STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH is the movie he ought to have made right from the beginning. This is the entry he kept on promising he’d deliver, the film we’ve all kept longing for. The other two Star Wars prequels are utterly irrelevant; this film could have existed without them. It’s a perfect fit with the astounding original films and unlike the predecessors, it only tops them.
I still remember the first time I really became aware of George Lucas. No more than eight, I realized a particularly careworn copy of an Empire Strikes Back novelization hid in the bleak looking Science Fiction section of my little local library. Naturally, I assumed that Star Wars was in fact a book before it was a movie, and that this George Lucas must surely be the greatest writer who had ever written. I’d eventually read every book on those shelves over the next few years, but when asked my favorite author my answer would always be “George Lucas”.
I remember all the articles and pictures too; the scenes of George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch, encircled by his creations, photos of him standing alongside a miniature of the Millennium Falcon. In the eyes of millions of kids, the guy became a legend. We engaged to anything that had his name on it, devoured every single Ewok Adventure or Star Wars Christmas Special as we knew George Lucas had delivered it. We didn’t just love Star Wars we loved the mythos of George Lucas, a man who somehow seemed magical.
By chance, my wedding fell three days after the premier of The Phantom Menace. My bachelor party wasn’t paid for strippers or a huge kegger. No, for my bachelor party we saw The Phantom Menace. My last night of freedom, and I wasted it watching a mentally challenged alien step in poop. Never has anyone brought so much joy and hope to so many folks like George Lucas, only to turn back and crush those same folks with unbelievable pain and disappointment.
He’s exhausted our patience and battered our dreams with his prequels, soiling the name of a thing that, like it or not, to a lot of people truly meant something. On second thought, maybe he was only kidding with all the bad movie making. Because STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH is the movie he ought to have made right from the beginning. This is the entry he kept on promising he’d deliver, the film we’ve all kept longing for. The other two Star Wars prequels are utterly irrelevant; this film could have existed without them. It’s a perfect fit with the astounding original films and unlike the predecessors, it only tops them.
STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH begins at a torrid pace and never lets up. Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) show up in the middle of a breath-taking space battle, on a mission to save Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from being held imprisoned aboard Count Dooku’s (Christopher Lee) ship. There’s no need to pause for character development, as Lucas’s exceptionally well crafted script melds deeper growth and personality right in with the action. He establishes the solid friendship between Anakin and Obi Wan instantly, in a manner that was never showed clearly in Attack of the Clones. This was always one of the great strengths of the original Star Wars movies, an uncanny ability to tell us volumes about its characters while in the middle of a wild ride through a meteor shower, or rescuing a princess from her torture chamber. Writer/Director Lucas has finally recaptured that here, and the film absolutely soars because of it.
With the Chancellor rescued, Sith dips deeper and deeper into its inevitable storyline of corruption and failure. There are moments of celebration and horrific locales (Kashyyk for instance, the much anticipated Wookieee planet) especially in the beginning of the movie, but even those are stuck with the knowledge that the heroes of this story are being tricked. The movie gets dark, and puts its PG-13 rating to good use. I’m not talking about violence here, I don’t think that’s the sole reason this film earned that rating. STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH is simply too heavy and too intense to be a meager PG. Seeing Padme struggle to love Anakin is wrenching, and cringing through his slow personality transformation to evil is painfully heartbreaking. There’s a real sense that something important is being lost, as the inevitable storm of Palpatine’s plans comes to fruition and the old Galactic order is pulled viciously asunder. I’m not referring to the vague, political mumbo jumbo, but something more personal and ideological instead.
If anything, this fantasy film is a rather poignant warning on the dangers of fear mongering. A lesson on the twisted things men can do while wrapping themselves in the mantle of freedom, democracy, and safety. As Anakin himself points out later in the film, it all depends on your point of view. Words that are later spoken from the lips of Obi Wan, when teaching Anakin’s son Luke. That’s the kind of highly tuned resonance STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH has.
There’s a real sense not only that the vibrations of this film mean something to this universe down the road, but that they might have some application to our world as well. Maybe Lucas is finally getting around to starting that religion so many people have been pushing for, but I prefer to think that the man has at last re-found his footing as a relevant filmmaker.
One of the major Achilles heels of the previous two entries was acting, something that can’t be fixed with a better storyline like this. Granted, better dialogue certainly helps, but the Star Wars prequels thus far have had the disturbing ability to turn even usually stellar actors into wooden, stilted performers. Yet, Lucas has regained his place as an all around moviemaker, not just a writer. Whether as a result of better direction or simply greater confidence in the material, Natalie Portman’s work has taken leaps and bounds over her previously awkward portrayal of Amidala.
McGregor too merely looks more comfortable in his role, and the chemistry between Kenobi and Anakin really sparks. The biggest surprise though is Hayden Christiansen, who turns things up a notch to steal scenes from brilliant veteran actors like Ian McDiarmid.
I’m not ready to declare him a great actor, but I think he’s finally nailed Anakin down. It’s not just reciting his lines either, he’s taken on an incredibly imposing physical presence, with Lucas going out of his way to make pre-Vader Anakin feel like the powerful, hulking figure he’ll become once he puts on that suit.
STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH isn’t just a great Star Wars movie, it’s a flat out great film. Yes it’s technically proficient and yes it’s visually beautiful. Those things are a given. What hasn’t been is how solidly the film is constructed.
STAR WARS EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH is an impressive, big-budget ride. Yet it is the way that it fits so wonderfully into the existing Star Wars mythos that best sells it, the way it nestles so nicely into 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope that makes it special. The actual beauty is that you could easily skip the previous two awkward attempts, watch only this in scene with the original movies, and end up feeling entirely satisfied.
Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace are best forgotten. Lucas’s real miscalculation was in not making this movie right from the start. He attempted to stretch the story while all we required was Darth Vader’s rise in its purest form. Star Wars fans have finally been rewarded for their patience. George has made another masterpiece.