This is my first movie review. I felt compelled to do it because Star Wars Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith is such an important part of my magical movie-viewing life.
I've had a chance now to view Revenge of the Sith twice. I can never really tell about a film until I've had time to absorb it and in this case, screen it a second time. I find the sensory experience of motion pictures overwhelming, especially so with a film as anticipated as Episode III.
Also I've had a chance now to read the novelization of the film (I know, supergeek) and let me recommend it. Many such books are simple scripts with a couple of bells and whistles thrown in. This on contains lots of juicy scenes that would have improved the movie even more. Check it out.
If you haven't seen the film, be warned, there be spoilers here.
I'm not much of a film reviewer. Technical aspects and subtext often escape me. I find that films are an emotional journey for me, I can seriously suspend my disbelief. It can be a blessing when watching What Dreams May Come, a curse when watching Black Hawk Down. To this day I get a sick feeling if I think about the corn field murders in Casino. I honestly have to be careful just what I expose my fragile little mind to.
So Revenge of the Sith was going to be emotional for me no matter how the film turned out. A twenty eight year journey was ending, emotions were high.
I wasn't worried. The reviews of the previous prequels were, to be charitable, mixed. No such worries with Sith. Most reviewers had nice things to say about it and the geeks, who give you the real measure of genre films, were ecstatic.
I have to say, the film surpassed every expectation I had. I was stunned at how good it was. How emotional. George Lucas is not known for being the most sensitive of directors, but he certainly outdid himself this time. Is the film perfect? No. But for me, it is the best of all six films.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: As in all the prequels, the dialogue sometimes hurts the ears. I can go the rest of my life without hearing Anakin and Padme express their love for one another. I thought that Natalie Portman was used mostly as decoration. Or more accurately you could simply call her Senator Plot Point. That's all she existed as, an object. More of an abstraction than an integral part of the story. Which is quite sad considering Portman had created quite a strong character in the first two films. In this film all she was required to do was look pretty, look worried, and die.
Many complaints have been made that Anakin's turn to the dark side was too sudden. There was not enough build up or drama. I would argue that the the previous two films were nothing but a build up. Yes, we see Anakin's much better relationship with his master, Obi-Wan, in this film yet he still carries with him the same great fear and doubts about himself that he has always had. Combine his loyalty to Palpatine and the Jedi with both trying to play him off of the other with his terrible fear of losing his beloved wife, add to this with the incredible power he has to try to control with a mind that never quite grew up, you have a recipe for tragedy.
Another aspect that the casual viewer might not understand is the psychic power of the Dark Side in controlling Anakin once he opens himself to it. Notice in the film that Palpatine tells Anakin he must slaughter the Jedi at the temple and then kill the Seperatist leaders on Mustafar to become strong in the Dark Side. From the time he betrayed Mace Windu, each step he took brought more darkness into his mind. By the time he had completed his tasks there was little left of Anakin in Darth Vader.
It is the most visually stunning and complex of the entire series with as much action in the first half-hour than most films have in their climaxes. There is the sense of doom here. It's become painfully obvious to anyone paying attention the Supreme Chancellor has slowly consolidated his power and seized control of what was once a republic. The political subtext is hard to miss with actual quotes from Darth Neocon himself, George Bush, when Anakin tells Obi-Wan "You're either with me or you are my enemy." At least their republic is overtaken by a brilliant strategist who' unlike America's leader, can string a coherent sentence together.
The betrayal and destruction of the Jedi was the most tragic note of the series. The murders of the Jedi by the clones and the deaths of the younglings in the temple stayed with me for a long time after the film was over. Incredibly well done and handled with genuine emotion. I only wish ths great emotional resonance was evident in the first two prequels. Then again, perhaps that was the point. The first two films the highly entertaining set up, and the last the tragedy that hits all the harder because of the wait. I have a feeling such debates will keep many a geek awake and arguing in discussion boards for years to come.
At first I was a bit disappointed with "The Duel" as it's come to be known. Obi-Wan and Anakin's free-for-all in the lava pits of Mustafar. It seemed too much. Too much in the background and too many locations. To me the ultimate lightsaber battle will always be the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon/Darth Maul throwdown in The Phantom Menace. It was perfect in it's complexity and style without having to surf on a volcano, and "The Duel" could have taken a lesson from it. During the second viewing I enjoyed it a great deal more and I'm sure after years and years of viewing it will hold up well. Yoda and the Emperor's fight was a welcome and stunning surprise. Literally fighting for the life of the l of the Republic in the Senate chamber where so much freedom had been willingly given up. It was one of the true high points of the series.
Two special notes. George Lucas is to a fine performance by an actor what Wal-Mart is to a small Mom and Pop store. However, in this film he apparently just let the actors run with it. Ian McDiarmid was mesmerizing as Senator Palpatine. His controlled delivery and smoothness gave an impression of great power held in check. After he revealed himself as Darth Sidious he was a wee bit, OK, a lot over the top. But to me it still worked and I truly enjoyed it. I think his performance as the Senator in Revenge of the Sith is one of the finest I have seen in the science fiction genre.
The second praise I have is for Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi. When I was a much younger lad before the VCR came along, if you wanted to relive you favorite films you had the "Long Playing Record". Of course it was just the audio of the film edited and released on vinyl. I had the Star Wars Long Playing Record (I don't know if capitalization is warranted in this case, but that's how it appears in my head, so there) and I listened to it literally every day for a couple of years. So I became very familiar with the sounds effects and the actors voices in the film. The first time I heard Ewan McGregor speak as Obi-Wan I was floored. He had mimicked Alec Guinness' distinct accent perfectly. It was nothing short of uncanny and brought a sense to the character that this was the young and fiery Jedi that became legend. For me his portrayal was one of the best parts of the prequels. Like Ian Mckellan as Gandalf, Ewan McGregor didn't just play Obi-Wan Kenobi. He became Obi-Wan Kenobi. I will forever be a fan of his for his brilliant portrayal.
So here it is, the end of an incredible journey. My last words are in praise of George Lucas. Like many children, my childhood was not one I look fondly back upon. Many kids have had it worse, many have had it better. The details aren't what this is about. In the darkest of times, in the times that loneliness or anger were the worst, I was given a great world to escape to and visit whenever I wanted. My own imagination didn't have the scope to create such a rich universe so I used the wonderful one that George Lucas shared with the world. It has had profound impact upon my life. It gave the belief in the magic of stories and a larger view of life itself. Many people do not "get" Star Wars or other forms of fantastic entertainment. For these people I feel profoundly sorry. J.K. Rowling coined the term I think fits these type of people best : Muggles.
As I see a new generation with that same starry-eyed love for her stories as I had for the stories of Star Wars, I know that they too are of that magical world that George Lucas introduced me to. A world where we can be forever young and forever enchanted. For that, Mr. Lucas, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.