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Monday, May 23, 2005
My review of Revenge of the Sith
Ever since Darth Vader uttered the line "Luke, I am your father" in The Empire Strikes Back and Obi-Wan Kenobe confirmed this as a fact in Return of the Jedi, I've been waiting for this movie. The movie that would explain how and why Luke's father could go to the Dark Side.

See, Darth Vader's revelation that he is Luke's father was one of those defining moments in movies of my childhood. I can't imagine today what it's like for generations of fans to go into The Empire Strikes Back and already know, "Oh yeah, Darth is Luke's dad." I can't imagine what it's like to see the movie for the first time, knowing this jaw-dropping revelation is coming. I just can't honestly. It's one of those great moments in movies--a truely shocking twist that seemingly comes out of left field but once you sit back and examine it makes perfect, complete and total sense.

It's one of those moments that is going to be hard, if not impossible to top. Especially in a franchise series of movies like the Star Wars movies have become.

The moment was so good that everything else in the Star Wars universe has been trying to catch up since.

Give George Lucas credit--the man has been trying. He tried with Return of the Jedi to shock us with the revelation that Leia was Luke's twin sister and also a Jedi. He tried to equal the success of Empire with two prequels that examined the backstory of Anakin Skywalker and just who he was before he went to the Dark Side. But, let's face it--the story we all wanted to see was this one--the one where Anakin finally makes the choice to go the Dark Side, to become one of the quintessential movie villians in history, Darth Vader.

Needless to say, I had a lot of expectations as I headed into see Revenge of the Sith Friday evening. And I can say I honestly tried to put those aside--to put aside the memory of how great Empire was and to enjoy the movie on its own merits.

I will say this--Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequel trilogy. It's the one we've wanted to see since George Lucas first started this little experiment a few years ago. And I will admit there, I'm a bit sad today to know that I will never again see the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" on screen with the promise of more new Star Wars. But, in the end, I walked away from Revenge of the Sith feeling satisfied by what I'd seen on screen in a way the previous two movies in the series hadn't.

Don't get me wrong--there are isolated bits of each of the prequel movies that are as good as most of the original trilogy. I'd argue the final 45 minutes of Attack of the Clones is some of the best Star Wars movie going fun you can have....it's just a shame you have to wade through an uneven hour and a half of stops and starts to get there.

Same thing with Revenge of the Sith. The final hour or so is as good as just about anything in the Star Wars universe. And the opening itself is quite good--a great space battle the looks right out of a videogame. It's just the 45 or so minutes as we set up Anakin's fall to the dark side that are a just bit drab. The movie sputters too much between the superlative scenes of Palpatine slowly manipulating Anakin's fall to the Dark Side and clunky dialogue and professions of love between Anakin and Padme. I can see what Lucas is doing with the storyline and why the movie has to go the way it does, but I honestly wish there had been a stronger way to get there. We do get there and once the journey begins, it's mesmerizing and all that was promised. And even from a motivation stand-point I can understand it--Anakin's fall isn't precipated by some kind of political desire or lust for power, but instead because he loves his mother and Padme too much. In his quest to protect those he loves from pain and harm, Anakin loses himself to the Dark Side.

Yes, we do see Anakin struggle with his desire for respect from those he percieves as authority figures. But it's all from an inner drive by Anakin to be the best at everything--something we saw established all the way back in Phantom Menace during the Pod Races. Anakin wants to be the best and gets frustrated when he can't be for whatever reason. We see Palpatine slowly take advantage of this desire to twist Anakin to the Dark Side and set up his eventual fall.

But then, once Anakin goes over to the Dark Side, the movie kicks into a higher gear. We get the chilling slaughter of all the Jedi across the galaxy and the end of the war. We see Palpatine manipulate events to create an Empire with himself as the center of power. We see the much anticipated battle between Anakin and Obi Wan near the lava pits. We see Anakin become Darth Vader, putting on the suit and helmet, completing his fall.

At the end of Revenge of the Sith, you're left wanting to go out and re-watch the original trilogy just to remind yourself that it all turns out OK in the end. It's not as bleak and hopeless as things appear here.

But as good as Revenge of the Sith is at getting the big details right--seeing Anakin fall, the battle at the lava pits, the reason why C3PO doesn't remember anything--it misses the chance to really be a better bridge from one trilogy to the next.
  • For one thing, Lucas wastes the opportunity to redeem Jar-Jar. In Attack of the Clones we had a bit of this as we see Palpatine manipulate Jar-Jar into helping grant him more powers in the Senate. Lucas misses a huge opportunity here to redeem the character further from an annoynace in the first film to a tragic figure. How much more interesting would it be to see and hear Jar Jar's own innocence and trust used against him by Palpatine to seize power in the Senate? Instead Lucas relegates Jar Jar to the sidelines of this one, thus missing a golden opportunity.
  • Another is--I'm not quite sure why Padme died. Was it of a broken heart? Did Palpatine do something to her to maniplate Anakin?
  • Also, I have to wonder how Anakin and Padme kept their marriage a secret for so long. It seems that in the cut throat world of politics that one of Padme's critics would figure this out long before hand. It seems a bit odd that it takes six plus years for people to put together this little revelation. I don't know--maybe they were just really really careful about meeting.
  • And it took 18 years to finish the first Death Star?
  • I hate to say this, but Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman have no chemistry on screen together. Part of this could have been the stitled dialogue, but a lot of the time, there's no fire between the two, no passion. At times watching them kiss is like watching brick's collide...
  • As much as I wanted to like General Grevious, I felt he was a bit of a missed opportunity. He is a military genius we get that. But very little else in backstory. Had I not read the prequel novels leading up to this movie, I would have been much more disappointed with the character.
Does any of this make Sith a bad movie? No. I will still recommend it to you as an enjoyable movie. It's certainly not on par with Empire (my favorite of the series and one of my top five movies of all time) but it is head and shoulders above Menace or Clones. The last hour or so is fun and almost exactly what it needs to be. The first hour or so is stop and start.

It's one that I will be buying on DVD when it comes out and watching again and again, make no mistake about that. The light saber battles alone are worth that...

posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/23/2005 10:22:00 AM | |
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