Director: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz (voice), Jimmy Smits, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee
MPAA Rating: (for sci-fi violence and some intense images)
Running Time: 2:20
Release Date: 5/19/05
Review by Mark Dujsik
With Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith George Lucas completes his prilogy and brings it full circle to the original trilogy. In every respect, Lucas has upped the ante in this installment, from its incredible, extended opening shot to its final scenes connecting old and new, and the result is his return to making great popular popcorn art. If Attack of the Clones was a throwback to the series' origins as a Saturday afternoon serial, then Revenge of the Sith is a return to its eventually development into space opera. This is easily the darkest film in the series, and it is also the most emotionally resonant. My response to the previous two films could be glibly summarized as an awed distance, but in this chapter, the story of the prequels is finally involving on its own merit. In concluding his saga, Lucas has managed to tie up the majority of the loose ends he has left open (the few remaining are either minor plot points or the obvious bigger-picture threads that must remain exposed for the story of the earlier films) and has also revealed a larger thematic relevance to the myth proper. It's a great Star Wars film and, dare I say, a great film onto itself.
The Clone Wars have been raging for three years, and in the chaos, two heroes have emerged. Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) have returned from the heart of the war for a special mission: Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been kidnapped by Separatist forces and is being transported away from Coruscant. Overseeing the abduction are General Grievous (voice of Matthew Wood), the part-human, part-cyborg leader of the droid army, and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), with whom Anakin has a score to settle. After disposing of the Sith lord and returning the Chancellor to his rightful place, Anakin reunites with his secret wife Padmé (Natalie Portman) who tells him she is pregnant. Despite the news, Anakin is still tied up in Jedi affairs, as Grievous is still on the loose after escaping the battle above Coruscant, and the Jedi Council begins to question the intentions of the chancellor. He is also fearful of recent dreams he has been having about Padmé's death. The Jedi Council seems unwilling to help Anakin, while Palpatine is more than happy to share with him the knowledge of a different side of the Force which may be able to save his wife from her destiny.
Of course, we know how it all ends, but like in Greek tragedy, the dramatic irony adds a certain level of pathos to the proceedings. Anakin's downfall is inevitable, but Lucas still provides surprising minor details and key revelations in the spiral toward the Jedi's inescapable doom. Say what you will about his ability to write dialogue and direct actors, but Lucas' storytelling has never been as mature and assured as it is here. On a script level, he manages to compact multiple necessary developments into one film without sacrificing the integrity of the mythos proper and maintaining a relentless but natural narrative flow. Whereas the previous two installments have had the sometimes detrimental task of establishing the universe of the story as a whole, this one focuses almost entirely on Anakin and how his choices affect that world. What may have seemed like excessive exposition in the preceding films finally reveals itself as necessary background for this chapter. The big picture of the prilogy comes into focus here, and it leads to a better appreciation of how Lucas has slowly developed his story.
Similarly, Lucas' vision of the myth has never seemed so rich. Obviously, we expect to see new worlds in a Star Wars picture, and this one is no exception. There's a cavernous but lush world where Obi-Wan hunts down Grievous, who has gone into hiding, and Mustafar, a planet made entirely of lava, where Anakin and Obi-Wan have their intense penultimate confrontation. For the first time in this first set of movies, we have villains that attract our interest on more than a visceral level. The droids remain digital creations, but they have personalities that lend themselves to the delighted tone of the opening battle—before everything turns dark and never looks back. There's something amusing about a robot so useless that it runs away for its life instead of performing its task. Grievous is an interesting paradox—a robot with a smoker's cough—whose half and half nature alludes to Anakin's eventual transformation. The highlight, though, is the Sith lord (whose identity I will spoil for anyone who either hasn't caught on yet or never noticed his proper name used in the original trilogy), whose positions as political leader of the Republic and personal mentor and father-figure to Anakin in the form of Palpatine make him a dastardly foe.
McDiarmid is quite a revelation in his role, as is stressed in his spooky narrative of an old Sith legend to Anakin. The venomous undertone he confers upon the tale gives the scene an uneasy dread. As Anakin, Hayden Christensen finally seems comfortable in the role, and handles the complications of the character's fall well. As has been consistent in the series, Ewan McGregor ends up our personal entryway into the film. Once again, McGregor hones in on the memory of Alex Guinness' performance but, especially in this film, has made the role completely his own. By the end of the film, McGregor has brought Obi-Wan around to his starting point in the original trilogy. He's an utterly broken, completely betrayed man, and his final words to his former apprentice and friend are full of absolute heartbreak. Rounding out the film and giving it more depth are a tangible performance by an all-digital Yoda and John Williams' alternately triumphant and haunting score, particularly in a scene in which Anakin and Padmé look to each other from across the cityscape—the music speaks more than the characters ever could.
The most poignant facet to take from Revenge of the Sith is the way it ties the menacing Darth Vader of the original trilogy to the misguided Anakin of the prequel trilogy. The Star Wars saga is now a story of salvation, and the pieces are finally all together. The reason for Anakin's ruin will later become the means for Darth Vader's redemption. In the end, beyond the thematic connection, this sextet of films will go down as one of the most famous and controversial set of movies in cinematic history—the former descriptor for its longevity and popularity, and the latter for the vast schism created by the prequels and Lucas' naive toying with his own work throughout the years. For me, they represent some of the most fun I've had at the movies, and for that, I'm thankful.
Copyright © 2005 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.