Okay, the consensus among critics about George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith consists of the following:
– This is by far the best film of the prequels.
– Sith can be ranked as the third best Star Wars movie behind A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
– It does, however, feature horrendous dialog that is as painful as that heard in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
– In spite of its flaws, the film features truly emotional moments and gripping drama not seen in any previous Star Wars movie. And aside from some minor loose ends, it ties up everything neatly and segues right into the original trilogy.
At least, that’s what I keep reading over and over again in most reviews of Sith. And, for the most part, I agree. Therefore, I won’t bore you with a story synopsis (by now you already know it) or an analysis of the special effects, story, acting (I loved most of it) or all those typical elements you see in a standard review. So what else can I tell you that will offer some new insight?
A few personal notes before I begin. I have not reviewed a movie in over a year as I am in the continuing the process of transitioning my career from that of film reviewer to filmmaker. So like George’s directing in Episode I, my skills may be a bit rusty. Please forgive me in advance. I also would like to add that this final film in the Star Wars series holds a lot of personal baggage for me (as I’m sure it does for all fans of the series.) The original (sans “Episode IV” moniker) Star Wars was one of a handful of “epiphany” movies for me. These are films that hold a special place in my heart and altered my way of not only looking at movies, but at life itself. So seeing it all end holds both joy and sadness all at once.
I have waited more than 25 years to see the events depicted in this movie play out before my eyes. In a dramatic scene featuring one simple special effect, (in fact, the first time many of us witnessed a light saber ignite), Obi-Wan Kenobi reveals to Luke “true” details about his father and the rise of the empire along with something called The Clone Wars.” Many of us have dreamt about the meaning of those few lines of dialog – we imagined the battles, the early Jedi Knights, and the glorious age that Obi-Wan spoke of so fondly.
In a way, Lucas has spent five films rewriting or reinterpreting that one simple scene between Luke and Obi-Wan. I will say this, if the young version of me walked out of the original Star Wars and then was shown Episode I and II, I probably would have loved every minute of those movies. And that kid version of me would have engaged in lengthy debate about the virtues of the prequels and ended up schooling the curmudgeon old Star Wars fan that I have become. I think I would have deserved the beating. It was sheer joy to finally see that fateful duel – something I’ve been waiting to see since I was a kid and I feel it delivered.
Here’s what’s weird, I walked out of Episode III elated. And just to be sure of my own opinion, I’ve seen it twice more and had more fun each time. For me, the film works as a Greek tragedy – we know all along what is going to happen and somehow hope events will turn out differently, but tragedies always end badly, especially this one. The scenes between Anakin and Padme are over the top melodrama, which is exactly what works in those tragic plays. It’s with a sense of sadness and dread that events unfold in Sith. But we are armed with the knowledge of how it all ends, in Return of the Jedi, when the Emperor finally pays the price and the age of the Sith ends for good.
Hayden Christensen has received a bad rap all along for his acting. I believe he plays it perfectly here. When Lucas was originally casting the part of an older Anakin Skywalker, he made mention of James Dean, the Hollywood legend from the 1950s who died in a tragic car crash after having only made three films. Lucas seemed to be looking for someone just like Dean. If you look at Christensen’s performance in these last two films, that’s really what he seems to be going for – a conflicted youth filled with power hungry ambitions but without the guidance he requires. In fact, try watching “Rebel Without A Cause” and you’ll see much of the pain, anguish and whininess of Anakin in Dean’s tortured teen.
The real standout in this movie is Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine – the performance is, frankly, Oscar worthy, and he has no trouble with making that Lucas dialog sound like Shakespeare. In a way, Palpatine/Sidious fulfills the same role for Anakin that Obi-Wan Kenobi did for Luke in Episode IV. But in the case of Palpatine, the advice he imparts is the opposite of the path one would wish for a hero. Ewan McGregor continues with a flawless Alec Guinness impression while adding his own layers to Obi-Wan.
What’s even more fun is experiencing the previous films now with the final piece of the puzzle in place. It’s interesting is to see how clearly Anakin’s journey in the prequels parallels Luke’s in the original trilogy with each making very different choices. Lines of dialog such as Yoda’s warning to Luke about confronting the Emperor take on whole new meaning. Much more can be read into seemingly meaningless exchanges or expressions or simple glances. In fact, try re-watching Obi-Wan’s first meeting of R2-D2 in A New Hope. At first, Kenobi calls him “little friend” then offers a glance that could be filled with much more meaning. Of course, Lucas may not have known it then, but those moments in that scene along with Luke receiving his father’s light saber – Alec Guinness could not have known then the weight that his dramatic pauses implied.
But not everyone feels the same in Star Wars fandom. Among my own friends, there are two distinct camps:
1) Those that love the movie for what it is, admitting the faults, but still loving every minute. This is the camp that I would place myself in.
2)Those that don’t like it. They are disappointed and continue to pick apart the minutiae and just wish the movie were something else entirely.
I actually understand group two and identify with them quite a bit. One could easily rip apart little plot holes in the trilogy. Here are just a few questions pointed out by some good Star Wars buddies of mine:
In Episode IV, is there any good explanation for why Owen and Beru don’t recognize C-3PO and R2D2 as the two droids who belonged to Anakin Skywalker? Uh, you got me.
Wouldn’t they be more alarmed about their own safety if droids who had belonged to Anakin showed up on their farm looking for Obi-Wan Kenobi? Yes, I guess they would.
Why don’t they even want to see the recording inside R2D2 that Luke tells them about? No clue.
Do Owen and Beru think that Anakin really is dead? Did Obi-Wan lie to them in order to get them to take in Luke? Well, Obi-Wan does seem to have a habit of lying.
Obi-Wan says he doesn’t remember owning a droid, but if R2D2 knows him as Obi-Wan, how many different people could it be that sent him? Why did Bail Organa send Leia to bring Obi-Wan to Alderaan in the first place? Obi Wan had been out of action for close to 20 years. Why was he sending for him now? Maybe because they had those Death Star plans? Uh, I don’t know, ask George.
The way I see it, practically every “mystery” can be explained by Palpatine/Darth Sidious/The Emperor. Consider these puzzling questions—
Who arranged the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo in Episode I? Sidious.
Who ordered a million Clone Troopers on Kamino? Sidious.
Who orchestrated a war between the Republic and the Separatist’s battle droid army? Sidious.
Who hired a bunch of Sand People on Tatooine to kidnap and torture for a month Shmi Skywalker, Anakin’s mother? Sidious!
Who murdered Master Darth Plaugues and learned the secret to create life then using it to immaculately conceive Anakin? Sidious!!
Who leaked the location of the second Death Star and the shield generator on the Endor moon to the Rebellion luring them into a trap? Sidious!!!
Look, I think that part of the joy of being a Star Wars fan is getting together with fellow geeks to pick apart everything piece by piece to analyze the mysteries and the whys and the hows. You know, this is George’s movie, it’s the story and direction he chose and I’m cool with it.
Seeing the saga come to an end brings about feelings of both sadness and giddy joy. In a way, it’s like leaving a rocky relationship — there were good times, bad times and unforgettable times. But I’m also glad it’s over. And while I’m left heartbroken that this long relationship with Star Wars is at an end, I’m also exhilarated with all the memories of the incredible ride this has been. For me, Sith succeeds in providing a satisfying ending to the films while also closing a chapter of my own life. I’m gratified that the series is finally over – no more waking up checking the internet for scoops and spoilers, no more action figures to collect, no more celebrations to attend, no more obsessing over minutiae and plot holes. Now, I can finally talk to a girl. I hope you all try to do the same.
May you have a life after Star Wars.
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