As the “Star Wars” saga ends, so begins what is probably the most unnecessary review I will ever write. Those of you boycotting all things Lucas won’t be swayed by my words, just as those of you eagerly fondling the advance tickets in your grubby little hands won’t be dissuaded from attending on opening day even if I and every critic in the Western hemisphere declared “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” the worst movie since “Highlander 2.” Happily, that isn’t the case. “Revenge” is far and away the best of the “Star Wars” prequels (tough chore, that) and also holds its own with the hallowed films of the original trilogy.
The trademark opening scroll opens with the word “WAR!” (A welcome change from the first prequels’ emphasis on trade disputes and amateurish political maneuvering). Sure enough, we’re quickly dropped into the middle of a massive space battle above the planet Coruscant, as Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) lead an assault to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has been kidnapped by the cyborg General Grievous, leader of the Separatists. After a nifty attack on the General’s ship (which looks more like a storyboard for an Xbox game), Anakin and Obi-Wan face off against Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Obi-Wan is incapacitated, but Anakin gets the upper hand and kills him, at the insistence of Palpatine and to the surprise of Dooku himself.
Palpatine is, of course, Darth Sidious, who has been grooming the young Jedi for apprenticeship for years. Lee gets a better ending here than he did in Return of the King, though it still feels abrupt.
No time to worry about that now, for Anakin returns home to discover that Padmé is pregnant. Shortly thereafter, he’s plagued by dreams of her dying in childbirth, and it is this fear that plays a key role in his eventual turn to the Dark Side.
But let’s back up a bit. I said earlier that “Revenge of the Sith” holds its own against the films of the OT, and I stand by that (Personally, I’d rank them 1-“Empire” 2-“Star Wars” 3-“Sith” 4-“Jedi” 5(tie)-“Clones”/”Phantom Menace”). Try not to forget that while you’re slogging through the first 30 minutes or so following the opening battle, while Anakin and Padmé express their love for each other with Lucas’ patented nimble screenwriting and the Jedi Masters wring their hands ineffectually over Palpatine’s appointment of Anakin to the Council. These scenes, which include the Supreme Chancellor regaling Anakin with the story of Darth Plagueis – who reputedly knew the secret of cheating death – don’t clunk along as poorly as similar sequences in the first prequels, but they had me looking at my watch more often than I care to admit. Fortunately, once Obi-Wan is finally dispatched to the Separatists’ secret hideout to apprehend Grievous, the film kicks into high gear with plenty of lightsaber-fu and murder most foul. By the time we finally get to the climactic duel on Mustafar, you’re almost ready to forgive the first two prequels.
One of the problems that’s given more focus is Anakin’s journey from good to evil, which always came off as a bit facile to me. Merely being a petulant adolescent didn’t seem like very good justification, and even his apparent crippling fear of losing Padmé doesn’t quite cut it, until you see how useless the Jedi Council is when trying to help him. I’d probably get sick of hearing about how everything is a path to the Dark Side, too (they sound like Baptists warning us about hellfire). And it can’t be very reassuring to Anakin to have an 800 year-old Muppet counseling him to “let her go.” Yoda’s telling him to kiss his wife’s a*s goodbye, while Palpatine/Sidious is offering him a way to save her. Anakin might have taken the more extreme path than you or me, but at least his motivations are a little clearer.
“Revenge” also scores with some emotionally powerful scenes. A friend of mine who writes music reviews describes a phenomenon called the “Golden Note:” that moment in a song that brings instantaneous joy. In movies, there are similar instances that cause a chill to run down your spine. “Revenge of the Sith” features three of these: the newly christened Darth Vader entering the Jedi Temple; Obi-Wan realizing his former pupil is too far gone to redeem; and the final scene on Tattooine, which may very well make you want to rush home and pop “Star Wars” into the VCR/laserdisc/DVD player.
I’m not sure who got to Lucas, or if he’s just been messing with our minds for the last seven years, but “Revenge” is largely free of the problems found in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones: no fart jokes, no ham-handed Senatorial intrigue, and virtually no Jar Jar (two brief scenes, no dialogue). Lucas wasn’t lying when he described “Revenge” as the darkest movie of the series, and the amputations and decapitations come at you fast and furious. We even get Yoda traveling to Kashyyyk to aid the Wookiees against the Separatists, which is pleasant enough, but ultimately pointless.
Oh, the dialogue still pains the ear (unless it’s being spoken by McDiarmid, who is obviously having a whale of a time), and extraneous CGI still packs every action sequence (especially Obi-Wan’s battle with General Grievous). I was also annoyed by just how easily most of the Jedi were dispatched (one Padawan puts up more of a fight than Ki-Adi Mundi, Plo Koon, and the other so-called “Masters” combined), and the ultimate cause given for Padmé’s death, which isn’t exactly what you’d think.
But “Episode III” manages, in the end, to almost redeem the franchise. I’m not going to lie and say every single continuity problem is addressed (R2’s jets? Security cameras?), or that “Revenge of the Sith” is the best movie of the year, but it is without a doubt the film we’ve been waiting for Lucas to make since 1998. And it did what I thought was impossible after the previous two films: it made me a “Star Wars” fan again.
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