New Hope), but that has been more to maintain whatever geek cred I may or may not have had at the time of the various releases than any fanatical need to be the first in line. Now, having said that, I will break this up into what didn’t work for me first, and then close with what did work for me.
I don’t think I am giving anything away by saying that Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith deals primarily with the turning of poor little frightened Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) over to the Dark Side of the Force. Anakin and Amidala (Natalie Portman), who were secretly married at the end of Episode II, are still secretly married, and on top of that there is another secret between them. In addition, Anakin has become the favorite of Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Obi Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) faith in Anakin has grown as well. However, Anakin has been having nightmares about losing his beloved and he has become increasingly pre-occupied with his fear of failing her like he believes he did his mother.
For me the whole series (starting with Episode VI – Return of the Jedi) has been an exercise in frustration and failed potential. There is a really compelling story to tell here, hiding somewhere beneath the shallow veneer of philosophical depth and the crass over commercialization.
The obvious things to take issue with are, naturally, the stilted dialogue, the wooden performances by the two main actors and the action scenes contrived specifically for re-purposing in video games – the most egregious example being the battle between Obi Wan Kenobi and General Grievous (CGI). But at a more immediate level the characters and the story as portrayed were just not compelling.
Anakin and Amidala have no chemistry whatsoever, you don’t for a minute believe they are in love. The Master Jedi – Yoda (Frank Oz), Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson) and Obi Wan continually caution Anakin against letting his emotions take control, all the while reminding him to always listen to his feelings. Everyone seems to believe that Anakin is good inside, however, over the space of three movies he has shown nothing but selfishness and petulance – of course he is going to go to the Dark Side of the Force!!! That is where he belongs!!!
But the most unforgivable sin of these three prequels (and more so in this final installment) is that, with the exception of Obi Wan Kenobi, I didn’t care about any of the characters. There was nothing in them that caught me up in their predicament, in their story. I didn’t like them or dislike them; I was just indifferent to them. There was never a sense that anyone was ever really at risk like in the original three films (and especially in Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back). All the battles were fought by Droids or Clones or Gungans (whatever the hell they were). And the embargo of trade routes might be an emotional issue to some people, but to those of us without licensable properties to protect, it just doesn’t do it. It has been high space adventure A-Team style.
And now the Good: there were moments – moments when it did live up to its potential. When it didn’t feel like a cynical ploy to cross market me to new toys, video games or Whopper Royales with Cheese. There were moments of real grandeur and the closing coda was about as perfect as you could possibly hope it to be (especially after all of the complaining I have done).
Ewan McGregor is his usual solid self as Obi Wan Kenobi, the only character in the prequels to have a satisfying full character arc. Ian McDiarmid is believable and threatening as the dual presence of both the Chancellor and the Emperor. The special effects are exceptional and, more often than not, seamless in the creation of alien worlds and cities (which makes me wonder if this shouldn’t be put in the Best Animated Film Category during the next Academy Awards, rather than in the Special Effects section for Live Action Film). And the Outer Space dogfights are brilliant and kinetic, like they have been in every episode so far.
Based on these moments alone, the movie rises above the level of the previous two episodes (but just barely with regard to Episode II – Attack of the Clones since the half of that movie dedicated to Obi Wan Kenobi was interesting and compelling – on the other hand the part dedicated to Anakin was like anti-matter in comparison) and actually makes you want to revisit the original three in a big dark theater again, just to see it all through to its pre-ordained conclusion.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is not a great movie, but it is not a bad movie, either. It has moments of greatness, but it could have been so much better. However, it does end right – and, I guess, if we have learned anything from our long courtship with populist Hollywood, isn’t it that the end always justifies the means?