Monday 3 September 2007


Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005) dir. George Lucas
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Ewan MacGregor


I think we all tried really hard to love the last chapter of the new Star Wars series. The audience and critics for the first time watched the film in the context of the new series and not the old films from the 70’s/80’s. We all knew it was never going to be like it was – both in our nostalgic memories and in objective history. The result was the best critical and audience reaction of all the prequels. But in the context of watching the film a couple years after its initial release “Star Wars Episode III” is pretty good but still a sub-par effort and an average film at best.

The film begins with the usual magnificent music sting of John Williams starting the opening crawl. I still get exciting watching any of those crawls. The first scene starts with, believe it or not, a CG-generated “long take” following Obi Wan and Anakin’s spaceships penetrating a large-scale space battle. The two Jedis infiltrate the command ship of General Grievous - the spider-like leader of the droid army - and rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). During the rescue Anakin and Obi Wan once again face off against the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Anakin exacts revenge for their defeat in part II by cutting off Dooku’s hands and then scissoring off his head with aggressive anger.

The film proceeds by continuing the plot threads of part II. The Chancellor, who is disguised as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, is politically pulling the strings from both sides of the Clone vs. Droid War in order to solidify his own power. Meanwhile Yoda (Frank Oz), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and the rest of the Jedi Council fear the dissolution of the intergalactic Republic order, but seem unable to stop it. Anakin’s quiet relationship with Padme (Natalie Portman) has resulted in her being pregnant. But when Anakin starts having premonitions of her death during childbirth he seeks answers beyond the zen-like live-and-let-live Jedi ways. Anakin is broken and vulnerable and eventually succumbs to Palpatine/Sidious’ coercion to the dark side. It all sets up a final battle between old friends Anakin and Obi Wan to save the galaxy from being taken over by the Sith.

Over the course of the three films it became clear Lucas wanted to link up every aspect of the old series from the new series. Like a checklist every line of dialogue from the backstories of episodes 4-6 is referenced or cleared. Where did Leia get her last name, why don’t C3PO and R2D2 remember the events of the past, how come the Emperor is deformed, why is Darth Vader taller than Anakin Skywalker etc etc. We even see a computer generated Peter Cushing, in death, reprising his role as Grand Moff Tarkin (from the 1977 film). Lucas also cleverly completes the arc of the visual design of the series. The costumes, vehicles, props, and landscapes of the film are closer to the 1977 film than the 1999 film. There’s a scene early on when Ewan MacGregor and Hayden Christensen are in an elevator aboard General Grievous’s ship that remarkably resembles Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford aboard the Death Star in the 1977 film. The similarity in colour and design of the sets in both films are uncanny. Unfortunately scenes like this are few in far between in “Revenge of the Sith”, which brings me to my main concern with the film.

If Lucas really wanted to link up with the 1977 he would have shot it with real sets and minimized his CG effects. Lucas is clearly in love with his toys and needlessly goes so over-the-top to the point of making the film look more like “Shrek” than “Star Wars”. At one point Obi Wan is riding a lizard-beast-like creature chasing Grievous who’s riding a giant cylindrical buzzsaw. They traverse all kinds of terrain before mutually crashing at a landing port. The movement of the camera, actors and vehicles were so out of the realm of the physical possibility it took me out of not just the film, but the Star Wars-world as a whole. By teasing us with a couple of scenes of ‘real life’/non-blue screen sets we briefly had a flash of how good this last film could have been.

I haven’t gotten started on the atrocious acting, the on-the-nose dialogue and bad casting, but that’s never been the point of “Star Wars”. To give the film some credit, there’s a dozen action set pieces, some of which are astounding, some are pathetically overwrought. The highlight is the magnificent battle between the short but venerable Yoda and the deformed and whiny Emperor. Watching them both tear up the intergalactic House of Parliament was beautiful stuff. As well, Lucas’ handling of Anakin’s turn to the dark side surprised me with its careful patience.

Having reflected on the three prequels, and even taking Jar Jar Binks into account, “The Phantom Menace” is probably still my favourite of three. It’s a close call, but it was the least removed from the first series, it features the best performance of the prequels (Liam Neeson) and still has the best scene of all the prequels – the Darth Maul fight.

It’s ironic, but the reason I like the original films better than the prequels is because back in the day George Lucas had constraints – constraints of time, money, and technological tools etc. Lucas given carte blanche, unrestrained by a studio, to put whatever was in his mind onto screen, resulted in a bloated exercise in unabated ego. He tried to give us what we wanted but instead gave us to much of a good thing. Enjoy.

Buy it here: Star Wars - Episode III, Revenge of the Sith (Widescreen Edition)


Anonymous said...

The most obvious 'linking' moment, is the inclusion of Chewbacca. For no apparent reason. Ah well... at least Han Solo stands unsullied by the prequels.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem, for me, was the complete absence of humour. Where did the fun go? Sure, EP1 had some laughs, but Jar Jar is, well, not that funny. The first trilogy was actually funny and playful. EP5 has the darkest, yet it had a sense of fun - Yoda was a blast. Lucas got too old, and too serious.

Josh said...

A couple of things...

to anon- the first commenter: the inclusion of Chewbacca isn't completely random because Wookies have a large lifespan, but it did feel as though they just put him in it for the hell of it.

Also, Moff Tarkin was played by a real actor who just simply had a creepy resemblance to Peter Cushing.

Great review!

Nick Teab, M.D. said...

I think it's useful to remember that these are children's movies based on the kinds of films Lucas watched as a child. Serials. The first batch we saw as children. They were made for us. They were great. The second batch we saw as adults. They didn't seem so great. No - they weren't made for us anymore! And if you go back and watch the old ones, now, you see that they're just the same! Your memories of them being these epic experiences are the memories of a child! If Ep IV were released today it would fail. I,II, and III were of that ilk, though, only with modern effects. They are actually extremely consistent. And ask any modern kid which he likes best and I'd bet he goes for the recent ones.

It's time to pass the torch ... and let go of it, too.

Anonymous said...

If these prequels are intended for kids, as you suggest, then why this interminable talk about trade federations and the senate? Why the protracted, passionless and silly love story? Why the 'subtle' political commentary? And especially why the ridiculous midichlorians/virgin birth storyline?