Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Review by Sombrero Grande

Just as I, along with many Star Wars fans, had given up nearly all hope for the franchise, George Lucas delivers a surprise, final knock-out punch with Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith that simply leaves me in awe.

While part of me wants to tread around revealing anything about the film’s storyline, I have to surmise that anyone who is actually reading this Internet review has probably already seen the film (perhaps at a midnight showing, even) so I hereby abandon my usual practice of avoiding spoilers and instead dive right into details.

There’s much about Revenge of the Sith that harkens back to the original Star Wars trilogy. The ships used in the opening battle are obvious early incarnations of the Imperial tie-fighters and Republic X-wings. The chair that Chancellor Palpatine is shown “imprisoned” in looks remarkably similar to the one he threatens Luke Skywalker from in Return of the Jedi. Even the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and a young Grand Moff Tarkin make cameo appearances. But it’s not just visual touches that echo the original trilogy, it’s also the storytelling. While the film opens with what is arguably the grandest-scale battle in all of the Star Wars films, it concludes with the tiny, personal character moments that made the originals so popular. It’s this latter portion of the film that reminded me of the kinds of movies Lucas, Coppola and Spielberg started out making back in the ‘70s. The montage of Luke and Leia being born intercut with the “birth” of the new Darth Vader recalled for me the baptism/killings montage of Coppola’s The Godfather. Revenge of the Sith feels like a smarter film than its recent predecessors because of deeper-than-surface sequences like this. While The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones felt more like special effects demo reels, Revenge of the Sith feels like a real movie. It feels more structured and strategized. Mindless Gungans versus robots battle scenes are replaced by more poignant scenes such as the one where Palpatine tears away whole sections of the Galactic Senate room to hurl at Yoda, symbolizing the destruction of democracy under his new imperial regime.

Revenge of the Sith is more emotional than its two recent predecessors because it finds ways to connect with the viewer on a personal level and through more intimate means than, “uh oh, they’re all in danger of getting shot by some robots!” The acting in the first portion of the film feels just as stilted and lifeless as in the previous two films, but by the end everyone still alive seems to have “come alive” acting-wise. Compare the “I saved you 10 times” dialogue between Anakin and Obi Wan early on to the “you were the chosen one!” cries of Obi Wan as Anakin burns in lava and you’ll see what I mean. The film provides a perfect segue into the original Star Wars film because Revenge of the Sith develops to become not a story about a whole galaxy in turmoil, but the story of two Midichlorian-rich newborns and the families they are bequeathed to, two Jedi masters driven into hiding, and a tragic figure standing alongside the manipulative master he is now slave to.

While the story ends on an obvious downbeat, Lucas’ turnaround with an emphasis on small, personal stories at the end of Revenge of the Sith gives me, dare I say, “a new hope” for the filmmaker I long considered past his prime. While the film still has a few groaner moments at the start (the “romantic” dialogue between Anakin and Padmé makes me wonder how Lucas was ever able to woo a wife), those who insist on nit-picking the film to death would do well to take off their rose-colored nostalgia glasses and rewatch the original trilogy to find those films weren’t perfect either.

As nice treat for those who’ve despised the new films, there’s almost no Jar Jar to be found in Revenge of the Sith, which makes for an actually watchable movie experience. The reviled Gungan has maybe one uttered word--if that--in the film and merely shows up in the background of a couple of shots...yet Ahmed Best gets significant billing in the end credits. I’m certain Kenny Baker must have some really incriminating photos of Lucas for him to deserve such prominence in the credits as well, considering that R2-D2 is nearly entirely computer-generated now and Lucas admitted that the one contribution Baker gave to the original Star Wars was R2’s little wobble when C-3PO is bought from the Jawas.

Enjoy the last (or so Lucas says now) Star Wars film in theaters while you can. The circle now truly is complete.


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