STAR WARS: EPISODE III- REVENGE OF THE SETH (2005)
(Written and Directed by George Lucas)
(Starring Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid)
Plot: Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) has become incredibly powerful, potentially even surpassing his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). But his thoughts darken as he starts seeing visions of his wife Padme (Natalie Portman) dying in childbirth and he begins to suspect that the Jedi Council wants to take over the Republic- which is currently in a 10 year long war. Meanwhile, Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is using these concerns to sway him to the darkside…
Every time I sit down to review a Star Wars movie, I feel like I’m about to undertake an epic adventure, filled with obstacles (writers block) and romance (erm, with my computer?). There is always way too much for me to cover, whether I’m gushing over “The Empire Strikes Back” or urinating on “The Phantom Menace“…and make no mistake, my stream had power. Absolute power! Looking back at the franchise, it’s kind of unsettling how the prequels mirror the original trilogy, as if “Return of the Jedi” looked into the abyss…and “Revenge of the Sith” looked back. Viewers tend to debate whether “The Empire Strikes Back” is superior to the original “Star Wars” just as much as they debate whether or not “Attack of the Clones” is inferior to “The Phantom Menace“, but the end result is irrelevant: Two of those movies are classics, while the other two are “Attack of the Clones” and “The Phantom Menace“. But just as “Return of the Jedi” is generally considered to be inferior to its predecessors, “Revenge of the Sith” is generally considered to be superior to its predecessors, so both trilogies confront each-other at a crossroads of quality. It’s almost poetic that both third entries share similar but conflicting titles, especially as “Return of the Jedi” was originally supposed to be called “Revenge of the Jedi“. I probably should clarify that I believe “Return of the Jedi” is better than “Revenge of the Sith“, but it’s also more disappointing because it’s following two significantly better films. “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” only seems like a good film because it followed two significantly crappier films, but I was willing to join the dark side of the review and accept it as the only worthy prequel.
The problem with reviewing “Revenge of the Sith” is that I feel like most of the good and bad can be described in scenes, instead of overarching flaws and strengths. For example, the opening, extended shot of a battle in space is simply breathtaking! The CGI holds up to this day because there is so much depth to it. The music and visuals unite to create Star Wars magic, something that has been mostly absent in this prequel trilogy. On the other hand, the romance between Anakin and Padme is still terrible thanks to a lack of chemistry and bad dialogue- which has gotten better enough to merely be considered ‘bad’, but not quotable. The love story doesn’t devour as much screen-time as it did in “Attack of the Clones“, but considering it’s still supposed to be a major part of Anakin’s character arc, that’s not good. The problem with praising or condemning these points, however, is that they aren’t necessarily prevalent throughout the entirety of the film. I only sporadically noticed terrible lines, in contrast to Episode 1, where every line seemed to be terrible. For every amazing visual Episode 3, there will be at least three lazily directed scenes where the blue screen limitations become really apparent. Because the actors can’t move beyond the boundaries of the screen, they usually have to stand or sit in place, while a boring ‘shot/reverse shot’ technique is utilized. This is especially noticeable during the ‘talky’ sequences. But I will bring up all of the important aspects of filmming and try to critique them, instead of writing a novel about each individual scene.
The Story: The good news is that the plot isn’t AS dumb as “Attack of the Clones“, nor was it as convoluted as “The Phantom Menace“. I always understood what was going on and never slammed my head against the wall at the characters stupidity…except when Anakin is involved. More importantly, there is a lot more gravitas to the conflict, meaning I could actually become a little invested in what was going on. This enhanced the action scenes, as I didn’t dismiss the battles as video game fluff. I was actually cool with the plot, except when General Grievous was involved. Everything surrounding Obi-Wan Kenobi chasing Grievous didn’t seem very necessary. It only exists to give Obi-Wan something to do, while tying into the cartoon- which I never saw. You can argue that Grievous was the ‘face’ of the villains, but couldn’t Dooku have played that role? Why couldn’t Grievous be the one who died off in the beginning? At least Dooku has a history with the prequel trilogy and was the previous antagonist, so the subplot might’ve carried more weight had he been involved. Once again, Lucas only seems to have special effects and merchandise on the mind, as everything surrounding Grievous could’ve been omitted and the story would’ve lost nothing. The entirety of the first act could’ve also been trimmed down, although it apparently went on FOR AN HOUR during the original cut! The prequels have all had superfluous, fillery action sequences and this one is no different. But it does have a more compelling story than the first two episodes, although I’m not entirely sure if that is a praise or backhanded compliment.
The Characters: Everyone complains about Anakin’s sudden descent into darkness and…I am one of those people. What makes it more jarring is that Anakin does seem to have developed for the better since the last film. He still has some whiny traits, but he appears to be more aware of his faults and is doing his best to overcome them. He has matured, but that only makes his rise to villainy more difficult to swallow. This is a very difficult character arc and they probably should’ve spent more time on it instead of focusing on Obi-Wan fighting a toy. He’s also a complete idiot if he hasn’t noticed how Palpatine is obviously evil. At least he has attained a bad-ass aura, which reinforces the parallel with “Return of the Jedi“, where Luke developed a similar presence. Padme has mostly become a plot device and Obi-Wan’s characterization remains pretty thin, even though he goes through some serious emotional turmoil. The acting continues to get better and Hayden Christensen even managed to give me chills with his intense glare, although his line delivery is still pretty awkward. I found General Grievous to be rather boring and more of a gimmick than a character. Luckily, Palpatine makes up for it by being an incredibly compelling force of awesomeness. Ian McDiarmid is so charismatic and sinister that you can’t help but be drawn to his performance, which only becomes crazier as time moves along. His creepy, cackling persona is so fun to watch and he makes every scene work…except that “NOOOOOOO” cry from Darth Vader. Nothing could save that. Mace Windu is more compelling here because he seems to be on his own path to the dark side without even realizing it, which I THINK was intentional. Once again, the character writing has improved, even if I can’t say it’s necessarily ‘good’.
Direction: Lucas’s direction in “The Phantom Menace” was clumsy primarily because he was experimenting with a technology he had yet to understand, resulting in awkward..everything…He had a better grasp on it for “Attack of the Clones“, which is why the action looks significantly smoother, but it still looks like actors are just standing in front of a screen. You can put any imaginative visual in the background, but that cannot change one simple fact: It is just a screen. The actors don’t have much mobility because they can’t obviously walk out of its confines and the camera placement is limited because the screen needs to be in full view. This is why most of the scenes tend to be characters sitting down, standing up, maybe walking to a (CGI) window and repeating these mannerisms multiple times. I find this level of direction to be incredibly lazy and these scenes to be visually un-involving. Sure, the backgrounds might look pretty, but my screen-saver looks pretty too. Yet Lucas might’ve just been uninterested in these scenes- that isn’t an excuse- because like everything else, it’s inconsistent. Other times, Lucas actually delivers some inspired imagery and clever shot compositions. The atmosphere has that Star Wars appeal, albeit with a spookier edge thanks to the lighting, music and color scheme. There’s something cool and creepy about seeing those shadows hover over Anakin’s face, or that bizarre lightshow concert. The one time you really feel like the Anakin-Padme romance has any depth is when they are looking at each-other from different locations. It’s quiet, chilling and moving thanks to the lack of dialogue. Once again, every scene is allowed to breathe, so we can experience the visuals- for better or worse- and appreciate the music. Speaking of which, John Williams’s score is amazing and probably held the action together far more than the special effects did. The tone is still a little wonky, especially early on. Those annoying droids are still doing hijinks, which is a strange contrast to a brutal amputation AND decapitation that occurs five minutes later (and earlier). But it steadies as the ending draws near and I FINALLY was able to make an emotional connection.. There are some very sad parts, such as when the Jedi are massacred, but there are also some uplifting moments as well, such as the final shot. But like everything else, there is no consistency. Other times, a dramatic moment would make me laugh. Anakin’s ultimate defeat was an unintentionally hilarious epic fail, especially as the logic contradicted a similar situation involving Darth Maul. Of course, the infamous “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” was very groan inducing, when I think it was intended to be tragic.
Action: The only problem I had with the action sequences were that they often went on for too long, which is especially apparent with the climactic ‘Anakin Vs Obi-Wan’ duel. It contained some awesome stuff, but after a while, it runs out of steam and you’re just waiting for it to end. Nevertheless, the CGI holds up well and the use of body doubles isn’t quite as embarrassing. Dooku’s fight with Anakin was much better than their first match and ‘The Emperor Vs Yoda’ was my favorite action scene in the entire movie, primarily because of the Emperor’s wild facial expressions. The choreography is still over-the-top, but you feel more emotion behind the strikes and blocks. Plus, ‘Duel of the Fates’ is awesome battle music, one of the few positive things carried from “The Phantom Menace“. While the action sometimes drags, “Revenge of the Sith” as a whole is incredibly fast paced. You can use this to attack the movie, as if they had cut down on the spectacle, perhaps the character development would’ve been more profound. But at least I was never bored for very long, as some epic battle was waiting behind every corner.
“Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Seth” is definitely better than “Attack of the Clones” and especially “The Phantom Menace“, although once again, does that really mean anything? Maybe it would be better if I emphasized the ‘okay’-ness of the movie instead. There is still a lot of bad, but Lucas finally began scraping off the rust and delivering some legitimately good content. I kind of enjoyed it as a whole and even considered calling it ‘good’- although I decided I’m not THAT generous. The biggest problem is that “Revenge of the Sith” is only worth watching if you’ve followed the previous prequels, because this is more of a conclusion than a standalone movie. If you skipped “The Phantom Menace” or “Attack of the Clones“- and I don’t blame you if you did- then it will be impossible to make any attachments to the characters or understand the story. “Revenge of the Sith” is not exceptional enough to watch in place of the others, which causes quite a dilemma if you’re new to Star Wars. Or maybe “Revenge of the Sith” succeeds so well in certain areas that it becomes more frustrating for its failures, as it did have potential to be great- even with Lucas as the director. *sigh* Why can’t things by like the original trilogy, where there was nothing but our love…
Violence: Rated PG-13, easily the most violent of the saga.
Overall: “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” is easily the best of the prequel trilogy, although it’s still inferior to the worst of the original trilogy.