Now that Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith is out on DVD (not VHS, suckers), it’s time to revisit the 2005 blockbuster and ask the question, “Was the film a proper ending to the saga?”
George Lucas’s empire has its detractors, many of them correct in their often harsh criticisms of what has become of the beloved franchise. Others just seem to be mean-spirited simply because they can be. Critics, just like cops and presidents, can abuse their power, and many of them like nothing more than to attack the biggest name in all of movies — Lucas.
I’ve written before about how I think Lucas could never please people with his prequels. We live in a different time, and had he tried to replicate what he did in the original three films, people would say he wasn’t trying. So he did his own thing, and I respect him for that. I’m also a huge fan of the franchise, so nobody should be surprised that I enjoyed the “final” film. But how does it stand up if I look at it as a critic and not a fan? The answer may be surprising.
Some of the criticisms I hear about the film center around bad acting and dialogue, plot holes, and the often heard assertion that Lucas seems to care more about technology than he does a story. All these points of contention have their place and they aren’t without merit, but there is more to the film. In fact, the film has quite a bit going for it.
The outcome of “Episode III” was never in doubt. Unless you just got out of a coma and had never seen the other films, you knew Anakin’s fate before you even knew the title to the film, so Lucas had a huge task ahead of him. He had to tell a story that was still engaging even though everyone knew its conclusion. I believe he succeeded. The film is compelling, and the action is standard “Star Wars,” but it also has more emotion than I think people give it credit for, and it was far darker than I think most would have ever imagined.
The story gets its strength from its pathos and hangs on whether or not viewers can accept Anakin’s switch to the Dark Side. Lucas made that switch believable, and actually made whiny, headstrong Anakin a bit of a sympathetic character — another thing the director doesn’t get enough credit for. You may not like Anakin, but you understand why he chooses that path. In retrospect, it’s clear that Lucas’ story actually has its roots not only in old serials and samurai movies, but also the Greek tragedies.
I went into all the prequels a bit hesitant, knowing that the films could never live up to what I envisioned them to be. On various levels they disappointed me, and on others exceeded my expectations. Some people felt they were owed more than what Lucas gave. Others questioned whether or not he ever truly had the whole story worked out to begin with. Say what you will about those things, but I believe Lucas’ only debts were to himself, and he made the films he wanted to see, so I have to side with him on that. They are his visions, and you can accept them or cynically toss them to the side, but either way, the fact remains that they are what he wanted to see and no amount of complaining can change that.
History will credit Lucas with many things. One of them may be the destruction of a hugely profitable franchise. I don’t see it that way, though. As I watched the DVD again, I rethought everything I felt about the film the first time I saw it, but came to the same conclusions. It was an appropriate ending; it did sell the story; and it was a dark, emotional tale about failed endeavors, betrayal and manipulation. It doesn’t top “The Empire Strikes Back,” but that’s only because we know how the story turns out. If there wasn’t an original trilogy to draw from, we’d be dying to know what came next.
Maybe Lucas’ problem was doing the fourth through sixth episodes first. Or maybe it was revisiting the franchise in the form of prequels. Either way, there will always be people displeased with his actions.
The Sith won, but so did Lucas. Unfortunately, it may take some time before his harshest critics care to admit it.

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