Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

4 stars


20th May 2005

Of all the emotions us rapidly ageing cinemagoers feel towards George Lucas, pity is not likely to be a popular one. But give the poor guy a break. Reviving the Star Wars series and going back to tell the origins of the characters we grew up with may never even have been a good idea in the first place, but it was one hell of an undertaking, which only the most confident of directors would have put upon themselves. From the apoplectic tirade of abuse directed towards him after Phantom Menace and Clones, you wouldn't begrudge the poor guy to put his pen down, call it quits and retreat to the corner, sobbing into his Jar Jar hanky. Had he done, he would have gone out on a low. As it happens, he's gone out on a high. A huge, towering high that pisses on the other prequels and is within grabbing distance of the original trilogy. If you don't want to ruin the summer's biggest movie then beware, here be spoils.

I am neither a prequel hater, nor a Lucas apologist. I am simply a Star Wars fan, someone who gains great pleasure from watching a universe far, far away unfold in spectacular fashion in front of me. Granted, I didn't get as much pleasure from the first two prequels as I did from the original trilogy, but I enjoyed them all the same, thinking of them as separate entities from IV, V and VI. I don't think that anymore. Revenge of the Sith does something I never expected it to do, and that's bring together both trilogies and unite them, dovetailing them together perfectly and make me view the lacklustre pictures in a different way. I never doubted for a second that Lucas would deliver where it counted - special effects, battles, fights and the like - but I didn't expect it to have such an impact on the other Star Wars movies. Even though I watched all five of the other films this week in preparation, Revenge of the Sith makes me want to watch them all again. It's that good. A new Star Wars movie has finally delivered what it promised.

Starting with perhaps the most audacious opening shot ever put to film, we scroll down from the crawl to see a huge space battle and follow the ships of Anakin and Obi-Wan as they dart through the unfurling mayhem, all in one continuous motion (if you thought the special effects were good in the first two prequels, prepare your pants for evacuation because Sith looks so, so much better). At once we can see that, although the animosity between them still simmers under the surface, they've become good friends, laughing and bantering with each other as they scythe through horde after horde of hench-droids. Where there was very little chemistry between the two in Clones (Kenobi taking on the role of teacher, scolding the insolent student Skywalker), here they're on an even keel, with Anakin saving his master's ass on a regular basis. The relationship between the two Jedi is what drives Sith; the rise and fall of Skywalker and how it affects his friendships, his loyalties and his beloved Padme. The fancy space battles and kinetic fight scenes act as the padding this time around; it's the emotional gravitas and the inevitable downfall of a hero that gives Sith its real weight.

Thankfully, Anakin's eventual slide to the Dark Side is handled with the subtlety it deserves. Plagued with nightmares about the death of his wife, Anakin seeks answers from his wise mentor Chancellor Palpatine, who takes him under his wing and whispers poison in his ear at every available opportunity. An early scene sees Palpatine and Anakin at the theatre, with the Chancellor regaling the young Jedi with tales of the Sith and the power of the Dark Side, turning the screw ever so slowly. It was in this scene, for the first time in this trilogy, that I saw the Emperor talking to Vader. Anakin is lied to, manipulated, mistrusted and kept at arm's length by the Jedi, so much so that it makes it easy why he would turn to Palpatine - he simply tells him what he longs to hear. This gradual descent into evil is the one element Lucas absolutely had to get right, and by George he's done it - so much so, that when Anakin fires up his lightsabers when confronted with a room full of Jedi younglings, you're in no doubt this guy is Darth Vader and the whiny teen from Clones is dead and gone.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Star Wars movie if there weren't elements to bitch about. Sith suffers from the same dogged script problems and ridiculous dialogue that have affected the other prequels (although to be fair, the original trilogy wasn't exactly a sparkling example either). The scene in which Anakin and Padme confess their undying love for each other consists of little more than them saying 'I love you more' and 'no, I love you more' - it really is that poorly written. It's not down to lack of acting talent - Portman is much better here than in I & II and Christensen really does his best fleshing out his own personal Vader - but the same old problems rear their ugly head again, namely meaningless dialogue and overlong, painful monologues. However, there's significantly less waffle this time around, with the wonderful Nick Gillard stunts and another fine John Williams score happy to do most of the talking.

It's hard to isolate exactly which scene instils the biggest sense of awe. The opening dogfight, as I've already stated, is simply immense in scale and detail, and will take several viewings on DVD to digest fully. The Obi-Wan Vs General Grievous fight is fantastic fun, likewise the Yoda Vs Palpatine rumble, each giving just as much entertainment blow by blow than the Darth Maul threeway in The Phantom Menace. And the Duel of the Fates... well, I won't spoil it, but it's an amazingly powerful tussle, complemented infinitely by a genuinely threatening environment and fine performances from both Jedi. The final 5 minutes act as the bridge between both trilogies, with the twins sent on their different paths and the remaining Jedi going into hiding. Here, Lucas lets the effects take a back seat and gracefully bows out of the series with his head held high. The original trilogy proved to be just as untouchable as we all thought it would be, but maybe, just maybe, it's about time you gave the guy the credit he now deserves.

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