Film — Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (PG-13)

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

George Lucas finally gives fans the prequel they’ve been waiting for with Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith¸ the swashbuckling last chapter of the series which began back in 1977.

What is Revenge of the Sith? It is epic, it is technologically beautiful. It is full of familiar people, places and plot elements found later in the original Star Wars trilogy. It gives us back-story. It uses the language of movie visual cues that the original trilogy brought from the old serials into the modern age of movie-making. It makes marvelous use of John Williams’ score, blending musical elements from the first two movies in this trilogy and the familiar score from the first trilogy. It mixes the tragedy of Empire Strikes Back with the big battle scenes and one-on-one lightsaber duels of Return of the Jedi.

What is Revenge of the Sith not? It is not well-acted. With a few exceptions, the acting is across the board bad, ranging from indifferent to embarrassingly awful. It is not well-written. The dialog is so bad in places that it seems to have been penned by someone who only recently learned the English language. It spends far more time on the silly war with well-designed but ultimately substanceless robots than it needs to and glosses over some fundamental plot strings. It is not a perfect movie.

It is, however, the final puzzle piece in the story of a promising young warrior turned into a force for great evil. The movie begins with, as usual, exposition and action before we get to where we really want to be — the story of Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman), a young couple, recently married, who must keep their love a secret. Anakin meets Padme after returning from a mission to rescue a kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiamard). He had been taken, allegedly, by the army led by coughing robot Governor Grievous. Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) return to the Republic’s capital city where Anakin receives acclaim for his deeds and exciting news from secret wife Padme. She tells him she’s pregnant. He’s excited but soon troubled. He has dreams that predict her death in childbirth. Already something of an angry young man, the potential loss of his new family makes Anakin a scared angry young man. (And, if you remember, fear leads to anger which leads to hate which leads to official bad guy designation.)

Meanwhile, the Republic seems to be falling apart. The Clone war — which, remember, has the Jedi fighting with the clones and against the droids — is stretching Jedi forces thin and Palpatine has held on to his post as the Republic’s leader far longer than he should have been able to. As deadly and dangerous as the war is, the Jedi sense a greater evil approaching. Obi-Wan and others on the Jedi Council believe that Palpatine may be behind this dark cloud.

Anakin is caught in the middle, having become both a friend and trusted assistant to Palpatine and a key member of the Jedi council. But now, he believes that his role and his abilities are being questioned and that his development as a Jedi may be preventing him from achieving true power —including the power to potentially save Padme’s live — which is offered by the dark side.

Revenge of the Sith solidifies several fundamental problems with the latest Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas is now completely the crazy scientist who grafts chicken wings to cats because he can without wondering if he should. His use of computer generated images and effects is so completely over the top that it’s jarring and frequently takes from the movie more than it adds to it. The mat shots of luxurious palaces and lush outdoor settings are lovely but the intrusion of CGI into every scene is unnecessary.

Also, he is an atrocious writer. His dialog is at best bland and at worst painful to listen to. The dialog clearly poses problems for the actors, making their delivery forced and stilted, as though they are reciting poetry that is meant to rhyme but doesn’t.

Hayden Christiansen was thoroughly a bad choice to play Anakin. He never rises to the level of pain and conflict the role demands. The closest he gets is a post-adolescent whine — as though his parents have told him he’s not allowed to take the car to spring break. It’s so unfair, his overly twisted features seem to say, all the other Jedi get to go. God, Master Kenobi, you’re so lame.

His scenes work, when they do, in spite of him, not because of him. Only when a helmeted Darth Vader  speaks with the voice of James Earl Jones (an awesome, chill-inducing moment) do we get the full anguish of a once good man turned evil.

Meanwhile, good actors have been underused. Portman, a butt-kicking little figure in the first movie, is nothing but a pregnancy tummy and tears here. Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu is a true bad-ass and is a far more interesting character than all of the CGI characters we’ve had to suffer through in this trilogy. Likewise, Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa hangs out in a dozen scenes but seems to have no real role.

The movie also features a variety of smaller problems related to narrative and to Lucas’ fascination with the robot armies, trade federation and assorted menial baddies when we just want him to stick to the fall-of-the-Jedi, rise-of-the-Empire stuff. Were this movie a stand-alone story — nearly impossible because of its structure — it would be viewed as little more than a confusing muddle.

Yet despite these flaws, many and deep, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith is still a fun movie. It seems like best possible outcome considering the disappointment of the previous two movies. It fulfills a fan’s desire to see what happened before Princess Leia recorded a message on R2D2 for Obi Wan, before Luke sulked around the moisture farm because his uncle wouldn’t let him go to the academy. This third movie is the only one in the latest trilogy that captures some of the spirit of the original movies. It brings back the dark glee of Empire Strikes Back, the generational feel of Return of the Jedi and the small-band-of-rebels spunk of A New Hope.

Revenge of the Sith isn’t the best Star Wars movie ever but it is the last and the nostalgia and sentiment of that place in the Star Wars lore will help fans forgive its many problems. The best way to describe this movie, one I’ve looked forward to seeing since its production was announced nearly a decade ago, is to say that I enjoyed it. I liked seeing another episode, even a far-less-than-perfect one, in this exciting and adventure-filled series. I enjoyed seeing the Lucasfilm title card appear to the thunderous applause of a theater full of eager fans. Revenge of the Sith is a good time at the movies. And, ultimately, isn’t that why we all loved the Star Wars series to begin with?

- Amy Diaz

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