The Clone Wars are at last coming to an end but troubles are only just beginning for the Jedi order. The evil scheme of Palpatine/Sidious needs however a new apprentice and young Anakin Skywalker, troubled by nightmares of pain and loss, seems to fit the bill.
In perhaps the most blatant instance of a Star Wars character plugging a plot hole, at one point in Return Of The Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi brushes aside the lies he told Luke about Vader with this infamous equivocation, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” So then, from a certain point of view, Revenge Of The Sith, simultaneously the middle and last Star Wars movie, is the best sequel, and the most pleasing surprise, in the entire saga.
In true Saturday morning serial fashion Sith starts with a left-over chapter from a previous journey: the rescue of the Chancellor from General Grievous by Anakin, Obi-Wan and the franchise’s beloved sidekick: R2-D2. Fast, loose, inventive and within touching distance of funny, this is the spiritual sequel to the original escape from the Death Star, reloaded with full Jedi powers. Like a piece of a lost civilization, this movie hints at countless Clone Wars escapades that unfortunately exist only in the stretched universe — yet, at least we have that bit where Jar Jar falls over the explosive marbles featured on movie.
The scene ends with the series’ single most audacious sequence as the Star Destroyer first passed overhead — the front half of Grievous’ flagship The Invisible Hand screeching to a stop miles from camera — and it turns out clear that dealt with the thankless task of directly dovetailing into a timeless epic everybody from Lucas down has quite raised their game. ILM finally seem to have finished the digital toolkit they’ve been toying with since the late nineties fashioning flora and fauna that has real weight and substance for the first time. There are 2,200 effects shots in Sith — more than Menace and Clones combined — and there’s not a single specimen of bad compositing, which is more than can be said for 2006’s SFX Oscar winner King Kong.
Also perfect is Gavin Bouquet’s production design – yes, Sith’s most unambiguous delight is seeing Bouquet and Lucas retrofit their galaxy – often there appears to be no escape as the mismatched trilogies come together, but a deft aside or throwaway motif always gets us out of the compacter.
So far, so certain aspects – still, Sith carries a much graver responsibility than the prequels it soon outclasses. Lucas himself admitted that fully 60 percent of his original outline was slated for this bridging episode, which means that all the unanswered questions that made the prequels permissible in the first place are addressed here. Meaning, Sith is it: this is the point where the myths get set in stone, Lucas can muck around on Naboo all he wants, but if he messes up the birth of Vader, big black will never stay the same.
And once Sith starts forging myth, fingers are burned. The shortcomings may be familiar at this point but here they rankle more than ever was. Just as it was becoming possible to tune out the constant clanking of Lucas’ lumbering dialogue the words are invested with real import. And just as we about to get used to the declarative ‘30s-style line readings that only Lucas finds an adequate substitute for acting, the drama is demanded to support some actually heavy shit. Many of the key components of the Star Wars legend — Vader’s birth, Padme’s death — are ultimately undone by dialogue that is ludicrous either in intent or execution.
Sometimes you simply think “Noooo!”
Most damagingly, Anakin’s conversion with the dark side is hushed through in a slack middle act where the chosen one bounces back and forth between Mace Windu and Palpatine like a confused teenager in a soap opera love triangle. The self-inflicted 20-20-60 story split that starved Episodes I and II of real incident, leaves Lucas with far too much ground to make up here: so far we’ve gathered that Anakin is arrogant, horny and has bad dreams —well, we all know it’s just a short-step from there to baby killer.
The ingenious McDiarmid does his best to make the dark side seem seductive but unless you are steeped in Force lore (for your information, once Anakin cracks open the door, the flood-gates burst and it is extremely hard to resist) this critical moment – the moment – completely fails to convince.
Thankfully then, the Star Wars myth is so impressive, so pre-imagined by so many, that much of it needs no explanation bar our restless narrator: the lonely John Williams. The twin duels that bring the third act to a rousing close confirm Sith as not just the darkest but also the prettiest entry in the series — the lava landscape of Mustafa, especially, has clearly been bubbling in Lucas imagination for almost three decades. (A few shots also benefit from having best pal Steven Spielberg play around with the “pre-viz” animatic software.)
In the end then, it depends on your point of view. As a sequel to the prequels, Sith is more than anyone can possibly have asked for, a film that made it okay to become a Star Wars fan again. However, a few fans will always cling to a different truth, to an alternative universe where at least one prequel was the equal of the original trilogy. And for those folks, Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith, the last chance to get it right, will always be considered as the greatest letdown of all.