Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
I was in Dublin, Ireland of all places when I saw Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I was enticed to get off my sick bed and see George Lucas’ final Star Wars installment. As a kid I loved the original trilogy. My expectations were piqued by the promise that Revenge of the Sith would be bigger, badder, and suitably darker than any previous Star Wars installment. It did get the series’ first PG-13 rating and a stern warning to parents from Lucas for nothing. I had equal hopes for the other two prequels, 1999’s The Phantom Menace and 2002’s Attack of the Clones, but said hopes were dashed upon actually watching the movies. This was the last film and I had my fingers crossed ole George would finally get it right.
It’s now several years into the war between the Galactic Republic and the separatists led by General Grievous, leader of the droid army. Anakin (Hayden Christenson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGreggor) fight for the Republic and the chancellor of the Senate, Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Anakin is having nightmare that his secret wife Amidala (Natalie Portman) will die in childbirth. He seeks out a way to save her and is tempted by certain promises by shadowy figures that the dark side of the force can restore life. From there things are set into motion that turn the Republic into an evil Empire, the Jedi into a near extinct band of warriors, and Anakin into the iconic Darth Vader.
My friend Josh Browning brought up the idea that Star Wars would be so much cooler without George Lucas. I gave this idea some thought and have come to the same conclusion. Can anyone ever say “no” to the Jedi master in plaid? Directing flaws aside, where Lucas really needs assistance is his writing. The biggest qualms I’ve had with the new set of Star Wars, horrible acting aside, is how unforgivably boring they are and the tepid romance. The original Star Wars were about action, adventure, and things that mattered. The prequel set has been mostly about trade, taxation, Senatorial control, and separatists. The majority of the prequels have been sleep-inducing and riddled with pacing issues.
In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Lucas said 60% of his prequel story was related to the final film. With some quick calculations, that means that there was 20% plot in The Phantom Menace and the remaining 20% in Attack of the Clones. No wonder nothing seemed to be going on! This also creates the problem of Sith having far too much plot to deal with in too short of a reasonable time frame. Things feel left out or not fully explained, like why the hell does General Grievous have a cold? I know I’m missing something but it’s lazy filmmaking to make an audience do extra homework to flesh out your storytelling.
As stated, my other main gripe was the half-baked romance Lucas had between Anakin and Amidala. In Attack of the Clones, the romance is spontaneous. He hasn’t seen her in like 10 years and now they’re instantly smitten? There is no beginning to this romance, no nurturing, no progress. The romantic troubles are worsened by Lucas’ disinterested writing. Lucas cannot write dialogue to save his life. Romantic bon mots like “Hold me like you did at the lake” and “I’ve been dying a little bit day by day, ever since you reentered my life” will not exactly stoke a fire in your loins. Plus Portman and Christenson have as absolutely no chemistry.
Now, the reason I’ve reviewed the romance from Attack of the Clones is because it serves as the linchpin for why Anakin goes bad and becomes Darth Vader. It’s a mighty big question about what turned Anakin from man into one bad mutha, and his quest to save his wife is a satisfyingly plausible answer. But the transition doesn’t have near the punch Lucas intends because of his weak romance he’s penned. Lucas’s shortcomings as a writer finally pull the rug out from Anakin’s big moment.
The acting is another weakness. True, the acting hasn’t always been the top priority with any Star Wars film, but these prequels have shown that Lucas would rather stand behind a computer than in front of an actor. Portman has generally seemed bored and lacks any interest in hiding it. In Attack of the Clones she seemed sedated. In Revenge of the Sith she gets to cry a bunch. In Lucas land, that’s seen as character development.
I thought Anakin could not get any more annoying than Jake Lloyd’s awful “yippee”-filled run in Menace, but I’m starting to reconsider this. Anakin mopes around and when he gets upset he whines in a falsetto voice. I will say Christenson was rather good in Shattered Glass where his arrested development acting techniques expertly channeled the manipulative Stephen Glass (if you do have a choice, go rent Shattered Glass). But in the more operatic Star Wars world, Christenson routinely comes off like a kid playing dress-up. Even after he’s gone full evil and growls and screams and glares, he comes off like nothing more than a poodle trying to be a guard dog. Of course neither performer is helped any by Lucas’ absentee directing style with actors.
The only members of the Star Wars prequels that will walk away unblemished are Ewan McGreggor and Ian McDiarmid. McGreggor has got the Alec Guinness voice down and proves to be a capable and dignified leading hero. McDiarmid has a juicer role than Anakin and really relishes his villainy.
Sith is the best of the three Star Wars prequels but that isn’t saying a whole lot. Whereas Menace and Clones were boring, Sith is just kind of slow and okay. It’s an improvement but the bar wasn’t exactly set very high. The formula is about the same: the first two acts are again quite plodding and then Lucas unleashes a torrent of action to close out his film. Sith does break apart because, surprise, things actually happen and they actually matter. After about six hours of buildup, actions meet consequences, characters meet their demise, and our boy wonder becomes the dark Jedi. People have been waiting decades for these moments and when they arrive they hit like a thunder bolt. Most of the time at least.
The special effects are uniformly fantastic, which has never been an issue for Lucas. Yoda moves and emotes fantastically, actually besting some of his flesh and blood thespians. The interaction of live elements and CGI seems improved. Planets are rendered beautifully and the lava world is simply visually stunning and just plain cool.
The action is exciting but a bit overly edited in light saber battles. As we march into Act Three, there’s a terrific sense of climax with Yoda going off to battle Palpatine and Obi-Wan knowing he must put down Anakin. At long last I felt jolts, shivers, and goose bumps at what was to come. The concluding half of Sith is great rollicking entertainment and visually luxurious to watch. See George, light saber duels and character deaths are far more entertaining than trade disputes and embargo talk. The excitement’s back in the Star Wars franchise but it’s a shame it had to only appear this close to the finish line.
The final chapter on the Star Wars universe is closed. Well, for now. The lure of mountains of cash will probably ensure we haven’t seen the last of some of these beloved characters. Revenge of the Sith is a moderately satisfying closing episode to the Star Wars saga. The film still is an exhibition of Lucas’ filmmaking flaws (writing, pacing, his handling of actors) but Sith finally reaches the excitement and grandeur the original Star Wars had. My Dublin theater was roaring, clapping, yelling and screaming throughout. And for the first time during the prequels, so was I for awhile. And you know what the absolute best part was? Not one single word from Jar-Jar Binks!
Nate’s Grade: B-
Posted on May 15, 2005, in 2005 Movies and tagged action, aliens, christopher lee, ewan mcgregor, george lucas, hayden christensen, natalie portman, prequel, robots, samuel l. jackson, sci-fi, star wars. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.