The Star Wars film series created by George Lucas has become one of the most successful franchises in the history of cinema. The most recent installment, Star Wars Episode VII, is aimed to be released in 2015. The sixth film, Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith was released in 2005, and was the last of three prequels to the original trilogy. Hayden Christiensen, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman are featured in this movie, which grossed $848,754,768 across the world.
Two verdicts seem to be doing the rounds on Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith. The first, wonderfully being propagated by fans around the world, is that the film is much, much better than Episodes I and II, the prequel to the original trilogy everyone have been waiting for all along, and honestly damn good fun. It’s dark and engaging, pacy and dramatic, and the transition of its Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker into future villain Darth Vader really is something to be amazed at. Bringing this swashbuckling galactic epic right back round to where it began, George Lucas has pulled it all together, in the nick of time.
To this, by way of guiltily subscribing to the second view, I can only say: have they seen it? If this mightily disappointing slab of the movie industry – so very far, far away from a glorious pay-off to Lucas’s overall franchise – is the film we were all should be holding our breaths for, more fool us.
A pre-ordained grand finale awaits this time, but plays out so mundanely, it’s like the most heavily-effects-budgeted shoulder-shrug in history. Scenes of integral import are recklessly thrown away, tangential ones dragged out in the way of a teacher peddling the wrong syllabus.
The money sequence, at least in terms of the tie-in video games it’s expressly designed to generate, is an opening dogfight as technically dizzying as it is unmoored from anything that follows. In my opinion, what followed was a two-hour rearguard battle against encroaching boredom, and the words that catch my mind on the way out really weren’t “Bravo, George!” but “Was that it?”
It’s hard not to have a lot of affection for the original Star War trilogy. With their hand-crafted effects and game performances, the films had a scrappy genuineness and brio, as well as faith in the relentless, unpredictable pace of old-fashioned storytelling. One of them, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back (1980), had more: a tortured, mythic spirit, edging towards its climactic revelation – “Luke, I am your father!” – with a moody confidence that held us spellbound. Geek appeal was transcended, immortality in the popular mainstream ensured.
Twenty-five years on, Lucas has very little left up his sleeve. We know that Anakin (Hayden Christensen) must sire Luke, and his twin sister Leia, on Padmé (Natalie Portman), that he must betray his mentor Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and cross over to the camp of the Sith Lord (Ian McDiarmid), and that he’s going to end up encased in that obsidian-black helmet, hissing out of a voice box and planning the total destruction of the Republic.
Lucas might have found ways to make all this grip regardless, by keeping us occupied with the moment-by-moment exhilaration that used to be his stock-in-trade. However the way he’s chosen to make this additional trilogy – shooting his actors drearily rehearsing their fates against wall-to-wall CGI vistas – nearly nothing on screen solidly counts. Too often he’s plainly more interested in the backdrops: every interminable dialogue scene takes place in vast windowed chambers with ships whizzing by outside, leaving us to wonder why Anakin and Padmé seem to be living in some type of wipe-clean intergalactic departure lounge. What was wrong with the lonely blackness of space?
The script is at least as painful as it was in the last two installments – worse, if anything. “At last the Jedi are no more!” trumpets the increasingly hammy McDiarmid. “Not if anything to say about it I have,” responds Yoda. Come again? Extremely annoying his topsy-turvy speech gets. The only way Lucas can stop all the continuous talk from sending us into a coma is to splice these conversations into something more eventful, for instance the rather good piece where Obi-Wan tracks down the droid chief General Grievous. But it’s a cheap delaying tactic which means that all his best action sequences are doled out in choppy segments. Call this skilful editing you really couldn’t.
And the acting – boy, oh boy, the acting. McGregor, very good in other things, looks unmistakably and rightly sheepish about his Alec Guinness impression. Samuel L Jackson can give none of his usual furious cool into the characterization-free-zone which is Mace Windu. And Christensen – less Anakin, more mannequin – makes Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven look good. Conversion to the Dark Side registers here as a classic, deepening sulk, so much so that our man’s willingness to embrace the dark aspects of the Force can be seen at any given moment by the precise hang of his lower lip. The performance brings so little sparks, personality or human fire that when Portman claims she’s pregnant, you stare at the frozen father-to-be and as yourself, How?
Only at the very close does Lucas pull a couple of interesting moments out of the hat. Anakin’s abandonment by Obi-Wan, the rescue of his charred, disfigured body by McDiarmid’s Palpatine, and Padmé’s simultaneous labor are sequences of visceral end-of-the-line drama we can really relate with.
But there’s still something perfunctory and underwhelming about the all-action climax, which gives us two protracted, cross-cut lightsaber duels between four characters we know have to survive. Where’s the edge-of-your-seat excitement in that?
And, I’m probably wrong, but wasn’t evil kind of supposed to win over good in this time around? Instead, the principal players duke it out to a 0-0 draw, and we all know how dull those can be. All a reviewer like me can do is beg the audiences to go in with perhaps lowered expectations, loads of sugary snacks, and emergency action figures to escape from depression.