Across the Internet…and mainstream media as well…critics are blindly embracing Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith. Less level-headed reviews hail the film as an unequivocal “masterpiece.” Others extol RotS (“rots”?) as a triumphant return to form by a franchise that, by many accounts, has lost its way. No matter how one considers it, the fervor surrounding Episode III is insurmountable.
Said hubbub vividly shows the admirably cushy position in which George Lucas found himself when coming close to this last cinematic entry of the Star Wars saga. His preceding two chapters were so ill received by fans of the “classic” trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI)…and so thoroughly stupefied hapless newbies…that a root canal without anesthesia appeared favorable to another fuse of the overwrought, self-important pabulum heaped on audiences over the last six years.
In other words, Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith is not the “masterpiece” some make it out to be. It is, simply, a far more worthy installment than we’ve recently been fed. Its currently lofty title is a mirage, induced and perpetuated by the unapologetic hokum which preceded it. This being said, it should be noted that Sith, perhaps more than any other film in the sextilogy, tries valiantly to be a “real” movie – and often succeeds. But, while doing so, the film also forgoes the most basic tenets of storytelling.
It’s impossible to discuss these shortcomings without divulging SPOILERS. If you’re already versed in the Star Wars universe, you’ll find nothing new here. If you wish your viewing experience to remain unfettered by pre-conceptions or foreknowledge, skip ahead…
The inconsistencies are limitless, and there’s a surprising common thread in each of the examples cited. The dramatic crux of Episode III is driven by sheer stupidity, but NOT the involving, high-brow, human-nature kind of stupidity one might want to see when facing themes of politics and “power.” Just slack, un-focused absurdity in storytelling. “You’re taking this too seriously!” some will fight back. “It’s just a Star Wars film!” others will add. Perhaps. But Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith is a culmination of three decades of detail and mythology, carefully honed through multiple mediums. There is a natural responsibility to be “truthful” to the material at hand, no matter how silly its essence may seem at face value. Sith asks us to embrace its urgency, and believe its angst. However, it does not make convincing arguments to do so. Like a reckless and hasty teenager behind the wheel of a very cool looking car, RotS is determined to get somewhere, but it doesn’t care how it will get there – and it causes casualties on the road.
This being said, Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith is, most definitely, a monumental step in the right direction. Actors Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman (Anakin and Padme) manage a generally believable chemistry this time around – starkly contrasting their previous turns with these characters, which unfolded with the stilted awkwardness of a middle-school play. The capable Christensen, so tragically repressed in Episode II, presents remarkable chops here – though it is actor Ian McDiarmid who genuinely carries the movie. His charming, grandfatherly malevolence as Anakin’s manipulative benefactor is so captivating that we actually miss his personae when he degrades to the scale of ordinary, cackling, B-film “Emperor.”
David Tattersall’s cinematography – both texturally and compositionally – is overwhelming. Even ugliness is beautiful in this movie. Roger Barton and Ben Burtt’s editing, and Lucas’ direction, are far crisper, more nuanced, and soon more self-assured than featured in either previous (prequel) movie. In almost every aspect, Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith seems more natural, and is more viscerally tempting, than either The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones.
Even with all these imperfections, RotS is the kind of film that should have launched the prequels back in 1999. In its own random way, it boldly endeavors to surpass the trilogy it is building towards, while remaining a distinct personality of its own. If we’d worked our way up from this, imagine the possibilities. Alas, two out of three ain’t bad.
Or, is it?
This Fall, Lucas & Company will start developing a live-action TV series take place in the twenty year time gap between Episode III and Episode IV. Provided the batting average of the last decade, it’s nearly impossible not to wonder if undertaking a saga of this nature is clever, or if The Powers That Be may be better suggested to exit on the “not-totally-sucky” note that is Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith . Never one to pay heed to such considerations, Lucas lately claimed his hands-on involvement with the franchise, and will perhaps return to direct multiple projects. May The Force be with him.