Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith

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The plot in a nutshell
In this final Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith, a young Anakin Skywalker faces his destiny and becomes Darth Vader. Chancellor Palpatine rises to power as the Emporer of the Galactic Empire, and the Jedi have a really bad day.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
Warning - this says 'relatively' spoiler free, not completely spoiler free.  I don't ruin any major plot points in the next couple thousand words (I save that for the Spoiler Section), but there's some things you might not want to know if you want to know nothing.

I wasn't planning on writing a review of this film. Let's face it, at this point everybody with a blog has written up their review of this movie. What's the point of doing one more? Wouldn't I be better served to discuss a movie like Primer or Old Boy, both of which I watched recently and both of which probably deserve more attention than they're getting?

Then again, I wasn't even planning on seeing the film opening weekend until a couple weeks ago. I just haven't been able to get my geek groove on for this movie, due largely to the mediocrity of the last two. I've bought a mere handful of the action figures, and found myself having trouble caring much one way or the other about the quality of this final installment.

But a friend convinced me that this was the last chance to see a midnight opening of a Star Wars movie - it's something I'll never do in my life again. When I considered it in that light, it seemed foolish not to go, to see the movie with the hard core fans, and give it a chance. It didn't help that I read a few of the early reviews, including Kevin Smith's, and found that old feeling of anticipation starting to slip back in. And so it was with baited breathe - I forgot my Altoids - that I stood in line at 10:30pm on a Wednesday night, stifling my yawns and waiting for the doors to open. 

I'm going to reference the Original Trilogy more than once before I'm done, and I'm likely to reference A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones as individual films as well. When I do so, I'll be using the abbreviations OT, ANH, ESB, ROTJ, TPM, and AOTC. And I may through in some more just to confuse you.

Back to the review. The film starts out well enough, that's for sure. We get a big battle sequence, reminiscent of the OT in many ways including some truly remarkable effects. There are plenty of other effects in the movie, but I don't think any of them were done as well as the fly by work in this sequence, in which you truly felt like you were right in the action.

The violence that garnered the PG-13 rating starts out quickly enough too, with people a dyin' and head's a flyin'. I suspect this movie sets some sort of record for most decapitations and amputations, and I counted at least six hands that parted company with their original owners. However, none of this ever seemed gratuitous or unnecessary, since the light saber is a weapon whose purpose is to cut.

I'm going to jump out on a limb now and state that the best acting in this film, and probably the entire series of three new films (at least from a 'human'), comes in the form of Ian McDiarmid. He finally gets to break free of the subterfuge in this film, and expose his true self. And it ain't pretty. The initial sequences with Palpatine are great, particularly the opening scenes with Dooku, and later when he begins to work his magic on Anakin. He reveals his Dark Side slowly, weaving his web. And then something happens...he goes from interesting character to over the top. It happens about the same time he starts looking like a reject from the California Raisins. Perhaps the Dark Side effects one's ability to act as well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the acting is about on par with the late stage Palpatine. Natalie Portman will end up getting the brunt of the abuse on this score, but that is predominately because her scenes all involve the truly awful kissy-poo crap with Anakin. Hayden Christensen is no better in any of these scenes, but he's a least allowed the scenes with Palpaltine, Obi-wan and others to redeem himself. Padme is stuck blathering about love, as clueless to the depth of Anakin's personality disorder as the rest of the world is to her tremendously obvious pregnancy. When it comes to marriage and having babies, the Jedi must have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that every scene involving Padme and Anakin was painful to watch. The dialog was stilted, wooden, and outright awful, and their delivery of it so off putting that there was more laughter during these scenes than in the campy cutesy stuff with R2 and C3PO.

Hayden's work isn't a huge improvement over the previous film though. He gets to act more evil, more pissed off, more emotional, which helps, but it's clear he's still getting little to no direction. He's best here when he's full on angry and worst when his scene requires any sort of subtlety. He's a confused young man, uncertain who is telling him the truth, but the expression on his face reminded me of a six year old trying to grasp the concept of thermo-dynamics, not of a man torn by moral issues.

Ewan McGregor gets the opportunity to save face with this film, and does so. While not the best performance of his career, it's certainly better than he's given before in this series, and in several key scenes he makes us truly believe his pain and sorrow.

And then there is everybody else. Yoda is another character who saves every scene he's in, and gives one of the most believable performances of the cast. Too bad he's not real. R2 is there for mild comic relief and not much else, and C3PO is there for even less. Characters like Mace Windu, Count Dooku, and Bail Organa are there to fill in their required dialog and action and get out of the way of the real story.

General Grievous has been a big question in everyone's mind, and he turns out to be a pretty cool character. When we first get to see him swingin' those sabers, he's pretty damn sweet - but that is all too brief. If I were watching Lost, I'd think there would be a very interesting back story there, but I'm not, so I know better. Also, the annoying cough of Grievous was an example of several things (including the scar across the eye of Anakin) that was a tie in with the Clone Wars cartoon. I'm not sure it was such a smart idea to make obvious things like this tie into a show that most of the film patrons will not have seen. For those that did see it though, it was a nice touch.

The CGI effects continue to improve, and as I mentioned earlier, the opening battle sequence is outstanding. There's still times in which the fake humans - Obi-wan riding on his lizard for example - are still too obviously fake, but for the most part the effects are good enough to maintain the atmosphere and allow you to suspend your disbelief.

Let's jump over the script for a moment. I mentioned the awful dialog, and that's a problem for at least 80% of the film. Even characters like Sidious, who has some of the best dialog in the film, still has moments of pure cheese. Of course, the difference is that McDiarmid pulls it off with style, while other actors stumble all over it. But the script has other important aspects as well, including the critical overall story arc.

Lucas continues to do a great job with the big picture. I like that these films were about the Republic becoming evil, not because of an outside force, but because of the manipulation from within. Padme's best line in the film summed it up perfectly - "So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause". He also manages to give us a reasonable reason for Anakin's turn (although the actual scene in which this happens seems tremendously rushed and unconvincing), and ties up all those little loose ends (or at least the majority) that the fans have been worrying about. Why doesn't C3PO remember? Covered. Why didn't Qui-Gonn disappear? Covered. Why didn't Vader know about the birth? Covered. Much of this seemed rushed to me, as though it was tacked on just to be sure no one could complain, but these things were there nonetheless.

There's still a fair share of plot holes, which I'll discuss in greater detail in the spoilers section. Overall though, it's really just the nits that are left to pick, and Lucas included some excellent scenes for transition into the OT films, such as the final scenes of Vader, a brief glimpse of a young Tarkin, a quick shot of the Millennium Falcon, and other scenes designed to weave together the films a little more tightly.

As bad as the love scenes are in this film, there are other scenes which are truly great. We get to see some things we've waited decades to see, and visually they deliver the impact you've been hoping for. The conclusion to the battle of Obi-wan and Anakin, the first time we hear the trademark breathing and voice, the reveal to Anakin of Palpatine's true nature, the vulnerability of the Jedi as the Clone army turns against them, these were scenes that resonated with me, and made it well worth suffering through the other mediocrity.

Some folks will love this film. Then again, as the Star Wars emblem first hit the screen and the crowd cheered, I realized that Lucas could have shot it on a Handy-cam in his back yard and some folks would have loved it. Others will loathe it, simply because it's their nature to do so. The reality is much closer to the middle ground. This film is a real improvement over TPM, AOTC, and ROTJ. But it still can't take the place of ESB and ANH as the best of the six, and will remain a reminder that Lucas needed to bring in people to help write and direct.

Rating - Hit the theater.
No, this isn't a fantastic movie, but it does deserve the big screen treatment to fully enjoy the sight and sound. And besides, you'll never get the chance to see a new Star Wars film at the theater again, so why pass up that chance?

George Lucas did not redeem himself with this film. It's a decent movie, but is truly popcorn cinema, best to be enjoyed for the battles, and the handful of critical scenes. Unfortunately, the status of these films over the course of time has morphed them into a phenomenon, and the actual product simply can't live up to all the hype.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
Now it's time to discuss all those nifty spoilers...















So we get some of our critical questions answered, even if some of those answers seem tacked on. C3PO doesn't remember because his memory is wiped. There's no real explanation as to why it's wiped - hence the feeling it was just tacked on - but I'm assuming it was so that if he fell into his ex-owners hands once again, he wouldn't say anything about Luke and Leia or their locations. Of course, Luke is actually living with Anakin's relatives, so it's a good thing Vader decided to skip the family reunions every year.

There's also no mention of why C3PO is wiped and R2 is not, although the obvious reason is because it would cause some continuity issues with ANH. It's just one of those places where George painted himself into a small corner.

We get to see why Qui-Gon didn't disappear - he was the first to figure out the trick of immortal life through the force, and was able to return to chit chat with Yoda and Obi-wan, and to teach them that trick. That implies that they could do the disappearing trick right at death, unlike previous Jedi.

We learn that Vader knows not of his kids, because he thinks HE killed Padme, not the childbirth. Oddly enough, he doesn't even bother to ask Sidious about the fate of his unborn child.

I'm sure there's other answered questions I'm forgetting right now, but my brain is still burning with a few of the unanswered ones. For example...

If Vader is now da man, clearly the apprentice to the big honcho, and second in line (as we saw with Maul and Dooku), why is he reporting to Tarkin in ANH? Wouldn't that be more than his swollen self centered ego could handle?

If Vader (and Yoda, and Obi-wan, etc.) are such amazing force-feelers, why can't they sense Padme is pregnant? Not only does she have to tell Anakin, he can't even figure out there's two of his own children mere inches from him.

What the hell happened to the Clone Troopers over the course of the next couple decades? From the birth of Luke till his start in ANH, the army of the Galactic Empire goes from Bad Ass to Punk Ass. I suppose you can use the 'copy of a copy' excuse, but that seems a tad weak.

And what is it with these easy to kill Jedi? One minute they're tearing through 50 Battle Droids all firing at them at the same time, without nary a singed hair, and the next a couple Clone Troopers are gunning them down. Yes, I know - this is a problem lots and lots of movies have, because at one point the plot calls for the hero to be invincible, and five minutes later the plot wants him vulnerable. That doesn't make it good, just not totally unexpected.

There's also some real corn in this flick, some of which works, and some of which is simply unnecessary and distracting. Here's a perfect example - we get a gruesome, exciting scene in which Anakin physically becomes Vader. It appears as though pain medication doesn't exist in this world, as they attach his various parts, building Lord Vader like some sort of Six Million Dollar Sith. He screams in pain, and looks on in horror as the mask is locked in place...and we hear his first breaths. Great stuff!

And then the mood is ruined must moments later, as he pulls some sort of bad Frankenstein impression, snapping his restraints and lumbering stiff legged off the table, only to shout "KAAAAAAHHHNNNNNN"...oh, wait..."NOOOOOOOOOOO!" at the sky.

Don't even get me started on the death of Padme. Lucas spends two movies showing us what a tough, resilient person Padme Amidalla is. And how does this fearless leader die? Because "she's lost the will to live". Didn't I see that on Days of Our Lives last week? Please.

There are also the truly dopey minor cheeseball moments that I could really have done without. Battle Droids with voices that makes the Pimple Faced Teenager on the Simpsons sound tough, and Wookie's giving out a Tarzan yell as they swing down on their enemies are perfect examples.

It's because of scene ruining cheese like that, that I believe this film won't hold up particularly well to repeat viewings, unlike the films ANH and ESB. And while there was always some wide eyed wonder and cheese in the OT, it was never as silly as what we see in some of the scenes in this film. With the exception of the Ewoks of course. The Ewoks are always the exception.

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