The temptation remains great to be clever
in this opening, but we played that three years ago with
Attack of the Clones. Why taunt and tease with two
time-killing paragraphs (or movies) when you want to get
to the meat of the third?
As promised (or threatened), Revenge
of the Sith is indeed the darkest of the prequel trilogy.
It is also indeed the strongest film of the three. That
may be damning with faint praise, but really, even though
it still has many weak spots, the overall effect gets more
powerful with time.
Let's be honest: going in, we already know
who will live and who will die. Unfortunately for the corner
George Lucas boxed himself into, with the major characters
we can have few surprises. That makes it harder to have
an emotional investment like we did with "our" original
crew of Luke, Leia and Han. The only mysteries can be in
exactly how things happened, and for long-time fans, even
some of those have been spoiled since the 1977 novelization.
But it's the telling, not necessarily the
tale, and in some moments Lucas tells it very well indeed.
If you take a step back from the specific story of Anakin's
turn to the Dark Side of the Force, the writer/director
has something very important to say about how easily fascism
can sweep a nation, or in this case, interplanetary alliance.
Padme (Natalie Portman) even has a few lines that should
stand out from this film as cautionary quotes.
Some of those cautions come in argument
with Anakin (Hayden Christensen), willingly and naively
listening to the political and personal seductions of Palpatine
(Ian McDarmid). It may be tempting to draw parallels to
our current world situation, but Lucas may be making the
bigger point that this happens over and over in history,
even in a galaxy far, far away.
All that is required for evil to triumph
is that good men do nothing. Of course, even as the ostensibly
good Anakin succumbs, Lucas still has his heroes. Obi-Wan
Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) cuts an even more dashing figure
than allowed in the previous two films, and it's still hard
to believe that if Padme really wanted to marry a Jedi,
she would choose the self-absorbed Anakin over Obi-Wan.
But that's a subtext that never quite gels, though Lucas
stages a few awkward scenes that underscore why Anakin might
Even Lucas admits that he works best in
the louder parts of the story. Here, he outdoes himself
with a dazzling opening space battle, full of new ideas
and imagery. It still follows the clunky exposition that
leaves us a little unsure as to why the battle happens,
but he gives us enough bright lights to distract us from
At first, it all has something to do with
Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), reduced to a videogame character
here, and the new menace of the alien cyborg General Grievous.
The whys matter far less than the fun, and Lucas barely
lets the viewer catch a breath as Skywalker and Kenobi fight
their way through a star destroyer to rescue Chancellor
Palpatine. Even R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) gets a great moment
that reminds old fans of the magic they used to instinctively
feel. Then again, Lucas has always been good with technology.
Despite a bit of meandering, Revenge
of the Sith does have the most straightforward plot.
The subtle machinations of Palpatine in earlier films get
thrown to the forefront. Most of the fight scenes actually
move the film forward, though a side trip to Kashykk, the
planet of the Wookies, really could have been cut entirely,
but Lucas wanted to give a shout out to Chewbacca.
He should have worried less about the fans'
familiarity, and run with the chance to build some new characters.
Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), a long-time cipher in
the mythos, starts to really come into his own, and because
his path isn't as set in stone as the others, he has the
potential to be the most interesting. Unlike the Jedi, Organa
accidentally becomes the right man in the wrong place at
the right time, and in many ways, his heroism rings truer.
Events sweep him up, and he could have
been our key into these horrible events. We already know
we have no midichlorian count, so we identify with this
guy. And maybe we still will, as Lucas has been open about
doing a television series set in the Star Wars universe.
Smits keeps looking for a really good series role - and
how long can The West Wing last anyway?
The other characters don't fare nearly
as well, which again holds back our emotional investment.
At least Lucas holds true to his promise not to let Mace
Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) die like a punk, but despite the
magnitude of Jackson, it's hard to feel anything for it.
If you've read the comic books, you might shed a tear for
Ki-Adi-Mundi (Silas Carson), but buying Dark Horse comics
would also be the only way you would know his name.
At least the romance, always the series'
weakest point, takes a backseat, even as it becomes the
motivation for Anakin's turn. Christensen does a better
job here than in Episode II, but the script offers little
Part of the problem is still that fandom
seems to know the movies better than Lucas does. Sure, all
your questions will be answered, sort of, but most in the
last five minutes. It feels rushed and forced, and will
definitely have fans picking nits for months. Allegedly
the novelization does a better job of explaining some things,
but the script should have had it covered.
we've endured this for well over two decades. Is it a satisfying
conclusion? Not exactly, because that should have been Return
of the Jedi. But as the last official "film," it's okay.