Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Beyond The Nit-picking . . . Revenge Of The Sith Ends The Star Wars Saga

The Good: Impressive Special Effects, Decent Acting, Good Story, Excellent Pace, Some Characters
The Bad: Dumbed Down for PG-13, Elements of Continuity, Padme
The Basics: When Padme becomes pregnant during the climax of the Clone Wars, Anakin finds himself vulnerable and preyed upon by one who is ready to seize absolute power.

Many people will say that Star Wars Episode I was the most anticipated movie of all time, but I disagree. Many people eagerly looked forward to Episode I, but as far as that goes, I believe Star Wars Episode III was truly the most anticipated. After all, once Episode I was released, the other two pretty much had to be made. Anticipation for the last possible Star Wars movie in the sextet, especially the fact that it would answer all of the important questions about how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, seems to be what movie audiences have been waiting for since Darth Vader strode through the smoke in Star Wars in the late 70's.

And when it arrived, it made a lot of people very happy.

I was one of them. I went to Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith twice. The first time, I caught all of its flaws. I was annoyed by Yoda simply walking away from a climactic battle, I was cheesed by the Generic Villain General (NOT "Darth!") Grievous, and I felt some disappointment over the last line delivered by Vader. Then, I watched it a second time and allowed myself to watch it as I would any other movie. And it was pretty fabulous.

Revenge of the Sith is a simple enough movie. The Clone Wars have dragged on for two long years and the Jedi, while stretched thin, are winning against the seceding Separatists. The Separatists, though, have launched a major attack that is exceptionally bold, with their leaders General Grievous and Count Dooku kidnapping Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi manage to infiltrate Grievous' ship and rescue the Chancellor, though Grievous does manage to escape.

Following the rescue, Palpatine begins an outright seduction of Anakin to make him into an apprentice against the Jedi. Using Anakin's fear that his secret wife Padme will die in childbirth, Palpatine gently suggests that while the Jedi cannot save her, the Sith can. As Obi-Wan works to end the War, Anakin becomes torn between his loyalties to the Jedi and his belief in Palpatine, leading to an all-out conflict that restructures the galaxy and the heroes that have lived there.

First off, this is a darker film and I like that. Second, it is quite possibly the best Star Wars movie other than The Empire Strikes Back. The fundamental problems with Revenge of the Sith that are not nitpicky all revolve around the trend in the movie to insult the intelligence of the viewer and the attempts to make this movie into something that is more family friendly. This should not be a family friendly movie, it is a story of a decent into evil and violence. And yet, George Lucas attempts to make it into a PG-13 movie and for some reason, the MPAA went along with him. I fail to believe that any other movie that contains a man who is set on fire after having his legs amputated and is begging for his life and cursing would be considered PG-13 and not "R."

But instead of accepting an "R" rating, Lucas opts to cut many of the most controversial moments. The slaughter of children is an important aspect of Revenge of the Sith as far as character development goes. Yet, the audience does not see the actual massacre and the importance of seeing the facial expressions of the characters involved as well as their effects afterward make for a lesser impact. Moreover, Lucas insults the audience's patience and intelligence by breaking up one of the movie's climactic battles with a battle the viewer knows must result in a stalemate. All press before Revenge of the Sith enthusiastically prepared the viewer for a lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader that would force them over a great distance of terrain. It would have been magnificent. Unfortunately, that scope is lost because the battle is cut up and interspersed with another battle, presumably because one long lightsaber battle - it was incorrectly believed - would not hold the attention of the audience.

The other supremely disappointing aspect of Revenge of the Sith is the utter loss of Padme's character. In Episode I and II, Padme is a strong leader, a compassionate humanitarian and a feisty woman. In short, she is a character. It is easy to see how a character like Anakin Skywalker could fall in love with such a woman. In Revenge of the Sith, Padme is a doormat, a woman who has no spine with her husband and no life of her own outside wishing things would get better. It's a shame, as science fiction is a genre that both needs more strong women and has such incredibly strong female characters as Ripley from Alien 3 and Scully from The X-Files.

On the balance is a movie that is solidly entertaining, though. From its opening moments, Revenge of the Sith moves and it is visually dazzling. From the space battle that opens the film to a galaxy at war to the immensely personal battle that is the film's climax, the special effects are solid and the pace is unrelenting as it progresses the story. One of the most anticipated moments of the movie, how the Jedi fell from power, makes for one of the most intense, impressive sequences and that was worth the price of admission alone.

But one of the important aspects that Revenge of the Sith has that some of the other Star Wars movies have lacked is real excellence in the acting. Outside Natalie Portman, who might be forgiven for her acting given the lousy position her character given, this is a stellar cast working at the top of its game. Samuel L. Jackson is wonderful as Mace Windu, the obvious payoff to the bit role he had in "Episode I." Here, we get to see Sam Jackson portraying a solid leader and he brings great inner strength to the role.

Similarly, Jimmy Smits has a hugely exploded part as Bail Organa, justifying his cameo in "Episode II." Smits rules every scene he is in and the payoff for his character is wonderful. Bail Organa, after Revenge of the Sith could almost carry a movie of his own. That's the strength of Smits' acting.

On the same level as Jimmy Smits, Ian McDiarmid earns his paycheck as Palpatine. After three movies where Palpatine has been either anonymous or a bit part, here McDiarmid opens up and shows his chops. He plays Palpatine as a subtle character, conniving and manipulative. With gentle facial expressions and - later - extreme rage, McDiarmid takes Palpatine from a generic villain to the ultimate player and it works.

Ewan McGregor get the opportunity to make Obi-Wan Kenobi into the leader he has not been in the previous installments. While Kenobi had been mentor, here he is bona fide leader and adult, father figure and icon. McGregor is completely convincing as the somewhat more evolved character, portraying Kenobi as a man of faith who becomes tortured by his own failures to recognize the potentials of his apprentice.

The movie hinges on the performance of Hayden Christensen and he does not disappoint. Unlike his wooden performance at love in Attack of the Clones, in Revenge of the Sith, where the love is not as important as what he is willing to do to protect his love, Christensen performs admirably. Christensen manages to tie longing and fury together in a way that make the character leaps of Anakin to Vader seem very organic.

The truth is, Christensen has some decent material to work with. Outside George Lucas' obvious castration anxiety - how many limbs are lopped off in this movie?! -, the transformation of Anakin Skywalker in to the apprentice Darth Vader is organic and well-developed. That another could influence one through love to do horrible things is plotted out well and the payoff is fantastic. In Revenge of the Sith, the characters of Palpatine, Kenobi and Anakin/Vader become evolved far more than in any previous incarnation.

Until the end. There are aspect in the end of Revenge of the Sith that are simply troubling for fans of the franchise and it all deals with aspects of what the Light Side of the Force is. Obi-Wan and Yoda walk away at critical times in their respective battles and it leaves the viewer unsettled. One person I spoke to about this had a fabulous idea; that the end of this movie would have been far better - knowing that the Dark Side is not more powerful than the Light Side - had Yoda been forced to make a choice to leave to rescue Obi-Wan, which resulted in the Palpatine having the time to consolidate power and make his position invulnerable. This would have worked even better thematically, as Yoda's insistence that Luke sacrifice his friends in The Empire Strikes Back would make a lot of sense has Yoda been put in such a position in this installment and made the wrong choice. Alas, that is not what happened. C'est la vie.

Is it worth it? Are the payoffs significant enough for this highly anticipated movie? After the second viewing, I feel confident in saying yes. This is a movie that had to cram a lot into it. It's a shame that Lucas did not decide to make a longer movie that fleshed out things that fans - and, I believe, general moviegoing audiences - would have the patience for. Perhaps someday there will be "Ultimate Editions" of the Star Wars movies where they are fleshed out for the full Star Wars Universe effect. Until then, or next year when they are re-released as 3-D films, this movie series is closed and there is much to be satisfied about.

For the other films in the Star Wars franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars - Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars - Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi


For other film reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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